Writing a book chapter for an “unbook”.

Only Connect: Discovery pathways, library explorations and the information adventure” is the title of a book that I’m very pleased to be contributing to. I was thrilled to have my chapter proposal accepted earlier this year, and this week I’ve been getting on with the actual writing, since the deadline is 1 June! Just a final proofreading due today though, so all under control.

My chapter’s working title is “An Educational Researcher’s Journey” and it’s co-authored with a researcher at the University of Warwick, Mairi Ann Cullen, whose story of a literature search is a great example. We’re re-purposing some blog posts that Mairi Ann wrote for Warwick’s ResearcherLife and I’ve extracted 26 interdisciplinary literature searching principles from her journey, which together make a kind of A-Z guide for a literature search journey.

I really do like the metaphor of a journey for literature searching: unless you are a seasoned researcher then you should think of it as a pedestrian journey in a foreign city, where you only just grasp the language and you have no notion of the scale of the city or how far away your destination is. When searching, you can get side tracked by interesting distractions or find short cuts, and there are different modes of transport available to you (i.e. search platforms).

The more you prepare for your journey, writing down directions and looking at maps and guides, the quicker and more stress-free the journey will be. However, perhaps our minds are better programmed to remember actual journeys than literature searches, so for a literature search then you need good record keeping, too…

Of course, this metaphor appeals to me since I’ve been in Berlin for less than two weeks, and am constantly looking at streetmaps and underground plans and Google Earth pictures of places that I need to navigate, before I set out!

I’m really looking forward to the launch of the book, as it is has its own blog where you can read about some of the truly innovative content that is due to be published in Autumn this year.

Colloquium at IBI, Humboldt University: “Its all about Data” with Peter Schirmbacher, Maxi Kindling and Elena Simukovic (Tues 21 May 2013)


This week I attended this event about data management in Berlin, or “digitalen Forschungsdatenmanagement”: it was all in German! I understood more than I thought I would, probably because I recognised a lot of the issues that the presenters raised. And because the speakers used helpful slides.

An interesting aside: at the end of the talks, I waited for the usual applause but was taken by surprise when everyone knocked on the tables instead: apparently, that’s the German way. Also, Humboldt Uni is very close to Museum Island in Berlin and pretty easy to find!

So, this blog post has the highlights that I understood: I’m sure there were more significant aspects, but I still need to learn more German to get the most from such events.

Professor Schirmbacher had a great slide describing the organisation of information as the large bubble containing smaller concepts, including knowledge production, communication and distribution. He spoke about various aspects of those three bubbles and I picked up on the communication one where he mentioned the issues around quality and reputation measurement. Probably because these are issues I’ve always been interested in, or perhaps because “Qualität” is an easy word to pick up!

Here is a lovely sounding German word that I didn’t know before: “Nachnutzung”. It means re-use and it reminded me of the phrase that Simon Hodson opened Warwick’s recent event on data management with: “the first person to re-use your data is your future self”. Evidently it’s an issue in Germany as well, but I didn’t pick up on all the issues. The seminar touched on the legal aspects associated with information, but again, the detail eluded me.

I made a note of the examples of best practice from the UK that Maxi Kindling mentioned: University of Cambridge, University of Glasgow and Imperial College. Other examples from the USA and the rest of Europe were also examined as part of Maxi’s work, and I note in the booklet that I took away that the University of Edinburgh also provided a useful example.

Elena Simukovic presented details of a survey: they used Lime Survey (https://www.limesurvey.org/) to run it, in German and in English. The survey was open for six weeks and there were 490+ respondents.

Results from the survey were broken down by discipline and/or by career stage in the presentation. Researchers were asked 24 questions about things such as:

  • The characteristics of their data gathering, whether they might be observations, experiments, simulations, etc.
  • Media of data held, eg pictures, audio, video, text, etc.
  • Specific types of data, eg sequential measurements, topological information, satellite pictures, etc.
  • How the data is archived/stored.
  • Would their data still be available in 10 years time? 

There was quite a bit of discussion about the longer term availability of data: apparently there has been a principle in place that this should be ensured, for more than ten years, but 20% of respondents didn’t know about it and more professors than lecturers knew of the expectation.

When asked whether they would deposit data, 60% answered positively to some degree, and of the data that they would deposit, 50% would be under 100GB in size. I wanted to ask a follow up question to that one, about how often they would deposit such files: it may well have been asked but I didn’t pick up on it.

Researchers were also asked about the support they might like, and it seems that there’s not so much call for help with data management plans (DMPs) in Germany as for other aspects, but then it seems that there’s less imperative here for researchers to write them. In the UK, the Research Councils examine DMPs at the grant application stage but that’s not the case with German Research Councils. Even so, 125 respondents did tick that option, and the most popular support chosen (275) was for “Speicherplatz”, which I take to mean storage space.

The next stage in the research at Humboldt will be interviews with researchers. It occurred to me that another approach to researching this topic could be an examination of data management plans.

This event was part of a series called BBK, or “Berliner Bibliothekswissenschaftliches Kolloquium” (http://www.ibi.hu-berlin.de/bbk). Gosh, I hope I spelt it right: it’s easy to get lost in these compound German words!

Finally, my confession & thanks: I spoke to Maxi Kindling after the event, in English. My German has a long way to improve! Many thanks to Amber Thomas, now at the University of Warwick for putting me in touch with Maxi Kindling in the first place, and to Maxi for inviting me along.

A new start, in social media steps.

I wanted to record some of the social media related steps I’ve needed to take, since leaving the University of Warwick:

1) Start a new blog here on WordPress because I was using Warwick’s own blogging platform. I’ve got a lot to learn about how WordPress works and I’m yet to add information “about me” and to learn about its features: as I do learn, I shall blog about it. (Aside: I find it amusing that the spell-checker here can’t recognise “blog” or “blogging” or even “WordPress”!)

2) Edit Twitterfeed to stop picking up on my old blog and start picking up on this one. Twitterfeed is one account that I forgot to update with my personal e-mail address before I left Warwick, but fortunately I remembered the password. Phew!

3) Install the Evernote web clipper onto my Chrome browser on my home computer.

4) Install the Diigo bookmarklet on my home computer.

5) Add Hootsuite as a homepage tab on my browser. (I also need to revise the settings for e-mails and texts from both Twitter and Hootsuite, and to generally clean this account up!)

6) Change my job title status on LinkedIn, and I need to edit the text all about me there, too.

So there is a lot still to do!

Preparing to leave

I finished work on Tuesday, and here is a picture of the cake from my colleagues. Thanks to everyone at Warwick for an amazing send off, lovely presents and all the good wishes in my card.

I have been surprisingly busy, the rest of this week. I have some freelance work already lined up, so have been writing back cover copy for a publisher. I have also been to see a friend of a friend who checks facts in educational books as a freelancer, and who might be able to put some work my way that can be done from sunny Berlin, which is where I am headed. It’s interesting to see how the information world works from the publisher’s side!