Is this research article any good? Clues when crossing disciplines and asking new contacts.

As a reader, you know whether a journal article is good or not by any number of signs. Within your own field of expertise, you know quality research when you see it: you know, because you have done research yourself and you have read & learnt lots about others’ research. But what about when it’s not in your field of expertise?

Perhaps the most reliable marker of quality is, if the article has been recommended to you by an expert in the field. But if you find something intriguing for yourself that is outside of your usual discipline, how do you know if its any good? It’s a good idea to ask someone for advice, and if you know someone already then great, but if not then there’s a lot you can do for yourself, before you reach out for help, to ensure that you strike a good impression on a new contact.

Librarians teach information skills and we might suggest that you look for such clues as:

  1. relevance: skim the article: is it something that meets your need? – WHAT
  2. the author(s): do you know the name: is it someone whose work you value? If not, what can you quickly find out about them, eg other publications in their name or who funds their work: is there a likely bias to watch out for? – WHO & WHY 
  3. the journal title/publisher: do you already know that they usually publish high quality work? Is it peer reviewed and if so, how rigorously? What about the editorial board: any known names here? Does the journal have an impact factor? Where is it indexed: is it in the place(s) that you perform searches yourself? – WHERE 
  4. date of publication: is it something timely to your need? – WHEN
  5. references/citations: follow some: are they accurate and appropriate? When you skim read the item, is work from others properly attributed & referenced? – WHAT
  6. quality of presentation: is it well written/illustrated? Of course, absolute rubbish can be eloquently presented, and quality research badly written up. But if the creators deemed the output of high enough value for a polished effort, then maybe that’s a clue. – HOW
  7. metrics: has it been cited by an expert? Or by many people? Are many reading & downloading it? Have many tweeted or written about it (altmetrics tools can tell you this)? But you don’t always follow the crowd, do you? If you do, then you might miss a real gem, and isn’t your research a unique contribution?! – WHO

I usually quote Rudyard Kipling at this point:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

So far, so Library school 101. But how do you know if the research within is truly of high quality? If most published research findings are false, as John Ioannides describes, then how do you separate the good from the bad research?

An understanding of the discipline would undoubtedly help, and speed up your evaluation. But you can help yourself further, partly in the way you read the paper. There are some great pieces out there about how to read a scientific paper, eg from Natalia Rodriguez.

As I read something for the first time, I look at whether the article sets itself in the context of existing literature and research: Can you track and understand the connections? The second thing I would look at is the methodology/methods: have the right ones been used? Now this may be especially hard to tell if you’re not an expert in the field, so you have to get familiar with the methodology used in the study, and to think about how it applies to the problem being researched. Maybe coming from outside of the discipline will give you a fresh perspective. You could also consider the other methodologies that might have applied (a part of peer review, for many journals). I like the recommendation from Phil Davis in the Scholarly Kitchen that the methodology chosen for the study should be appropriate or persuasive.

If the chosen methodology just doesn’t make sense to you, then this is a good time to seek out someone with expertise in the discipline, for a further explanation. By now you will have an intelligent question to ask such a contact, and you will be able to demonstrate the depth of your own interest. How do you find a new contact in another discipline? I’ll plug Piirus here, whose blog I manage: it is designed to quickly help researchers find collaborators, so you could seek contacts & reading recommendations through Piirus. And just maybe, one day your fresh perspective and their expertise could lead to a really fruitful collaboration!

Slidedeck introducing information ethics

If you’ve ever wondered what a Masters level module on information ethics might cover, well here’s a taster of some adapted slides from our module, which is part of the Masters degree in Digital Curation from Kings College London and Humboldt University. I think it’s a great way to introduce some of the themes that information professionals come across in their working lives, and students can really explore important issues.


Who was at the Frankfurt book fair?

Many international publishersI recently wrote about three particularly German things that I spotted at the Frankfurt book fair, but there was so much there so here is another blogpost full of pictures… Here is a quick run-through of who I spotted at the book fair, with photos!

Of course, the Frankfurt book fair is huge: the exhibition space is much bigger than Online Information, or the UKSG conference, which is the closest thing to it that I’ve attended in the past. And it is more properly called the International Frankfurt Book Fair! Some international publishers were to be found in the halls for their country, where you could hear their language being spoken all around, whilst others were scattered in other halls matching their content rather than their nation, like this one in the academic publishing hall.

Specialist book publishers
Specialist book publishers

There was a great deal of variety of types of book represented at the fair, and all things book related. Those seeking something special could find beautiful facsimiles, or antique works, but the section of the fair dedicated to antiquities was guarded by extra security: you had to leave coats and bags behind to go in, so I didn’t: after all, I’m not in a position to invest in or be guardian of such treasures, and there was so much else to see.

Another area of the fair that had extra security was a hall that was apparently new for this year, where literary agents gathered for pre-booked meetings only. I wonder what was going on behind those screens? Agents selling books to publishers and negotiating terms, I imagine. The whole fair has the atmosphere of high-stakes deals, and people going about important business, not just in the exhibition halls but all around the site. There were publishers doing deals with libraries and bookshops, and technology providers with services for the publishers or with products for readers directly. There were education tool providers, and also companies who sell all the extras that you can find in bookshops like stationery and gifts: many of these stalls were making individual item sales at the book fair, too, so you could pick up a present for your loved ones.

Not just books: gift providers, too
Not just books: gift providers, too

I spent most of my time in the hall for scientific and academic publishing, but I did walk through other halls, and spotted many art publishers and stalls for children’s books and comic books which had some highly creative and attractive displays: these were really inspiring and made me feel proud to be a part of this information world, with just a little pang of regret that the academic world is so much less aesthetic and so much more serious looking! Ah well, the academic information world is full of really interesting challenges, and I was really pleased to see that a German Library school was amongst the stalls in the education area, recruiting students to degree programmes in librarianship and information science.

Publishers of children's books
Publishers of children’s books

There was so much to see, across so many different enormous conference halls that it was quite possible to be lost in the indoors world of the exhibition centre, and to forget the world outside… sometimes it seemed as though the whole world was at the Frankfurt book fair!


A rare glimpse of the outside world, from within the Exhibition centre at Frankfurt.
A rare glimpse of the outside world, from within the Exhibition centre at Frankfurt.



Three especially German things at the Frankfurt book fair.

The Gutenberg Press Museum
The Gutenberg Press Museum

October is always the busiest month of the year, somehow… and, as usual, I am catching up now that it’s November. This year I am full of things to write about, most especially from the Frankfurt book fair, where I was lucky enough to be a panellist on a Hot Spot stage. This post is about all things I spotted at the book fair, which I found to be connected to Germany. 1. The Gutenberg press was represented by its museum, and you could see items being printed at the fair itself.

2. Porsche museum. Another museum proudly signposted the best of Germany, in this case its strength in car manufacturing.

Porsche museum
Porsche museum

Porsche not only make cars, but are also publishers and indeed a fashion company, as I found out at the Frankfurt airport shopping mall!

Helpful students who speak good English!
Helpful students who speak good English!

3. BID, the professional society for German Libraries & Libriarians. They are a kind of equivalent to the UK’s CILIP, properly called “BID – Bibliothek & Information Deutschland”. They were represented by two stalls at the fair: one for the main organisation, and one for a group called LIS. At both of these stalls I spoke to students from the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences: they had also attended the morning panel discussion, being students of my fellow panellist, Dr. Petra Düren. They also spoke excellent English and were good advocates for their professional association!

Familiar faces!
Familiar brands!

I know that there was a lot more of Germany there for those who sought it: there was German apple wine to sample at one of the stalls, and plenty of German beer around, but I didn’t quite make it… I was busy being distracted by all the other people who were at the Frankfurt book fair. People like Open Athens, who I had a nice chat to about how students at the universities I worked at in the UK would often rave about all the information they found “on Athens”. What the students really meant, of course, was the resources that the library subscribed to for them, and which they authenticated to, using OpenAthens!

More soon about all the other people I spotted at the Frankfurt book fair, in my next blogpost…

After the Frankfurt book fair: full of inspiration!

Photo of me ready to speak
Is the “Data-Librarian” the Future of Library Science?

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend the enormous, international Frankfurt book fair, as I was a panellist for Elsevier’s Hot Spot discussion on the future of library science and the data-librarian.  I highly recommend the opportunity & experience, as the Elsevier staff really looked after their speakers and I got to meet not only my fellow panellists but also some of the audience who came and introduced themselves at the “hot spot cafe” immediately after our discussion.



Photo of panellists & our moderator
Left to right: Noelle Gracy, Jenny Delasalle, Dr Schnelling, Prof. Dr. Petra Düren, Pascalia Boutsiouci

The session itself was filmed, and there was a professional photographer there (I have permission to use these official pictures), so I’m sure you’ll find out more about it over on Elsevier’s website: watch the LibraryConnect section! Our basic panel structure was that we were asked questions by Elsevier’s Noelle Gracy, which came from the community in advance.

What did we cover?

Well, I didn’t get to take notes as well as to talk(!) so I can tell you what I had prepared to say, and what I remember, one week after the event! Here are some nutshell points:

  • The future of library science encompasses more than just data librarianship, of course!
  • Librarians may find that adding skills with data to their CV opens up more job opportunities in the future.
  • Librarians offer a lot to the data community, not least their professional ethics & knowledge of legal expectations, which of course is covered in the module I teach to KCL/Humboldt University’s MA Digital Curation students.
Photo of me with microphone, discussing with fellow panellists
Getting to hear each other’s opinions

Librarians also have:

  • ability to describe items/create valuable metadata records
  • connections with all disciplines across campus (& library building is often central too)
  • experience of assessing quality and significance for collection management
  • skills in training & informing others
  • It’s certainly not all about technical skills: Dr Schnelling was very clear about that point, as I believe it was his question, about what skills future librarians need. But of course there are some technical skills that will help if you are working with data. Especially when considering preservation needs.
  • One easy way to begin familiarising yourself with data management issues, is to look at data management plans, and what they involve.

If you were there, then maybe you can share some more highlights of the talk by leaving a comment, below. I will also blog here again about some of my other top sights from the fair: after the talk, I went around many of the stalls, looking for things specifically German. Of course, it was an international fair, so I found an awful lot more. I will end here with a final photograph of the audience for our panel session. If you were there, then thanks for coming!

photo of audience looking at the Hot Spot stage
Standing room only!

Two events this week: one in Berlin, one on Twitter for #ECRchat

Busy times here as term is underway at Humboldt University and as well as teaching on Wednesdays, today is the day that I present with my co-tutor at Humboldt’s School of Library & Information science, as part of the BBK series about how we teach our Information Ethics module, and why Berlin is a suitable place for our topic.

And Thursday is the day of a long-awaited #ECRchat on Networking and opportunities in the third and public sector at 11am UK time. ECRchat is an event/chat in Twitter itself, using the hashtag #ECRchat. If you’re not already used to hashtag events Twitter, then the easiest way to follow the event would be to look on the Piirus blogpost that I linked to above, at the time of the chat. Or to wait until a Storify summary is announced on the #ECRchat channel.

I am also full of inspiration from last week’s Frankfurt book fair, but you’ll have to wait for me blog about it because I obviously have a lot of things on at the moment!

Is the “Data-Librarian” the Future of Library Science?

Next week I’ll be at the Frankfurt book fair! I’m going to be on a panel at an event with this title. If you’ll also be at the fair and fancy hearing me speak, then here are the details:

Thursday, October 15th, 10-10:30 a.m., on the Hot Spot Professional & Scientific Information stage in hall 4.2 (Frankfurt Book Fair)

It’s on the perennial theme of the changing role of the librarian, this time looking at the difference that data makes. I’ll be drawing on my experience of working in libraries in the UK, and of course of training information professionals of the future at Humboldt University. Without giving the plot away too much, my perspective is that librarians have always done many different roles but it’s our professional training, self-identification with the profession and use of all its experience in matters like ethics and customer service that makes us librarians, and thus a part of a profession. The “data librarian” will just be one of many different flavours of librarian in the future. I myself, am a peculiar “flavour”: A librarian without a library ;-)

I’m looking forward to meeting my fellow panellists and to discussing in more detail how data might affect the future role of the librarian. And I hope to see you there!

Its different in Germany. 10 everyday things a Brit might notice!

This post isn’t library-related, but I wanted to share some reflections on the things that I’ve found different here in Germany, compared to the UK. I’ve written before about some of the challenges for a Brit, so this post covers different points. And I’ll start with something at least book related!

  1. Independent bookshops. Naturally, I love these! Most of them are for German language material of course, and there are also many independent publishers based here: Germany still has fixed prices for books, and there’s a good read in the NY times if you want to find out more about this.
  2. Sensible shoes. This is something I approve of: you rarely see German women tottering around on ridiculously high, cheap plastic heels. There is a good reason for this: many pavements are made of tiny cobblestones which make going out in high fashion shoes into an extreme sport! Plus, I think many Germans aim for something high quality that will last a long time: if you’re going to invest a lot of cash and wear the shoes for many years then just you won’t put up with something less than comfortable.
  3. Good public transport. I can’t speak for the whole of Germany but here in Berlin it’s usually on time and many bus stops have a digital display to tell you when the next bus is coming. And if you get lost on foot, there’s usually a map at the bus stop, showing you where you are! The S-bahn is perhaps the least reliable option, but only because it’s so old that they’re always having to repair it.
  4. Two single duvets on your double bed. This idea is GENIUS! No more fights over who’s got too much/too little. ‘Nuff said!
  5. Wait for the green man. (I mentioned before that I always look 5 times when crossing. And I probably don’t need to mention the famous Ampelmann with his hat.) Lots more Germans than Brits will wait at pedestrian crossings when there are literally no moving cars around, for the green light to cross. There are also sometimes cars waiting to turn across your green light as they are allowed to make such turns. So why wait for the green light when the turning car is bound to show up? Strange!
  6. Main meal at lunchtime: bread and cheese/cold meat for dinner. The evening meal here is called “Abendbrot” which literally means “evening bread” and of course said bread is usually dark brown and full of nutrients, bought from one of the many bakeries of which the Germans seem so proud. I still like to cook at evening time since I work from home so my other half gets two proper meals a day now and has had to start watching his weight!
  7. Sunday closing. Not just Sundays either: fewer shops here are open late at night in my part of the German capital city than in a provincial town in the UK, and whilst museums are open on Sundays (and well visited since there’s not much else open!), they are closed on Mondays. Small business owners go on holiday and just put a sign on the door to say when they’re back, or open only at quirky times of the day. There is a rhythm to life here which is rather old-fashioned and sometimes a nuisance but it also feels highly civilised and respectful of life outside of business. You can still get milk & basics from a 24 hour petrol station if you’re desperate, and the shops at the main train station and airports will be open for those arriving on a Sunday. Bakeries will be open on Sunday mornings for your all-important daily bread, and you can eat in a cafe or restaurants on a Sunday. Florists are also open on Sundays so you can buy something to give to hosts/place on a gravestone. Quaint but civilised!
  8. Sausage as haute cuisine! Well, maybe not quite but it’s certainly something of which the Germans are proud. I can’t get a good British banger with all its breadcrumbs, chemical flavourings and unknown ingredients: the sausages here seem to be made of meat. And salt: there’s lots of salty, meaty food!
  9. Swimming pools close in summer months. Actually, this is not as bad as it sounds because the lifeguards have all gone to work at outdoor bathing sites (quite a few are nudist, another difference from Blighty), but it does make me wonder why they can’t take on more lifeguards as casual staff over the summer. Then I remembered that it probably takes 5 years at university to qualify as a lifeguard here in Germany (I exaggerate!) because every job here is treated like a profession, requiring hard-won qualifications. In a way this is also quaint but civilised.
  10. Plugs are smaller. Obviously the British 3-pin plug is superior (I jest!) but I like the neatness of the continental plug when travelling. I don’t like the fact that my products with 2 pins for the UK bathroom socket have to be plugged into first an adapter for 3 pins, and then an adapter for continental sockets. Apparently continental plug items can sometimes be plugged into UK bathroom sockets (I’m not recommending that you do this: sounds dodgy to me!), but it definitely doesn’t work the other way around.
  11. Knitters hold the yarn in the left hand, and knit much faster! (OK it’s not every day for every Brit, but that’s why it’s no. 11 on my list of 10!) I learnt to do this and it really fixed my problem with overly high tension. I now knit combination style and avoid repetitive strain problems, plus I’m trying out 2 colour fair-isle with a yarn in each hand. Not mastered that yet, but we’ll see…

So that’s my list, and you may have gleaned that I find Germany quite charming as well as confusing or frustrating at times. I wanted to mention the reliance on cash again, but I blogged that last time (it’s still annoying!). I don’t have children but from what I can tell, the support for parents is better here. Also, I haven’t touched on German bureaucracy: maybe I’ll write about that another day!

A trip to New York city

So my blog is called “A librarian abroad” and I haven’t blogged very much about my trips! This week I was in New York to visit a client: I saw lots of Soho/Noho and I must say, it’s my favourite part of the city. I daresay that I felt more at home there because it’s got lots of older architecture which makes it feel more like Europe, and of course because it’s where New York University is to be found. Here is a picture of their lovely red sandstone library:

NY Uni Library
Or is it a pic of a tree? I’m no photographer, sorry! But you get the idea: the library is opposite Washington Square Park…

I didn’t try to go in and visit: it was really, really busy and I could see the card barriers just inside the doors. I did look in through the windows, and I love the repeated square maze-pattern lighting, which you can see if you look very hard in my picture. Not only is it visually appealing but there’s no need to worry about the alignment of your shelves & your lights, as with strip lights!

It’s nice when you can speak your own language on your travels. Well, almost! I learnt to call the toilet a “restroom” for a few days, and to ask where the nearest “trashcan” is, but still forgot to call a full stop a “period”! Also, there’s no such thing as a flapjack in the US (apparently there is something called a flapjack but that’s what I would call a pancake!) and the nearest I could get to the ubiquitous (in the UK) British flapjack was an oatmeal cookie or granola bar, neither of which is quite the same.

And of course, as a tea drinker, I struggled to get a decent cuppa: it’s even more difficult than in Germany! I actually bought one “tea” that was undrinkable from the “Argo Tea Cafe”. I was enticed in by the name, but suspicious when I saw the bubbles on top of my tea and caught a scent of something more like bubble-gum than earl grey tea! Then I realised that there was no trace of either tea leaves or tea bag. I tried to drink it, I really did, but I had to settle for a bottle of water in the end.

Finally, here is a photo of the nearby physics building in the same warm, glowing red sandstone finish as the library, which of course my photos don’t capture:

NY Uni Physics building
With classic NY street “furniture!

Teaching Information Ethics at Humboldt University’s IBI

Amongst my other work, I teach two modules at the Berlin School of Library and Information Science (known as IBI), at Humboldt University:

  1. English for Information Professionals
  2. Information Ethics and Legal Aspects

Perhaps I’ll write about teaching English another day, for this post is all about teaching information ethics to international students on a Masters in Digital Curation programme. This whole course looks great for students, since they get to spend a year in Berlin as well as studying at Kings College London.

I lecture on the ethics module, and my co-tutor Boris Jacob leads the seminars: we work very collaboratively in our delivery of our materials, and of course we co-ordinate the module through the virtual learning environment, Moodle. We’re planning for the next cohort of students at the moment and we’re both going to present soon at IBI’s BBK about how we teach this course, and why Berlin is a particularly suitable place to teach information ethics.

Boris and I both have experience of having worked in the field, and we bring our practical knowlege as well as theory to the course. Being from the UK, I’m very much more aware of British (CILIP) and American (ALA) theory and principles, whilst Boris is a German (BID) who has also worked in Belgium, and therefore brings a very European perspective, and the students themselves (I speak of last year’s cohort: I’ve not met this year’s yet) also come from different lands, bringing their own cultural backgrounds to the course. We introduce them to theory and then encourage them to explore ethical dilemmas, and our goal is that they are able to identify such dilemmas when they come across them, and to find and apply theories that can help. So, what kind of themes do we cover? Here is a list of some of things that we explore in our course:

  • Ethical principles and codes of professional organisations
  • Plagiarism : what it is, how we might avoid it and why it’s different to breach of copyright
  • Neutrality : the classic library debates about how to handle customers with equality, and how to build collections
  • Intellectual property & copyright : what are the principles: how does this work in the students’ own lands & in what way is German law different from the UK?
  • Citizen contributions: ways to handle them, including the right to remain anonymous and data protection issues
  • Digital divides : where we might find these and how can information professionals help to overcome them
  • Open Access and Digital Rights Management: what happens when we put locks on content?
  • Information literacy : what belongs on the curriculum and why?
  • The Media : how can we learn from journalists’ ethical codes?

Well, that’s just off the top of my head… there’s lots more, and of course we like to incorporate news stories as well as the opportunities that Berlin has to offer. Last year was the premier of Citizenfour (Laura Poitra’s documentary about Edward Snowden) and of course Berlin’s Transmediale festival. Not to mention all the museums and exhibitions tracking communications, computing and spying that Berlin has to offer! I’m quite envious of those students, because Berlin is a great place to study, as well as their course being truly fascinating. At least I get to teach it!