Tag Archives: Research Support

Having Information to Hand: Research Support Handy Guides

If there is one thing I’ve learnt over the last few years of training library staff it’s that they really love a handout! Whether it contains extra information or a copy of the slides, in print or as a digital document, they really want something tangible to take away from a training session and refer back to. However I’m also a realist and I know that many of these handouts end their lives in a desk drawer never to be seen again so I wanted to create something that would be both attention grabbing and useful. Our series of Research Support Handy Guides were born as a result.

These short, four page guides are designed to be used as mini-booklets which summarise complex topics related to scholarly communication in an accessible way. They all follow a fairly consistent format with an eye-catching cover, a short synopsis of the topic, a list of factors to consider and links to further information. Having a page limit means that only the most important information can be included and this forces me to think about what people really need to know about a topic. It also means that I need to use clear language rather than lots of text which really helps me to distill a topic to its most important point. Although the guides are aimed at library staff we have discovered that they have other uses. All of the guides are made available under a CC-BY 4.0 licence on our website so that people can adapt the information as needed and we have added downloadable versions upon popular demand. Library staff are able to print these out or add them to their own websites as resources for researchers which saves them time having to come up with similar content from scratch and reinventing the wheel. The guides are also available via the online publication tool ISSUU which opens them up to a wider audience and makes them interactive. It doesn’t hurt that all of this provides a bit of stealth advocacy for the OSC either! I designed the guides using Canva. If you have never come across this site before I thoroughly recommend checking it out as it makes designing good looking materials really easy. I often have an idea in my head of how I want something to look but I can never quite seem to translate that to the (digital) page. Canva provides lots of support, graphics and importantly templates to help you create really engaging materials. I simple chose an appropriate template, uploaded some (CC0) images, edited the colours to reflect our palette and added the text.

So far there are eight guides in the series covering topics from data management plans to peer review. The guides are often created in direct response to a need identified by our library community – something that often happens when someone starts a sentence with the phrase “I wish I knew more about…” Some guides are created to tie in with an event such as Open Access Week or the recent Fair Use Week. One topic which is particularly suited to this format is copyright and there are currently three guides where it features heavily: Academic Social Networks, Anatomy of a Creative Commons License and the Fair Dealing Fact Sheet. This last title covers a topic that often causes confusion for both researchers and librarians and has been particularly useful to produce in our recent information sessions on copyright Based on the positive reaction I have received both in person and online I think more copyright related titles will definitely be added to the series!

If anyone else is thinking of using something similar I would definitely say give it a try. The guides have proved popular with both the Cambridge library community and those further afield and there have been over 3000 hits across all titles so far plus it’s always useful to have something ready to hand out at events or to point to when asked a question. Although much of the information has been adapted from existing information on our webpages the guides offer a much more accessible and visually appealing format that reading pages of dense text. There are lots of different design tools available to help and of course you might just have more talent than me! Creating something that looks professional is surprisingly easy and can really help to engage users in complex topics and potentially be used as a way to start a longer conversation – and you never know where that might lead.

Published 19 March 2019
Written by Claire Sewell
Creative Commons License

This blog was originally published on UK Copyright Literacy, 15 March 2019

Text and data mining services: an update

Text and Data Mining (TDM) is the process of digitally querying large collections of machine-readable material, extracting specific information and, by analysis, discovering new information about a topic.

In February 2017, a group University of Cambridge staff met to discuss “Text and Data Mining Services: What can Cambridge libraries offer?”  It was agreed that a future library Text and Data Mining (TDM) support service could include:

  • Access to data from our own collections
  • Advice on legal issues, what publishers allow, what data sets and tools are available
  • Registers on data provided for mining and TDM projects
  • Fostering agreements with publishers.

This blog reports on some of the activities, events and initiatives, involving libraries at the University of Cambridge, that have taken place or are in progress since this meeting (also summarised in these slides).  Raising awareness, educating, and teasing out the issues around the low uptake of this research process have been the main drivers for these activities.

March 2017: RLUK 2017 Conference Workshop

The Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) and Jisc ran a workshop at the Research Libraries UK 2017 conference to discuss Research Libraries and TDM.  Issues raised included licencing, copyright, data management, perceived lack of demand, where to go for advice within an institution or publisher, policy and procedural development for handling TDM-related requests (and scaling this up across an institution) and the risk of lock-out from publishers’ content, as well as the time it can take for a TDM contract to be finalised between an institution and publisher.  The group concluded that it is important to build mechanisms into TDM-specific licencing agreements between institutions and publishers where certain behaviours are expected.  For example, if suspicious activity is detected by a publisher’s website, it would be better not to automatically block the originating institution from accessing content, but investigate this first (although this may depend on systems in place), or if lock-out happens and the activity is legal, participants suggested that institutions should explore compensation for the time that access is lost if significant.

July 2017: University of Cambridge Text and Data Mining Libguide

Developed by the eResources Team, this LibGuide explains about Text and Data Mining (TDM): what it is, what the legal issues are, what you can do and what you should not try to do. It also provides a list of online journals under license for TDM at the University of Cambridge and a list of digital archives for text mining that can be supplied to the University researchers on a disc copy. Any questions our researchers may have about a TDM project, not answered through the LibGuide, can be submitted to the eResources Team via an enquiry form.

July 2017: TDM Symposium

The OSC hosted this symposium to provide as much information as possible to the attendees regarding TDM.  Internal and external speakers, experienced in the field, spoke about what TDM is and what the issues are; research projects in which TDM was used; TDM tools; how a particular publisher supports TDM; and how librarians can support TDM.

At the end of the day a whole-group discussion drew out issues around why more TDM is not happening in the UK and it was agreed that there was a need for more visibility on what TDM looks like (e.g. a need for some hands-on sessions) and increased stakeholder communication: i.e. between publishers, librarians and researchers.

November 2017: Stakeholder communication and the TDM Test Kitchen

This pilot project involves a publisher, librarians and researchers. It is providing practical insight into the issues arising for each of the stakeholders: e.g. researchers providing training on TDM methods and analysis tools, library support managing content accessibility and funding for this, and content licencing and agreements for the publisher. We’ll take a more in-depth look at this pilot in an upcoming blog on TDM – watch this space.

January 2018: Cambridge University Library Deputy Director visits Yale

The Yale University Library Digital Humanities Laboratory provides physical space, resources and a community within the Library for Yale researchers who are working with digital methods for humanities research and teaching. In January this year Dr Danny Kingsley visited the facility to discuss approaches to providing TDM services to help planning here. The Yale DH Lab staff help out with projects in a variety of ways, one example being to help researchers get to grips with digital tools and methods.  Researchers wanting to carry out TDM on particular collections can visit the lab to do their TDM: off-line discs containing published material for mining can be used in-situ. In 2018, the libraries at Cambridge have begun building up a collection of offline discs of specific collections for the same purpose.

June 2018: Text and Data Mining online course

The OSC collaborated with the EU OpenMinTeD project on this Foster online course: Introduction to Text and Data Mining.  The course helps a learner understand the key concepts around TDM, explores how Research Support staff can help with TDM and there are some practical activities that even allow those with non-technical skills try out some mining concepts for themselves.  By following these activities, you can find out a bit more about sentence segmentation, tokenization, stemming and other processing techniques.

October 2018: Gale Digital Scholar Lab

The University of Cambridge has trial access to this platform until the end of December: it provides TDM tools at a front end to digital archives from Gale Cengage.  You can find out more about this trial in this ejournals@cambridge blog.

In summary…

Following the initial meeting to discuss research support services for TDM, there have been efforts and achievements to raise awareness of TDM and the possibilities it can bring to the research process as well as to explore the issues around the low usage of TDM in the research community at large.  This is an on-going task, with the goal of increased researcher engagement with TDM.

Published 23 October 2018
Written by Dr Debbie Hansen
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Electronic lab notebooks – a report from a SLA meeting

In preparation for our the “Electronic Lab Notebooks: Solutions for Paperless Research” we decided to re-blog this post* on the subject written by Niamh Tumelty, Head of STEM Libraries at the University of Cambridge.

Roundtable on Electronic Laboratory Notebooks

A significant part of my role involves research support, but so far I have not been involved with lab notebooks, electronic or otherwise. I registered for this session at the Special Libraries Association meeting in 2014 mainly out of curiosity, hoping to find out more about what products others are using, how they’re finding them and whether or not they would be of interest to my Department.

What is an ELN?

Simon Coles set the scene with an overview of the development of electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) to date and frank assessment of their value in different contexts.  Simon has been working on developing ELNs since 1996 and has been with for Amphora for 11 years.   Amphora identified three problems to solve: capturing information from busy scientists, preserving data in complex contexts and being able to provide evidence in court, for example to prove the origin of an idea. They work with a wide range of customers with some of the largest and smallest implementations of electronic lab notebooks.

There is no single definition of ELN so we look carefully at what we need. We need to be wary of what exactly was meant by other case studies, since what they implemented may not be relevant or comparable at all.  Researchers naturally expect that lab notebooks would be tailored to their research workflows, and since there are very different workflows in different areas of science it is unlikely that one solution will be appropriate for an entire organisation.

Another key point is that an ELN doesn’t have to be a complex purchased product.  MS Word and WordPress have been successfully used and there is a real danger of finding yourself in ‘consulting heaven’ with some of the commercial products, with costly ongoing support turning out to be essential. If introducing an ELN we need to consider a number of questions:

  • Do we want it to be about record-keeping and collaboration or is it about doing bits of science?
  • Does it need to enforce certain processes?
  • Is it something specific to a group of scientists or generic (bearing in mind that even the same scientist’s needs will change over time)?
  • How large and diverse is your user base?

The university view

Daureen Nesdill is Data Curation Librarian at the University of Utah and has been involved with the USTAR project. They conducted a study on campus to see what was already happening in terms of ELNs and found that they were already being used in some areas (including in the Humanities) and one person already had a standalone implementation of CambridgeSoft.  Daureen set up a Libguide on ELNs to share information about them.

A working group was set up to look more closely at the options but they haven’t implemented a solution campus-wide because no one tool will work for the whole campus.  Other barriers include the expense of acquiring an ELN (purchasing software, local hosting and support or cloud hosting), the question of who pays for this and the amount of time it takes to roll out (a few months for a lab of 50 people!)  There are also concerns about security, import-export loss and if using a cloud solution, awareness of where your data is being stored.

Daureen outlined a number of requirements for an ELN in a University:

  • ability to control access at an individual level;
  • recording of provenance (all needs to be documented in case there is any future question of who did the work) and this information needs to be included in data exports;
  • Both cloud and client-based with syncing
  • Compatible with any platform
  • No chemistry stuff as standard features, instead templates available for all subject areas – let researcher select tools for their research!
  • Education pricing for classroom use
  • Assistance with addressing complex research protocols
  • Integration with mouse colony management system
  • Connectors – get data from any equipment used to flow easily into the ELN and out of it into the institutional repository
  • Messaging system to allow quick communication between collaborators
  • Reminders for PIs to check work of team
  • Integrated domain-specific metadata

 Corporate perspective

Denise Callihan from PPG Industries provided the corporate perspective. Her company has looked at options for ELNs every five years since the 1980s because their researchers were finding paper lab notebooks were time-consuming and inconvenient. They needed to be able to provide research support for patent purposes to make sure researchers were following the procedures required.

A committee was formed to identify the requirements of three disparate groups: IT and records management, legal and IP, and researchers. A pilot started in 2005 with ten research scientists using Amphora PatentSafe, some in favour of the introduction of ELNs and some against. PPG Industries were early adopters of Amphora PatentSafe so the vendor was very responsive to issues that were arising. The roll-out was managed by researchers, department by department, with the library providing support and administration.  Adoption was initially voluntary, then encouraged and is now mandatory for all researchers.

The implementation has been successful and researchers have found that the ELN is easy to use and works with their existing workflows.  Amphora PatentSafe uses a virtual printer driver to create searchable notebook pages – anything that can be printed can be imported into the ELN.  Email alerting helps them keep track of when they need to sign or witness documents, speeding up this part of the process. The ELN simplifies information sharing and collaboration and eliminates size constraints on documents. It is set up for long-term storage and reduces risks associated with researchers managing this individually.  Data visualisation and reporting are built in so it’s easy to see how research is progressing and to check document submission rates when necessary.

PPG Industries found that researchers need to be looking for an ELN solution rather than feeling that one is being imposed on them. Strong support was required from leadership, along with a clear understanding of what drives the need for the ELN.  The product they’ve selected focuses on providing an electronic version of the print notebook, but the raw data still needs to be kept separately for future use.

Wrap up

Overall I found this session extremely useful and I now feel much better informed about electronic lab notebooks.  I really appreciated the fact that this session, like others at SLA, presented a balanced view of the issues around electronic lab notebooks, with speakers representing vendors, corporate librarians and academic librarians.  I now plan to investigate some of the ELN options further so that I am in a position to support possible future implementations of ELNs, but I will wait until the researchers express their need for one rather than suggesting that the Department considers rolling on out across the board.

*Originally published in 2014 at Sci-Tech News, 68(3), 26–28

Published on 12 January 2017
Written by Niamh Tumelty
Creative Commons License