Tag Archives: Training

What I wish I’d known at the start – setting up an RDM service

In August, Dr Marta Teperek began her new role at Delft University in the Netherlands. In her usual style of doing things properly and thoroughly, she has contributed this blog reflecting on the lessons learned in the process of setting up Cambridge University’s highly successful Research Data Facility.

On 27-28 June 2017 I attended the Jisc’s Research Data Network meeting at the University of York. I was one of several people invited to talk about experiences of setting up RDM services in a workshop organised by Stephen Grace from London South Bank University and Sarah Jones from the Digital Curation Centre. The purpose of the workshop was to share lessons learned and help those that were just starting to set up research data services within their institutions. Each of the presenters prepared three slides: 1. What went well, 2. What didn’t go so well, 3. What they would do differently. All slides from the session are now publicly available.

For me the session was extremely useful not only because of the exchange of practices and learning opportunity, but also because the whole exercise prompted me to critically reflect on Cambridge Research Data Management (RDM) services. This blog post is a recollection of my thoughts on what went well, what didn’t go so well and what could have been done differently, as inspired by the original workshop’s questions.

What went well

RDM services at Cambridge started in January 2015 – quite late compared to other UK institutions. The late start meant however that we were able to learn from others and to avoid some common mistakes when developing our RDM support. The Jisc’s Research Data Management mailing list was particularly helpful, as it is a place used by professionals working with research data to look for help, ask questions, share reflections and advice. In addition, Research Data Management Fora organised by the Digital Curation Centre proved to be not only an excellent vehicle for knowledge and good practice exchange, but also for building networks with colleagues in similar roles. In addition, Cambridge also joined the Jisc Research Data Shared Service (RDSS) pilot, which aimed to create a joint research repository and related infrastructure. Being part of the RDSS pilot not only helped us to further engage with the community, but also allowed us to better understand the RDM needs at the University of Cambridge by undertaking the Data Asset Framework exercise.

In exchange for all the useful advice received from others, we aimed to be transparent about our work as well. We therefore regularly published blog posts about research data management at Cambridge on the Unlocking Research blog. There were several additional advantages of the transparent approach: it allowed us to reflect on our activities, it provided an archival record of what was done and rationale for this and it also facilitated more networking and comments exchange with the wider RDM community.

Engaging Cambridge community with RDM

Our initial attempts to engage research community at Cambridge with RDM was compliance based: we were telling our researchers that they must manage and share their research data because this was what their funders require. Unsurprisingly however, this approach was rather unsuccessful – researchers were not prepared to devote time to RDM if they did not see the benefits of doing so. We therefore quickly revised the approach and changed the focus of our outreach to (selfish) benefits of good data management and of effective data sharing. This allowed us to build an engaged RDM community, in particular among early career researchers. As a result, we were able to launch two dedicated programmes, further strengthening our community involvement in RDM: the Data Champions programme and also the Open Research Pilot Project. Data Champions are (mostly) researchers, who volunteered their time to act as local experts on research data management and sharing to provide advice and specialised training within their departments.The Open Research Pilot Project is looking at the benefits and barriers to conducting Open Research.

In addition, ensuring that the wide range of stakeholders from across the University were part of the RDM Project Group and had an oversight of development and delivery of RDM services, allowed us to develop our services quite quickly. As a result, services developed were endorsed by wide range of stakeholders at Cambridge and they were also developed in a relatively coherent fashion. As an example, effective collaboration between the Office of Scholarly Communication, the Library, the Research Office and the University Information Services allowed integration between the Cambridge research repository, Apollo, and the research information system, Symplectic Elements.

What didn’t go so well

One of the aspects of our RDM service development that did not go so well was the business case development. We started developing the RDM business case in early 2015. The business case went through numerous iterations, and at the time of writing of this blog post (August 2017), financial sustainability for the RDM services has not yet been achieved.

One of the strongest factors which contributed to the lack of success in business case development was insufficient engagement of senior leadership with RDM. We have invested a substantial amount of time and effort in engaging researchers with RDM and by moving away from compliance arguments, to the extent that we seem to have forgotten that compliance- and research integrity-based advocacy is necessary to ensure the buy in of senior leadership.

In addition, while trying to move quickly with service development, and at the same time trying to gain trust and engagement in RDM service development from the various stakeholder groups at Cambridge, we ended up taking part in various projects and undertakings, which were sometimes loosely connected to RDM. As a result, some of the activities lacked strategic focus and a lot of time was needed to re-define what the RDM service is and what it is not in order to ensure that expectations of the various stakeholders groups could be properly managed.

What could have been done differently

There are a number of things which could have been done differently and more effectively. Firstly, and to address the main problem of insufficient engagement with senior leadership, one could have introduced dedicated, short sessions for principal investigators on ensuring effective research data management and research reproducibility across their research teams. Senior researchers are ultimately those who make decisions at research-intensive institutions, and therefore their buy-in and their awareness of the value of good RDM practice is necessary for achieving financial sustainability of RDM services.

In addition, it would have been valuable to set aside time for strategic thinking and for defining (and re-defining, as necessary) the scope of RDM services. This is also related to the overall branding of the service. In Cambridge a lot of initial harm was done due to negative association between Open Access to publications and RDM. Due to overarching funders’ and government’s requirements for Open Access to publications, many researchers started perceiving Open Access to publications merely as a necessary compliance condition. The advocacy for RDM at Cambridge started as ‘Open Data’ requirements, which led many researchers to believe that RDM is yet another requirement to comply with and that it was only about open sharing of research data. It took us a long time to change the messages and to rebrand the service as one supporting researchers in their day to day research practice and that proper management of research data leads to efficiency savings. Finally, only research data which are management properly from the very start of the research process can be then easily shared at the end of the project.

Finally, and which is also related to the focusing and defining of the service, it would have been useful to decide on a benchmarking strategy from the very beginning of the service creation. What is the goal(s) of the service? Is it to increase the number of shared datasets? Is it to improve day to day data management practice? Is to to ensure that researchers know how to use novel tools for data analysis? And, once the goal(s) is decided, design a strategy to benchmark the progress towards achieving this goal(s). Otherwise it can be challenging to decide which projects and undertakings are worth continuation and which ones are less successful and should be revised or discontinued. In order to address one aspect of benchmarking, Cambridge led the creation of an international group aiming to develop a benchmarking strategy for RDM training programmes, which aims to create tools for improving RDM training provision.

Final reflections

My final reflection is to re-iterate that the questions asked of me by the workshop leaders at the Jisc RDN meeting really inspired me to think more holistically about the work done towards development of RDM services at Cambridge. Looking forward I think asking oneself the very same three questions: what went well, what did not go so well and what you would do differently, might become for a useful regular exercise ensuring that RDM service development is well balanced and on track towards its intended goals.

Published 24 August 2017
Written by Dr Marta Teperek

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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.


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 

Where did they come from? Educational background of people in scholarly communication

Scholarly communication roles are becoming more commonplace in academic libraries around the world but who is actually filling these roles? The Office of Scholarly Communication in Cambridge recently conducted a survey to find out a bit more about who makes up the scholarly communication workforce and this blog post is the first in a series sharing the results.

The survey was advertised in October 2016 via several mailing lists targeting an audience of library staff who worked in scholarly communication. For the purposes of the survey we defined this as:

The process by which academics, scholars and researchers share and publish their research findings with the wider academic community and beyond. This includes, but is not limited to, areas such as open access and open data, copyright, institutional repositories and research data management.

In total 540 people responded to the calls for participation with 519 going on to complete the survey, indicating that the topic had relevance for many in the sector.

Working patterns

Results show that 65% of current roles in scholarly communication have been established in respondent’s organisations for less than five years with fewer than 15% having been established for more than ten years. Given that scholarly communication is still growing as a discipline this is perhaps not a surprising result.

It should also be noted that the survey makes no distinction between those who are working in a dedicated scholarly communication role and those who may have had additional responsibilities added to a pre-existing position. These roles tend to sit within larger organisations which employ over 200 people although whether the organisation was defined as the library or wider institution was open to interpretation by respondents.

Responses showed an even spread of experience in the library and information science (LIS) sector with 22% having less than five years’ experience and 27% having more than twenty.  Since completing their education just over half of respondents have remained within LIS but given the current fluctuations in the job market it is not surprising to learn that just under half of people have worked outside the sector within the same period.

Respondents were also asked to list the ways in which they actively contributed to the scholarly publication process. The majority (72%) did so by authoring scholarly works or contributing to the peer review process (44%). Although not specified as a category a number of respondents highlighted their work in publishing material, indicating a change in the scholarly process rather than a continuation to the status quo.

LIS qualifications

Most of those (71%) who responded to the survey either have or are currently working towards a postgraduate qualification in LIS, an anticipated result given the target population of the survey. The length of time respondents had held their qualification was evenly spread in line with the amount of time spent working in the sector with 48% having achieved their qualification less than ten years ago whilst 49% having held their qualification for over a decade. Just over half of this group felt that their LIS qualification did not equip them with knowledge of the scholarly communication process (56%).

Around a fifth of respondents (21%) hold a library and information science qualification at a level other than postgraduate, with the majority of being at bachelor level. Of these there was a fairly even divide between those who have held this qualification for five to ten years (31%) and those who qualified more than twenty years ago (28%). Only 17% of this group felt that their studies equipped them with appropriate knowledge of scholarly communication.

Qualifications outside LIS

A small number of respondents do not hold qualifications in LIS but hold or are working towards postgraduate qualifications in other subjects. Most of this group hold/are working on a PhD (69%) in a range of subjects from anatomy to mechanical engineering.

This group overwhelmingly felt that what they learnt during their studies had practical applications in their work in scholarly communication (74%). This was a larger percentage than those who had studied LIS at either undergraduate or postgraduate level. These results echo experiences at Cambridge where a large proportion of the team is made up of people from a variety of academic backgrounds. In many ways this has proven to be an asset as they have direct experience of the issues faced by current researchers and are able to offer insight into how best to meet their needs.

So what does this tell us?

The scholarly communication workforce is expanding as academic libraries respond to the changing environment and shift their focus to research support. Many of these roles have been created in the past five years in particular within larger organisations better positioned to devote resources to increasing their scholarly communication presence.

Although results from this survey indicate that the majority of staff come from a library background a diverse range of levels and subjects are represented. As noted above this can provide unique insights into researcher needs but it also raises the question of what trained library professionals can bring to this area. Given that the majority of those educated in LIS felt that their qualification did not adequately equip them for their role this is a potentially worrying trend which needs to be explored further.

We will be continuing to analyse the results of the survey over the next few months to address both this and other questions. Hopefully this will provide insight into where scholarly communications librarians are now and what they can do to ensure success into the future.

Published 9 March 2017
Written by Claire Sewell
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