Tuesday 17 January 2017

Further Developing the Library Profession in 2016

This post is re blogged from Unlocking Research, the blog of the Office of Scholarly Communication, Cambridge.
In this blog post, Claire Sewell, the OSC’s Research Support Skills Coordinator reflects on a busy year for the professional development of Cambridge library staff.
Librarians are always learning and 2016 was a bumper year for training in the Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC). The OSC has taken an active role in professional development since its foundation but things have stepped up since the dedicated training role of Research Support Skills Coordinator was established at the end of 2015.
The OSC runs two parallel professional development  schemes for library staff:

Supporting Researchers in the 21st Century Programme

The Supporting Researchers Programme offers training in the area of scholarly communication to all library staff at Cambridge University and is designed to equip staff with the skills they will need to work in a modern academic library.
In 2016 there were a total of 30 events attracting an audience of nearly 500 library staff. Attendees were drawn from across faculty, college and the University Library with several repeat attendees. Topics covered included:
  • Altmetrics
  • Bibliometrics
  • Copyright
  • Metadata
  • Open Access
  • Research data management
  • Research integrity
  • Presentation skills
Attendees have been quick to praise the sessions offered with an average of 71% rating sessions as excellent. Feedback has also been positive:
“[I learnt] a lot about metrics and the confidence to go and find out more”.
“Very engaging. Like the speed, got through a lot without it getting too boring or slow!”
“Appreciated that we were walked through the process and implications of funding requirements”
A presentation skills workshop – Presentations: From Design to Delivery – was by far our most popular session of 2016. Although originally scheduled to run twice, three extra sessions had to be added to cope with demand. In total 71 library staff attended these sessions and consistently rated them as excellent. We hope to build on this success by offering further presentation skills training in 2017.

Research Support Ambassador Programme

This intensive programme ran from June – October 2106 and included sixteen participants from across colleges, departments and the University Library. This spread across the University is particularly gratifying as participation is voluntary. The Research Ambassadors embarked on a training programme made up of three strands:
  1. Targeted training sessions in areas covered by the remit of the Office of Scholarly Communication such as Open Access and Research Data Management
  2. The development of transferrable skills such as leadership, presentation skills and working in teams
  3. Small group project work to create tangible training materials which can be shared across the wider library community
This programme has been adapted in response to feedback received after an initial pilot run in 2015. More structure was introduced through the regular training sessions which Ambassadors were required to attend. Extra optional sessions were also offered according to demand, mostly in relation to group projects. Lastly there was a narrower scope to the group project element to ensure that Ambassadors could complete the task within the time available.
The small group projects Ambassadors worked on aim to give back to the Cambridge library community by producing training materials that can be used by all under a Creative Commons licence. In 2016 Ambassadors worked on three projects:
  1. Digital Humanities webpages – webpages highlighting the work that Cambridge University Library is doing in this increasingly important area of scholarship.
  2. Metadata toolkit – these slides and associated activities can be used to teach the research community about the importance of metadata creation.
  3. Online videos – bite sized videos which showcase various different tools which will be of use to researchers in disseminating their research.
The Research Ambassadors are now able to work confidently in their own libraries to provide point-of-need help to the research community. At the same time they have improved their knowledge of the scholarly communication landscape and the range of ways in which they can support the research community.


We’ve also been working hard to promote the training we offer in the OSC, both to Cambridge librarians and the wider world.
Webpages have been created for both the Supporting Researchers in the 21st Century and Research Support Ambassador programmes so that interested parties have something to refer to and all information is kept in an accessible place. We held two Research Support Ambassador Showcase sessions in April and October to allow Ambassadors to demonstrate their outcomes and reflect on their participation on both a personal and professional level. There have also been two blog posts about the initial run of the Ambassador programme from both an insider and observer perspective which helped to give new insight into the initiative.
We have more formal plans for promotion of the programme through conference proposals and journal article submissions. More details of these will be made available once we know the outcome!

Moving forward

We have some exciting plans for training in 2017. The OSC recently sent out a survey to help with planning our next round of training and the response has been overwhelming. Re-runs of some popular topics such as copyright and presentation skills were requested along with new sessions on search skills and researching in the workplace. It looks like 2017 is going to be an exciting year for training so please follow our progress via this blog and our training webpages.
Originally posted on Unlocking Research on January 17th 2017. Shared here via CC BY licence.

Monday 9 January 2017

How To ... Succeed at Failure

Last week I took part in the Cambridge Libraries Conference 2017 where I sat on a panel discussing failure. This is something we don't discuss enough as a profession, probably because it's always a little embarrassing to admit that you've failed at something, but I think it's an important topic to cover.

It's inevitable that you will fail at something at some point in your career, whether this be a job application, project or an interview. If you don't then I would seriously begin to question what has been going on behind the scenes! With this in mind it's only sensible to prepare for it so you can deal with it when it comes. This is particularly true if you are dealing with professional failure. People have long memories and if you handle things badly it could reflect poorly on you for some time and damage future chances.

I was tasked with talking about failure in job interviews. Given my struggles to get a full time job I thought I was quite qualified to take part! I've applied for multiple jobs across Cambridge libraries over the last few years (including jobs that I was already doing on a temporary or part time basis). For one role I applied seven times before I was finally successful! I learnt a lot about applications, interviews and rejections over the course of this process. Below are some of the points I raised and I hope the tips will be helpful.

  • It's normal and completely acceptable to feel rubbish if you don't get the job you apply for. If you're not a bit upset then this tells you something about how much you really wanted the job. It's important to acknowledge these feelings and self-medicate with chocolate/wine/Netflix as appropriate. What you mustn't do is allow this part to drag on too long and take over.
  • Think about it this way - failure is a by-product of innovation and trying new things. This is something that I heard at IFLA and it's stuck with me. New professionals and those who are really active in the profession are likely to fail more as they get involved in more things and there is nothing wrong with this - it's just about experimenting and finding things out. What your mother told you was true - how do you know you don't like something until you've tried it?
  • When you get rejected for a job it's a good idea to ask for feedback. It takes guts as no one really likes having their failures discussed face to face but it's worth doing as you can find out how to improve for the next time. You might even find out that you were the second choice for the role. Whether that makes you feel better or worse is open to interpretation...
  • Turn failure into a learning opportunity. If you get the feedback that you lack a particular skill then you know what to work on for next time. Was your interview or application bad? Then try to develop these skills. A lot of this is just trial and error and you will get to grips with it over time. Try getting hold of the job specification for your dream role and develop the skills they are looking for. That way when it comes along you will be prepared.
  • Learn to move on. Sometimes no matter what you do there is someone more qualified who will get the job. Does this hurt - yes. Can you do much about it - no. So move on. One of my biggest professional regrets is not moving on from that role I applied for seven times sooner. I got so fixated on trying to prove to myself and others that I could get the job that I ignored other opportunities trying to get a job that I was almost done with it as soon as I got it. It all worked out well in the end but sometimes I think I could have saved myself a lot of heartache. 

This is just one experience and point of view of failure. If anyone has any other experiences they would like to share then please let me know in the comments section. If nothing else we can all have a group hug and commiserate together! 

Thursday 5 January 2017

Research Support Ambassadors: The Next Generation of Library Superheroes

Today I'm taking part in the annual Cambridge Libraries Conference - Are You a Library Superhero? As well as taking part in a panel discussion on professional failures (more to follow in another blogpost) I'm presenting a poster about the Research Support Ambassador Programme. This initiative is aimed at improving the scholarly communication literacy of library staff and equipping them with the skills needed to work in the 21st century academic library.

A copy of the poster can be found below:

Hopefully there will be more publicity for the Programme in the near future but for now the poster provides general information. I had great fun leading the Programme last year and almost as much fun making a comic book poster to fit in with the superhero theme of the conference. I'm really looking forward to seeing where we can take the Programme in 2017!

Wednesday 4 January 2017

Making Metadata Matter (with Lego)!

A large part of my role involves managing the Research Support Ambassador Programme at Cambridge University. This Programme encourages interested staff to learn more about the research process and receive specialist training to enable them to provide a high standard of research support to library users. In addition to taking classes Ambassadors have the chance to work on a group project in order to produce training materials which can be used by librarians across Cambridge. 

In 2016 one of the three Ambassador project groups (Eleanor Barker, Joyce Heckman and Kirsten Lamb) worked on a project to produce a presentation and teaching activity that could be used to explain metadata and came up with the brilliant idea to use Lego. The following guest post contains contributions from Kirsten Lamb (a Research Ambassador) on creating the activity and Rosie Higman (Research Data Advisor) on how it has been used in practice.

The Concept
As part of the Research Ambassadors programme 2016, Joyce Heckman, Kirsten Lamb and Eleanor Barker came up with a presentation and an activity to help teach researchers about metadata. For the activity portion they settled on the idea of describing the characteristics of an object to illustrate the difference between data and metadata. Since both are (often) abstract, making the “data” a physical object and writing “metadata” to describe it seemed like a good way to simplify the idea, and the simpler the object the easier to delve into the idea that there are many different ways to describe the same thing.

The humble Lego brick popped into their heads first, thanks to Lego Serious Play sessions forging the connection between abstract concepts and the brightly coloured plastic bricks. The other useful thing about a brick is that it can represent different things to different disciplines. In social science it might be an interview or a single answer from an interview, questionnaire, etc. In biological science it may be an experimental result. In maths it may be a single number in a complex series. In history it may be a photograph of an event or the GDP of Denmark in 1829.

Once you have established the conceit that a Lego brick represents one unit of data, you can explore other characteristics and types of metadata. After participants have described the brick in as many ways as possible, the group came up with an activity intended to emphasise the benefit of creating meaningful metadata, both to allow others to understand and reuse your data and to ensure that you can find the data you’re looking for in future. In this activity, participants would try to describe a Lego model, deconstruct it, then get another participant to try to reconstruct the model from their description alone. Meaningful metadata becomes essential when you want to share your data with other researchers. Even finding the data relies upon useful descriptions.

Using Lego in Practice
Having received this excellent idea from the Research Ambassadors the Research Data team (Marta Teperek and Rosie Higman) were faced with the task of deciding if this could be integrated into our training. At the moment there does not seem to be sufficient interest (or awareness) to run an entire workshop on metadata, so instead I looked at where it might fit into our existing ‘Introduction to Research Data Management’ workshop. This workshop runs for 2-3 hours on a regular basis for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers in different departments, covering everything from file backup strategies to funders’ requirements to share research data.

Whilst file names and organisation are included in the introductory workshop there is not a specific section on metadata, so for the first attempt we placed the exercise at the end of the section on organising physical samples. As the workshop was already quite busy I realised we could not complete the entire activity in the time available, and so decided just to do the second half (making, describing and reconstructing models) as this would have the most impact on researchers. In particular, I felt it would be valuable for researchers, who are increasingly being asked to share their research data alongside their publications, to see how hard it is to re-use someone else’s data without meaningful metadata.

We have now run this exercise in several workshops and it is consistently popular with participants across the disciplines. The models built have varied from sausage dogs to abstract towers, and most groups struggle to recreate their colleagues’ models, emphasising the importance of good metadata. As with all our activities and workshops we are refining the Lego metadata activity on the basis of participant feedback and our own observations. In order to save on the amount of Lego we needed we ran the exercise with researchers working in pairs or small groups, this worked well in terms of allowing them to network but it was clear after the first workshop that I had not allowed enough time for the activity. Participants became very enthusiastic about their models and so spent a long time discussing it with their partner and then, after swapping descriptions, debating how the other pair’s model should be reconstructed. To get around this problem I lengthened the time allocated for the exercise, reduced the number of Lego bricks each group had to 6 and started using a bell to let participants know when they were running out of time.

After running the activity a couple of times it seemed like it might be in the wrong point in the workshop; we had not yet introduced the idea of data sharing so researchers were sometimes initially confused by discussing having researchers around the world use their data. This turned into a good opportunity as the section on data sharing is quite long, and did not have any interactive elements, so we moved the Lego exercise to the end of this section when researchers have been introduced to the principles of sharing and when we are about to discuss repositories. The new position of the activity has been more effective, with researchers able to see how hard it is to use data which is not properly described. The only difficulty we have now is making sure that researchers do not get distracted by the Lego for the rest of the workshop!