Dammit, Jim, I’m a librarian not an engineer!

Dammit, Jim, I’m a librarian not an engineer!

Last week, I took on a new job, and one which brings me back into the world of libraries again, albeit in a very non-“traditional” library space and role: Assistant Research Services Librarian at the Univerisity’s Department of Engineering.

So far, my head has been spinning with all of the new information that comes with starting a new job, but as things are starting to settle down into something like a normal pattern, I can stop and take stock.

The Engineering library is great, and a very modern, casual space with lots of different types of study areas that (this term particularly, with most undergrads taking exams) get really heavily used, and it’s brilliant to be at the heart of such a buzzing environment. The library is in the centre of the Department and we’re surrounded by labs, 3-d printers, makespaces and lots of cool research groups.

Much of what I will be doing will be supporting the provision of training and up-skilling in areas like information literacy, research skills, open access etc for postgrads, mainly first-year PhDs. We have an awesome Research Services Librarian who I will be helping out where I can, and hopefully I’ll be doing some teaching sessions of my own before long too.

I’ve also been given a bunch of projects, some short-term “quick win” type things, and some much more detailed ethnographic-style research projects, to start thinking of and bringing into some sort of shape. One of which is a pretty thorough review of the training currently offered, with an eye to refining it and creating some cool blended learning resources to supplement the in-person teaching sessions. I’ll be honest, the scope of this particular project does rather terrify me, but I’ll work away at it and I’m sure it will start to look manageable as I go on. And I know there’s an excellent team here to ask lots of questions to!

Before that, however, I get to do something much more in my zone, and develop a social media report and “strategy-lite” for the library’s presence on Twitter. I firmly believe that a good social media voice can be such a useful way to engage with researchers, promote the library as a knowledge base, and break down institutional barriers, and I look forward to seeing how this can be developed and built on.

Expect to see my thoughts on this in a future blog post!

So, so far so good I feel. I’m still kind of nervous, but I’m pretty much where I expected to be after a week, and I am excited to get cracking with the work.

Adventures in web developing

Adventures in web developing

*Blows dust off blog*

Since finishing up with the 23 Research Things project, I’ve mostly been taking work as a Web Editor and Developer for a different part of the University. What does this have to do with librarianship, you may ask?

Well, it’s all information, and it’s all about connecting people with the knowledge and resources they need. Online resources are a crucial part of just about any information profession, and the skills of one are easily applicable to others. Obviously, most (all?) libraries have websites where they present information about their services, and libraries may manage all sorts of other online resources too. So what have I learned in my six months or so of working in the wonderful world of web management?

Content is king

Websites are usually the first port of call for people looking up information about a particular organisation or service. But websites are often either under- or over-designed. Under design would include not having links, or navigation menus (or much information at all) etc, while an over designed site has loads of images, videos, embedded social media feeds, scrolling news carousels…and information overload.

What users want when they come to a site is clear, accessible, accurate content. In conducting some market research, the one thing that stood out was that people want to know information about the University, the courses, and how to apply. Everything else is nice to have, but this needs to be nailed down first.

The medium is the message

Content online cannot simply be a recapitulation or clone of printed content elsewhere. This is because users’ expectations and behaviour online are different than they are in print. A printed university prospectus, for instance, is not the same thing as an online course directory, and they will not be used in the same way.

Online content gives you the freedom to move things around, include links to other sites, embed audio-visual content and generally make things more flowing and interactive than you can in print. The flipside of that is that people online will generally skim through a site, perhaps clicking to other tabs, reading them, flicking back and forth, rather than sitting and reading the whole thing. This means that your most important content needs to be front and centre, easy to find and obvious to see at a glance.

It goes without saying, but content developed for a particular medium needs to be developed for that medium. Website content, social media posts, videos, podcasts, printed guides, all serve a different purpose, reach different audiences and do different jobs. So your content has to be different too, at least in presentation, even if it’s covering the same topics.

The map is the terrain

Navigation of websites is, in my experience, the single most complained about feature of web design/development from our users. Breadcrumb trails, sidebar links, drop down menus, sub-pages, headers, footers, all of these supposedly helpful ways of navigating can become thoroughly confusing. If a user can’t get to what they need within three clicks, they will go elsewhere.

It’s worth doing a bit of research to see how people are using your site, either via Google analytics or another similar bit of software that you can grab the HTML for and stick it into your site’s source code. This will enable you to see how people are navigating the terrain, so you can simplify and update your map accordingly. If people are clicking on images that are not linked up, for instance, you can make those images into links.

Personally I favour a top-bar menu with drop-downs in each category, but that’s my aesthetic. But whatever method of navigation you use, this is how people will be able to find (or not find) the content you want to direct them to. So direct them. Keep it simple and you can’t go too far wrong.

It’s alive

Websites are not static. Once one is set up and populated with content, images, and all the bells and whistles, it is not “Done”. Content needs updating, things go out of date (shout out to all websites still advertising 2016 entry), and images soon look dated, especially if they show supposedly “current” students in hideous 90s fashion.

A website is not a document, it is a living ecosystem of knowledge, and it needs tending, pruning and updating. A clunky old-looking site may actually be worse than no site at all, as it sends the wrong message to your user.

The ghost in the machine

Tech fails. No matter what it is, or how well it is managed, it will crash at some point, or show funky error messages with helpful descriptions like “Error X456: Something went wrong”. So, if you aren’t doing this already (and I know a lot of librarians are), consider learning a bit of IT. HTML, CSS and how to find your way around whatever content management system your organisation uses (eg Drupal) should be enough for day-to-day maintenance and troubleshooting. You can learn cool coding stuff later, and gain some l33t h4x0r sk1llz (sorry). Oh, and get to know your IT folk. They’ll be more likely to fix things quickly if you know their names and are nice to them. Srsly.


23 Things in review

23 Things in review

Well, now that the dust has settled and 23 Research Things Cambridge is well and truly over, with the videos regenerating as Moore Methods, it’s a good time to look back over the course.

The 23 Research Things Cambridge blog has a great post and detailed report based on feedback gathered by a Qualtrics survey at the end of the course.

Amongst other things, we’ve learned that the blog was viewed over 7,000 times from places as far afield as Japan, and over 2 days worth of video content (combined) was watched on YouTube. Pretty impressive stats!


The feedback on issues such as noise levels, blogging and favourite/least favourite Things was very interesting too, and will no doubt inform future Moore Methods videos as the series progresses in its new incarnation.

They’re all still there on the YouTube channel, so you can watch or re-watch any Things at your leisure.

Go check out the post at the 23 Research Things Cambridge blog, and if you’re really into nerdy analysis (and you know you are), don’t forget to download the full report as well!

*Infographic image from 23ResearchThingsCam on WordPress.

Bonus Thing 24: Behind the Scenes

Bonus Thing 24: Behind the Scenes

Well, the 23rd Thing is done, and 23 Research Things Cambridge rides off into the sunset, while the videos seamlessly transition to the Moore Methods branding for future use. But wait! It’s not all over yet!

Here’s a quick look at how and why we made these videos, why we chose YouTube and what kit we used to do it all.  And, as you can see in the video, how things didn’t always go smoothly.

It’s weird seeing myself on screen, I don’t like it much, I think that being behind the camera is more my natural habitat. But I hope that this look behind the scenes might inspire other people to pick up a camera and get making videos of their own!

Along with Georgina, I’ve watched a LOT of YouTube videos, especially in the run-up to making 23 Research Things to gain inspiration, and I can definitely second the recommendation of The Brain Scoop, PBS Ideas Channel and SciShow. I’d also like to add to that list Caitlin Doughty who hosts Ask a Mortician, and makes great videos that engage with death in a positive and open way.

YouTube is, and in my opinion should be recognised as, part of the global educational community, and could be used more by researchers and others wanting to share ideas, knowledge and expertise with the wider world in an informal and fun way. Is there a lot of rubbish on there? Of course there is, but there’s a lot of really cool stuff on there too, and you can learn something new every day. I use YouTube more and more as my first port of call for finding out new information. Want to fix something? Look up a YouTube video. While I understand that the short, casual format doesn’t work for everyone, and is perhaps not always the best way to present information that might be particularly dense or technical, I think it’s a great tool to add to the toolkit.

So I hope everyone enjoyed watching the 23 Research Things videos as much as Georgina and I enjoyed making them, and I hope to work on more Moore Methods in future!

Thing 23: The Ultimate Research Tool

Thing 23: The Ultimate Research Tool

*Drum roll please*

Who’d have thunk it?

Of course the library is the ultimate research tool! It’s one I’ve used right the way through my school, university and professional life.

I think framing libraries in this way is a great way of looking at them, and shows that they are far more than just rooms with books in them. The resources, support and expertise libraries offer goes way beyond what some people might expect (especially if they’ve only been exposed to the stamp-and-shush stereotype of libraries in films). This level of support can go a long way to a successful research project and can help you learn new things, find cool new tools and resources, and see things differently.

I love the diversity of research tools covered in this 23 Research Things course, and it’s worth reflecting at the end of the course that all of this was put together by a librarian, and support for using all those tools can be offered at your library. Some of the in-person training sessions at the Betty and Gordon Moore Library that I attended really complemented the online videos and went into great depth on specific tools and concepts. Teaching sessions like this are a thing that many libraries offer, so check out your library for details of training available.

In terms of the 23 Research Things more generally, it’s been a fantastic programme and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both being behind the camera to help create the videos for it, and being a participant taking the course too. Some of the tools I will use a lot (Pocket is great), some of the concepts have changed the way I think and work (data visualisation and presentations), and somehow it’s even made me a regular user of Twitter, which I thought would never happen!

Some of the tools covered are more useful for practicing and publishing researchers, but even if I’m not going to use them myself, it’s great to know about them so I can recommend them to others and offer support based on experience if people have questions about them.

It’s been a learning experience, so many thanks to Georgina for putting this together and releasing it upon the world!

Thing 22: Tracking Success

Thing 22: Tracking Success

OK, so by this stage I’m blogging and tweeting, and looking up research papers pretty regularly, but how do I measure where my words go once I’ve released them into the wild of the internet?

Alternative metrics, or alt-metrics, can provide some insight here, and pick up on impact not noticed by traditional academic metrics.

This was quite a fun Thing to investigate, and the results were surprising. Looking at Twitter Analytics is something I haven’t done before, but was an interesting exercise. My top tweets are generally ones where I use an existing hashtag, like for a conference for example, as they get picked up and retweeted by other people using the same hashtag, which shows how hashtags can build your Twitter presence and also connect you to a wider community discussing the same topic.

Other than that, tweets with pictures did better than those without, which confirms what was said in an earlier Thing about pictorial superiority.

Tweetreach is a really cool way of getting snapshots of how many times a particular bit of content has been interacted with. You can go into much deeper analytics with an account, but helpfully you can get a quick “Snapshot” without needing to sign up at all.

You can search for hashtags, accounts or by keyword and Tweetreach will generate a nicely-presented bit of data for you. Here’s the snapshot for my own Twitter account @wrycrow, which has some utterly bonkers numbers on it! Not sure how I feel about that.


And finally, onto Altmetric itself. The “Altmetric it!” bookmark tool was so easy to get, just click and drag it onto your bookmark toolbar, no need even to download anything. Like some other participants, I had some issues with it not recognising some papers from smaller journals (hey, everyone, get a DOI for your paper or Altmetric won’t be able to see it!) but for the most part, it worked fine and gives some great info about how many times a paper was picked up by the news media, blogged about, tweeted, shared on Facebook etc.

Altmetric seems to be an excellent way of getting figures for impact that go beyond the standard REF model, and show that academic research has real impact in the wider world beyond specialist publications. Indeed, for several papers, the highest category of people interacting with them was “members of the public”.

All great tools, all really easy to use, and all of which demonstrate that we’re doing more than just shouting into the void when we use social media.

Thing 21: Managing Citations

Thing 21: Managing Citations

Slowly but surely I’ve got to Week 8! And we begin with a look at the horror that is managing citations…

First, I have to just say how much fun it was putting the horror film cold opening together for this video, I hope it gave a few viewers a surprise!

The horrifying situation described is one that’s all too familiar, and referencing/bibliographies have been the bane of my life as a student. Enter Zotero.

Where has this been all my life? After installing Zotero on my laptop (really easy, especially for Firefox which I use as my main browser), and adding a few different articles and types of content, I wish I had this when I was doing my studies.

While I have other tools, like Pocket, for simply saving stuff to read later, the joy of Zotero is that it also saves references and metadata for each article to your Zotero library. With the help of the Microsoft Word plug in which I also installed, and I’m happy to say is backwards-compatible with the 2007 version of Word on my machine (what? I like it and it’s vintage now!) you can insert citations and create a bibliography with incredible ease.

No more hours of physically searching through ALL THE THINGS! and then manually entering in citations (and getting confused over the differences between Harvard, Chicago and MLA referencing rules). Yay!

I will definitely make use of Zotero in my professional and personal work, and I can say it’s probably one of the most useful tools covered so far.

But what about adding books? You know, those things made out of sheets of dead tree? Well, Moorepheus at A Waterfall of Consciousness has you covered, with a very handy step-by-step guide to adding citations to Zotero manually. Thanks Moorepheus!

The second part of this Thing looks at ORCID. This is a unique identifier for researchers, academics, writers etc. that allows you to track your citations and manage your work (and intellectual property) without getting mixed up with a different researcher also called John Smith, for instance. I signed up for one, which takes about 30 seconds to do, and while I may not be publishing papers any time soon, it’s nice to have been able to grab an ORCID attached to my name and identity so that nobody else could muscle in on any work I may do. And of course it’s useful to know how ORCID works as the University is trying to persuade everyone to get one, and it’s good to be able to offer advice based on experience when people ask “what’s an ORCID? Do I need to water it?”