Tag Archives: research data management

Strategies for engaging senior leadership with RDM – IDCC discussion

This blog post gathers key reflections and take-home messages from a Birds of a Feather discussion on the topic of senior management engagement with RDM, and while written by a small number of attendees, the content reflects the wider discussion in the room on the day. [Authors: Silke Bellanger, Rosie Higman, Heidi Imker, Bev Jones, Liz Lyon, Paul Stokes, Marta Teperek*, Dirk Verdicchio]

On 20 February 2017, stakeholders interested in different aspects of data management and data curation met in Edinburgh to attend the 12th International Digital Curation Conference, organised by the Digital Curation Centre. Apart from discussing novel tools and services for data curation, the take-home message from many presentations was that successful development of Research Data Management (RDM) services requires the buy-in of a broad range of stakeholders, including senior institutional leadership


The key strategies for engaging senior leadership with RDM that were discussed were:

  • Refer to doomsday scenarios and risks to reputations
  • Provide high profile cases of fraudulent research
  • Ask senior researchers to self-reflect and ask them to imagine a situation of being asked for supporting research data for their publication
  • Refer to the institutional mission statement / value statement
  • Collect horror stories of poor data management practice from your research community
  • Know and use your networks – know who your potential allies are and how they can help you
  • Work together with funders to shape new RDM policies
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about the problems you are experiencing – most likely you are not alone and you can benefit from exchanging best practice with others

Why it is important to talk about engaging senior leadership in RDM?

Endorsement of RDM services by senior management is important because frequently it is a prerequisite for the initial development of any RDM support services for the research community. However, the sensitive nature of the topic (both financially and sometimes politically as well) means there are difficulties in openly discussing the issues that RDM service developers face when proposing business cases to senior leadership. This means the scale of the problem is unknown and is often limited to occasional informal discussions between people in similar roles who share the same problems.

This situation prevents those developing RDM services from exchanging best practice and addressing these problems effectively. In order to flesh out common problems faced by RDM service developers and to start identifying possible solutions, we organised an informal Birds of a Feather discussion on the topic during the 12th IDCC conference. The session was attended by approximately 40 people, including institutional RDM service providers, senior organisational leaders, researchers and publishers.

What is the problem?

We started by fleshing out the problems, which vary greatly between institutions. Many participants said that their senior management was disengaged with the RDM agenda and did not perceive good RDM as an area of importance to their institution. Others complained that they did not even have the opportunity to discuss the issue with their senior leadership. So the problems identified were both with the conversations themselves, as well as with accessing senior management in the first place.

We explored the type of senior leadership groups that people had problems engaging with. Several stakeholders were identified: top level institutional leadership, heads of faculties and schools, library leadership, as well as some research team leaders. The types of issues experienced when interacting with these various stakeholder groups also differed.

Common themes

Next we considered if there were any common factors shared between these different stakeholder groups. One of the main issues identified was that people’s personal academic/scientific experience and historic ideals of scientific practice were used as a background for decision making.

Senior leaders, like many other people, tend to look at problems with their own perspective and experience in mind. In particular, within the rapidly evolving scholarly communication environment what they perceive as community norms (or in fact community problems) might be changing and may now be different for current researchers.

The other common issue was the lack of tangible metrics to measure and assess the importance of RDM which could be used to persuade senior management of RDM’s usefulness. The difficulties in applying objective measures to RDM activities are mostly due to the fact that every researcher is undertaking an amount of RDM by default so it is challenging to find an example of a situation without any RDM activities that could be used as a baseline for an evidenced-based cost benefit analysis of RDM. The work conducted by Jisc in this area might be able to provide some solutions for this. Current results from this work can be found on the Research Data Network website.  

What works?

The core of our discussion was focused on exchanging effective methods of convincing managers and how to start gathering evidence to support the case for an RDM service within an institution.

Doomsday scenarios

We all agreed that one strategy that works for almost all possible audience types are doomsday scenarios – disasters that can happen when researchers do not adhere to good RDM practice. This could be as simple as asking individual senior researchers what they would do if someone accused them of falsifying research data five years after they have published their corresponding research paper. Would they have enough evidence to reject such accusations? The possibility of being confronted with their own potential undoing helped convince many senior managers of the importance of RDM.

Other doomsday scenarios which seem to convince senior leaders were related to broader institutional crises, such as risk of fire. Useful examples are the fire which destroyed the newly built Chemistry building at the University of Nottingham, the fire which destroyed valuable equipment and research at the University of Southampton (£120 million pounds’ worth of equipment and facilities), the recent fire at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute and a similar disaster at the University of Santa Cruz.

Research integrity and research misconduct

Discussion of doomsday scenarios led us to talk about research integrity issues. Reference to documented cases of fraudulent research helped some institutions convince their senior leadership of the importance of good RDM. These cases included the fraudulent research by Diederik Stapel from Tilburg University or by Erin Potts-Kant from Duke University, where $200 million in grants was awarded based on fake data. This led to a longer discussion about research reproducibility and who owns the problem of irreproducible research – individual researchers, funders, institutions or perhaps publishers. We concluded that responsibility is shared, and that perhaps the main reason for the current reproducibility crisis lies in the flawed reward system for researchers. 

Research ethics and research integrity are directly connected to good RDM practice and are also the core ethical values of academia. We therefore reflected on the importance of referring to the institutional value statement/mission statement or code of conduct when advocating/arguing for good RDM. One person admitted adding a clear reference to the institutional mission statement whenever asking senior leadership for endorsement for RDM service improvements. The UK Concordat on Open Research Data is a highly regarded external document listing core expectations on good research data management and sharing, which might be worth including as a reference. In addition, most higher education institutions will have mandates in teaching and research, which might allow good RDM practice to be endorsed through their central ethics committees.

Bottom up approaches to reach the top

The discussion about ethics and the ethos of being a researcher started a conversation about the importance of bottom up approaches in empowering the research community to drive change and bring innovation. As many researcher champions as possible should convince senior leadership about important services. Researcher voices are often louder than those of librarians, or those running central support services, so consider who will best help to champion your cause.

Collecting testimonies from researchers about the difficulties of working with research data when good data management practice was not adhered to is also a useful approach. Shared examples of these included horror stories such as data loss from stolen laptops (when data had not been backed up), newly started postdocs inheriting projects and the need to re-do all the experiments from scratch due to lack of sufficient data documentation from their predecessor, or lost patent cases. One person mentioned that what worked at their institution was an ‘honesty box’ where researchers could anonymously share their horror data management stories.

We also discussed the potential role of whistle-blowers, especially given the fact that reputational damage is extremely important for institutions. There was a suggestion that institutions should add consequences of poor data management practice to their institutional risk registers. The argument that good data management practice leads to time and efficiency savings also seems to be powerful when presented to senior leadership.

The importance of social networks

We then discussed the importance of using one’s relationships in getting senior management’s endorsement for RDM. The key to this is getting to know the different stakeholders, their interests and priorities, and thinking strategically about target groups: who are potential allies? Who are the groups who are most hesitant about the importance of RDM? Why are they hesitant? Could allies help with any of these discussions? A particularly powerful example was from someone who had a Nobel Prize winner ally, who knew some of the senior institutional leaders and helped them to get institutional endorsement for their cause.

Can people change?

The question was asked whether anyone had an example of a senior leader changing their opinion, not necessarily about RDM services. Someone suggested that in case of unsupportive leadership, persistence and patience are required and that sometimes it is better to count on a change of leadership than a change of opinions. Another suggestion was that rebranding the service tends to be more successful than hoping for people to change. Again, knowing the stakeholders and their interests is helpful in getting to know what is needed and what kind of rebranding might be appropriate. For example, shifting the emphasis from sharing of research data and open access to supporting good research data management practice and increasing research efficiency was something that had worked well at one institution.

This also led to a discussion about the perception of RDM services and whether their governance structure made a difference to how they were perceived. There was a suggestion that presenting RDM services as endeavours from inside or outside the Library could make a difference to people’s perceptions. At one science-focused institution anything coming from the library was automatically perceived as a waste of money and not useful for the research community and, as a result, all business cases for RDM services were bound to be unsuccessful due to the historic negative perception of the library as a whole. Opinion seemed to confirm that in places where libraries had not yet managed to establish themselves as relevant to 21st century academics, pitching library RDM services to senior leadership was indeed difficult. A suggested approach is to present RDM services as collaborative endeavours, and as joint ventures with other institutional infrastructure or service providers, for example as a collaboration between the library and the central IT department. Again, strong links and good relationships with colleagues at other University departments proved to be invaluable in developing RDM services as joint ventures.

The role of funding bodies

We moved on to discuss the need for endorsement for RDM at an institutional level occurring in conjunction with external drivers. Institutions need to be sustainable and require external funding to support their activities, and therefore funders and their requirements are often key drivers for institutional policy changes. This can happen on two different levels. Funding is often provided on the condition that any research data generated as a result needs to be properly managed during the research lifecycle, and is shared at the end of the project.

Non-compliance with funders’ policies can result in financial sanctions on current grants or ineligibility for individual researchers to apply for future grant funding, which can lead to a financial loss for the University overall. Some funders, such as the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in the United Kingdom, have clear expectations that institutions should support their researchers in adhering to good research data management practice by providing adequate infrastructure and policy framework support, therefore directly requesting institutions to support RDM service development.

Could funders do more?

There was consensus that funding bodies could perhaps do more to support good research data management, especially given that many non-UK funders do not yet have requirements for research data management and sharing as a condition of their grants. There was also a useful suggestion that funders should make more effort to ensure that their policies on research data management and sharing are adhered to, for example by performing spot-checks on research papers acknowledging their funding to see if supporting research data was made available, as the EPSRC have been doing recently.

Similarly, if funders would do more to review and follow up on data management plans submitted as part of grant applications it would be useful in convincing researchers and senior leadership of the importance of RDM. Currently not all funders require that researchers submit data management plans as part of grant applications. Although some pioneering work aiming to implement active data management plans started, people taking part in the discussion were not aware of any funding body having a structured process in place to review and follow up on data management plans. There was a suggestion that institutions should perhaps be more proactive in working together with funders in shaping new policies. It would be useful to have institutional representatives at funders’ meetings to ensure greater collaboration.

Future directions and resources

Overall we felt that it was useful to exchange tips and tricks so we can avoid making the same mistakes. Also, for those who had not yet managed to secure endorsement for RDM services from their senior leaders it was reassuring to understand that they were not the only ones having difficulty. Community support was recognised as valuable and worth maintaining. We discussed what would be the best way of ensuring that the advice exchanged during the meeting was not lost, and also how an effective exchange of ideas on how best to engage with senior leadership should be continued. First of all we decided to write up a blog post report of the meeting and to make it available to a wider audience.

Secondly, Jisc agreed to compile the various resources and references mentioned and to create a toolkit of techniques with examples for making RDM business cases for RDM. An initial set of resources useful in making the case can be found on the Research Data Network webpages. The current resources include A High Level Business Case, some Case studies and Miscellaneous resources – including Videos, slide decks, infographics, links to external toolkits, etc. Further resources are under development and are being added on a regular basis.

The final tip to all RDM service providers was that the key to success was making the service relevant and that persistence in advocating for the good cause is necessary. RDM service providers should not be shy about sharing the importance of their work with their institution, and should be proud of the valuable work they are doing. Research datasets are vital assets for institutions, and need to be managed carefully, and being able to leverage this is the key in making senior leadership understand that providing RDM services is essential in supporting institutional business.

Published 5 May 2017
Written by Silke Bellanger, Rosie Higman, Heidi Imker, Bev Jones, Liz Lyon, Paul Stokes, Dr Marta Teperek and Dirk Verdicchio

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Libraries’ role in teaching the research community – LILAC2017

Recently Claire Sewell, the OSC Research Support Skills Coordinator attended her first LILAC conference in Swansea. These are her observations from the event.

LILAC (Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference) is one of the highlights of the information profession calendar which focuses on sharing knowledge and best practice in the field of information literacy. For those who don’t know information literacy is defined as:

Knowing when and why you need information, where to find it and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner (CILIP definition)

Showcasing OSC initiatives

Since it was my first time attending it was a privilege to be able to present three sessions on different aspects of the work done in the OSC. The first session I ran was an interactive workshop on teaching research data management using a modular approach. The advantage of this is that the team can have several modules ready to go using discipline specific examples and information, meaning that we are able to offer courses tailored to the exact needs of the audience. This works well as a teaching method and the response from our audience both in Cambridge and at LILAC was positive.

There was an equally enthusiastic response to my poster outlining the Supporting Researchers in the 21st Century programme. This open and inclusive programme aims to educate library staff in the area of scholarly communication and research support. One element of this programme was the subject of my finalLILAC contribution – a short talk on the Research Support Ambassador Programme which provides participants with a chance to develop a deeper understanding of the scholarly communication process.

As well as presenting and getting feedback on our initiatives the conference provided me with a chance to hear about best practice from a range of inspiring speakers. A few of my highlights are detailed below.

Getting the message out there -keynote highlights

Work openly, share ideas and get out of the library into the research community were the messages that came out of the three keynote talks from across the information world.

The first was delivered by Josie Fraser, a Social and Educational Technologist who has worked in a variety of sectors, who spoke on the topic of The Library is Open: Librarians and Information Professionals as Open Practitioners.  Given the aim of the OSC to promote open research and work in a transparent manner this was an inspiring message.

Josie highlighted the difference between the terms free and open, words which are often confused when it comes to educational resources.  If a resource is free it may well be available to use but this does not mean users are able to keep copies or change them, something which is fundamental for education.

Open implies that a resource is in the public domain and can be used and reused to build new knowledge. Josie finished her keynote by calling for librarians to embrace open practices with our teaching materials. Sharing our work with others helps to improve practice and saves us from reinventing the wheel. The criteria for open are: retain, reuse, revised, remix, redistribute.

In her keynote, Making an Impact Beyond the Library and Information Service, Barbara Allen talked about the importance of moving outside the library building and into the heart of the university as a way to get information literacy embedded within education rather than as an added extra. The more we think outside the library the more we can link up with other groups who operate outside the library, she argued. Don’t ask permission to join in the bigger agenda – just  join in or you might never get there.

Alan Carbery in his talk Authentic Information Literacy in an Era of Post Truth  discussed authentic assessment of information literacy. He described looking at anonymised student coursework to assess how students are applying what they have learnt through instruction. When real grades are at stake students will usually follow orders and do what is asked of them.

Students are often taught about the difference between scholarly and popular publications which ignores the fact that they can be both. Alan said we need to stop polarising opinions, including the student concept of credibility, when they are taught that some sources are good and some are bad. This concept is becoming linked to how well-known the source is – ‘if you know about it it must be good’. But this is not always the case.

Alan asked: How can we get out of the filter bubble – social media allows you to select your own news sources but what gets left out? Is there another opinion you should be exposed to? He gave the example of the US elections where polls and articles on some news feeds claimed Clinton was the frontrunner right up until the day of the election. We need to move to question-centric teaching and teach students to ask more questions of the information they receive.

Alan suggested we need to embed information literacy instruction in daily life – make it relevant for attendees. There are also lessons to be learnt here which can apply to other areas of teaching. We need to become information literacy instructors as opposed to library-centric information literacy instructors.

Key points from other sessions

There is a CILIP course coming soon on ‘Copyright education for librarians’. This will be thinking about the needs of the audience and relate to real life situations. New professional librarians surveyed said that copyright was not covered in enough depth during their courses however many saw it as an opportunity for future professional development. The majority of UK universities have a copyright specialist of some description, but copyright is often seen as a problem to be avoided by librarians.

There is a movement in teaching to more interactive sessions rather than just talking and working on their own. Several sessions highlighted the increased pressure on and expectations of students in academia. Also highlighted were the benefits of reflective teaching practice.

There are many misconceptions about open science and open research amongst the research community. There is too much terminology and it is hard to balance the pressure to publish with the pressure to good research. Librarians have a role in helping to educate here. Many early career researchers are positive about data sharing but unsure as to how to go about it, and one possibility is making course a formal part of PhD education.

Published 27  April 2017
Written by Claire Sewell 

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‘Paperless research’ solutions – Electronic Lab Notebooks

The Office of Scholarly Communication started 2017 with a discussion about ‘going digital’ – on 13 January 2017 we organised an event at Cambridge University’s Department of Engineering to flesh out the problems preventing researchers from implementing Electronic Lab Notebook solutions. Chris Brown from Jisc wrote an excellent blog post with his reflections of the event* and agreed for us to re-blog it here.

For researchers working in laboratories the importance of recording experiments, results, workflows, etc in a notebook is engrained into you as a student. However, these paper-based solutions are not ideal when it comes to sharing and preservation. They pile on desks and shelves, vary in quality and often include printed data stuck in. To improve on this situation and resolve many of these issues, e-lab notebooks (ELNs) have been developed. Jisc has been involved in this work through funding projects such as CamELN and LabTrove in the past. Recently, interest in this area has been renewed with the Next Generation Research Environment co-design challenge.

On Friday 13 January I attended the E-Lab Notebooks workshop at the University of Cambridge, organised by Office of Scholarly Communication. Its purpose was to open up the discussion about how ELNs are being used in different contexts and formats, and the concerns and motivations for people working in labs. A range of perspectives and experience was given through presentations, group and panel discussions. The audience were mostly from Cambridge, but there was representation from other parts of the UK, as well as Denmark and Germany. A poll at the start showed that the majority of the audience were researchers (57%).

Institutional and researchers’ perspective on ELNs at Cambridge

The first part of the workshop focussed on the practitioners’ perspective with presentations from the School of Biological Sciences. Alastair Downie (Gurdon Institute) talked about their requirements for an ELN as well as anxieties and risks of adopting a particular system. Research groups currently use a variety of tools, such as Evernote and Dropbox, and often these are trusted more than ELNs. The importance of trust frequently came up during the day. Alastair conducted a survey to gather more detail on the use and requirements of ELNs and received an impressive 345 responses. Cost and complexity were given as the main reasons not to use ELNs. However, when asked for the most important features, cost was less important but ease of use was the most. Researchers want training, voice recognition and remote access. There is clear interest across the school at all levels, but it requires a push with guidance and direction.

Pic1Marko Hyvönen (Dept of Biochemistry) gave the PI perspective and the issues with an ELN for a biochemical lab. He reinforced what Alastair had said about ELNs. He showed how paper log books pile up, deteriorate over time and sometimes include printed information. They are hard to read and easy to destroy, a poor return on effort, often disappear and not searchable. It was interesting to hear about bad habits such as storing data in non-standardised ways, missing data, printing out Word documents and sticking them into the lab books.

With 99% of their data electronic many of the issues in the use of lab books generally are around data management and not ELNs. An ELN solution should be easy to use, cross platform, have a browser front end, be generic/adaptable, allow sharing of data and experiments, enforce Standard Operating Procedures when needed, have templates for standard work to minimise repetition, include inputting of data from phones and other non-specific devices. What they don’t want are the “bells and whistles” features they don’t use. Getting buy-in from people is the top issue to overcome in implementing an ELN.

Views on ELNs from outside the UK

Jan Krause from the École pPolytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) gave a non-UK perspective on ELNs. He described a study, as part of a national RDM project, where they separated ELNs (75 proprietary, 12 open source – 91 features) and Lab Info Management Systems (LIMS) (281 proprietary, 9 open source – 95 features) and compared their features. The two tools used mostly in Switzerland are SLims (commercial solution) and openBIS (homemade tool). To decide which tool to use they undertook a three phase selection process. The first selection was based on disciplinary and technical requirements. The second selection involved detailed analysis based on user requirements (interviews and evaluation weighted by feature) and price. The third selection was tendering and live demos.

Data storage, security and compliance requirements

When using and sharing data you need to make sure your data is safe and secure. Kieren Lovell, from the University Information Services, talked about how researchers should keep their data and accounts safe. Since he started in May 2015, all successful hacks on the university have been due to human error, such as unpatched servers, failures in processes, bad password management, and phishing. Even if you think your data and research isn’t important, the reputational damage of security attacks to the university is huge. He recommended that any research data is shared through cloud providers rather than email, never trust public wifi as is not secure so use Cambridge’s VPN service. If using a local machine you should encrypt your hard drive.


Providers’ perspective

In the afternoon, presentations were from the providers’ perspective. Jeremy Frey, from the University of Southampton, talked about his experience of developing an open source ELN to support open and interdisciplinary science. He works on getting the people and technology to work together. It’s not just recording what you have done, you need to include the narrative behind what you do. This is critical for understanding and ELNs are one part of the digital ecosystem in the lab. The solution they’ve developed is LabTrove, partly funded by Jisc, which is a flexible open source web based solution. Allowing pictures to be added to the notes has really helped with accessibility and usability, such as dyslexia. Sustainability, as is often the case, came up and how a community is required to support such a system. It also needs to expand beyond Southampton. Finally, Jeremy used Amazon Echo to query the temperature within part of his lab. He hopes that this will be used more in the lab in the future when it can recognise each researcher’s voice.

In the next two presentations, it was over to the vendors to show the advantages of adopting RSpace (by Rory Macneil) and Dotmatics (by Dan Ormsby). The functionality on offer in these types of solutions is attractive for scientists and RSpace showed how it links to most common file stores. With any ELN, it should enhance researchers’ workflow and integrate with the tools they use.

Removing the barriers

After lunch there were three parallel focus group discussions. I attended the one on sustainability, something that comes up frequently in discussions, particularly when looking at open source or proprietary solutions. Each group reported back as follows:

Focus group 1: Managing the supplier lock in risk

Stories of use need to be shared. The PDF is not a great format for sharing. Vendors tell the truth like estate agents. Have to accept the reality that won’t have 100% exporting functionality so need to decide the minimum level. Determine specific users’ requirements.

Focus group 2: Sustainability of ELN solutions

What is the lifetime of an ELN? How long should everything be accessible? Various needs come from group and funder requirements, e.g. 10 years. There is concern if you are relying on one commercial solution as companies can die, so how can you guarantee the data will be available? Have exit policies and support standards and interoperability so data can be moved across ELNs. Broken links and file formats expiring is not just an ELN problem, but relates to the archiving of data in general. Should selection and support of an ELN be at group, department, institution or national level? This is difficult if it’s in one group as adopting any technical solution requires support in place. It requires institutional level support.

Focus group 3: Human element of ELN implementation

The biggest hurdle is culture change and showing the benefits of using an ELN. Training and technical support costs money and time. It would cost more initially but becomes more efficient. You can incentivise people by having champions. There are different needs in a large institution. You may join a lab and find the ELN is not adequate. Legal issues around sensitive data complicates matters. You need to believe it will save time. Long term solutions include using cloud base solutions, even MS Office, but what happens when people leave? Need support from higher level. Functionality should be based on user requirements. A start would be to set up a mailing list of people interested in ELNs.

Remaining barriers to wide ELN adoption

Finally, I chaired a panel session with all the presenters. Marta Teperek had kindly asked me to give a short presentation on what Jisc does as many researchers don’t know (in fact I was asked “what’s Jisc?” in the focus group) and to promote the Next Generation Research Environment co-design challenge. Following my presentation the discussion was prompted by questions from the audience and remotely via sli.do. Much of the discussion re-iterated what had been said in the presentations, such as the importance of an ELN that meets the requirements of researchers. It should allow integration with other tools and exporting of the data for use it other ELNs. Getting ELNs used within a department is often difficult so it does need institution level commitment and support. Without this ELNs are unlikely to be adopted within an institution, never mind nationally. One size does not fit all and we should not try to build an ELN that tries to satisfy the different needs of various disciplines. A modular system that integrates with the tools and systems already in use would be a better solution. Much of what was said tallied with the feedback received for the Next Generation Research Environment co-design challenge.

Closing remarks

Ian Bruno closed the workshop and he reiterated what was said in the panel discussion. I found the event extremely helpful and it provided lots of useful information to feed into the Next Generation Research Environment work. I’d like to thank Marta Teperek for inviting me to chair the panel and for all her hard work putting the event together with @CamOpenData. Marta has put together the tweets from the day into the following storify.  All notes and presentations from the event are now published in Apollo, the University of Cambridge’s research repository.

Follow-up actions at the University of Cambridge – give it a go!

Those of you who are interested in ELNs and who are based at the University of Cambridge might be interested in knowing that we are planning to do some trial access to Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELN). The purpose of this trial will be to test out several ELNs to decide on solutions which might best meet the requirements of the research community. A mailing list has been set up for people who are interested in being part of this pilot or would like to be involved in these discussions. If you would like to be added to the mailing list, please fill in the form here: https://lists.cam.ac.uk/mailman/listinfo/lib-eln

*Originally published by Jisc on 18 January 2017.

Published on 29 January 2017
Written by Chris Brown
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