23 Research Things – Thing 23

Today marks the end of the #23researchcam programme. The last Thing involves the ultimate research tool – the library! As a lifelong library user, and a librarian, I thoroughly approve of framing libraries as such, and I feel very strongly about the importance and centrality of a good library to the research process. I take my responsibility as a supporter and facilitator of learning and research very seriously, and I’m likewise always incredibly impressed by the knowledge, dedication and passion of my fellow librarians, within and outside Cambridge, in academic and non-academic library sectors.

This is really crucial: a library is not just the shelves of books or collections of electronic resources made available to its users. A library is made by the people who work in it – their expertise, deep experience, and enthusiasm and support are vital for the creation and continuation of a flourishing research community. I frequently have conversations with users who are surprised by the services offered by my library, the areas of responsibility of its staff, and our knowledge of obscure resources. I’m sure my fellow librarians can all recall a number of conversations that begin, ‘I didn’t know the library did this!’ To give you the idea of a typical library assistant’s week, this week my work has ranged from typical enquiry-desk duties (answering users’ questions, issuing and returning books and so on) to meeting fellow ‘Data Champions’ (bioinformaticians, psychiatry PhD students, and other researchers) as the start of a programme teaching and advising researchers in our department about research data management, and from developing a search strategy for a systematic review to meeting library users for a series of one-to-one literature search support training sessions. I’ve also been tweeting about resources, editing our library website, and teaching myself how to use a new project management tool.

I have also had the good fortune to experience fantastic libraries from the other side of the enquiry desk, as a user of public libraries and school libraries throughout my childhood and beyond, and of academic libraries as an undergrad, MPhil and PhD student. I still have very fond memories of the librarians who ran my local public library (especially their Saturday morning children’s programme, and their extensive nonfiction collection which formed the basis of many school assignments in those years before the ubiquity of the internet). I spent long hours in the excellent Fisher Library at the University of Sydney during my undergrad years, poring over its various medieval language dictionaries, and borrowing books and journals for which I seemed to have been the sole borrower since the early twentieth century. During my MPhil and PhD, I was privileged to be a user of the English Faculty Library here in Cambridge, which remains my standard for academic libraries, and the example of whose staff I always try to emulate in my daily work. I am incredibly grateful for the existence of those – and other – libraries, and in particular for their staff, without whose support I would not be where I am today.

This post is getting pretty long and rhapsodic, so I’ll try and wrap things up with a couple of reflections on the 23 Research Things programme as a whole. I’ve found it to be a positive experience overall. I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on my own practice and knowledge, and my increased awareness of resources and spaces likely to be used by the students and researchers I support. In some cases, this has led to me making changes to practice, while in others it has affirmed my belief in my current approaches to certain resources and platforms. It’s also been great to see so many participants from different backgrounds taking part in the programme and learning from their experiences. If I had one issue with the programme, it’s a fairly minor quibble, but I think it’s worth raising: some Things required signing up with specific resources, including some that I was not interested in using (Linkedin springs immediately to mind) and was unlikely to be persuaded to use. I think if a similar programme were to run in the future, it might be better to focus on activities and resources that can be used without requiring a login. Of course users would be free to create accounts with those resources if they appealed, but removing the requirement to sign up on specific platforms would certainly be preferable to me. I understand that, at bare minimum, participants would still need a Twitter account and a blog on a platform of their choice, but I feel that a login on other platforms is unnecessary (or could be avoided by creating a set of guest accounts, which is what I provide for participants in certain training courses I run).

Overall, I’ve enjoyed participating in 23 Research Things. I’m really happy that Georgina and the team at the Moore Library took the effort to put something like this together – so thanks very much for all your hard work! I’m keen to hear what my fellow participants thought of the programme, and look forward to hearing what they do with their newfound knowledge of resources and research skills in the future.

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23 Research Things – Thing 22

We’ve reached our penultimate post, which is going to be about altmetrics – tracking the reach of your research through non-traditional channels. I’ve chosen to focus on the tools that analyse the reach of Twitter accounts, rather than publications, because although I do have published articles, the bulk of my work involves training, support, and communication, so I feel Twitter is a more useful medium on which to focus.

For today’s exercise I used both Twitter’s own analytics tool, and the external tool Twitter Reach Report. What I found through both did not surprise me much – my personal Twitter account is a textbook example of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. I’m a bit of a Twitter lurker, and when I do tweet, it tends to be short, broadcast-like announcements of blog posts and the like, rather than any active engagement with my followers, the people I follow, or the wider scholarly and librarian community. The only exception is conferences and workshops, when I livetweet furiously and get into lengthy conversations, and I suspect if I’d taken stats shortly after a conference, my analytics would look very different. As it stands, my tweets of the past twenty-eight days do not have much reach, have inspired little engagement, and only occasionally got retweeted or liked. As I say, this doesn’t surprise me, although I know that I take a very different approach to Twitter when using my library’s (rather than my own) Twitter account, replying to, and getting involved with, other tweets and conversations, and generally sparking a much greater level of engagement. I guess these uninspiring analytics figures demonstrate my ambivalence about using social media in a personal/professional hybrid: namely, representing myself alone, but in a professional context. I’m much more comfortable using tools like Twitter when they are solely professional (i.e. my library’s official account), or solely personal (i.e. an account in which I talk about hobbies, my personal life, politics and so on, among a group of followers who are friends from outside my professional sphere). When faced with a confluence of the personal and professional, my response seems to be to refrain from posting at all. And as a result, outside of conference livetweeting, my Twitter analytics are pretty poor.

I’m not sure I necessarily want to change things, however. This 23 Research Things programme has certainly caused me to reflect a lot on my own habits and practices, but in many cases it’s reaffirmed my sense that I’m using resources in a way that makes sense to me, even if it’s not necessarily the way that will make the biggest splash or generate the most recognition. In many ways, I’m content to be a quiet lurker, and let my work speak for me.

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23 Research Things – Thing 21

We’re in the final week of this programme, and today’s Thing deals with managing citations. This is a topic about which I know a fair bit, as I run regular group training sessions on reference management software, as well as providing one-to-one support for library users with problems involving referencing.

Thing 21 focuses on a single reference manager, Zotero, while I also use and teach Endnote and Mendeley, but all do roughly the same thing: provide a single place to gather references from disparate sources, organise these references according to a user’s preferences, share the references with collaborators, and use the references when adding citations and a bibliography to a written document. I did not use a reference manager while writing my undergrad dissertation, M.Phil dissertation, PhD thesis, or numerous essays, talks or publications, and I regret this a lot. I regretted it most during the week I spent painstakingly copying and pasting more than five hundred footnotes in my PhD into a bibliography and making sure they were following a consistent citation style! Now, I always tell this anecdote to my students to ensure they don’t make my mistakes!

Zotero is an extremely straightforward reference manager to use because it is entirely web-based, and the method of importing references from databases, library catalogues, Google Scholar and elsewhere is the same, no matter the source or the type of reference. Other reference managers require multiple steps between selecting references to import and actually importing them, and are thus less user-friendly at the import stage. Zotero also allows the user to import webpages as references, which is not possible in Endnote or Mendeley.

Today’s Thing also mentions setting up a profile with ORCiD. Luckily, I already did this some time ago, and now have a profile populated with education and employment history, as well as all my publications. For someone like me, who has published in two wildly different fields (the obscure area of the humanities in which I did my PhD, and the much less obscure science subject in which I now provide training and research support), ORCiD is extremely welcome, as it provides a way to link all my divergent research together. Otherwise, most people looking at my list of publications would think that they were the work of two different researchers. I highly recommend that all researchers get an account with ORCiD, especially as it is not tied to your institution, meaning that it provides a permanent platform on which to list and promote your research. If your institution doesn’t provide you with a good Web presence (for example, some universities don’t provide webpages for PhD students), or if you have moved between several institutions, or if you are researching from outside academia as an independent scholar, ORCiD provides a stable, professional-looking platform for your online presence. And unlike for-profit social media sites such as Academia.edu or Researchgate, you will not run into issues with copyright of your listed articles, since the norm on ORCiD is to provide DOIs and links to databases/repositories, rather than PDFs of publications, meaning that only those who have the correct institutional logins will be able to access your publications.

I strongly encourage all researchers who are writing and publishing their research outputs to start using a reference manager (it doesn’t have to be Zotero), and set up an account with ORCiD, as I believe both will make the writing, publishing, and promotion of their work a whole lot easier.

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23 Research Things – Thing 20

Today is all about data visualisation, which I have to admit is not a subject I’ve given a huge amount of thought in the past. This programme has been great in this way, getting me to consider aspects of research (and research support) that I’d previously avoided or ignored. Given that I typically deal with data that’s fairly simple, I’ve mostly been able to present it in a very simple format (usually Venn diagrams or brief tables).

I can see that the resources described in today’s presentation would be tremendously helpful for researchers wanting to jazz up their data and present it in a visually meaningful and memorable way, but I’m going to talk here about another data visualisation tool that I’ve used, TurningPoint polling software. Today’s Thing is very timely, as I arrived at work to find that I would need to conduct an impromptu TurningPoint training session for a user, which was a great opportunity to brush up on my knowledge of this software.

TurningPoint is used not to present a researcher’s own data, but rather to gather data from attendees at presentations, seminars, or other group events. The way it works is simple: a user installs the TurningPoint software, and then creates PowerPoint presentations through it. These presentations typically will include a number of slides with options for the audience to answer multiple choice, true or false, or other types of questions in which multiple potential answers are displayed on the slide. Attendees register their answers using special ‘clickers’, and the live presentation will keep a tally of how many answers have been provided (but not who gave which answer, which remains anonymous). Once all have answered the question on a slide, the presenter is able to display the resulting answers (usually through a bar graph), and also, if they wish, indicate the correct answer on the slide. The software can also be used in situations where there is no correct answer to gauge the knowledge or background of attendees in the room (e.g. how strongly they agree or disagree with a particular statement, how much experience they have with a particular resource, and so on). I have used TurningPoint in presentations to check that students understood certain concepts (giving them multiple choice questions on boolean operators, for example) in an anonymous way, which can be useful in situations where they might feel uncomfortable revealing their lack of understanding publicly to the group.

I really like using TurningPoint, but I should mention that it is not cheap. It may be that free apps (such as Poll Everywhere) would be more useful to you as a researcher or trainer. Apps also have the advantage of not requiring the presenter/trainer to lug around a large quantity of TurningPoint clickers, although of course they do require every attendee to have a smart device, and to have installed the app prior to the presentation or training session.

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23 Research Things – Thing 19

Today I’ll be talking very briefly about text and data mining. My post will be short because this is not a technique I’ve used myself and I have no experience of it, although some of the researchers I’ve supported it have made use of data mining themselves. I think it has the potential to be a very useful research tool, but its limitations, covered in the presentation/transcript for today’s portion of the Research Things programme, may represent a significant hindrance. If text and data mining techniques cannot be used in the majority of key databases (those used by a majority of researchers in various fields), this is a severe drawback. Until this copyright issue is resolved, text and data mining should be used with care. As suggested in the presentation, it’s probably worth getting in touch with the team at ContentMine to check that you are applying text and data mining techniques correctly and complying with copyright.

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23 Research Things – Thing 18

Today’s focus is on a subject near and dear to my heart, research data management. I’ve been teaching on this subject both within my own library and to groups in various other departments around Cambridge as part of last year’s Research Ambassador project. I was even invited to teach bioinformatics PIs from all around the world how to create good data management plans as part of an international training conference they were attending. I believe good data management is fundamental to the research process.

I am fortunate enough never to have lost data myself, but I have heard horror stories of laptops stolen, USBs left in public computers, and the resulting loss of entire PhD theses/underlying data. I even met a researcher once who had backed up all her data onto an external hard drive, but left the hard drive connected to her home computer, which was subsequently stolen in a burglary, in an extraordinary streak of bad luck. When teaching research data management, among other things, I recommend to my students that they back up their data using at least two different methods, and in at least two different physical locations.

Data loss is not the only aspect of research data management: researchers also need to think about file naming conventions, sharing methods (particularly if the research is being undertaken collaboratively with a team based at multiple institutions), and making data associated with publications available openly. These elements may have costs associated (for example storage of data on an open access repository), and this needs to be considered at an early stage of the research process so that costs can be factored in to grant applications. I strongly recommend using a tool such as DMP Online, which has templates for data management plans required by most major funding bodies. These can be completed by multiple users, so a group applying for a grant can share in the creation of such plans. If a particular funder’s template is not represented on DMP Online, there is a generic template that can be used. This resource makes the process of creating a data management plan a lot simpler, as the templates make it very clear what sort of information needs to be considered and included. It is free to use.

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23 Research Things – Thing 16

Today’s Thing focuses on crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, and ‘citizen science’, which basically means getting the general public involved with funding and/or carrying scientific research. In some ways this makes a lot of sense: a great deal of research is government-funded (and thus funded by the taxes of the general public) and intended to be a public good, so crowdfunding is simply taking out a step in the process. Likewise, getting interested members of the general public involved in the research process is a wonderful method of outreach, and can do a lot to demystify the scientific process and give people a sense of ownership of research which their taxes may be funding.

I’ve encountered a lot of crowdfunding tools, many of which are used by friends of mine who are freelance writers, artists or craftspeople, but hadn’t known they were used to fund scientific research. As far as I’m concerned, using tools such as Kickstarter, Patreon, or GoFundMe is perfectly legitimate. My only caveat would be that anyone seeking to raised funds through such platforms should make sure they’re aware of any fees or conditions imposed, and factor them in to the funding target. I would also encourage researchers to consider the ethical implications involved in raising funds this way (if any member of the public is allowed to contribute, researchers could find themselves associated financially with individuals or organisations they may prefer not be connected with, for example).

As a librarian, I’m not sure I’ll be doing research that could be crowdfunded any time soon, but I can see the benefits of raising funds in this way.

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