A review of ‘Twitter for Research’

This is a round-up of the content, reaction and response to the Twitter for Research session I gave here in Cambridge last week. The session was attended by a relatively small audience of 30 (academics, researchers, students, support staff and librarians), but was followed by a much larger number of people on twitter via the hashtag #twit4res as live-tweeted by @KTLib, @meg_librarian, @lettylib, all of whom are well worth following.

My Prezi
I decided to prepare a prezi for the session which would not only be engaging for the local audience but would also contain enough content and information to make it valuable to non-attendees. Happily, judging by the fact it has now been viewed 2780 times (!) and the number of RTs and follows I received over this weekend I think I pulled that off.

My Message
The main messages I wanted the prezi to get over were that:

  • twitter is a viable and valuable platform for academics and researchers;
  • media stereotypes should be ignored, you can cut out all the noise and rubbish;
  • twitter can make you more engaged and offers opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise come your way;
  • heaps of academics, researchers and serious organisations are already on twitter;
  • risks of use are exaggerated and twitter is not hugely difference to sharing at a conference;
  • professional and personal lives are blending more and twitter is part of a movement championing a more social model of scholarly research.

Twitter Temperature
I started the session by taking the audience’s twitter temperature via a post-it notes exercise that got people out of their chairs (I always like to get people moving about) and found we had an almost exact split of non-users (12) and users (11), with just one person in the middle considering the possibility. 6 people didn’t take part (because they were too busy tweeting, were too miserable, or had no leg-bones). N.B. For those adding up, by the time I took the photo some of the post-its had fallen off the board.

As well as selecting a coloured post-it relating to their use or non-use, the audience were also asked to give reasons why. Of those who weren’t using twitter the main reason cited was that they didn’t have time to tweet. Other reasons given were: ‘Will the things I say really interest anyone?'; ‘Twitter is officially banned in my country'; ‘Couldn’t be bothered to figure it out'; and ‘I perceive there is too little space for information to be disseminated well’. Naturally I addressed all of these points in the session and on the subject of time, simply related that you make time in your working life for those activities you consider to be valuable and for me twitter definitely falls into that category.

Of those already using twitter, most cited: professional development; networking; profile-raising; sourcing relevant blogposts and articles; and keeping up with breaking news.

HootSuite Demo
I elected to demo HootSuite in the session as it’s my Twitter platform of choice, not so much for its much-publicised social media dashboard functionality, but simply because it allows you to view columns listing your mentions, DMs, RTs and saved searches and lists. I also showed a list of business school academics that I put together (I would share it here but I can only view it through HootSuite at the minute – another job for the list) as well as some example hashtag and non-hashtag searches for relevant tweets (leading to blogposts and articles) on energy data.

Simon Ruffle – Centre for Risk Studies
For those of you not at the session wondering what ‘A word from Simon’ related to in the prezi – this was a few minutes talk from an academic called Simon Ruffle from the Centre for Risk Studies. They have been looking at tweets relating to earthquakes and mining the raw twitterfeed direct from twitter.com to plot official earthquake tweets against those reported by regular tweeters. It made for a very interesting aside. Many thanks for your input Simon.

In Conclusion
By session end, several attendees either told me in person or on the feedback forms that they were converted to twitter and would give it a try. Only one wrote that they remained unconvinced. However, the conversions have not been limited to the session alone – I’ve since received email requests from academics and students who couldn’t attend, who have seen the prezi, taking up our offer both to get started on twitter and, if they already have an account, to help them make better use of it.

What would I do differently next time? Ask a few less general questions as there wasn’t quite enough discussion and debate for my liking and, secondly, bill it as an hour rather than 45 minutes – who was I kidding? Also, it would have also have been great if more academics and researchers had responded to my request to co-present/contribute to the session. Maybe next time?

– Before I close I must just credit those academics/researchers whose excellent work/efforts I drew on in the session: George VeletsianosMark Carrigan; Dorothy Bishop; Skip Via. Thank you all and, again, get following them.

– Thanks also to all those lovely people I follow on twitter whose tweets I incorporated into the prezi. I’m afraid time constraints dictated that I didn’t get the chance to clear this with you all.

– And finally thanks to Kirsty Taylor for collating this tremendously useful collection of twitter for academic articles and blogposts on our posterous blog.

Andy @PriestLib


BLA Liverpool 2010 – Day 1 (Part 2)

More from Day One of the 2010 BLA conference at the Hilton Liverpool which involved chocolate, Cheatles and impersonating Richard Madeley (I didn’t see that one coming)…

Following an inspirational Hazel Hall was Moira Bent (below). Moira is National Teaching Fellow and Faculty Liaison Librarian at Newcastle University, and she was presenting on ‘information literacy and beyond’ (soon to go up on Slideshare). Moira admitted that she didn’t like to talk about research ‘support’ as it is a word that suggests to her that librarians are not truly integrated and involved in research, just assisting with it. She proceeded to have a bit of fun with us – suggesting we each come up with three words that we associated with chocolate. As an aside she mentioned that men unlike women always respond with brand names. Proving this hypothesis, Mars was one of my words (my other words were ‘hungry’ and ‘now’!). Moira then asked us to think of three words we associated with research. Her aside this time was that most respondents choose words beginning with the letter ‘i’. And so it proved, some of the most popular being information, investigation and impact. She went on to describe a model she has developed of 7 ages of research (from Masters students to subject experts).

Some key points from her talk included:
– researchers have an “insane passion” for their subject(!)
– the research community is becoming more challenged by difficulties related to location/non-co-location
– That we need to go to where researchers are and leave the library (something we intend to do much more of at Judge this coming academic year)
– Engagement, outreach and empathy with researchers are all vital
– It’s vital that we understand the variety and mindset of researchers
– Staff at Newcastle University tweet new staff publications to demonstrate engagement with research community
– Why don’t we innovate? Fear, time, money, opportunity, strategy – all excuses that aren’t good enough and means we risk the danger of professional suicide
–  Impact is not just about marketing. We need to always be there in front of researchers. We should not be shy about library value
– Information literacy is the key to our success
– Researchers concerns include:  space, where and how to publish, REF, data management etc.
– We need to develop info literate researchers
– We need to do more with less and demonstrate value

Moira’s conclusion was that librarians are an integral part of research process, especially through our info literacy role, but that we need to ensure that we demonstrate our value at all times.

After presentations from our Platinum and Gold sponsors (Thomson Reuters and Proquest) without whom we couldn’t afford the conference, it was time for one of our members to take to the floor. Members sharing is always an important and popular element of BLA (BBSLG) conferences and this year was to be no exception.

First up was Carolyn Smith from Cass Business School (someone who I have a lot of time for, even if she was partly responsible for our temporary incarceration on a coach last night!) who presented on PhD support at Cass. Carolyn described how at Cass they had hit a bit of a brick wall with PhDs and that they wereas good as invisible, hidden, unknown and distanced to them. Although they already offered  group inductions and 1-2-1 appointments they knew that they weren’t seeing enough of them and instituted some new measures including: a focus group, a PhD guide, a research seminar series (plagiarism, Refworks and getting published) and a poster campaign. Carolyn discovered that focus groups that offer payment and are facilitated by neutral (non-library) staff attract more participants. She also learned that it was key to engage with research supervisors. Carolyn ended her snappy and informative presentation with the honest statement that she wanted to pinch our ideas about what else could be done.

BLA committee member Lydia Matheson from Aston University followed Carolyn, giving a presentation entitled ‘How evaluation and feedback have informed LIS development at Aston’. Lydia deservedly won the Leslie Baldwin award (for best members sharing session) for her presentation which fitted seamlessly with – and drew upon – previous presentations that day. After talking around a list of small scale research projects completed at Aston, Lydia went on to urge us not to ignore the blogosphere and gave a practitioner rather than academic approach to research.
Other key points included:
– Literature review is the first thing that falls by the wayside when we engage with projects
– Alternatives to Captivate: Jing, BB Flashback
– 43 student attendees at her focus group due to food and vouchers
– the importance of obtaining feedback before and after implemented changes
– that time investment in ‘extra’ work research projects pays off long-term
– if we’re not sharing with our colleagues within our library how can we hope to share with the wider community?
Lydia concluded by saying that she dosn’t feel she has the time to gain expertise as she is ‘chasing her tail’ all the time and is too busy to perform as well as she’d like. I know a song (or maybe even a whole darn musical) about that one!

The first night of the BLA conference used to mean an informal dinner and or a quiz, but last year we upped the ante with an Irish night (with riverdancing and everything!). However, I believe we surpassed ourselves this year by booking well-known Beatles tribute band The Cheatles.

I’m a bit obsessed with TV and in my very limited free time I write – and publish – books about old TV shows. When I was researching for my book on the Brussels-based resistance drama Secret Army my wife and I spent quite a bit of fun – but thoroughly geeky – time scouting out filming locations in the UK and Belgium. Sadly I was reminded of this activity at this year’s conference as I suddenly realised that the bar in which The Cheatles were going to perform at the Albert Dock (the Pan Am) just had to be the former TV studio where they used to film This Morning – daytime TV show de jour when I was a student. I still can’t see Richard or Judy without getting the sudden panicky feeling that an essay is due! Keen to establish that this was indeed the place I asked Emma Thompson (conference organiser extraordinaire) and she excitedly confirmed that this was the very studio where Richard denied shoplifting and a generation of Liverpuddlians, in full view of the cameras, waved and grinned from outside. Being a bit of an idiot, much later in the evening (after lots of Guinness) I decided that it would be rude not to recreate a Richard and Judy moment and dragooned Emma into playing Judy to my Richard. Photos were taken (below) unfortunately without grinning faces pressed up against the window.

The Cheatles were great value and more of us got up for a dance than I’d imagined. I wasn’t quite drunk enough to get lost in the sound of the Fab Four, besides I discovered that their music is really not that easy to dance to.

After the Cheatles finished, several database sponsors (the majority of whom had remained sedentary before now) took to the floor and how should I put this, er, let their hair down. Suffice to say I have photographic evidence and I am ready to negotiate with you about vastly reduced subscriptions.

BLA Liverpool 2010 – Day 1 (Part 1)

For the past four days I’ve been here in Liverpool for the inaugural BLA (Business Librarians Association) conference (formerly BBSLG). Until lunchtime today I was Chair of this fantastic association and remain passionate about the networking, sharing of expertise and support afforded by our annual conference and our many other activities. I’ve titled this blog post Day One (Part 1), but in actual fact it really was Day Two for myself and the rest of the committee as we all got here on Tuesday for a final pre-conference meeting and er… Tapas and wine (categorically not from BLA funds!) 

I haven’t actually had a moment to explore Liverpool yet, but I’m determined to do so at some point, especially as incredibly I’ve not been here before (other than to check out the conference hotel earlier this year). The Hilton, where we’re staying, is almost on the waterfront opposite the Albert Dock where weatherman Fred was startled by a streaker on This Morning’s floating map (more on This Morning in Day 1 – Part 2). Also nearby is the ferry (cross the Mersey) terminal and the Liver building (below) which will  always inescapably put me in mind of (the very lovely) Nerys Hughes and that theme song by The Scaffold. Showing my age.

After my virgin live tweeting in Cologne I decided for BLA 2010 to have a go at tweeting the whole conference and have found it to be a much more useful experience than previously – like everything Twitter related it takes an investment of time to reap the benefits. All the tweets from the conference have been archived on Twapper Keeper by the incomparable @ekcragg if you want to have a gander.

This year’s theme was ‘The Research Agenda’ – how we as librarians engage with researchers, how we meet their needs and how we can get more involved in research ourselves. After my hearty ‘Welcome’,  Day One kicked off with Library Director’s slots from Maxine Melling (Liverpool John Moores University) and Phil Sykes (University of Liverpool) (pictured below). Maxine explored several strategic drivers, including the sustainability of the research culture at LJMU. She described the infrastructure there and the impact it makes on the way they support research.

Phil Sykes began with a quote from Tale of Two Cities “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” as a summary of the world that we as business librarians currently operate in and went on to describe the opportunities for business schools going forward – describing a situation of private wealth and public squalor. He also stated that he felt information provision must be embedded, evangelical and evidence-based and that in the future business librarians will move more towards promotion and dissemination of research and assistance with bibliometric impact. He also stated that he felt that libraries are truly and demonstrably important for research students, but that this value is still overlooked by stakeholders. Phil’s open and honest – and generally upbeat talk went down particularly well with delegates.

Hazel Hall, named ‘Information Professional of the Year’ last December, was this year’s first keynote speaker presenting on  ‘seizing the opportunity of research-led practice’. Her presentation is accessible on Slideshare. Hazel began by describing her seconded role and the  Library and Information Science Research Coalition. Her main messages were essentially that librarians don’t exploit published research enough (and tend to rely on their experience and instincts instead) and suggested that there are not enough librarians getting articles published in academic journals. Quite frankly: guilty as charged.  (Hazel – pictured left in a photo she gamely posed for after the session).

Some key points included:
– Librarians are good at advocacy and measuring tangibles but less skilled at demonstrating value and impact to justify investment (a topic that was later discussed at the Members’ Forum on the last day)
– In 2 years of issues of the top 2 LIS peer-reviewed journals not 1 article was written by an LIS practitioner
– The research record of librarians will need to improve going forward
– Librarians fail to recognise/identify their activities and skills as ‘research’
– Give staff with ‘itchy feet’ research projects to do in order to retain them!

Hazel also invited use to follow @LISResearch on Twitter for research funding opportunities, calls for papers, new LIS jnl issues published and much more. Having seen an example tweets page I followed immediately. She also advised us to check out the ‘One Minute Madness’ video on the conference section of the LISR website to see 22 LIS practitioners talking about their research for – you’ve guessed it – one minute each. Go see!

[End of Part 1]