Planning scholarly communication training in the UK

In June 2017 a group of people (see end for attendees) met in London to discuss the issues around scholarly communication training delivery in the UK. Representatives from RLUK, UKSG, SCONUL, UKCoRR, Vitae, Jisc and some universities had a workshop to nut through the problem. Possibly because of the nature of the attendees of the group, the discussion was very library-centric, but this does not preclude the need for training outside the library sector. This blog is a summary of the discussion from that day.

Background

The decision to hold a meeting like this came out of the a library skills workshop run at UKSG recently. In ensuing discussions, it was agreed that it would be a good idea to get stakeholders together for a symposium of some description to try and nut out how we could collaborate and provide training solutions for scholarly communication across the sector. There is plenty of space in this area for multiple offerings but we do want to make sure we are covering the range of areas and the types of delivery modes and levels required. In preparation for the discussion the group created a document listing scholarly communication training on offer currently.

What is scholarly communication?

An informal survey of research libraries in the UK earlier this year showed that while all respondents had some kind of service that supports aspects of scholarly communication, only half actually used the term ‘scholarly communication’ to describe those services.

A discussion around the table concluded that the term scholarly communication encompasses a wide range of definitions. Some libraries take the boundary that it refers to post-publication. Others address the pre-publication aspect and meet the need of Early Career Researchers for advice on publishing. Services can focus on the academic’s profile of themselves and their research, or the research lifecycle. In some cases there is a question about whether research data management is part of the equation.

The failure of library schools to deliver

It is fairly universally acknowledged that it is a challenge to engage with library schools on the issue of scholarly communication, despite repositories being a staple part of research library infrastructure for well over a decade. There are a few exceptions but generally open access or other aspects of scholarly communication are completely absent from the curricula. (Note: any library school that wishes to challenge this statement, or provide information about upcoming plans are welcome to send these through to info@osc.cam.ac.uk)

This raises the question – if library schools are not providing, how do we recruit and train the staff we need? Indeed, who are we actually recruiting? Is it essential for staff to have a library degree, or experience in an academic library? Or are our requirements more functional such as the ability to manipulate large data sets, or experience working with academics, or an understanding of the Higher Education environment?

While libraries are starting to employ post-graduate researchers because they can lend skills to the library, library culture is a consideration. Employing researchers who are not librarians has the benefit of bringing in expertise from outside, but there are challenges to integrate their work into the library culture. We need to look at competencies in terms of the structure and size of the organisation, both for current staff and staff of the future.

In the absence of scholarly communication instruction within the basic qualification, skills training in this space would appear to need to be addressed at the profession level.

One possible route to prepare the next generation is offering some modular approach of on the job learning with very practical experience. An option could be to work with people who have come from outside the library space. Given libraries seem to be starting to bring skill sets in, we need to consider how this sits with the existing profession.

Audiences and their training needs

The goal of the meeting was to resolve what kinds of training the sector needs, for whom and how it is delivered. For example, with many general library staff there is a basic need to understand the issues with scholarly communication. The number one question is ‘what is scholarly communication’? The possibly it is enough for these people to just be familiar with the terminology.

It is possible we need lots of short courses on the general topic of: this is what OA is, basics of RDM etc (that could potentially be delivered online), but probably fewer more complex courses on issues like analysing publisher and funder policies. There are also debates and higher order areas which require face to face debate.

  • Front facing staff
    • Need an overview so the language is familiar and they can refer queries on
  • People working in scholarly communication
    • Day to day practicalities of funder open access compliance
  • Specialist roles in scholarly communication
    • Specific areas
  • Senior managers
    • Very much need a refresher so they can help their staff.
    • Similar overview training, leadership is around the advocacy
    • Need conceptual framework for scholarly communication – how do the technical parts sit together for the infrastructure and governance of institutions
    • Stakeholder management skills.

Skill sets in scholarly communication

It was agreed that budgetary, presentation and negotiation skills are needed in this area as general skills. When it comes to specialist skills these include:

  • Research Integrity
  • Bibliometrics
    • Involved in providing specialist advice on metrics within a school discussion
    • Providing advice on impact
  • Pushing the open research agenda
  • Academic reward structure
  • Technical and infrastructure eg: integrating ORCIDS etc

Considerations – Lack of perceived need?

There appears to be a problem with a lack of perceived need for training in this space. We are encountering issues where people in libraries are saying ‘I don’t think this is our job’. This points to what should we be presenting librarianship as – what kind of people do we want in the profession? A ‘traditional librarian’ of 20 years ago is not the same job now, the skills are different. Today much of an academic librarian’s job is about winning over people who don’t want to hear the message. It is possible there does need to be a different sort of person who is pushing an open access agenda.

There have been other innovations in library work that required engaging different behaviours and tasks in the past. For example, is this move towards a scholarly communication future different from when the discovery search was introduced? The eResources experience is similar in terms of new competencies required in the profession. However the difference in the scholarly communication environment is there is an external driver – we need to understand the politics of how open access can move forward in the UK.

Considerations – budgets

There is a mismatch between what people would love to have, what can be designed and what people can afford. Anecdotally the group heard that training budgets are really squeezed so priority and focus might be heavily influenced by this, with geography and travelling costs being central to decisions.

The group discussed the need to make training accessible to all. Even free events can be prohibitive in terms of travel, and hosting them in off-peak periods can be helpful with costs. The blockage is not just money, it includes time – in terms of loss of a team member while they are away. This is particularly problematic if scholarly communication is only a part of their job. Most of the need comes from really small institutions where the work is part of a bigger role, however that is where there is little money. This also raises challenges for the time available for those people to self educate.

UKSG run events in London which is expensive for organisations north of London to attend. To increase participation UKSG are now trying to put regional events on, and have shifted their training to a webinar programme rather than face to face.

SCONUL has done basic copyright training and this has thrown up price sensitivity. One solution is trying to keep it local, and members can volunteer staff in kind.

One option could be online training where participants log on at a certain time once a week for 10 weeks. Many of the people in scholarly communication work in universities, and have distance education software available to them. An alternative is having courses done in house – that could part of a modular package (but how do you link this?). The course content needs to be agnostic enough to be useful (not discussing DSpace or PURE for example) before delving into institutional specifics. Make it modular with core principles and then have options.

There was a suggestion that we create a nonprofit making shared collaborative service. The costs to developing this type of deliverable include the development of the training materials, infrastructure costs, room hire, catering etc. Can we make it all online and available? This could work if it were modular.

Next steps

We have not yet bottomed out the need yet – perception of needs at the practitioner level and senior management might be different. Cost is an issue here. Universities need to work out how much it costs to do in-house training – what is the opportunity cost to employ a staff member without experience or training and then get them up to speed?

It would be useful to have an understanding of what training is happening within institutions. What subjects/topics are being taught, who is doing it, what language is being used, is there a dedicated staff member. Where else do people get information and support?

The general plan is to reconvene in September.

Useful Resources

Skill sets analyses

Here are links to work that has already been done on the required skill sets:

Organisations providing or coordinating training

Organisations are running similar events and then participants have to choose what to focus on. If we divvy it up across the sector it might help the situation.

The Society for College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) does basic copyright training. There is more focus on the leadership end of the equation. The Collaboration Strategy Group is considering a shared service. People come from non traditional groups and this reflects a broader skills sets required in libraries than traditional library courses give you. SCONUL are about to scope out where those services might be and try to identify needs into the future. There are challenges are in recruiting people given the slightly moralistic nature of library culture and whether they are welcoming of people from different background. How do we promote, retain and incentivise people who may not come from this area?

Research Libraries UK (RLUK) don’t do direct training, but they do have programmes of works and networks around these issues. The RLUK board recently had a meeting to look at a new strategy – updating the existing 2014-2017 RLUK Strategy. They are looking at the bigger picture for scholarly communication – the infrastructure challenges, the bigger picture related to licensing and costs and how to leverage members in the consortia. Their role is very much supporting and helping out.

UK Serials Group (UKSG) runs a conference programme. One day events are a mix of standing repeated courses and one off sessions. In conferences often the breakout sessions are the things that people find really valuable. These include soft skills like mindfulness in leadership. The audience tends to be practitioners, people in their mid-career. Traditional areas such as library have been focused around collection management because that is where publishers are. But it is not just about traditional publishing. They are our members and that is moving our agenda to meet those needs. UKSG cannot get anywhere in contributing to university publishing courses. Libraries are starting to employ people who have publishing backgrounds.

The Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA) has special interest groups in open access. (Note: ARMA were invited to this meeting but unfortunately couldn’t attend.)

The Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) conducts training at a local level. It was agreed we can’t have the conversation without having CILIP in the room – they are wanting to offer more support for academic libraries and seem to be recognising that the library schools program for CILIP is not the be-all and end-all any more. This is partly why they have developed a recognised trainer programme. (Note: CILIP were invited to this meeting but unfortunately couldn’t attend.)

Representatives attending the discussion

  • Helen Dobson – Manchester University
  • Danny Kingsley – Cambridge University
  • Claire Sewell – Cambridge University
  • Anna Grigson representing UKSG
  • Fiona Bradley – RLUK
  • Ann Rossiter – SCONUL
  • Katie Wheat – Vitae
  • Sarah Bull – UKSG
  • Stephanie Meece -UKCoRR
  • Frank Manista – Jisc
  • Helen Blanchett – Jisc (a member of the group coordinating the meeting, but was unable to attend on the day)

ARMA and CILIP were also invited but were not able to send a representative.

Published 15 August 2017
Written by Dr Danny Kingsley 

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