31 Aug 2013

The value of free online learning resources: librarians’ perspectives

Back in May, Taylor & Francis spoke to librarians in order to find out what they think about facilitating access to free learning resources alongside traditional (paid-for) resources within their institutions.

The free and reliable resources out there that immediately spring to one’s mind are repositories (green) and open access journals/books (gold), as well as specialised stuff such as information literacy OERs among other things. However, the sheer quantity (and oftentimes very good quality) of all things free on the Web makes it very difficult to identify and reliably capture the same, namely podcasts, videos, presentations, blog entries and wikis.

The report’s findings show some interesting insights, particularly in the ‘requirements and challenges’ department, when it comes to the handling of, and facilitating access to, open learning resources that librarians find worthwhile exposing to their respective user communities.

But first I’d like to highlight some selected key findings that I feel are worth isolating here (the full report can be found here; see Appendix A for the research methodology).

It’s encouraging to see that a vast majority of surveyed librarians (92%) agree that free online content adds value to the learning and research process. Likewise, people would like to see that more money is put towards efforts in surfacing such content (83%). See the chart below for more librarian opinions on various other statements in relation to free online resources.

Figure 1: T&F survey, p. 9, April 2013
Of interest is also to see what factors influence librarians to consequently exposing free resources to their audiences. Relevance (67%) and reputation (49%) are considered most important. Significant is also the expected permanency of content (dead links in subject portals are a common sight).  Interestingly, student requests are considered least important influencers, whereas faculty requests are given more weight. This strikes me as odd as Web savvy students represent valuable sources to tap into when it comes to pinpointing alternative learning resources.

Figure 2: T&F survey, p. 15, April 2013
The survey’s participants also indicated what challenges exist to increasing awareness and discoverability of free Web resources at their libraries. Unknown permanence (39%) and difficulties in managing the growing volume of free content (36%) are considered to be the most pressing issues here; adequate archiving is also of concern (28%). See the chart below for more areas.

Figure 3: T&F survey, p. 19, April 2013

As mentioned above, the Taylor & Frances white paper points out ten requirements and challenges for librarians to facilitating open access online learning resources:
  1. Creation and adoption of metadata standards to signal how ‘open’ content is
  2. Improved identification of free articles in hybrid journals
  3. Permanence of access and reliable archiving for free content
  4. Comprehensive indexing of quality free resources by discovery systems
  5. Provision of usage statistics for free online content, consistent across publishers
  6. Improved integration of free content with link resolvers
  7. Development of a wider range of trusted repositories linking to free content
  8. Improved user interfaces for accessing library-surfaced content
  9. More training and support in information literacy skills for students and faculty
  10. Development of metrics for evaluating impact of content (free and paid-for) on institutional performance
A solid start for dealing with the challenges of facilitating access to free online resources is 1) formulate a free-online resources collection policy (see example) including filtering/decision-making workflows and, 2) recruit the help of readily available audiences (academic staff and students) for the purpose of identifying such resources.

Curation as learning in information literacy

"Curating the information available within an organization is a growing need, and one that learning and performance professionals need to be able to address. We need to be the people that organizations trust to help replace the endless noise with clarity." Steve Rosenbaum, Curation Nation

Curation is not exactly a new concept for libraries; for centuries we have been selecting, organising and preserving information. However, the ability to curate content effectively is now demanded of virtually everyone in today's information rich environment. Recently I have been thinking more and more about the use of content curation as a teaching and learning activity to help develop information literacy in the academic setting.

In its most fluid form, curation is an extension of a traditional annotated bibliography that potentially combines traditional scholarly resources with newer emerging types of information and data such as multimedia and social media. Whilst on the surface this may seem a simple matter of collecting a few links and references, in reality it involves multiple competencies and higher order skills. It requires a good understanding of how information is organised, where and how to find it, and the nature of different types of information. The curator also needs to have a good knowledge of the specific topical area, as well as the ability to appraise sources effectively in order to sieve through large volumes of information. Content curation not only involves finding relevant and valuable information, but also filtering out unnecessary, inappropriate and inaccurate sources. It combines creativity with analytical skills, can be easily applied in a collaborative context, and also provides an opportunity for peer assessment and feedback as individuals or groups can also rate or evaluate the resources chosen by others. 

Curation Flavours
Rohit Bargava discusses 5 Models of Content Curation which show how the basic concept of curation can be tweaked to focus on particular aspects or goals: 

- compiling the most relevant information about a particular topic into a single location (this is the type of curation most people think of)
Distillation - simplifying information down to the key or essential ideas
Elevation - identifying a larger trend or 'the bigger picture' from individual posts, articles or details
Mash ups - merging and remixing existing content to create new ideas or perspectives
Chronology - organising information in a timeline to show the evolution of a subject, topic or idea

These different flavours of curation may also help students gain a deeper understanding of the importance of context in sourcing information, for example, the difference between extracting the key idea in a subject compared to tracking the historical context of an event.

The richness and range of information sources today creates both a challenge and an opportunity for the curator, and there are many existing tools and applications available freely on the web which provide intuitive platforms for content curation.

For further reading, try David Kelly's excellent post that collects some of the resources shared on curation at #ASTD2013- Curation: Beyond the Buzzword

Image copyright Welenia, 2011, http://seventhirtyjourney.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/content-curation/content-curation_models/
Posted on Saturday, August 31, 2013 | Categories:

20 Aug 2013

Using Google Sites as a subject and resources web portal

I use Google Sites quite a bit – as a Wiki platform for documenting processes and the mapping of workflows etc. It’s straight forward to use, quickly deployed and flexible with the ability to add on some bells and whistles if required. However, using ‘free’, cloud-based services means taking a risk when the same are discontinued (see iGoogle for example which will be offline from November of this year). Likewise, when a bunch of people add, modify and delete content from a shared Wiki, things can go wrong. A workaround for both scenarios here is to simply play it safe and back up your page in regular intervals storing it offline with full integrity maintained. httrack serves me very well for this purpose.

Through my colleague (thanks David!) I came across the idea of using Google Sites as an outlet for designing and publishing subject research and resource guides. When looking at Seth Allen’s reusable template, I immediately thought “nice one”. The selling point here is that it not only offers flexibility (you can embed services from other sources, such as Feds2JS, Zoho Creater or libraryH3lp etc.), but also allows libraries with budget strains and limited tech skill to get a fairly sophisticated web portal up and running rather quickly.

Check out Seth’s presentation below for more details.

Check out Sites Help if you're new to Google Sites.

19 Aug 2013

Are our students "academically adrift", and what does this mean for academic libraries?

CC Image: Matt Coughlin: http://www.flickr.com/photos/18123948@N00/3009788248/
Last week began with the news that Irish Universities could lose up to €50m of funding if they fail to meet key performance objectives relating to student retention, research and matching graduates to the needs of industry. Fortunately, good news came in the form of the 2013 Shanghai Academic Rankings, which placed 3 Irish universities in the top 3% globally: TCD, UCD and UCC (See Brian Lucey's Actually Irish Universities are Outstanding for more discussion). Notwithstanding this, the suggestion that the higher education system may be failing to equip graduates for the 21st century workplace has pervaded discussion at a global level, not just within Ireland, for some time now.

Arum and Roksa's Academically Adrift is just one of many publications that tries to make sense of this challenge. It raises some of the big questions in higher education in the US, which can't be ignored further afield either: What do students learn - if anything - during their time at university? Does the college system reduce or increase inequality?  In short, does the current system actually produce graduates who meet the needs of today's economy? One of the flagship findings of the study is that 45% of students demonstrated no statistically significant improvement in critical thinking, reasoning or writing after completing their first two years at college - the time period when most learning typically takes place. Moreover the gap that exists between low and high performing students on entering college is an enduring one, with the former not benefitting from any 'catching-up' effect. Could the shift towards online education be widening this gap even further? These findings have clear implications for university management, administration and faculty. However, what do they mean for academic libraries?

The root of the problem is arguably outside our control to a certain extent. Many students are arriving at our university gates without adequate preparation for third level education; clearly this needs to be addressed at primary and second levels. As Arum & Roksa note, this problem has been exacerbated by the current culture of "university for all" - even those who may not be particularly suited to, interested in, or committed to, the academic environment. Innovative initiatives like NUIM Library's outreach programme for local secondary students could make a real difference in this area, but rolling out this model more extensively would be too much for current third level library staffing levels to bear.

This trend also reaffirms the view that helping our students to develop information and digital literacies is a key challenge for today's academic librarian. The intuitive nature of modern discovery services can help greatly in how we teach IL. Instead of having to focus on explaining complex database-specific rules and regulations, it frees up valuable time for teaching our undergraduates skills like comparing and contrasting different kinds of information sources, and synthesising evidence to construct and support their own academic voice. However, I do believe that information literacy is something far broader than just the handful of competencies related to critical thinking and reasoning, and we must not lose sight of this or allow it to be diluted.

The truth is, I believe in many instances we are already doing excellent work in this area: supporting college-wide orientation programmes; targeting first years and other at-risk groups; providing subject or faculty liaison services that offer a visible and approachable contact point for students. Maybe we need to be more vocal in articulating the explicit contribution we can and do make in this area? We need to make sure we can also provide evidence of the positive impact of our IL interventions to support our case. However, the more embedded our instruction becomes, the greater the difficulty in extracting and isolating the library's influence from other confounding variables. It is not an easy task, but at the very least it is a conversation we need to start having.

Publish or Perish has become a mantra in higher education in recent times, but what about Teach or Trail? Certainly, scholarly communications and measuring the value of research is an important and evolving area. However the terrain of teaching has also been changing, with new technologies and theories emerging. How are we measuring, assessing and improving our instruction? Perhaps it is time to open up this debate, and look at how we can help support more effective student learning.

Posted on Monday, August 19, 2013 | Categories:

18 Aug 2013

Why Slideshare is my second CPD tool

When it comes to online CPD, I have found that my own learning style is a lot more comfortable with flexible, informal and social learning than more structured programmes like elearning courses. At this stage I have probably signed up for 6 or 7 different MOOCs (some of which I am sure are excellent) but have never managed to get past the second week in any of them. This is not because I'm not interested in learning or I don't care about developing my skills, but rather I just find the format too restrictive; work and other things often get in the way, and once I fall behind it is all too easy to give up.

However, there are other more flexible tools out there that I find incredibly valuable for learning and CPD. Twitter is the obvious one, but Slideshare would definitely be my number 2. Firstly, it is a great source of inspiration for helping you create your own presentations for teaching or conferences. There are some exceptional examples on Slideshare that really show you how good Powerpoint can be when used correctly (here I will reference the many Prezi V Powerpoint debates I have had with librarians in the past :)).

However, it can even be a good idea to create a slidedeck on a topic that you are researching or upskilling in to cement and consolidate your own learning. I have found that putting together information in this format forces you to reflect on the key aspects in a much more active way than just passively consuming information from articles and other media. Also, by sharing it online you can help others too.

The archive of presentations on Slideshare is so extensive now that it includes a wealth of topics as well as many of the major LIS conferences. It makes a great source to dip in an out of for 'just in time' learning when you need a quick overview on a topic that you may not be very familiar with. The variety and richness in users' presentation styles also helps, and it can be interesting to compare and contrast two or more presentations on essentially the same topic.

Whilst tools like Slideshare are obviously no substitute for attending conferences in person, there are a couple of advantages. Firstly, you can just focus on the specific talks you are most interested in rather than the whole programme. This can be particularly useful for interdisciplinary conferences where some presentations may be less relevant. Secondly, a basic Slideshare account (which lets you do most things) is free, I have not yet upgraded to the Pro version in spite of being a regular user, so would be interested to hear from anyone who has, and if they think it is worth the investment.

13 Aug 2013

If you think social media is free, you're doing it wrong

Why are you using social media in your library? Well, it's free so what is there to lose? The answer is quite a lot actually. Because using social media effectively is a time sponge, and that well-worn equation time = money has never been truer.

Firstly, social media typically needs some form of valuable content, whether it's a well-researched blog post or an attention-grabbing tweet. In short, content costs. Relevant, engaging and valuable content costs even more. You also need to think about how you brand your social media communications; this doesn't mean you need a shiny new logo, but it does mean devoting some time and attention to the consistency of your content, tone and the look and feel across different platforms.

Answering queries at an always-on pace, replying to every comment and RT with a customised and considered response, and taking the time to seek out, follow and understand your users online may be a full-time job in itself if you are working for a large or busy organisation.This is before you take into consideration the time it takes collecting and interpreting your analytics. Add to this the difficulties (read near-impossibility) of quantifying the benefit or impact, if any, of using social media, and the clock starts ticking louder still. How do you justify time that some may see as fruitlessly surfing the internet?

Further still, the more successful you are at using social media, the greater the level of engagement with your users, and ultimately the more time consuming it becomes. So why do we do it? Because information behaviour is changing, and as the balance of power shifts from search to social, failing to establish ourselves in this space could be dangerous. Given this challenge, I think it is better to try and 'do one thing well', rather than ending up with a half-hearted presence across multiple platforms if you don't have the time to devote to a more extensive strategy. There is nothing worse than an unloved Facebook page or a tumbleweed Twitter account. If this is your only option, it may be better to steer clear of social media altogether, or better still focus on the single tool that you think can deliver most in terms of relationship-building, interaction and engagement given your goals. You may need to go back to basics and even ask yourself why you are using social media in the first place. But remember, if you think social media is free, you're not doing it right.

CC Image: Mark Smiciklas
Posted on Tuesday, August 13, 2013 | Categories:

9 Aug 2013

Libraries must embrace the liquid revolution

Guest post by David Egan, academic library user and mature student

Imagine you are a fourteen year old boy who wants to learn how to use a cool piece of audio software - Garageband for example - and ask yourself which would you prefer to do: read a manual that was written by a team of software engineers who are not inclined to use a comprehensible word if there is an incomprehensible technical alternative, or listen to a teenager who is fluent in both the programme, and your particular strain of the English language, talk you step by step through the basics while you watch his computer screen illustrate exactly what yours should be doing.

If you chose the former you probably are a software engineer who prefers acronyms to euonyms. If, on the other hand, you chose the latter, you are, I suspect, normal. This option is not only more painless but it is also arguably far more effective. Using this approach, as with the manual, you get the semantic meaning of the words, however, you also get the audio stimulus of hearing the words being spoken and you get a visual display that reinforces memory and assists understanding. This argument has been well made by many lecturers to their students promoting the virtues of attending lectures above simply reading text books.

Since returning to college as a mature student, I have needed little persuasion on this point. I enjoy lectures far more than I do reading textbooks. I have also rediscovered the pleasures of being back within the walls of an academic library. The silence, the smell of books, the sheer weight of intellect that lines the aisles lends these halls a literary gravitas that cannot be matched in the architecture of lesser places. In spite of this, in the context of the technological world in which we live, if the Web is analogous to the teenager in the Garageband instruction video, it pains me to say it, but academic libraries are analogous to the comparatively daunting and difficult Garageband user manual.

Whether we like it or not, this is the age of the Web. Instant, excellent and unlimited entertainment, communication, titillation and education, and it is especially in this last sector that libraries are suffering by comparison. Wonderful places though they are, compared to typing the word "Descartes" into Youtube, libraries are intimidating and difficult. Kids today, while researching video game cheats or school projects, have learned how to go about getting answers on the web and, given a college project in a few years’ time, I suspect that many of them will at least begin their search with this approach. As YouTube and Google get better and better at bringing up easy to perceive and easy to understand answers, it could be predicted that fewer and fewer kids will bother to progress beyond their computer screens.

I love reading, but as a student with a full time job and a full time family I don't get as much time as I'd like to settle down with a book. In spite of my attraction to them, libraries are often not an option. I do however possess an iPhone, and these days, although I cannot read while traveling heat sealed into a Luas, while walking from stop to destination, while unpacking a dishwasher or while mowing a lawn, thanks to all-you-can-eat data, I can listen.

On Youtube, I can listen to debates, discussions and interviews involving some of the greatest thinkers in their fields. On Topdocumentaryfilms.com I can listen to over 2,600 documentary films or collections, on topics from “nine-eleven” to Nietzsche, and on iTunes-U I can listen to some of the finest lecturers alive or dead delivering whole semesters of recitations, crafted over many years, for the most privileged of students from the worlds best universities. Mooc-list.com lists 140 colleges and institutions currently offering “massive, open, online courses” or MOOCs (see Laura Connaughton’s post of July 17) and most of these courses include free audio or video content. Thanks to this technological revolution I have been lucky enough to sit (stand, walk, mow, etc.) through hundreds of hours of these lectures from the hallowed halls of Oxford, Harvard, Cambridge, MIT, Yale and Stanford.

This, if you will, is liquid literature (though “vociture” might be a more etymologically correct term), and its volume is growing by the day at a rate with which its older relation, solid literature - that which involves the written word - could never compete. As documented elsewhere on this blog (including Alexander Kouker’s post from January last on the first digital-only public library, BiblioTech, in Texas) libraries have done well in their efforts to adapt to the emergence of the soft version of solid literature - e-books, pdfs, electronic articles and blogs - however, it seems that they have been far more resistant to embracing the liquid revolution and as a result, they may lose out to the charm and convenience of the most popular and brilliant librarian ever: Google.

So, if this were true, what could be done to arrest the demise of our beloved libraries? Writing in a recent issue of a college newsletter Alexander Kouker moots the idea of librarians roving the aisles equipped with iPads aiming to assist unsure patrons. This is a good idea for a couple of reasons. First of all, if I may judge fellow students and fellow males by my poor standards, while blindly fingering entirely the wrong shelves with feigned command, a student is about as likely to ask a librarian for help as a lost male driver is to ask a passerby for directions. Secondly, this allows the librarian to expose the true, virtually (if you'll forgive the pun) unlimited potential of the library to direct the user to their goal.

These roving iPad librarians (I will resist the temptation to refer to them as iBrarians!) could approach unsure users, direct them towards the correct shelves, and advise them of what is available locally and in other libraries. Roving librarians could be in communication with each other by way of Viber or a similar app, and one who is less qualified in a particular field could instantly summon a colleague with the appropriate knowledge of Web resources required by the user.

If, going one step further, libraries were equipped with a number of simple computers - with nothing more than a basic capacity to browse the Web quickly - and a continuous supply of cheap, airline type disposable headphones, the roving librarian could guide the user to one such station, and Viber that machine with the relevant links that they have called up on their iPad enabling the user to read, watch or listen to the remote literature available in their area of interest.

As Alexander pointed out there are obstacles that need to be overcome before such a scheme could operate smoothly,  cost and noise being the two most obvious. With regard to the former, if libraries were directing large volumes of traffic to income generating sites like YouTube, perhaps they could use that traffic as collateral in negotiating some small fee. There may also be advertising opportunities that they themselves could exploit. The issue of noise is a physical one that could conceivably be dealt with by way of quiet areas closed off from semi-quiet areas as is currently the practice in many libraries including Iowa University Library (see their noise policy here).

For better or worse, we are raising a generation of kids who are used to convenience learning. Some may argue that the realm of academic libraries, or libraries in general, is limited to that of solid literature and that audio and video are for some reason out of bounds. However, if one looks at the purpose of a library, it is hard to see why one should make such a distinction when what differs is, after all, simply the method of recording. Can it seriously be argued that an idea is worth more if it is recorded with written words instead of spoken ones? If this is true, should we disregard the teachings of Socrates? If it is not true, why should libraries limit themselves to the epistemology of the written word? In fact, one could argue that, given the relative absence of a structured catalogue of liquid literature, libraries have an even greater role to play in this area in that they are well positioned to impose such a structure, at least upon the more important works of the medium.

Posted upon the blog of John Blyberg of the Darien Library in Connecticut is a document entitled “The Darien Statements” which arose out of a summit there concerning the future of libraries. It is a grand, concise and optimistic list of statements that the authors believe to be true about the library including the notion that “the library has a moral obligation to adhere to its purpose despite social, economic, environmental, or political influences.” It goes on to state that “our methods need to rapidly change to address the profound impact of information technology on the nature of human connection and the transmission and consumption of knowledge. If the library is to fulfill its purpose in the future, librarians must commit to a culture of continuous operational change, accept risk and uncertainty as key properties of the profession, and uphold service to the user as our most valuable directive”.

It is a bold aim, but one that is surely worthy of continued pursuit.

7 Aug 2013

Services > Collections, Collections > Services, or Collections and Services?

"Bad libraries build collections. Good libraries build services"

If you look around the web you'll find plenty of people arguing that the days of traditional libraries are numbered (Last hurrah for the traditional university library). Thinking of libraries in terms of giant rooms with pretty books is an image that just doesn't cut it anymore when people are spending more and more of their time discovering and using information online. Instead, libraries should embrace a more services-oriented approach rather than a collection-based one; sell the library to our users based on what we can do for them rather than simply what we have on our shelves. After all, what use are books and journals in an empty library? This is one of the main ideas behind the 'services are becoming more important than collections' argument. Obviously this is an extreme simplification (as indeed collections are also a service!), but R. David Lankes' Bad Libraries Build Collections, Good Libraries Build Services, Great Libraries Build Communities does a good job of capturing the complexities of the idea behind the soundbyte.

"Build it, and they will come"

Conversely, speak to a cataloguer and you will be quickly converted to the idea that libraries are nothing without their collections. This is the reason why libraries are investing more resources than ever in facilitating access to our materials through discovery services, mobile technologies and our library websites. Indeed, in many cases, collections are seen as "the heart of the library" - the essential reason why people walk through our doors.

Collections and Services

Of course, both arguments are right in different ways. It also depends on the specific context of your users and their needs. As somebody who works in a library primarily aimed at supporting the translation of research into practice, my role is very much focused on supporting specific information needs at an individual level, rather than building collections as such.

Notwithstanding this, I do think we need to focus less on the collection as being the primary function of libraries, especially now that more and more information can be independently accessed online. For now, we do still have an important role to play as both curator and broker in providing access to subscription-based research information and 'commodity' materials, but as open access hopefully continues to develop this may change in the future. However, we also need to breathe new life into our collections by creating a real point of difference. Often this is delivered through our Special Collections and the content we create ourselves through digitisation and archival work. Some nice examples of this in recent times have been the UL40 photo digitisation project, NUIG's digital partnership with The Abbey Theatre, and NUI Maynooth Library's Morpeth Roll exhibition. This value is unique and impossible to replicate.

Similarly, we need to hoover up the spaces where we can add distinct value in terms of our services. But if we do go down this road, we need to be assertive and confident in claiming ownership of new territories that may be up for grabs (data management and user experience for example), and not just mop up the leftovers that nobody else wants. This may mean upskilling significantly in some cases, as well leveraging our existing strengths, to provide unique expertise to our users in sourcing hard to find material, providing tailored research advice, sharing our knowledge of how information domains are connected, and leading with new technologies that can enhance existing teaching and research workflows.

We also need to be vocal in promoting and communicating this uniqueness, and we still have a lot to learn about how we can do this most effectively. How many times have we all heard "that's a great service you offer, I never knew it existed" or "I didn't know you had access to this resource"? Instead of arguing over which is more important - our collections or our services - we need to look at both, ensuring that we can continue to offer something that nobody else does.

*Creative Commons image reused from http://www.flickr.com/photos/shacharabiry/90718825/

1 Aug 2013

International Society of Scientometrics and Informetrics Conference / Vienna, July 2013 - Insights and Perspectives

Guest Post by Michael Ladisch, Assistant Librarian at UCD Library

Attending conferences is always a nice break from the daily routine. But more importantly, you learn about cutting edge research in a field, you can strengthen existing networks or establish new connections, you get ideas and exchange experiences. The location shouldn’t really matter as long as the event is well organised and it doesn’t need to be a tourist hotspot (ever been to Milton Keynes, UK, or Bielefeld, Germany?) But sometimes you are lucky and the conference is in an interesting place you’ve never visited before.

The biennial conference of the International Society of Scientometrics and Informetrics was held in Vienna, Austria, from 15th-19th July 2013. This is one of the main conferences in the discipline, attracting about 400 participants from 42 countries this year. Previous ISSI conferences took place in Brazil and South Africa, so the short distance to Austria (relatively speaking) made it possible for me to attend.

The venue was spectacular: University of Vienna, founded in 1365, is located in the heart of the city, walking distance from many of the famous sights, but an impressive building complex by itself (actually, there are university locations in other parts of Vienna as well; the 90,000 students wouldn’t have enough space in the main building).Especially during plenary sessions in the Grosse Festsaal (Main Ceremonial Chamber) self-discipline was needed not to be distracted by wonderful wall and ceiling paintings.

Coffee and lunch breaks were spent in the courtyard, which fortunately provided some shade as temperatures were close to 30 degrees all the time.

But this is not a travel blog - so, what was the conference about? Scientometrics is a sub-field of Information Science, using often (but not exclusively) bibliometric methods to measure and analyse research. It includes such topics as citation analysis, collaboration studies, studies in university ranking, altmetrics, patent analysis, journal impact measures, etc. etc.

About 150 papers and 100 posters were presented in three very intense days on recent research being done in the discipline. Naturally, I couldn’t attend everything; I always had to choose one of four parallel panels, so my report can’t be comprehensive. Those of you interested in specific topics can access the programme and conference proceedings (about 2200 pages in print) at http://www.issi2013.org.

The panels I went to were about citation analysis, citations in full texts, usage metrics, altmetrics (of course), document types (other than journal articles) and monographs, just to name a few. Presenters talked about research projects that might improve bibliometric methods and looked into new ways of measuring research impact which can then be used for funding, recruitment or promotion decisions.  Here are a few examples:
  • Wouters: Counting publications and citations: Is more always better? (it is not – a higher citation count doesn’t necessarily mean a higher impact)
  • Strotmann: Author name co-mention analysis (based on full text analysis, this is still research in progress, but might become a useful tool in the Social Sciences and Humanities)
  • Guerrero-Bote: Relationship between downloads and citations (use of downloads as predictions for citations is limited and different in different areas) 
  • Holmberg: Disciplinary differences in Twitter scholarly communication (researchers share more links and re-tweet more than the average Twitter user; there is less scholarly tweeting in economics and history)
  • Cabezas-Clavijo: Most borrowed is most cited? (analysing loans in university libraries of Vienna and Grenada; no or only weak correlation between loans and citations)
What struck me at some point was that so many of the studies were based on Web of Science (WoS) and Scopus data. There were papers based on PubMed, Google Scholar or other data as well (see examples above), but in general bibliometric research is often focused on disciplines that are well covered by Thomson Reuters’ and Elsevier’s products. This excludes many areas, especially in the Social Sciences and Humanities. One paper (Chi: Do non-source items make a difference?) looked at the WoS representation of publications from two major Political Science departments in Germany (Muenster and Mannheim). Only 7% of the publications were listed in WoS. Here was the big elephant in the room: What are we NOT counting? What are we missing?

Though sometimes carried away by their WoS/Scopus based (and sometimes funded) research projects most bibliometricians are aware of this problem (and several papers addressed it). In two very interesting plenary sessions the consequences of bibliometrics research were discussed together with the request for improved and new methodologies. Due to lack of reliable data in some disciplines bibliometric methods should always be used with caution.

The vice-president for research of University of Vienna, Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, said quite directly: “We have to think twice before using your data. But you have the responsibility to realise your role in a more fundamental way. … We need to take decisions on the basis of data on impact. We look at published articles and at Impact Factors. As a researcher, I know that this is incorrect since these indicators do not directly reflect quality. But as a manager, I do not know what to do else.” (for more details see this blog post)

Probably the most important plenary session was on “Methodological and Ethical Problems of Individual-Level Evaluative Bibliometrics”. Paul Wouters (Univ. Leiden) and Wolfgang Glänzel (Univ. Leuven) presented their “10 Dos and Don'ts” in bibliometrics when it comes to assessing individual researchers. These points will be discussed in the bibliometrics community and might become something like a code of ethics. Some of the points are rather obvious (“Don’t rank scientists according to one indicator”), others were more surprising and will probably cause a stir (“Don’t use impact factors as a measure of quality for individual researchers”).

Hopefully, slides of the presentation will be available online (some of them are already on different platforms). If interested in a specific PPT we are asked to contact the authors. The direct link to proceedings is http://www.issi2013.org/proceedings.html. If you want to read the conference tweets search for hashtag #issi2013.

What else did I bring back from the conference? I felt that only one participant from Ireland (and I’m not even Irish) at such a high profile conference is not enough to represent our community. We should look more often and more closely at what’s happening in continental Europe. We are well connected with UK institutions, but there is also a lot of interesting stuff (not only in bibliometrics, but in library-related issues generally) going on in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and especially in the Scandinavian countries. Language is not a problem as everybody at such events is rather fluent in English. And travelling to Antwerp, Copenhagen or Vienna isn’t a much bigger effort than going to Glasgow or Canterbury. So, hopefully, at the next ISSI Conference 2015 in Istanbul there will be a larger delegation from Ireland. I can certainly recommend it.

Please, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or questions (michael.ladisch[at]ucd.ie) or follow my (infrequent) tweets at @MichaelUCDLib.