Thursday, 20 December 2012

Kathleen Cooks, a conference and a cat: the Third Discover Academic Research Training and Support Conference 28-29 June 2012

This posting is enabled through the kind permission of Jess Emerton who received financial assistance from the Kathleen Cooks Bequest Fund to attend the DARTS3 conference in June 2012. This is Jess' report from the Conference.

Attending conferences is expensive, so I’m grateful to Kathleen Cooks, a librarian in Llandudno, who bequeathed a sum of money for the benefit of libraries and librarians in the country because one of the ways the money is used by CILIP Wales is funding librarians to attend conferences.  My recent application was successful and I was delighted to receive the award, mainly because the costs would be greatly reduced for my institution but also because it recognised the value of my attendance and the strength of my application.  If anyone else is thinking of applying for the Kathleen Cooks funding, I would recommend doing so.  The application process was straightforward and CILIP Wales were very helpful throughout.

The conference was the Third Discover Academic Research Training and Support Conference (DARTS 3) on the subject of library support for research in Higher Education.  It was held on the 28th and 29th of June 2012 in Dartington Hall, Devon.  The conference was organised by CILIP University, College and Research Group, South West (now part of the new Academic and Research Libraries Group).

 And the cat of the title?  Well, it was a resident moggy who wandered amiably in and out of the conference room during the sessions and was a symbol, for a cat lover like myself, of the engaging nature of the conference.  Those who organised the conference managed to combine a friendly, relaxed atmosphere with an interesting programme and a beautiful venue (see photos!)  It was a place where conversations about research support and wider aspects of librarianship could, and did, prosper and for a fairly inexperienced conference attendee like myself, the discussions I had and the connections I made alongside the formal sessions meant it was an ideal example of the benefits of taking time out to attend such an event.

I identified three main themes within the conference: librarians in new roles, research data management and supporting researchers:

Librarians in new roles

The Research Libraries UK (RLUK) recent major report ‘Re-skilling for Research’ looked at the changing needs of researchers and what we as librarians can do to better support researchers within our institutions.  Some of this may involve new roles for librarians and three of the sessions explored ideas around this.

The RLUK report was used as a basis for an activity in the session run by Neil Smyth from the University of Nottingham which was about engaging with business.  In the activity we highlighted which of the potential new roles were new, challenging or scary and Neil then went on to talk about the opportunities which can be created by taking on new roles.  He gave examples of working with researchers in new ways such as attending meetings to discuss highlight notices (intended to stimulate research proposals under specified themes) and taking on actions such as contacting a commercial partner (Neil brought in a publishing partner for one project).  This was a different slant on librarianship, which highlighted that it is part of the role of an academic to engage with business, so it should also be part of our role in supporting their research.

Another new role could be supporting researchers using social media and Jez Cope talked about the Connected Researcher workshops he runs at the University of Bath (similar to our own Connected Researcher workshops).  I liked the way Jez ran the activities in the workshops.  He gave the researchers a goal he wanted them to achieve and they got there through working things out for themselves and helping each other rather than via instructions.  For example he just asked them to send a tweet (with the workshop hashtag) rather than going through step-by-step how to use twitter.  Other useful interactions then happened naturally.  This approach was something to think about in relation to the teaching I do.

Three extra links from Jez’s session worth sharing: the Diigo bookmarks from his workshops, the RIN report ‘Social media: a Guide for researchers’; a data sharing web site called ‘Figshare’ which could be used to upload data associated with research papers. 

What about librarians as researchers?  Miggie Pickton from the University of Northampton used her session to ask us to consider the benefits of carrying out research ourselves and we came up with a huge number, both to the individual, the organisation and the profession.  During another activity we thought about the barriers to carrying out research, but for each barrier Miggie made us come up with a possible solution which led to a very positive session.  Miggie also talked about the successful Library and Learning Services conference held recently at Northampton.  It was inspiring to hear about the focus on research at Northampton, where it is an objective in appraisals and senior staff are expected to bid for funding, conduct research projects, present at conferences and publish.

There is much to inspire and excite within these challenging new roles.

Research data management

The issue of how best to manage and store research data is a hot topic in Higher Education at the moment.  While institutions are getting to grips with managing and storing research outputs in institutional repositories, the data created and used in the research is generally not being managed in an effective way.

Two sessions focused on the role of librarians in research data management.  Judith Stewart from UWE ran a session which asked us to think about who in our institutions is leading on research data management.  Having librarians involved in research data management chimes with many of our professional skills (identifying needs, managing and curating information, training) and fits in with some of the roles highlighted in the RLUK report.  Judith talked about the JISC funded project on research data management they are running at UWE and the benefits the library has found in terms of raising its profile within the institution.

The session by Gareth Cole from the University of Exeter (also running a JISC funded project on research data management) particularly focused on the training required by researchers and by library staff in the area of research data management.  We all completed a questionnaire about training during the session, the results of which have been written up in a couple of blog posts.  I agreed with Gareth’s emphasis on the importance of training PhD supervisors on managing research data as well as students; I certainly find that getting supervisors on board is key to influencing my PhD students.

So, lots to think about - what is currently being done about research data management in our institutions and how should we be involved as librarians?

Supporting researchers

It’s great to hear about ways other Universities are supporting researchers and even better if they share the material they use and make resources reusable.  So a big thank-you to the East Midland Research Support Group eMRSG, represented here by Elizabeth Martin (DMU) and Jennifer Coombs (University of Nottingham),who outlined their online tutorials for researchers.  There is a module on disseminating your research, with one on reference management to come.  A great feature is the short ‘talking heads’ videos, featuring real-life researchers, which come across as relevant, credible and engaging.  The tutorials can be reused in whole or in part and are available via JORUM.

Preparing for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a key priority for universities and Anna Dickinson from the REF team kicked off the conference with a really useful outline of the REF.  I hadn’t been aware before of the range of ways the impact of research could manifest itself or the fact that journal impact factors are not taken into account in the assessment.  Discussion after Anna’s presentation included questions about open access in relation to the REF; open access has been a big news story of late and it surfaced here and throughout the conference.

Find out more

This UC&R South West blog post links to the conference presentations on Slideshare and to various blog posts about the event.  The post also includes some photos of the beautiful venue… but none of the resident cat I’m afraid!

Jess Emerton, Subject Librarian, Cardiff University
(Copyright for the text and photographs remains with Jess Emerton).

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Public Library Statistics - a further Welsh perspective

The recently released CIPFA Public Library statistics show that Welsh libraries have experienced declining visitor numbers and loan statistics - marking a change in fortune for these services. This is accompanied by declining financial resources, stock levels and a decrease in the number of service points open in Wales. The release also demonstrates how easy it is to go wrong with statistics. There are lies, damn lies and statistics!

Last week I blogged about the results of recent CILIP survey of public libraries. Unfortunately the low return rate from Welsh library authorities meant that it was not possible to conclude, with any certainty, how Welsh services are faring. The recent release of CIPFA Public Library Statistics provides some further information which is worth looking at from a Welsh perspective. (Note - free registration on the CIPFA web site is required to access the summary statistics. All statistics quoted here come from this CIPFA release.)

In recent years Welsh Public Libraries were heralded for successfully increasing their annual visitor numbers. Unfortunately this trend now appears to be in reversal, with a fall of -0.8% from 2010-11 to 2011-12 (Table 1). However this still compares favourably to the overall results for UK services where visitor numbers reduced by -2.4%. Scotland and Northern Ireland are in the enviable position of increasing their footfall. Decline is also seen in the number of visits in Wales when adjusted for population and when considering the proportion of active borrowers.

Table 1. Visits to Library Premises (000s)

2010-112011-12% change
UK Wide313,987306,591-2.4%
Total England264,272256,125-3.1%
Northern Ireland6,8867,4037.5%
Visits per 1,000 population
UK Wide5,0434,849-3.80%
Total England5,0604,823-4.7%
Northern Ireland3,8274,1147.5%
Active borrowers (000s)
UK Wide11,92011,412-4.3%
Total England9,8569,391-4.7%
Northern Ireland2943022.7%

A decline in visitor numbers, perhaps not surprisingly, is also linked with lower issue statistics for both books and audio, visual and electronic media (Table 2). Although again the decline is generally less marked in Wales than elsewhere in the UK.

Table 2. Issues of books, audio, visual and electronic materials (000s)

2010-112011-12% change

Bookstock issues
UK Wide300,004287,505-4.2%
Total England255,129243,951-4.4%
Northern Ireland5,9145,805-1.8%
Audio, visual, electronic and other materials
Total England20,67518,345-11.3%
Northern Ireland31038323.5%
* 2011-12 includes electronic products e.g. e-books

Welsh public libraries are continuing to face challenging financial constraints with a 2.2% decline in net expenditure, although generating nearly 5% more income in 11-12 than in the previous year. The fall in expenditure is less marked in Wales than it is for the England and for the UK as a whole, although Northern Ireland bucks this trend with marginal increases (Table 3).

Table 3. Expenditure and Income (£'000)

2010-112011-12% change
Total Expenditure (£'000)
UK Wide1,158,8341,098,399-5.2%
Total England952,920895,612-6.0%
Northern Ireland33,95734,1380.5%
Total Income (£'000)
UK Wide92,42486,893-6.0%
Total England80,89475,357-6.8%
Northern Ireland1,6401,7416.2%
Net Expenditure (£'000)
UK Wide1,066,4101,011,506-5.1%
Total England872,026820,255-5.9%
Northern Ireland32,31732,3970.2%

Table 4 suggests the complex relationship between budget size, stock levels and purchasing priorities. In Welsh libraries non-book materials increased by 6%, whilst bookstock declined by over 6%. Do these figures reflect the Wales-wide agreements for online resources and e-books for public libraries? Does the bookstock figure also reflect a small decrease in the number of service points now open in Wales, or simply the fact that stock withdrawals exceed new purchases because of budget constraints?

Table 4 Bookstock and Audio, visual, electronic and other media holdings (000s items)

2010-112011-12% change
Bookstock (000s)
UK Wide98,94594,342-4.7%
Total England78,38374,277-5.2%
Northern Ireland2,5252,400-5.0%
Audio, visual, electronic and other materials (000s) *
UK Wide8,0747,963-1.4%
Total England6,4936,345-2.3%
Northern Ireland218212-2.5%
* 2011-12 includes electronic products e.g. e-books

Rarely a week seems to pass without stories of library closures featuring in the press and this is reinforced with the most recent CIPFA statistics. However, here some care needs to be applied. The Welsh statistic indicating closure of over 40 libraries is incorrect. (At this stage I can only speculate on  how such an error may have occurred). A more accurate figure would be of the order of -1.8% a decline from 353 libraries in 10-11 to around 347 in 2011-12 might be more appropriate.

Table 5. Number of Service Points (open 10 hours or more). (***) Please note the error in the Welsh statistics

2010-112011-12% change
UK Wide4,4664,265-4.5%
Total England3,3933,243-4.4%
Wales (***)353309-12.5%
Northern Ireland1261270.8%

Closure of service points, reducing stock levels and library budgets will all potentially impact on service users, the shape of library provision within Wales, and on our roles. CILIP Cymru continues to monitor these changes, to liaise with partner organisations such as CyMAL and the Society of Chief Librarians in Wales, and to advocate for library services and library professionals wherever we can. We eagerly await access to the full CIPFA Public Library statistics. Please share your news with us too. Knowledge is power!

However, we should also recognise that innovation thrives under the toughest conditions. Difficult times encourage change and development, radical evaluation of services, and the development of new partnerships, of new ways of working. The Public Library located as part of the National Trust Visitor Centre at Tredegar House in Newport is just one example of such innovation. There are many others: the Connect to Cardiff service point located in Cardiff Central Library; Swansea Central Library's home in the Civic Centre. Further models are out there and will develop. But change need not be radical or massive. What are you doing to ensure that your library retains and if possible grows its footfall? How are you innovating to encourage and retain the online users? Again, please let us know of models of innovation that you are introducing or working within. You feedback will be appreciated.

Stpehen Gregory
Policy Officer (Wales) - Maternity Cover