Not enough time for reading in academia: can we measure it?

I wanted to explore a topic which has been popular on Twitter, at least amongst the tweets I saw over the summer: that of academics struggling to find the time to read. I’ve written this blogpost in something of a “summer exploration” spirit, since I connected this topic with my interest in bibliometrics.

During the summer there were many  mentions of the importance of reading in academia, on Twitter. Reading of any kind is important for training our minds to think. It’s important for training our own ability with words, our writing skills. And it’s important for keeping uptodate with academic discoveries and developments in fields of interest, to name but a few advantages of reading. Pat Thomson is eloquent on the matter.

As a librarian by background, of course I’m a big fan of reading! But I see how pressure on scholars and researchers to publish, to bring in research grants and to contribute to other activities that are measured in performance evaluations and university rankings might actually be causing them to read less. I may be doing researchers a disservice to suggest that they are reading less, but I’m being sympathetic. Carol Tenopir’s 2014 research into reading via questionnaires and academics’ self-reporting is outlined on the Scholarly Kitchen blog: at first it did look like there was a decline in reading, but in the end the research might only indicate that a plateau was reached, at a time when the volume of content being published is increasing. This might make some scholars feel that they are unable to keep up with their field.

My provocative thought goes like this: If focussing on publication outputs and measuring them via bibliometrics has led to a lack of reading time (which I’m a long way off proving), then perhaps the solution is to also measure (and give credit for) time invested in reading!

Disciplinary differences are at the core of academic reading habits, evidenced by studies of library impact on students, among others. Such studies have involved attempts to correlate student grades with library accesses, as explored in this 2015 paper :

Here there is some correlation of “quality” academic performance and library accesses, although the main conclusion seems to be the importance of the library when it comes to student retention. I also remember reading Graham Stone’s earlier work (cited in the paper above), and the importance of data protection issues. These studies identify cohorts of students rather than individuals and their grades due to ethical (and legal) concerns which apply when it comes to researchers, too.

We must also remember that much content is not digital, or not in the library, whether physical or online. Increasingly, scholarly content is available online via open access, so we don’t need to be identifiably logged in to read it. And indeed, Tenopir’s later work reminds us that content once downloaded can be re-read or shared, outside of the publisher or library platforms. Automatically measuring reading to any degree of accuracy becomes possible only if you dictate how and where academic reading is to be done. Ethical concerns abound!

Instead of measuring time spent reading or volumes of content downloaded or accessed by researchers, perhaps we could give credit to researchers who cite more. After all, citations are an indication that the authors have read a paper, aren’t they? OK, I am being prococative again: how do we know which co-authors have read which of the cited papers? How do we know that a cited paper is one that has been read in full: what if the pre-print has been read rather than the version of record, or only the abstract? Such doubts about what it means to read a paper are expressed in the comments of the Scholarly Kitchen post mentioned earlier.

Actually, we could say that reading and citations are already indirectly assessed, because we evaluate written outputs and publications, and their quality reflects the amount and quality of reading behind them. I think that’ll have to do, because the more I read about academic reading, the more I think we can’t know! How we evaluate the outputs is another matter, of course. I’ve blogged about peer review, but not article level metrics – yet.

I tried to track down Tenopir’s published paper, based on the self-reported questionnaire research critiqued on the Scholarly Kitchen. I think it must be the paper entitled “Scholarly article seeking, reading, and use: a continuing evolution from print to electronic in the sciences and social sciences” The critiquing all occurred before the paper was published, so direct links weren’t provided. Research into how much researchers are reading, whether based on downloads or questionnaires can illustrate disciplinary differences, or signal changes in research practice over time. Tenopir and her co-authors shed light on this, and opened more questions to be answered. I wonder whether researchers could be persuaded to allow tracking software to spy on their reading habits for a limited period… there is much more to be explored in this area but I’m sure that we won’t gain trust by suggesting reading metrics!

Image credit: CC0 Pixabay.



Learning about Swiss libraries

pretty spire and buildings, with blue sky in Zurich

Last week I was privileged to be a speaker at the Library Connect event in Zurich. I was talking about research impact metrics and presented the handy cards/poster that I worked on, but my brief was to run a workshop so I didn’t talk too much! I said why I think that bibliometrics are part of the librarian’s domain and summarised the FWCI: then it was on to our workshop discussions. I was really glad to hear more from the attendees about their experiences, and I think it was a real strength of the event that librarians got to talk to each other.

participants around a coffee table, with lots of paperson it.

I’ve been to the Nordic Library Connect event in the past, but what was really nice about the Swiss one, was that we had researchers as well as librarians there, and the setting was nice and informal so we had lots of conversations in the breaks, as well as in the workshop itself. Whereas most of the Scandinavian librarians were from large central university libraries, at Zurich there were more librarians from smaller departmental and embedded libraries. I get the impression that in the German speaking areas in general, the departmental libraries are more common than in the UK and Scandinavia.

Departmental librarians have slightly different concerns, reflecting the needs of the particular subject community they serve. I chatted (in my clunky German!) with two librarians from the University of Zurich Economics department library, who reminded me of the importance of working papers amongst their community. And it was interesting to hear perspectives from CERN, where they have excellent data about their publications and of course the arXiv resource. I’ve also learnt that ETH Zurich has a library service called “Lib4RI” that serves four scientific research institutes.

I was really pleased to see Dr Oliver Renn of again, who had been a speaker at the Stockholm event. His library (or “Infozentrum“) really seems to have good links with his department, and I can highly recommend a special edition of their newsletter, which presents various attitudes towards bibliometrics. The ETH Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences use the Altmetric donut so that their researchers can see who is giving their outputs attention, and they are working with Kudos for promotion of their science.

Charon stands before a projected slide, with notes in hand - smiling!
Charon in action!

A highlight of the day for me, was Charon Duermeijer talking about research ethics and prompting us all to think about our role in supporting researchers with such matters. I highly recommend her as a speaker because she interacts with the audience, asking us questions, and her slides have real substance. I’m sure that she’ll be sharing her slides, so you can get something of  a feel for her talk, but her passion and anecdotes will be missing so catch her if you can, at another event.

And if you get a chance to visit Zurich, then I highly recommend it!

blue lake with blue sky above and a jetty protruding into the lake. On the horizon are mountains, some capped with snow.

Bibliometrics and the academic librarian

Next week I’m going to be at another Elsevier Connect event, this time in Zurich (you can still register if you want to join in!). These events are usually attended by librarians who are not bibliometricians, and often there are bibliometric specialists elsewhere in their libraries or universities. But I think that there’s a need for librarians of many kinds to develop an understanding of bibliometrics and I look forward to discussing more with attendees about bibliometrics use they’ve come across, and what they think that librarians can contribute to the bibliometrics community. Here are some of my thoughts on the topic.

The field of bibliometrics seems to me to be growing: there are ever more studies being published. The knowledge and skills of these academic experts often seems intimidating to me as a practitioner and librarian. There are new developments all the time, which can make it seem hard to keep uptodate, such as a recent initiative to open citation data, via Crossref.

Meanwhile, I notice ever more job advertisements for new kinds of roles in library services or university administration, such as: “Bibliometric specialist”, “Bibliometrician” or perhaps a role related to research impact, which involves using bibliometric (as well as altmetric) data and tools. These are jobs for people who are used to handling huge amounts of data and applying sophisticated analysis techniques to create reports. Expertise with mathematical and statistical methods is required: such was never a part of my training and I feel left behind, but I don’t see that as a problem.

I’ve come to bibliometrics through a rather winding route and I’m interested in a lot more than just bibliometrics: I like watching many developments in the world of scholarly communication such as open access and open science, but also developments in peer review and so on: if you browse this blog you’ll get a flavour!

I have no intention of specialising in bibliometrics nor of spending my days producing bibliometric analyses: I’m simply not the best person to be doing that kind of work. Is there a role for someone like me (an ordinary librarian rather than specialist bibliometrician), within the bibliometrics community? I think so…

In my view, great librarians are able to connect people with the information that they need: I take this, of course, from Ranganathan’s laws. We might do this behind the scenes through collection management which enables independent discovery, or in person, through a traditional enquiry or reference interview. (For illustration and entertainment, if you haven’t seen this helpdesk video then I highly recommend it!)

In the university setting, the resources that we offer as part of the library collection are being used to generate and to provide bibliometric data and measures. It has sometimes been part of libraries’ collection management decisions, which sources of such data are added to the collection. And indeed bibliometric scores like the impact factor might influence journal acquisition or cancellation decisions – although there are many factors to be used for evaluating journals.

Library users include researchers and scholars who are increasingly aware of and concerned about bibliometric scores, and in my view many could use some support. Of course, some researchers will find an interest in bibliometric research and learn way more than I ever could about it all. However, other researchers, while perfectly able to understand bibliometrics research simply have other priorities, and yet others will not have had mathematics and statistics training and so will find bibliometric scores no easier to understand than a librarian like myself.

And this is why I think that the ordinary librarian should remain involved in the bibliometrics scene: if we can understand bibliometric measures and significant developments in the field then not only will we be able to pass knowledge on to our user community, but it is also a sign that such measures can be understood by all academics who might need to understand them.

A scholarly field grows when the experts develop ever more sophisticated methods, and I am no scholar of bibliometrics so it’s fine that I am left behind. But bibliometrics are being used in the real world, as part of national research evaluation exercises, in university ranking schemes and indeed within author online profiles. Academic librarians know both the people involved and the people affected by such developments: we are central to universities, and can act as links, bridging the specialists who do bibliometric analyses for a university and the scholars whose careers are affected.

So the intelligent lay person, the library practitioner’s perspective is a valuable one for the bibliometrics community: if we understand the measures then others will be able to, and we can help to spread the message about how such measures are being used.

I look forward to discussing more with the librarians who are coming to Zurich…


OCLC EMEARC in Berlin: conference reflections

A few weeks ago, I was at the OCLC EMEA Regional Council Meeting in Berlin and I’ve just had a notification that the presentations are online, so it makes sense to blog about it this week! It was my first time at such an OCLC event*, and it was great to be able to hear from librarians from such a broad range of nations, libraries and cultures. “EMEA” by the way, stands for Europe, Middle East and Africa. The cultural mix was a real strength of this event, and one that I haven’t experienced in the same way before at any other library conference.

Here is a picture that I took of the stained glass window at the venue:

stained glass window with staircase in front of it

The building was rather special: the meeting was held at the ESMT Berlin, a business school located in the former GDR National Council building. There were little clues everywhere to the building’s former life, from the colourful window to the ball shaped lights which I recognised from reading about the former GDR people’s palace, to the tiny little crossed Meissen swords on one of the wall tiles in the large lobby.**

I learnt lots about the way that OCLC operates, of course, as well as about the member libraries represented by speakers and attendees. You can read about OCLC’s governance structure online anyway, but it was different to hear about it from the people who are actually involved. The meeting showed a great emphasis on accountability to- and involvement of- its members. I was also rather taken by the phrase which we saw everywhere in marketing materials:

Because what is known must be shared

It is a phrase so apt for librarians, and also for OCLC itself, who are all about supporting the community with sharing. From the sharing of metadata records and sharing resources through cloud systems and inter-library loan schemes, to sharing ideas and good practice at events like the very one I was attending, OCLC is definitely about sharing.

My highlights


The plenary speakers were inspiring, in the way that plenary speakers are supposed to be, and Skip Pritchard’s keynote which was all about cultural differences definitely got me thinking. The point that I took was that in the modern era we cross cultures so quickly and easily that we don’t always notice, and the potential for misunderstanding is huge. There are so many gaps that we need to try and bridge, across languages and scripts, but more than this, in interpretation, and OCLC as an international organisation obviously faces these challenges fairly regularly. I liked how passionate he sounded about working for OCLC.

Lightning struck twice

Beyond this, the lightning talks were a real highlight for me.  Of the lightning talks, Katrin Kropf of Chemnitz Public Library later won the prize, for her presentation that was all about games and the library: board games, computer games consoles with a projector screen, table football and a (sturdy) interactive table all featured. I also felt inspired by her approach that the library, with its games and books, could get out into the community, appearing at youth clubs and shopping malls and other places where the library’s target audience could be found. It was a very practical lesson in how to take the library to the user, rather than waiting for the users to come to the library.

And another lightning talk that impressed me was from Daniel Tepe of Bremen Public Library. He pointed out that some library visitors don’t spend long in the library because they already know what they want, whilst others come to the library to seek inspiration, and it’s the latter group that library digital services could serve better. The (German language) website that he pointed us to, looks to me like it does a good job of making e-book and digital content not just discoverable but also visible, and presented in an inspirational way.

Breaking out

Of the parallel member sessions that I attended, I very much enjoyed a presentation from Lars Binau of DTU Denmark. He explained how, 12 years ago the library had had approximately 125,000 visits a year, and now it has roughly 555,000 visits a year. This clearly signalled big changes! And the innovative approach that he described was not just about moving books into the basement to make space for more students, but the whole building needed refurbishing. The library had to provide adequate lighting, suitable accoustics and sound dampening, and indeed air exchange, because of the heat rising off so many more people in the space. And since they were refurbishing, and since the Internet of Things was right around the corner, and it’s a technical university, well they got involved with creating what seemed like a technological playground in the library. Lars described lots of experimentation with sensors and services that meant that students were getting to personalise their environments in the library and staff were fast becoming data scientists. When asked whether students resented being “lab rats” in such an environment, Lars answered that the students get to do experiments themselves, so if it’s helping them to learn and to improve their experience of the library then they don’t seem to mind.

So those are just a handful of my highlights. I daresay I’ll continue to digest this event’s very rich fare for some time to come!

*OCLC are one of my clients
**Hours of watching the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow are apparently paying off!


Catching up and concentrating on clients: the life of a freelancer

I’m looong overdue a blogpost: last time I wrote here it was about an Elsevier event in November! I’ve not been quiet exactly, just busy working for my clients. So I thought I’d share a quick look at some of my recent/current work.

Next week, I’m excited to be going to the OCLC EMEA Regional meeting. It happens to be in Berlin and OCLC are a relatively new client. I’m going along to listen for soundbites by the speakers and we’ll see what I write about, based on the inspiring talks in the programme.

I’m always busy working on the social media output for, based at the University of Warwick alongside the more famous We’ve got a great team of correspondents who share the role of “tweeter” each day, and our blogposts cover a lot of themes relevant to the early career researcher, from time management and networking, to career paths and academic consultancy. We’ve got more good stuff in the pipeline, so if you’re looking for a blog to read then keep an eye out over there.

A hand with a pen, writing on paper at a desk

Since I became freelance, I’ve been regularly writing book back covers and unique selling points for SpringerNature: this is fascinating work as the books come from across the disciplines, from maths and philosophy to physics and health sciences. I get a little insight into some of the excellent research that is being published and learn something new with every book that I write for.

And I’ve been teaching the Information Ethics & Legal Aspects module at Humboldt University again, this last semester. I really like teaching it as I can see how it gives the students food for thought. And it’s so topical: we always find stories in the news to illustrate our themes. The students had their oral exam last week and I’m pleased to say that they all passed!

Well, those have been the main, big projects recently. Those and the tax reporting 😉

Image credit: CC0, via Pixabay

Snowy Stockholm and Nordic Librarians!

Picture from Twitter
Picture from Twitter @Micha2508

Last week I attended Elsevier’s Nordic Library Connect event in Stockholm, Sweden. I presented the metrics poster / card and slide set that I researched for Elsevier already. It’s a great poster but the entire set of metrics take some digesting. Presenting them all as slides in around 30 minutes was not my best idea, even for an audience of librarians! The poster itself was popular though, as it is useful to keep on the wall somewhere to refer to, to refresh your knowledge of certain metrics:

I reflected after my talk that I should probably have chosen a few of the metrics to present, and then added more information and context, such as screen captures of where to find these metrics in the wild. It was a very useful experience, not least because it gave me this idea, but also because I got to meet some lovely folks who work in libraries in the Scandinavian countries.

UPDATE 23 Nov 2016: now you can watch a video of my talk (or one of the others) online.

I met these guys... but also real people!
I met these guys… but also real people!

I particularly valued a presentation from fellow speaker, Oliver Renn of ETH, Zurich. He has obviously built up a fantastic relationship with the departments that his library serves. I thought that the menus he offered were inspired. These are explained in the magazine that he also produces for his departments: see p8 of this 2015 edition.

See tweets from the event by clicking on the hashtag in this tweet:


Reflections and a simple round-up of Peer Review Week 2016

It has been Peer Review Week this week: I’ve been watching the hashtag on Twitter with interest (and linked to it in a blogpost for and on Monday I attended a webinar called “Recognising Review – New and Future Approaches or acknowledging the Peer Review Process”.

I do like webinars, as I’ve blogged before: professional development/horizon scanning from my very own desktop! This week’s one featured talks from Paperhive and Publons, amongst others, both of which have been explored on this blog in the past. I was particularly interested to hear that Publons are interested in recording not only peer review effort, but also editorial contributions. (Right at the end of the week this year, there have been suggestions that editorial work be the focus of next year’s peer review week so it seems to me that we’ve come full circle.) A question from the audience raised the prospect of a new researcher metric based on peer review tracking. I guess that’s an interesting space to watch!

I wondered where Peer Review Week came from: it seems to be a publisher initiative if Twitter is anything to go by: the hashtag is dominated by their contributions. On Twitter at least, it attracted some publisher criticism: if you deliberately look at ways to recognise peer review then some academics are going to ask whether it is right for publishers to profit so hugely from their free work. Some criticisms were painful to read and some were also highly amusing:

There were plenty of link to useful videos, webpages and infographics about how to carry out peer review, both for those new to it and for those already experienced, such as:

(On this topic, I thought that an infographic from Elsevier about reasons why reviewers refused to peer review was intriguing.)

Advice was also offered on how / how not to respond to peer reviews. My favourite:

And there were glimpses of what happens at the publisher or editor level:

There wasn’t much discussion of the issue of open vs blind or double blind peer review, which I found interesting because recognition implies openness, at least to me. And there was some interesting research reported on in the THE earlier this month, about eliminating gender bias through double blind reviews, so openness in the context of peer review is an issue that I feel torn about. Discussion on Twitter seemed to focus mostly on incentives for peer review, and I suppose recognition facilitates that too.

Peer Review Week has also seen one of the juiciest stories in scholarly communication: fake peer reviews! We’ve been able to identify so much dodgy practice in the digital age, from fake papers and fake authors to fake email addresses so that you can be your own peer reviewer and citation rings. Some of this is, on one level, highly amusing: papers by Maggie Simpson, or a co-author who is, in fact your cat. But on another level it is also deeply concerning, and so it’s a space that will continue to fascinate me because it definitely looks like a broken system: how do we stick it all together?

My immigrant’s view of public libraries : please support them!

photo of Bibliothek: mid 20th century architectural style.
My local public library

If you aren’t from the UK then you might not know that many public libraries there are under enormous pressure, and communities are fighting to keep their libraries open. My recent visits to my local public library here in Berlin remind me how important a public library is, even for those who can afford books and have plenty of them at home! Here is my list of why the public library is imporant to me, an immigrant:

  1. I can practice my spoken language skills there. Library staff are patient, friendly, helpful and clear spoken, and that’s an important resource to a new speaker of the language!
  2. I can learn about the culture of my host nation. What the library has on its shelves tells me something about the culture of the place where I live. Books aimed at children are particularly helpful as they are not too difficult to read and they also explain more about the education that the “natives” will have had.
  3. I bump into neighbours there and can strike up a quick chat: this builds my sense of belonging to a community.
  4. There are leaflets in the library about courses and events in my local area, as well as books about the history of the borough and city, and maps and walks. The latter are a collection that shows me what is worth buying for myself!
  5. I can also borrow books that I would never buy, for example when friends visit with their children, I can introduce them to the language and culture of my host nation with children’s books.
  6. There are lots of audio books too, and these are good for me to practice my listening comprehension in the new language.
  7. I can borrow DVDs from the library, and watch them in German. I find the German telly pretty “meh”. It’s either too academic for my language skills, or too dumbed down for me to be interested! I do also borrow from the local DVD shop, but that gets pretty expensive.
  8. Most importantly for me, a library is a haven. It is somewhere welcoming, warm and quiet, where I can take a pause from the hustle of grocery shopping or whatever else I’m doing in the precinct, and be taken out of the everyday world and into an inspiring world of thought, imagination and learning, with absolutely no pressure whatsoever to buy or to spend any money. It’s not about the size of your wallet but the size of your appetite for knowledge and culture!

If that fires your enthusiasm for libraries, then I encourage you to check out your own public library. Use it before you lose it!


How to close your blog gracefully.

I wrote this a while ago but it went live at a very busy time so only now am I really getting around to promoting and sharing it. I am very privileged to have featured as a guest blogger on the Thesis Whisperer blog: it’s a blog that I often like to read! Anyway, read on for my collated experience and observations about closing blogs…

The Thesis Whisperer

This post is by Jenny Delasalle, a blogger and freelance blog manager for the Piirus blog, amongst many roles, past and present. Piirus is an online, research collaboration matching service that is provided to the international research community by the University of Warwick, UK, and it aims to support researchers through its blog as well as introducing you to each other. Here, Jenny looks into a theme which she confesses she’s got wrong herself sometimes: some ways to quit blogging!

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 11.18.29 amThere are lots of great reasons to blog, but are also sometimes reasons to stop. You might not be getting benefits from your blog any more, or your interests might change. Maybe you’ve ‘inherited’ a blog along with a new job, but blogging isn’t your style. Blogging is potentially an endless commitment, so choosing how and when to stop is difficult and there’s not much advice out…

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A useful tool for librarians: metrics knowledge in bite-sized pieces By Jenny Delasalle

Here is a guest blogpost that I wrote for the new, very interesting Bibliomagician blog.

The Bibliomagician

Metrics_poster_verticalHaving worked in UK academic libraries for 15 years before becoming freelance, I saw the rise and rise of citation counting (although as Geoffrey Bilder points out, it should rightly be called reference counting). Such counting, I learnt, was called “bibliometrics”. The very name sounds like something that librarians should be interested in if not expert at, and so I delved into what they were and how they might help me and also the users of academic libraries. It began with the need to select which journals to subscribe to, and it became a filter for readers to select which papers to read. Somewhere along the road, it became a measurement of individual researchers, and a component of university rankings: such metrics were gaining attention.

Then along came altmetrics, offering tantalising glimpses of something more than the numbers: real stories of impact that could be found through online tracking. Context…

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