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Friday, 19 December 2014

Write Club - The first rule of Write Club is that you do not talk at Write Club



One of the biggest issues my colleagues in ScHARR and Information Resources face these days is that of trying to put concentrated time into writing. For anyone working in a shared office or providing a service, as we do in Information Resources will know, is that all too often interruptions can impact on your flow of work. There are various articles and books published on the issue of modern technology affecting our attention spans. Some argue that it can take about 15 minutes to refocus the brain to one task properly once you switch to another, such as going from writing to reading emails. For the modern student it must be worse with Snap Chats, Facebook updates and text messages all vying for attention when you are trying to complete an important essay. At ScHARR we have tried to address the issue of researchers trying and often failing to finish various writing projects, usually those kind of projects that do not have a strict deadline.

I attended a University of Sheffield hosted writing retreat which opened my eyes to the idea of silent, writing focused events. An event where staff and students are not allowed to access any form of communication, email, Social Media or their phones. Everyone begins by discussing in small groups what they hope to get out of the retreat and sets out a few clear objectives. We then wrote for a solid hour followed by a short break to hunt down coffee, tea and sweets. Another one hour session followed and we finished by discussing what we think we'd achieved and how well we had done. My group, all from ScHARR agreed that it had been a really worthwhile exercise, the silence had given it a feeling of sitting an undergraduate exam. It took me back to the late1990s and sitting in a wood-clad Firth Hall, head down writing an essay about the role of jazz in modern music, fearful of sneezing or needing the loo (OK, not that bad). The subtle peer pressure of writing and not peeking a look at your email was effective enough to make this a worthwhile event. 

In the end I managed to write two thousand words in two hours which just goes to show the kind of output you can have if you have got a topic or objective to write about and the right environment to facilitate that. The format is so simple and effective and has brilliant results. Obviously it is not for everyone, there are those lucky individuals who can stay incredibly focused these days, or do not have the distractions others have. As a result we are running a pilot over our writing week in January by hunkering down in the Library at ScHARR for six, two hour sessions where academics can work with colleagues in total silence and hopefully make some progress on their writing.
I've aptly called it Write Club - based on the cult film, Fight Club. This does not mean academics will strip off and fight in pairs in the underground car park, although this may already happen. Instead they will work on the simple rules of Write Club - that being.
The first rule of Write Club is that you do not talk at Write Club
The second rule of Write Club is that you do not talk at Write Club

Dates for the first Write Clubs have been distributed to ScHARR staff


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Happy Holidays from the ScHARR Library team!

We've been trimming the tree and hanging the lights in the ScHARR Library! To all our readers, users, fans and friends, a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Joyous Kwanzaa!


video

Monday, 15 December 2014

We're Hiring!


Do you fancy working in the above building at one of the UK's leading health research centres as part of an established team of information professionals? We are looking for a skilled information professional to cover a 12 month contract, details are below.

Information Specialist
University of Sheffield - School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR)
Contract Type: Fixed-term for 12 months
Faculty: Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health
Salary: 
Grade 6
£24,775-£28,695 per annum
Grade 7
£28,972 - £36,661 per annum.
Within the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) Information Resources Group (IRG), you will participate in the provision of a specialist health research information service to ScHARR staff and students and to NHS staff undertaking research. You will undertake literature searches to support ScHARR research and consultancy projects, and contribute to the IRG’s information skills teaching and training activities. You will take a proactive role in identifying and responding to the information needs of ScHARR Information Service users.
To apply go here:
http://bit.ly/1wvXseg


Monday, 8 December 2014

So you're an Information Specialist - What does that mean?


Me playing with the world's biggest tablet ;-)


So...what exactly do you do?

Library and information professionals are used to being asked questions, it comes with the territory. Yet one of the hardest questions I get asked on a personal and more often professional level as part of my role as an information specialist at The School of Health and Related Research is that of; ‘So what do you do?’
I’m sure I’m not alone in having problems trying to describe what I do, these days people’s job roles are either very diverse, specialised or complex. And like lots of my peers we get to meet lots of people at networking events and that invariably leads to ice-breaking questions such as that one.

Life was so much easier in the past

When I left school in Derbyshire in the 1980s I had the options of going to work down the mines, in a factory or a shop, in roles I could have easily explained in a couple of short lines. Thankfully subliminal teenage foresight stopped me from going into the doomed mining industry but I did start in a warehouse that fitted out and repaired fire engines and ambulances. Not realising it back then, this was an obvious toe-dip into library-associated work as I worked my hardest ensuring everything was catalogued; and could be sourced easily from behind the counter on request. Fast-forward nearly thirty years and things have changed somewhat. These days it’s far from easy to capture what I do, as I lecture, train, write, present, network, research and most importantly support others.

What does Chandler Bing do?
Anyone familiar with the series Friends and the character Chandler Bing will be familiar with the long running joke that no one really knew what he did. At times I feel a bit like Chandler and the thought of trying to explain my job to someone does fill me with dread. Take for example the night out I had whilst in London at Internet Librarian International where the problem again came to light. I had known the two friends I was at the bar with for over 20 years, one of whom is a master chef, the other a manager for a bike store. We got onto the topic of health research and information and I started a long monologue about how health research is carried out and how information is assessed for quality. I remember the odd look they gave me and could see their brains working overtime; “how does he know this?”. At that point I said: “you do know what I do for a living and where I work?” Obviously not, they had an idea of what I did, that it involved the Internet, social media, bits of teaching and probably a few other things.

With networking being an important aspect of our professional lives I am used to responding to the "what do you do " question in more formal situations, but even then it can feel like I don’t really know the answer myself. People can easily make assumptions: ‘ah, you’re a librarian - you shelve books’ or ‘you work in a library, so therefore say ‘shush’ a lot’. Obviously librarians reading this right now will say that is far from the case. For a start, there are different types of librarians, subject, liaison, cataloguers, systems ones to name but a few. Yet many jobs, even though not explicit, do give people an idea of what kind of environment they work in and potentially what they might do.

So again, what is it you do?

So I’m at an event or conference and that question pops up; ‘what do you do?’ My often stunted (it’s stunted as I subconsciously think; ‘oh oh, here we go again’), reply; ‘An information specialist’. I realise that the best option is just to have a pre-written short paragraph script I can call upon, but it is always too late.

The replies to that vary, from either, ‘what is that?’ to:
‘Is that like being an IT technician?’
‘Is that like being a learning technologist?’
‘Is that like being a librarian?’
‘Is that like doing social media stuff?’
‘Do you work for the Government?’
‘Ah, excuse me, I’ve just seen a friend I need to speak to’

My answers have been from the very short; ‘If I wasn’t working for a university, I’d be at GCHQ reading your emails’; to very long ones where I can see them eventually looking for the nearest exit or friend. The reality is, that for a large part of the time I do not know what I do, let’s be clear here, I know what I have to do and know how to do it - hopefully very well. Yet I do not know how to explain my job, if I was to apply for a new job (note to boss here, am not presently doing this) I would obviously use the additional information to capture the many things mentioned above as best I can. Yet, it would still leave many thinking, so what does he do again? Often this comes back to the previous notion that many people in our aligned professions are doing very diverse and unique jobs now. You could get a dozen library and information professionals in a room to talk about their profession, yet most would be coming from different perspectives, experiences and roles.

It is what it is

At my institution I’m in a fairly unique role and have been for about eight years, one where I try and look for opportunities to engage with new technologies and help others do so. So yes, to some extent I’m a learning technologist, although I lean more towards research support. I also try and keep an eye on issues relating to these technologies, security being one of them, as many are third party, so yes, there’s a bit of IT technician about me. I encourage people to use, understand and exploit technology more. I try to help people use everything from cameras to computers, from browsers to searching better, so the IT side does play a big part. I engage with social media and altmetrics quite a lot and like everything else, keep a keen eye on the ethics and privacy issues. I am interested in information and how it is used, afterall. I have a big interest in the areas of Altmetrics and social media and therefore using it a lot often means people come to me asking how to engage with social media, so yes I do that a bit.

I also have some involvement with libraries and librarians as they are a group aligned to my role, my research interests and my education. My team has a small academic library and I have had involvement with how that runs, I speak at library conferences, so again I can see why they say that I’m a librarian. What I’m trying to say is that like so many people in my profession, often our real value comes from the sum total of our parts. What underpins my role, like so many professionals I come into contact with is that I help people, or try to help them. Like any good library or information professional I may not always know the answer but can certainly find out or find someone who does know.

To conclude I have to say that to me, my job is rarely complicated, it is not hard and whilst I do not know how to hack computers or write php I am adept at using technology. It is however a very diverse role, at times demanding, very changeable and requires me to make quick decisions and think for myself whilst always looking for the right opportunities. That pretty much describes many jobs, so I am not sure why it can be so hard to describe mine. Perhaps the real reason is that the role is not only diverse, but many things to many people. Even if a lot of people see you as one thing and that one thing is useful for them then you still have a role to play in supporting them. It has been a common problem for libraries and their survival, often people see them as just a place where books are kept. Not that they are places where activities are held, experts are in residence or knowledge and technologies can be accessed. That said, for the individual in the library and information setting it remains ever-important to work hard at what you do best and exploit that area of expertise. And if anything, there will always be people who can’t really understand what you do, but will know where to find you when they need help.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Frankly, its Christmas!


There are many signs that Christmas is on its way: the lights in town, the presents in every shop window, the sound of tiny feet pattering downstairs to open their advent calendars. But perhaps the most universally recognised sign that Christmas is upon us the moment when our Frank dons his full festive ensemble:



If you're at a loose end and need a hug from Sheffield's best-dressed skeleton, come on down to the ScHARR Library, 1st floor, ScHARR Towers. He'd be delighted to see you.

Posted by Claire

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Peer review is fraught with problems, and we need a fix

The Conversation

This piece was originally written by myself for The Conversation and published in November looking at the growing interest in post publication peer review. It is republished under a Creative Commons Licence.
It was written in collaboration with Akshat Rathi from The Conversation

Image used under a Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 licence © Sebastien Wiertz  http://bit.ly/12litMf

Peer review is fraught with problems, and we need a fix
By Andy Tattersall, University of Sheffield

Dirty Harry once said, “Opinions are like assholes; everybody has one”. Now that the internet has made it easier than ever to share an unsolicited opinion, traditional methods of academic review are beginning to show their age.
We can now leave a public comment on just about anything – including the news, politics, YouTube videos, this article and even the meal we just ate. These comments can sometimes help consumers make more informed choices. In return, companies gain feedback on their products.
The idea was widely championed by Amazon, who have profited enormously from a mechanism which not only shows opinions on a particular product, but also lists items which other users ultimately bought. Comments and star-ratings should not always be taken at face value: Baywatch actor David Hasslehoff’s CD “Looking for the Best” currently enjoys 1,027 five-star reviews, but it is hard to believe that the majority of these reviews are sincere. Take for instance this comment from user Sasha Kendricks: “If I could keep time in a bottle, I would use it only to listen to this glistening, steaming pile of wondrous music.”
Anonymous online review can have a real and sometimes destructive effect on lives in the real world: a handful of bad Yelp reviews often spell doom for a restaurant or small business. Actively contesting negative or inaccurate reviews can lead to harmful publicity for a business, leaving no way out for business owners.

Academic peer review

Anonymous, independent review has been a core part of the academic research process for years. Prior to publication in any reputable journal, papers are anonymously assessed by the author’s peers for originality, correct methodology, and suitability for the journal in question. Peer review is a gatekeeper system that aims to ensure that high-quality papers are published in an appropriate specialist journal. Unlike film and music reviews, academic peer review is supposed to be as objective as possible. While the clarity of writing and communication is an important factor, the novelty, consistency and correctness of the content are paramount, and a paper should not be rejected on the grounds that it is boring to read.
Once published, the quality of any particular piece of research is often measured by citations, that is, the number of times that a paper is formally mentioned in a later piece of published research. In theory, this aims to highlight how important, useful or interesting a previous piece of work is. More citations are usually better for the author, although that is not always the case.
Take, for instance, Andrew Wakefield’s controversial paper on the association between the MMR jab and autism, published in leading medical journal The Lancet. This paper has received nearly two thousand citations – most authors would be thrilled to receive a hundred. However, the quality of Wakefield’s research is not at all reflected by this large number. Many of these citations are a product of the storm of controversy surrounding the work, and are contained within papers which are critical of the methods used. Wakefield’s research has now been robustly discredited, and the paper was retracted by the Lancet in 2010. Nevertheless, this extreme case highlights serious problems with judging a paper or an academic by number of citations.
More sophisticated metrics exist. The h-index, first proposed by physicist Jorge Hirsch, tries to account for both the quality and quantity of a scholar’s output in a single number: a researcher who has published n papers, each of which has been cited n times, has an h-index of n. In order to achieve a high h-index, one cannot merely publish a large number of uninteresting papers, or a single extremely significant masterpiece.
The h-index is by no means perfect. For example, it does not capture the work of brilliant fledgling academics with a small number of papers. Recent research has examined a variety of alternative measures of scholarly output, “altmetrics”, which use a much wider set of data including article views, downloads, and social media engagement.
Some critics argue that metrics based on tweets and likes might emphasise populist, attention-seeking articles over drier, more rigorous work. Despite this controversy, altmetrics offer real advantages for academics. They are typically much more fine-grained, providing a rich profile of the demographic who cite a particular piece of work. This system of open online feedback for academic papers is still in its infancy.
Nature journals recently started to provide authors with feedback on page-views and social media engagement, and sites such as Scirate allow Reddit-style voting on pre-print articles. However, traditional peer-reviewed journals and associated metrics such as impact factor, which broadly characterises the prestige associated with a particular journal, retain the hard-earned trust of funding organisations, and their power is likely to persist for some time.

Post-publication review

Post-publication review is a model with some potential. The idea is to get academics to review a paper after it has been published. This will remove the bottleneck that journals currently put up because editors are involved and peer review has to be done prior to publication.
But there are limitations. Academics are never short of opinions in their areas of expertise – it goes with the territory. Yet passing comment publicly on other people’s research can be risky, and negative feedback could provoke a retaliation.
Post-publication review also has the potential for bias via preconceived judgements. One researcher may leave harsh comments on another’s research based on the fact they do not like that person: rivalry in academia is not uncommon. Trolling on the web has become a serious problem in recent times, and it is not just the domain of the uneducated, bitter and twisted section, but is also enjoyed by members of society who are supposedly balanced, measured and intelligent.
One post-publication review platform, PubPeer, allows anonymous commenting – which, as seen with sites that allow for anonymous posts – could open the door for more trolling and abusive behaviour. It could offer reviewers an extra level of protection from what they say. One researcher recently filed a lawsuit over anonymous comments on PubPeer which they claim caused them to lose their job, after accusations of misconduct in their research. In a similar case, an academic claimed to have lost project funding after a reviewer complained about a blog post they had written about their project.
Post-publication comment can also be susceptible to manipulation and bias if not properly moderated. Even then, it is not easy to detect how honest and sincere someone is being over the Web. Recent stories featuring TripAdivisor and the independent health feedback website Patient Opinion show how rating and review systems can come into question. Nevertheless, research can possibly learn something from the likes of Amazon in how a long tail of research discoverability can be created. Comments and reviews may not always truly highlight how good a piece of research is, but they can help create a post-publication dialogue, a connectivity, globally about that topic of research, that in time sparks new ideas and publications.
Many now believe that long-standing metrics of academic research – peer review, citation-counting, impact factor – are reaching breaking point. But we are not yet in a position to place complete trust in the alternatives – altmetrics, open science, and post-publication review. But what is clear is that in order to measure the value of new measures of value, we need to try them out at scale.
The Conversation
Andy Tattersall does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Information Resources blog reaches more than 100,000 views

The Information Resources Blog, as managed by the Information Resources (IR) team here at ScHARR, has reached an impressive 100,000 views. In fact, because I’m so late in sending out this blog post, we have now reached an even more impressive 107,000 views. Not bad hey?

The blog was first set-up in 2007 and is aimed at fellow colleagues in the worlds of health information and higher education, with many of the posts being relevant to the work of academics more generally. There is often a focus on new technologies and social media platforms, as well as recent and upcoming work undertaken by IR.

Amongst the 107,000, we have received the most ‘page views’ from the following countries:
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • France
  • Russia
  • Germany
  • Ukraine
  • Canada
The top five most highly read blog posts since it all began in 2007 are:

1.      From October 2009: 
Total views = 4145

2.      From November 2007: 
Total views = 1136

3.      From April 2013:  
Total views = 811

4.      From September 2012: 
Total views = 760

5.      From September 2010: 
Total views = 613

In addition to the blog, we have a dedicated Information Resources Twitter account (@scharrlib), which focuses on the latest developments in health and information science. If you're yet to set yourself up with a Twitter account but think you might be interested in the information we post, you can visit the following page and sign-up for our free daily newspaper via paper.li. Or you could simply visit the page to view the latest content: http://paper.li/scharrlib/1338371438. Not convinced about the benefits of Twitter? Why not read the following blog post by Andy Tattersall about 7 new ways to work in 2013, where you will find a useful overview of the benefits of Twitter in academia.

We also have a YouTube channel called scharrvids, where you will find a whole host of tutorials on subjects such as online reference management tools and useful searching techniques. There is an option to subscribe available from the main page, so you need never miss out on a new video!

We're thrilled that the blog has continued to be so popular over the years, especially since so many new platforms and tools have become available in the years since it was first launched. A big thank you to everyone who has supported the blog over the years, by contributing to it, reading it, commenting on it and sharing the content with colleagues.