Shifting sands: notes from UKSG2017 workshop on skills

Library education needs to teach skills over knowledge to remain relevant into the future, conferences are a useful place to learn about scholarly communication and libraries need to employ a wider range of staff  were some of the outcomes from two workshops held at the recent UKSG conference called “Shifting sands: Changing academic library skill sets”. The slides – which include notes from the discussions on both days – are available in Slideshare. The hashtag for the conference is #uksg17

The workshop was held twice, on Monday 10th April and on Tuesday 11th April. The audience on both days consisted of just over 50 people and were primarily library staff with a few publishers and some intermediaries. About half of the people both times had responsibility for hiring staff.

The premise of the workshop was: The nature of academic libraries is changing dramatically. What is the role of the library in a wholly open access world? And what does this mean for our staffing?

The library qualification

According to CILIP”s May 2016 document Qualified library & information professionals in Further Education – Case for Support , qualified librarians have:

  • An accredited library and information qualification
  • Chartered Membership of CILIP (MCLIP) to demonstrate ongoing engagement with the profession
  • A relevant teaching or training qualification is occasionally required
  • An IT or e-learning qualification is occasionally required.

So this then raises the question: if Scholarly Communication is becoming an increasingly important part of the work academic libraries do then what do library degrees offer in the way of training in Scholarly Communication?

A SCONUL report that came out in November 2016 – Developing the professionals of the future Views from experts in ‘library schools’ had views from seven universities offering library qualifications. Three did not mention anything related to scholarly communication (University of Ulster, University of the West of England, Robert Gordon University). Aberystwyth University and University College Dublin have new degrees in Digital Curation. Dublin Business School referred to “future library programmes” that “will incorporate modules such as the Research Librarian & the Librarian as Publisher to reflect new roles & activities in the sector”. Only City University London mentioned any scholarly communication specific topics: mentioned “research data management, repository management and digital asset management”.

While not interviewed as part of this report, it is worth noting that the library courses at Sheffield University and UCL do incorporate units relating to scholarly communication.

This paucity of inclusion of scholarly communication instruction flies in the face of a clear need. A 2012 analysis of job announcements identified ‘Scholarly communications librarians’ as a new role for health sciences. Two years later, a paper on scholarly communication coaching noted: “To successfully address the current needs of a forward-thinking faculty, the academic library needs to place scholarly communication competencies in the toolkit of every librarian who has a role interacting with subject faculty.” Five years ago, RLUK published a report Reskilling for Research which identified high skills gaps in nine key areas.

For those of you interested in this topic, the blog Changing roles and changing needs for academic librarians is a literature review of research on the issue of training for librarians.

Activity – Job analysis

The activity part of the workshop started with the room breaking into groups of four. Each group was given paper copies of a job description. The job descriptions were also available online in a GoogleDoc. The 29 job advertisements have appeared in my in-box over the past two years and were for roles based in the UK that incorporate some aspect of scholarly communication.

The participants were asked to identify from the job description the specific knowledge or systems that were being requested, the types of generic library skills the job description was asking for and the type of person they needed.

Attendees were asked to complete an online table, although post-it notes were available for those who preferred. I later transferred these responses into the document.

Discussion – reflections on job descriptions

The groups then were asked to reflect on their analysis and to have a short discussion together considering whether these were the kinds of skills, knowledge and people they are currently employing or working with? They were also asked to discuss the appropriate training source for certain skills and knowledge.

We then opened the floor.

The discussions around the way Scholarly Communication has developed were interesting. In several cases the library only had a copyright person by chance (someone happened to have that knowledge). In others an individual’s interest became a ‘thing’ that then needed to be recruited for because it becomes core. The impression was that it is only very recently that libraries have started seriously thinking strategically about staffing for Scholarly Communication.

There was (not surprisingly) some defensiveness about library qualifications. One person said “Library schools can’t churn people out with these skills because they are always changing”, and another noted that “Learning is episodic – one time learning won’t set you up for your career. These are jobs that don’t even exist yet. They should be teaching critical thinking”. These positions are both correct, however these are not new skills. Repositories have been around for over 12 years.

Another comment echoed this “Things are changing and developing all the time. What you learnt in year 1 of your qualification might be completely irrelevant by the time you do the job.” Courses should lay groundwork and be around flexibility and adaption as much as the knowledge.

The suggestions for new kinds of skills it would be useful for graduates to have included: working as part of a team, advocacy skills, liaison skills, communication, resilience, flexibility, critical thinking and the ability to adapt. One participant suggested it would be more useful to teach librarians customer service skills or relationship management. It was agreed that the university courses need to balance the base information with other types of skills and knowledge.

Professional development options

A component of the RLUK Strategic Priorities 2014-2017 is A Creative Community: Nurturing leadership, innovation and skills throughout our libraries’. This was intended to be implemented by working “with Information Science schools to shape both CPD and professional training for students, fitting them for the challenges presented by modern academic libraries and the changing landscape of higher education”.

However training opportunities remain scarce. In the past couple of months, very few have been advertised. A bibliometrics course in Chicago (at great expense), a digitisation course, a course on licensing, and a catch-all on open access and open science all in London were the only courses I could find at short notice.

There are some options for the keen. The ACRL Scholarly Communication Toolkit is full of good resources and FOSTER offers Key Skills for Open Science and Responsible Research and Innovation. There is even a MOOC on Scholarly Communication.

Indeed much training in the area of scholarly communication occurs at conferences such as UKSG. This is slightly problematic, because each individual’s experience of the same conference can differ widely. It is also difficult to demonstrate value. It is not usual to walk into a job interview with a list of the conferences you have attended.

There is also the problem of some employers not recognising the essential nature of attendance at conferences due to the perception they are ‘a bit of a jolly’. Anyone who has prepared a presentation, presented, live tweeted from that presentation, taken notes during other presentations, kept up a twitter feed on the conference hashtag, ensured the email inbox is not completely out of control, connected with all the colleagues you need to network with and written up blog posts about the event afterwards will tell you this is not very jolly at all.

Change librarians or change the library?

This discussion touches on questions about where librarians see themselves. There is some movement away from the ‘handmaiden’ role towards being a co-investigator. A recent informal question on a discussion list in the UK raised some commentary about what Scholarly Communication was. Half of the libraries who said they were offering services in areas such as open access were calling this ‘research support’ rather than Scholarly Communication. In some instances this was a deliberate choice because they saw Scholarly Communication as driving change and they didn’t wish to be associated with that agenda.

At the UKSG Forum last year Dr Sarah Pittaway presented “When is a librarian not a librarian?” where she argued we need to broaden our definition of ‘librarian’. Diversity is beneficial, she argued. Recently at the RLUK conference the issue of people working in libraries identifying as ‘not a librarian’ was a hot topic of conversation.

So we have a choice – we broaden the definition of library and librarian and bring in colleagues from other areas, or we adapt our existing staff (or both). And this itself is challenging. In a talk in 2015 at Cambridge, Susan Gibbons from Yale University spoke of the project she had undertaken to ensure that all staff have an outreach component of their role. She noted that for some existing staff this was not comfortable – they wanted to be curators. The feeling for these people was they ‘changed the rules on me’. She noted that “Some have come along the outreach path, others have moved somewhere else – and the university helps them with that move.”

Training existing staff in the area of Scholarly Communication is not just going to be culturally difficult. It is nigh on impossible in the absence of training opportunities. At Cambridge we have employed a staff member whose sole job is to address the knowledge and skills gap with our library community through the Supporting Researchers in the 21st Century and Research Support Ambassadors programmes.

Discussion: Challenges for the future

The participants were then asked to break into their groups again and discuss what the implications of the situation were for hiring processes, current staff and their own practice.

In the discussion that ensued (full notes from which have been incorporated into the slides) several issues and suggestions arose:

In terms of the recruitment process, a suggestion was that we should be looking at job descriptions and regularly review them to ensure they stay up to date – to give the opportunity to adapt and change. We also need to be placing our advertisements in different outlets to the ones that are traditionally used by libraries.

There needs to be a relaxation on the need for a library qualification, particularly for people who have years of experience in a related field. It is unlikely someone like that would spend five years getting a new qualification. One person noted they were going to do a course last year, but CILIP said that it was an academic qualification not a professional qualification, so they abandoned it. One person observed that “CILIP is the elephant in the room here”. Another noted that it is possible with CILIP to be an associate or chartered with a significant portfolio.

There was the observation that the requirement for library qualification is moving from ‘essential’ to ‘desirable’ in job advertisements, and some are just asking for experience. One participant said that increasingly library qualifications are less relevant.

The question about learning on the job came up several times. This was widely seen as being the best way, however it causes huge operational issues because of the sunk cost of the staff doing the training. It also implies that everyone is coming in at entry level. One person said they recruit “and there is not a lot of staff out there – it is a significant lack of knowledge. They have to go on a steep learning curve.” One solution for this was a person who hired three part time people to give jobs for year to develop the skills sets.

There was some concern during one of the discussion that the term ‘legacy’ staff had a connotation. In some cases their situation was not of their making. “If there are no opportunities internally then it is limited. Staff can be retrained. Make the best of who you have got”, was the argument. However another person noted that they had had to change job descriptions to get to a point that we can get the kind of person we want through recruitment.

One participant noted that the discussion was very familiar because they had been an e-resources librarian, which was a massive transition. They didn’t feel qualified, got more training from the job and from a graduate traineeship. Their concern was that we were losing the battle again in scholarly communications and library skills have not caught up again. Another observation was that library schools have narrow attitudes and it is difficult to teach skills in curiosity. This is an argument against a formal route. They also suffer from a conflict of interest because of the need to ensure a number of students – there are economic considerations.

Take home messages

It has taken me some time to get to the point of ‘going public’ on this issue. Anecdotally I have heard time and time again the dissatisfaction of librarians with their library degree. But the plural of anecdote is not data.

In an attempt to gather some evidence about where people working in scholarly communication have come from, the Office of Scholarly Communication sent out a survey in September 2016. The hypothesis was: there is a systematic lack of education on scholarly communication issues available to those entering the library profession. This is creating a time bomb skills gap in the academic library profession and unless action is taken we may well end up with a workforce not suited to work in the 21st century research library.

We received over 500 responses to the survey and we are in the process of employing a researcher to analyse findings, but initial findings show that many people working in scholarly communication come from outside the library sector.

Bringing this discussion to UKSG has been very instructive. It is still anecdotal but there are significant numbers of people who feel angry about the time and expense they have had to invest in what has been a ‘useless’ degree.

But the conversation has begun and there is the intention for several bodies in the higher education area to work together to find a solution to this looming skills gap.

Published 12 April 2017
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley 

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How to get the most out of modern peer-review

On 30th March the Office of Scholarly Communication hosted an event How to get the most out of modern peer-review, bringing together researchers, publishers and library staff to discuss how peer review is changing. Dr Laurent Gatto was both a presenter and a participant, and with permission we have re-posted his blog about the event here.

Publisher presentations

There were presentations from eLife (Dr Wei Mun Chan) and F1000Research (Dr Sabina Alam, @Sab_Ra) in the Innovations in peer-review session. PeerJ was mentioned several times, for publishing their peer reviews, for example.

I general, I think the presenters did a good job in demonstrating modern peer review on how it can benefit authors and research in general: eLife with its consultative peer review, where editors and reviewers discuss their views and opinions before a decision is made, and F1000Research with their open post-publication peer review system. My personal experience with PeerJ (as a reviewer) and F1000Research (as a reviewer and author) have been excellent. All these journals are great venues for a modern open scholar.

Dr Jen Wright (@JennWrights) from Cambridge University Press presented a nice and detailed overview of how peer review works. I was well structured, following a FAQ model. She also very entertainingly illustrated her talk with references to PHDcomis, Lego Grad Student and Shit Academics Say.

.@JennWrights uses @legogradstudent to illustrate her peer review faq at  (View image in Twitter).

Open peer review

The highlight of the day was Corina’s (@LoganCorina) brilliant Open peer review – what is it and what does it achieve? talk. She made a strong point in favour of open peer review and reviewing ethics. Read her lab code of conduct about reviewing ethics, as well as publishing ethics, her commitment to conducting rigorous science, lab interpersonal interactions.

I was nice to hear how her efforts in ethical publishing and reviewing proved to have been very positive for her academic career, which contrasts to the fear that some early career researcher sometimes express that practising open science and ethical publishing could hinder their careers.

The role of peer-reviewers in promoting open science

I was also very happy to have the opportunity to give a talk about the role of peer review in promoting open science. My slides are available here. I plan to write it up and expand on it in a blog post.

In brief, my main message was that, it we want to promote rigorous science, we have an obligation to make sure that the data, software and methods are adequately shared and described, and that it was not too difficult or time consuming to check this as a peer reviewer.

Currently, as far as data is concerned, my ideal review system would be a 2-stage process, where

  1. Submit your data and meta-data to a repository, where it get’s checked (by specialists, data scientists, data curators) for quality, annotation, meta-data.
  2. Submit your research with a link to the peer reviewed data.

My talk earned me a lot of feed back and encouragements, both off and online.

View image on Twitter

The effect on my twitter activity today – the 12 – 2pm bar is 1689 impressions 🙂 (View image on Twitter)

Publons

I had heard about Publons before, but never took the time to learn more about it. Tom Culley made a great job at presenting it as a means to Getting formal recognition for your peer review work. I will definitely give it a go in the near future.

Show me the data

I went to Dr Varsha Khodiyar’s (@varsha_khodiyar) workshop Show me the data : tips and tricks with peer-reviewing research data. Varsha is the data curation editor at Scientific Data. I am not necessarily a big fan of data journals (see here for some background), but it is clear that she is doing great work making sure that the data that she checks and curated (in addition to the peer review) is available under an open license and of good quality.

When it comes to data/software submissions, I believe that often, many shortcomings are more a result of lack of adequate skills or experience in the process of good practice in sharing and documenting, rather that poor quality of the output. The review process should ideally serve as a way to support and education researchers, and the Bioconductor and rOpenSci projects are great examples of how the package review process is a way to genuinely help the authors to improve on their output, rather than a binary accept/reject outcome.

A closed 2-stage peer review, like is typically in place in journals is a horrible system for than. An open review, with more interactions between reviewers and authors would be a more efficient approach.

More about the event

To hear more about the event, have a look at the #oscpeereview hashtag on twitter. The event was live streamed and will be made available on YouTube in the coming day – I will add a link later.

All in all, I think it was a great event. Kudos to the Office of Scholarly Communication for their efforts and continuous dedication. As emphasised by many participants, events like this constitute a unique and important channel highlighting important innovations in digital and open science that are redesigning scholarship. They are also a unique venue where open researcher can express and discuss challenges and opportunities with the wider academic community.

Published 4 April 2017
Written by Dr Laurent Gatto
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“Become part of the research process” – observations from RLUK2017

When is a librarian not a librarian? Rather than a bad joke, this was one of the underlying interesting discussions arising from the 2017 RLUK conference held earlier in March. The conference Twitter hashtag was #rluk17 and the videos are now available. The answer, it appears is when we start talking about partnerships with, rather than support of, our research community.

As always with my write-ups of conferences, these are simply the parts that have resonated with me, and the impression I walked away with. This write up will be very different from anyone else’s from the conference, such as this blog from Lesley Pitman, and the RLUK conference report.

I have also written a sister blog describing the workshop I co-presented on the topic of Text and Data Mining.

Libraries’ role in research

The role of libraries and the people who work in them was the theme of one session – with arguments that libraries should be central to the research process.

Masud Khokhar, the Head of Digital Innovation and Research Services at Lancaster University, gave a talk on the Role of research libraries in a technological future. He said we need to get out of the culture of researchers only coming to the library with research outputs/outcomes. Language matters, he said. Lancaster University has made a deliberate decision not to use the word ‘support’, because “we have bigger aims than that”. Partnership is the future for libraries rather than just collaboration. We need to be creative co-developers working with the research community if we are to be a research library.

We need to generate a culture of experimentation: “Be creative, experiment fast, succeed or fail fast and learn from both”. It is a good challenge for us librarians to be more creative and less passive. We should embed library in research questions and processes.

The issue of how we present information to our clients came up, with Khokhar saying consistency when searching should no longer be important – we should depend on the context of the searcher. “Content might be king, but context is the kingdom”, he said.

He also showed evidence of how data visualisation can lead to greater downloads of data, and it may be even more important to data use than good metadata. Indeed, Lancaster University Library has allowed 10TB of server space for analytics of library data alone, because this is a growing and important area to drive decision making.

This perspective was also put forward by Patrick McCann from the University of St Andrews Library. He talked about the new role of Research Software Engineers, which is a role which works with the research community to develop research solutions and research outputs. St Andrews has a senior librarian for digital humanities and research computing. He noted: “we are part of the research process”.

A comment was made during the conference that many speakers had identified themselves as ‘not a librarian’. There was a call for us to open the idea of what a librarian is. Masud Khokhar suggested he would consider himself to be an ‘honorary’ librarian.

But the ‘librarian or not’ debate is an interesting question. William Nixon from the University of Glasgow noted that their Research Data Management team are not librarians, saying “it is a skill set in itself. Kokhar argued that we need to develop digital leaders for libraries. Are these people already in libraries who we train up, or are they people with these skill sets we bring in and introduce to library culture?

Libraries’ role in the Open Science agenda

Libraries are the central pivot point for the move to open research across the world, was the message from presentations about activities in Europe and Canada. This fits with the narrative that libraries should be driving the agenda rather than reacting to it.

Susan Reilly, the outgoing Executive Director of LIBER talked about re-imagining the library space in the context of open science as she presented the LIBER 2020 vision.

Open Science (a term used in Europe for ‘open research’) is on the European agenda, every single member state has signed up to develop the necessary skills, development of the open science cloud. There has been an 80 million Euro investment in this. Given LIBER is a group of libraries with a common mission to enable world-class research, the question is whether LIBER should make the whole strategy about open science?

Reilly noted that libraries have been ‘bold’ on open science for years and held back by faculty and publishers. She argued we must be resilient on this agenda. Libraries need to be taking a leadership role in all research. “Libraries need to get into the researchers’ lifecycle”, she argued. They should provide tools throughout the research lifecycle to ensure ‘open science’. To achieve this, we need digital skills, which underpin a more open and transparent research lifecycle.

The end goal, said Reilly, is world-class research, but open science facilitates that through facilitating collaboration and ensuring the sustainability of research. The 2020 vision is: “Libraries powering sustainable knowledge in the digital age”.

The proposal is that by 2022, open access will be the predominant form of publishing and research data is Findable Accessible Interoperable Reusable (F.A.I.R). Reilly noted that it is research data management “where we get the most pushback” – an experience reflected in many other institutions.

Libraries can provide platforms of innovative scholarly communications. They can facilitate open access to research publications, with services ranging from payment for APCs and becoming a publisher. Libraries also offer research data management, innovative metrics and innovative peer review.

This is an opportunity for libraries to disrupt scholarly communications system. In order for us to achieve this goal, we need research skills that underpin a more open and transparent research lifecycle – and so we need to equip researchers to do this.

Reilly noted that when LIBER went out to stakeholders – “they bought into the vision”. To achieve these goals, Reilly said it is important for libraries to have a strong relationship with institutional leadership. There needs to be transparency around the cost of publications.

We need to work on diversifying librarian’s skills and research skills. This is a matter of ‘compete or fail’ or Elsevier could take over what libraries do. We need to get into the research workflow.

LIBER’s outcomes from their consultation with stakeholders were:

  • Importance of libraries having a string relationship with institutional leadership
  • Transparency around the cost of publications
  • Working on diversifying librarians’ skills AND researchers skills
  • Be clear about what the role of libraries is/should be
  • Compete or fail
  • Get into the research workflow
  • Opportunity for libraries to disrupt scholarly communications system

It was interesting (for me) to note how similar these are to the Strategic Goals of the Office of Scholarly Communication:

The Open Scholarship theme was continued in a presentation by representatives of RLUK’s sister organisation, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL). This is a leadership organisation thinking of ways to enhance members capacity and leadership in this environment. Martha Whitehead, the President of CARL and Susan Haigh, the Executive Director presented the Canadian Roadmap for advancing Scholarly Communication.

There are issues with open access, they noted. Repositories need to improve in two major areas – we need to improve their functionality, and support and encourage the development of value added services such as peer review and tools.

There have been challenges in discussions with publishers about maximising openness which have become ‘somewhat fraught’. Libraries are working with Canadian journals to develop, assess and adopt sustainable open access funding models. The idea is that the model will be non-profit (where the money goes back in).  While it is not clear if the discussions will coalesce around anything new and bold, there is value in bringing together the communities.

The Canadians presented an initiative related to Research Data Management (RDM) called Portage. This is designed to help with RDM in the country. It has a director, and because it is an organisation with a facility, the library voice is well respected around the table. Experts are contributing their expertise to this. There is also a Federated Research Data Repository – a joint software development project with Compute Canada, and the Scholars Portal Dataverse offers data deposit and sharing at no charge to researchers.

New challenges for libraries

Torsten Reimer spoke about the new focus of the British Library on ‘everything accessible’. He discussed the implications for libraries as we move towards a more open access future. We need to change focus, he argued, with new skills and areas, and we should be working together with the research community.

As more material is available openly then what is the role of a national library? Reimer asked. Perhaps libraries need to provide infrastructure, we should focus on preservation & adding value. Given the majority of academics use software in the context of their projects, should libraries be supporting, integrating and preserving it?

The ‘just in case’ model is no longer feasible for libraries. The British Library is looking at partnerships in content creation, research & infrastructure. Examples include plans to expose the EThOS API to allow for machine consumption of data about theses. They are also looking to replace the current “hand knitted” preservation system with more robust scalable shareable solution

Collaborate or die?

The opening keynote was by John MacColl, the University Librarian & Director of Library Services, at St Andrews University (and outgoing president of RLUK). MacColl spoke about the ‘research commons’.

He referred to the ‘tragedy of the commons’ which was an argument put forward in 2003 that individuals cancelling subscriptions for the Big Deal had meant an increase of 129% in cost to access literature. Publishers are creating ‘artificial scarcity’ to the literature which means they can charge as they please. This is a ransack of the commons.

It is not just cost, these Big Deals have meant that most collections are becoming the same and we are losing access to other resources. MacColl also noted the lost need for bibliographers. But his call was that research libraries face a challenge in re-appropriating the responsibility for the preservation of key scholarly objects held on publisher servers and other vendors worldwide.

So, argued McColl, we need to work collectively to ‘find means of getting around being held ransom by publishers’. We need a ‘post-collective Big Deal world’. This is Plan B, where we take back control, find post cancellation access, arrange document delivery and green open access.

But this is not something we can do individually. MacColl asked: “When we are doing things in our own institutions, who are we letting down by not thinking of the wider community?” We need some sort of formal governance to make that happen. The challenge is Higher Education is a very conservative world. People will not take a step unless convinced this is a sensible step to take.

We need to focus on the global – where libraries collaborate on shared bibliographic data and create a ‘collective collection’. Plan B needs to be national.

So much more

This blog has glossed over many very interesting presentations and talks. I do, however wish to mention the last session of the event which broadened the discussion outside of the library to the issue of ‘inclusion’ in the Higher Education sector. Libraries, as a neutral ‘safe’ place on campus, of course have a big role to play in this. As has been the case in every meeting I have attended since November last year, the double threats of Brexit and Trump have never been far from the discussion, and never more so than in the context of inclusion.

Darren Lund, a ‘middle aged white guy from Canada’ spoke very entertainingly about his work on diversity, making the point that if you have privilege you should use it to make positive change.

The final talk was a sobering walk through some research into the racial diversity of universities with plenty of data proving that universities are not as liberal as they are perceived to be by us. Statistics such as 92% of professors in the UK are white, and the fact there are only three Vice Chancellors from the black and minority ethnic community in the UK, supported Professor Kalwant Bhopal’s argument that we need to actively address the issue of inclusion.

Summary

This blog began with a fairly provocative statement – that people do not identify themselves as librarians when we start talking about partnerships with, rather than support of, our research community. This is an interesting question. Many librarians feel that their role is to support, not lead. Yet others argue that unless we do take a leading role we will become redundant.

So what is the solution? Do we widen the definition of a library? Do we widen the definition of a librarian? Or are we happy with the ‘honorary librarian’ solution? These are some of the questions that need further teasing out. One thing is sure, the landscape is changing rapidly and we need to change with it.

Published 30 March 2017
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley
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