K & IM Refer Spring 2017

Journal of CILIP’s Knowledge and Information Management Group Vol 33 (1) Spring 2017


Table of Contents

 Welcome to the Knowledge & Information Management Group – ISG transformation

David Smith, Chair, K&IM National Committee

 Information Management / Knowledge Management –

Two Sides of a Coin

Sandra Ward, Beaworthy Consulting

How Do Well-Implemented Information Management and Knowledge Management Programmes Assist the Drug Development Process in the Pharma Industry?

Denise Carter, DCision Consult

Passing a Verdict: Knowledge Management in a Top Law Firm

Jonathan Cowley

 Finding Out What Our Researchers Really Want:

The Structured Interview

Mary Betts-Gray, Cranfield University

Opportunities in Research Data Support: The Data Librarian’s Handbook

Helen Edwards, Editor, Refer

Review: British Librarianship and Information Work 2011-2015

Lynsey Blandford, Canterbury Christ Church University


CILIP Knowledge and Information Management Briefings

 Recruiting and Developing Knowledge and Information Professionals

14 June 2017 at CILIP HQ


Cybersecurity for Knowledge and Information Professionals

19 October 2017 at CILIP HQ


Knowledge and Information Management Group

Information Resources Awards 2017

 Have you spotted a notable information resource recently?

If you did, why not nominate it for the Knowledge and Information Management Group Information Resources Awards 2017

We are looking for outstanding information resources, whether in print or electronic format, that are available and relevant to the knowledge, information management, library and information sector in the UK.

Print nominations must have been published between 1st January and 31st December 2016, and electronic nominations must be currently available and accessible.

Closing date for nominations is 30th June 2017

Submit your nominations at: https://goo.gl/forms/e3NOIPYoeV09W7y03

Knowledge and Information Management Walford Award

Do you know someone who has made an outstanding contribution to knowledge and information services in the UK?

If you do, why not nominate them for the Knowledge and Information Management Walford Award 2017

Nominations are welcome from anyone who knows and respects the work of the nominee.

Nominations close on 31st July 2017

Submit your nominations at:


K & IM Refer: the journal of the Knowledge and Information Management Group of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), is published three times a year and distributed free to members of the Group.

 Editor: Helen Edwards

Editorial team: Lynsey Blandford, Ruth Hayes

Cover Design: Denise Carter

Contact: Helen Edwards 07989 565739; hogedwards@gmail.com

Copyright © The contributors and the K & IM SIG 2017

Online edition https://referisg.wordpress.com

 ISSN: 0144-2384




Welcome to the Knowledge & Information Management Group – ISG transformation

David Smith, Chair, K&IM National Committee

As inaugural Chair of the new Knowledge & Information Management (K&IM) Group, I welcome you to a transformed membership. ISG had its final AGM in November and it was voted unanimously to transform into this new phase of our existence. The new K&IM Group became established on 1st January, and we hope that you will continue to feel as supported in your chosen careers under this new guise. Many of you are probably already involved in some form of K&IM activity within your organisations, although many of you may not be (or consider yourself to be) actual specialists. However, this is a growth area and, as knowledge, information & library professionals we will be able to contribute over time towards how our organisations manage and organise our resources and processes.

The new K&IM Group is now firmly established and is doing sterling work to take forward the K&IM agenda and also integrate previous ISG activity.   The Business Plan for 2017 has now been agreed and also a Strategic Plan is being developed. Our two sub-groups looking at “Information Services” and “Marketing & Communication” have also commenced discussions and activity. The SCOOP Committee is also continuing to meet and our two Regional Networks (London/South East and East of England) remain active. If you would like to become involved in either of these groups or be a nominated K&IM link with other Regional Networks, then we are keen to hear from you.

The K&IM web pages for the CILIP website are being created and former ISG information being incorporated as appropriate. Our “Refer” Journal will also be continuing under the title of “K&IM Refer”.

Our goals as a Group will be based around the following themes in our Strategic Plan:

  1. Increase K&IM SIG and CILIP membership and nurture existing members;
  2. Enable effective two-way communication and engagement between K&IM Professionals and CILIP (the world outside and CILIP corporately);
  3. Provide K&IM relevant training, education and information resources;
  4. Recognition for K&IM Professionals and their activities.

A number of events and initiatives are being planned for 2017 which we hope you will find of interest. We will also be involved at the CILIP Conference. We hope to be able to formally launch the K&IM Group at the Conference, but it’s early days yet to actually confirm that.

However, we want to ensure that the K&IM Group remains relevant and supportive to you as an individual. One of the things we hope to work on this year is a Training Plan. If you have any ideas for training needs, or know of existing courses that are particularly good, then we want to hear from you. You are more than welcome to send your ideas / examples to me as Chair. It would be good to be able to offer a portfolio of courses and events – not only by ourselves, but to be seen as working collaboratively and supporting existing K&IM events that are not necessarily being arranged by CILIP. If you are a trainer / speaker, then again we would like to hear from you. It would be good to have a network of trainers that can help in this way.

Can I please ask that you ensure that you have signed up for K&IM Group membership under your choice of CILIP Specialist Interest Groups? As with any period of change, unfortunately things sometimes fall between stools, and we are not wanting to lose any members through this change process. Membership of the Group will be free of charge for 2017 and 2018, and therefore is available to any existing members of CILIP.

We are also keen to promote K&IM Group only membership to other individuals that are not currently members of CILIP. If you know of anyone that falls into this category and you feel they might be interested in joining us, then please let them know and pass on our details. Contact can be made with us via the CILIP website through our web pages (see www.cilip.org.uk/kandim) or through our generic email address (kandim@cilip.org.uk). We hope that these links are operational by the time this edition of K&IM Refer goes to press.

We hope you enjoy this edition of K&IM Refer; and if you have any ideas for future articles I am sure that Helen Edwards our Editor would be pleased to hear from you.

Very best wishes

David Smith

Chair, K&IM National Committee

Email: info@djsmanagementsolutions.com

K & IM Refer 33 (1) Spring 2017


Information Management / Knowledge Management – Two Sides of a Coin

Sandra Ward, Beaworthy Consulting

Information Management (IM) has been the dominant component of my working life, joined by Knowledge Management (KM) in the early 1990s. My mission has been to demonstrate that effective harnessing of information and knowledge is essential to the success of the organisations I’ve worked with, and to come up with strategies to achieve this goal. For me IM and KM are prime foci for deploying the skills of information professionals and this area is an essential target for career development. Hence my delight at the formation of CILIP’s new K&IM SIG.

Why do IM and KM belong together?

Organisations often claim that people are their most important resource. By this they mean that the knowledge and experience of staff are critical to efficient operations, effective decision making, their capability to innovate, constructive collaboration (inside the organisation and with partners and customers), the ability to profit from experience, and their credibility and reputation. But people can’t work and organisations can’t operate without information. The classic goal of the information scientist – deliver access to ‘the right information in the right place and at the right time’ still applies, – although ensuring accessibility, quality and interoperability are now more appropriate than delivery in today’s complex working environments.

The most efficient working environments are those in which people are able to rely on an information engine that is fit for purpose and can play their personal role in feeding and using it. This means that the information flows needed to underpin work processes will have been analysed; that as data and information are created, these are captured or documented; then organised, structured, and stored for reuse. Today, information from customers, devices with externally published data and information must form part of the information environment as deployment of big data and analytics become critical success factors.

The most satisfying, stimulating and effective working environments are, however, ones in which, as well as good IM, people know that their ‘tacit’ knowledge (their skills, experience and insight) is recognised , valued, capitalised on and enhanced by the teams and communities in which they work – and where this contribution is recognised and demanded by their bosses. Employees today want work to be a place where learning, sharing expertise and collaboration flourish, so they don’t have to leave their knowhow and common sense at the door. Successful organisations provide environments where:

  • People can connect to People in order to create, share and exploit knowledge more effectively
  • People can connect to the Information they need to develop and apply their knowledge in new ways
  • People can connected to the Tools they need to process information and knowledge

Knowledge Management and the Information Professional

Information management and governance are long standing roles for information professionals. Knowledge Management is newer, and I have been regularly irritated as librarians sought to claim that they were the knowledge managers of choice whilst being responsible for pretty traditional libraries. Luckily, those days are past, with CILIP’s professional skills and knowledge base distinguishing K and IM from collection management, and with exciting initiatives such as the Knowledge for Healthcare Development and Leadership Programmes[1] highlighting how NHS libraries can foster the improvement of clinical practice.

Mobilising knowledge

KM definitions abound. Off the shelf ones may suit, but I think an organisation should define KM having identified the knowledge problems it most needs to solve. My preference is for active definitions – “Mobilising knowledge for success” – “Making our knowledge work better”. Organisations move into KM for different reasons. They may identify potential benefits; more frequently they are moving away from risk – having experienced knowledge- related problems and wanting to avoid their recurrence. At their most simplistic, organisations without KM approaches risk:

  • Knowledge Loss: as employees leave or change roles can be catastrophic, if expertise is no longer available and problems arise; organisations can also fail to understand and deploy the knowledge of new staff effectively;
  • Knowledge Waste: when organisations and staff are unable or unwilling to use or build on existing knowledge, waste of time and resources and bad decisions are frequent consequences as are missed opportunities to innovate and change – and low staff morale – they just don’t want to know!
  • Failure to learn: organisations that don’t deliberately set out to learn from their own experience at all levels – personal, teams, projects, management etc. are characterised by repeated mistakes, reinvention of wheels, inconsistent responses to similar situations, and reputational issues as customers receive conflicting advice in their dealings with the organisation. Barriers to innovation and creativity also ensue;
  • Failure to share leads to poor collaboration and partnership working. Cross- functional working is now common – experts from different teams working together. Networking of similar specialists is of proven benefit, and partnership working between different organisations is normal. All these mechanisms require willingness to share knowledge and the development of trust (as well as agreed IM processes).

In short, without KM, the organisation is guilty of wasting its knowledge assets.

Implementing K &IM: the blend

Technology suppliers often sell systems as the one stop solution to good K&IM. Just-in-time technologies, underpinned by well structured information architecture and standards are indeed critical. These tools underpin techniques to capture, create, structure, communicate and effectively exploit K&I. Other enablers are needed for a successful programme though: a culture where staff are expected to network and collaborate and where organisational learning and intelligence flourishes; business processes enabled by knowledge sharing and collaboration and underpinned by information flows; processes for utilising tacit knowledge which are integrated with tools and techniques for managing information which can be documented – the explicit information and data that lends itself to systematic organisation. Most importantly, K&IM activities must be positioned within an information and knowledge framework that is aligned with the organisation’s business drivers and objectives.

The K&IM below is a useful diagnostic for assessing an organisation’s preparedness and performance in KM and IM.


Ideally, organisations would always plan their IM and KM strategies to underpin their business strategies and objectives. This is possible for new start-ups, more difficult for established organisations where focusing on a segment of the business is more practical.   So if you’re starting out you’ll need to find opportunities that matter.

What is your organisation’s strategy? Can you identify where activity is being impeded by knowledge and information deficiencies? What’s missing in your framework? Is it processes for the effective creation, dissemination and exploitation of knowledge or information? In the big data world, is it impossible to integrate key data sets because standards are lacking? Are project teams learning from their experience? Is this learning accessible to others starting similar projects? Can staff quickly tap into the knowledge of others and into the information they need with confidence that it’s the latest and most accurate? Is the good practice developed through trial and error accessible? And has a senior manager been assigned responsibility for knowledge and information matters?

Once you’ve identified the problems, a spread of techniques awaits to solve them. These belong to future issues of K&IM Refer

K&IM Refer 33 (1) Spring 2017


[1] https://hee.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/documents/Knowledge%20for%20healthcare%20-%20a%20development%20framework.pdf


How Do Well-Implemented Information Management and Knowledge Management Programmes Assist the Drug Development Process in the Pharma Industry?

Denise Carter, DCision Consult


Drug development in the pharma industry is a long and expensive process, and for every drug that actually reaches the market there are multiple drugs, which also cost an enormous amount of money to develop, whose programmes were stopped. Leveraging Information Management (IM) and Knowledge Management (KM) techniques and tools improve the information that supports the drug development process, and is vital in enabling best-quality decisions.

The development of new drug from discovery to eventual marketing takes approximately 10 years of investment, (1) and the total costs have been estimated at USD $2,558 million (2). A 2011 U.S. study (3), which looked at drugs developed between 2004 and 2010, found that the overall success rate for drugs moving from early stage Phase I clinical trials to U.S. FDA approval is about one in 10. The largest dropout rate along the clinical pathway came in advancing drugs from mid-stage Phase II studies to late-stage Phase III testing. Some 63 percent of drugs in Phase I testing advanced to Phase II, but only 33 percent of Phase II drugs made it to Phase III. This phase is typically the final stage of human testing before a new drug is submitted to regulators for an approval decision, and requires a commitment to larger and much more expensive clinical trials.

Clearly, the more a pharmaceutical company can do to reduce the time for each stage, and most critically the chances of success for each phase, the more their competitive advantage Is enhanced.

Information plays a key role in this. The following infographic describes just a few of the information management and knowledge management tools and techniques which are regularly employed in the pharmaceutical industry to support the drug development process.

Capturing and using information from the very early stages of a project is essential. During my time as an Information Manager for a mid-sized biopharmaceutical company, my team worked very hard to make sure we were at least part of the ad-hoc team members for the project team as soon as a drug reached the lead-generation optimisation stage of the development process. At this stage, normally the project team will begin to assess the relative merits of several indications (diseases) for which the candidate could have an effect, given its mechanism of action.

The criteria for selection for continued development by the company are usually weighted towards commercial factors, such as potential patients being able to pay for the eventual drug, sales and distribution channels already in place or easy to adapt. Unmet needs for patients and physicians in treatment is, of course, also a high consideration. Ideal would be a drug that is either first-to-market, i.e. there are no current disease modifying drugs available to treat this indication, or first-in-class if there are current treatments; but the new drug would have a different mechanism of action and would be able to offer superior efficacy and/or safety. Therefore required to make effective decisions are: information on the number of patients, their age, gender, race, geographic distribution; the current competitor landscape – how many drugs are marketed? How many drugs are in development? At what stage of development? Timelines? – The commercial value: would the availability of a new drug be viewed as cost-effective by prescribers and those who reimburse for drugs?

After the initial phases of animal and human studies (Phase I) and additional information about the potential market is further understood, the drug is usually either pursued in one or potentially two indications, but one is usually prioritised.

As the drug continues clinical testing, the clinical and medical information gathered from the trials is also combined with the commercial information, with increased collaboration with the information and knowledge teams working in the organisation. More teams are involved internally, such as the clinical team who design the clinical trials, the marketing team who begin to assess how to position the drug in the marketplace, the market research team who begin to reach out to physicians, payers and patients, as well as other external voices, such as key opinion leaders (key scientific and medical physicians or scientists working in the indication).

The quantity of information increases at an enormous rate, and ideally it all needs to be captured, quality-checked, synthesised and effectively packaged so it can be re-used. Effective communication between all parties needs to be established, on one level so that everyone is aware of what information is being captured or generated, and by whom, and on another level to ensure that terminologies used are consistent so that the same thing is understood by everyone involved. The reality is more often than not, unfortunately, a little different.

My personal experience was that the more IM and KM tools that our information team could implement, the more value the organisation found in our team’s activities, although sometimes that acceptance was slower than I would have liked. Some concrete results were being invited to participate much earlier in project life-cycles, and being asked to contribute directly (rather than via a third-part) to the key reports used by the company decision committees.


(1) Innovations in the pharmacuetical industry: new estimates of R&D costs. Journal of Health Economics 2016;47:20-33.

(2) Tufts Center for the study of drug development http://csdd.tufts.edu

(3) http://www.reuters.com/article/us-pharmaceuticals-success-idUSTRE71D2U920110214 accessed 25Feb2017

K & IM Refer 33 (1) Spring 2017



Passing a Verdict: Knowledge Management in a Top Law Firm

Jonathan Cowley



This top 100 UK law firm provides expert legal advice to individuals and businesses across a wide range of sectors including construction, property and personal injury.

As with any large organisation, effective knowledge management is key for sharing information, improving business performance and creating competitive advantage.   It is vital that legal information in particular is current and readily accessible.

New intranet

A new intranet was introduced in February 2016. The previous intranet had been designed in-house and suffered from a dated design and limited functionality. For example, the previous system was not customisable and could not display images and videos. The intranet had not kept up with the external facing website, which has a modern design and includes staff blogs and social media content.

The choice of company to provide the new intranet involved meetings with staff from across the firm.   The new intranet needed to provide fast and efficient access to information, and aimed to reduce the firm’s reliance on email as a means of communication.

Newbury-based software company Sorce (http://www.sorce.co.uk/) offered a product with a range of customisable options to provide the flexibility needed to connect with existing business systems.

There was no data available for hits for pages on the old intranet, so it was difficult to know which pages were popular and which were surplus to requirements. However, the company selection process had involved gathering feedback from across the firm, and this provided a great deal of specific information on how the intranet was being used.


The launch of the new intranet was supported by a promotional campaign to get as many staff engaged with the intranet as possible. Initiatives included providing free headphones to all staff, so that they could listen to video content; and a “treasure hunt” quiz where staff could win a prize by answering questions with information available on the intranet.

News stories

When the intranet was launched, a key benefit visible immediately was the ability to put company news front and centre. News stories are displayed on the intranet front page, and can be accompanied by video content where required. This has been particularly effective for big news stories, such as acquisitions of other law firms and office moves. If “a picture is worth a thousand words” then a video must be worth even more! As would be expected with a modern intranet system, it is easy to obtain detailed statistics on how many times stories are accessed and who is reading them, and therefore judge which stories are reaching their intended audience and which are less effective.

Databases/legal information

The intranet also features improved access to legal databases and research guides. Each legal department has its own homepage which is used to highlight news relevant to that particular area. This also allowed us to link to subject-specific resources within each department’s page e.g. the Personal Injury page has direct links to the personal injury commentary on Lexis rather than just a general link to Lexis itself. This has been important to create maximum value for money from database subscriptions, and to ensure that the most up-to-date legislation and commentaries are being used.


A “dashboard” is added to the homepage of all fee-earning staff such as solicitors. This displays all relevant financial information for that particular member of staff. The customisation levels provided mean that this section does not appear for members of support staff that it is not relevant to.

Social media

A key aim of the intranet enhancements was to improve awareness of “good news” across the firm, such as key cases or work done with local charities. The new intranet includes a social media widget which allows Twitter feeds to be embedded within intranet pages, which ensures that content is regularly updated and staff are aware of firm news.

Documents and risk management

Another key aim of the new intranet was to improve access to documents across the firm. This includes standard letters, forms, procedures and terms of business. Within a legal firm it is crucial to minimise risk, and this includes ensuring that up-to-date versions of such documents are used. A central repository or “document hub” on the intranet ensures that this is the case. The intranet functionality also means that an audit trail is available for each document to track who has made changes to files.

Extranet function

A developing area of the intranet is the extranet function. This is extremely useful when clients need to securely access documents relating to a case. It is of utmost importance that such sensitive documents have appropriate security and can only be accessed by the individuals concerned. The firm does not allow the use of Dropbox for security reasons, and this provides a viable and more secure alternative. An extranet page can be created which can only be accessed by clients, and staff working on the case. A username and password is sent to each client and the intranet customisation options allow a restricted version of the intranet to be displayed.

Usage statistics

The new intranet provides far more detailed usage statistics. A page displaying internal job vacancies proved to be surprisingly popular. As a result, it was added to the main navigation menu to make it easier to access.

As with any intranet statistics the raw data only tells a partial story – for example, more time spent using the intranet may indicate that users are having difficulty finding the information they need. We therefore found it important to actively seek feedback from users to see how they are accessing information and how the service could be improved.


The introduction of the new intranet has been a crucial step in improving the knowledge management process within this law firm. As the project enters its second year, the firm will continue to actively improve the service through additional functionality such as extranet pages. The intranet content has been continually refined, based on feedback; and changes will continue to be made to build on its capabilities.

K & IM Refer 33 (1) Spring 2017



Finding Out What Our Researchers Really Want: The Structured Interview

Mary Betts-Gray, Cranfield University


Do we know what our researchers really need from our library service? Are all researchers active social media users? Are our messages about new services and changes to services reaching them? Are there gaps in our service provision? How do information needs and requirements change during the course of a research programme? These were just some of the questions we found ourselves trying to answer two years ago, when we were seeking to enhance our services to improve support for the research community at Cranfield University.

Cranfield is an exclusively postgraduate research intensive University, and a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management. Research is fundamental to everything the University does. A key driver for our research was the University’s new corporate plan which includes a new research strategy.

Prior to raising the questions above, the library service had already developed good links with members of the research community and had established a Research Support Working Group (RSWG). In consultation with some of our researchers, we also developed a Research Infokit, which pulls together resources to support researchers throughout the research life cycle. One of the issues the development of the Research Infokit had raised was that not all researchers have the same information needs. We (and others) have tended to regard them as a homogenous group with common needs; and we realised that we needed to develop a better understanding of how the needs of researchers vary, depending on career stage, experience and subject discipline. The research we conducted was intended to investigate this, and inform the development of our own strategy, which is closely aligned with the University’s strategy.

Discussions followed with regard to the best way to undertake the research. Initially, a survey was considered but then dismissed because: we wanted input from a good cross-section of researchers in terms of gender, age and experience; researchers are extremely busy and e-mails and surveys are often ignored; and the University had concerns about “survey fatigue”. Interviews were our next thought, but this raised questions of how we might ensure that the same questions were asked if the interviews were carried out by different staff, from the three different libraries which form the Library service, and how we would record the answers. Finally, it was decided to opt for a mid-way solution which involved undertaking structured interviews, which would provide us with both quantitative and qualitative data.

The decision was taken to use Qualtrix to construct a questionnaire which would be used to carry out the interviews. There were a number of reasons for this. The software is flexible and allows for different styles of questions. Time is always in short supply, and we wanted a way to collect data that didn’t require us to re-input information. The interviews were to be carried out by staff who all had their own iPads or laptops which they could take along to the interviews. We wanted to be able to analyse the data and produce results with the minimum of effort, and Qualtrix would collate the results for us. Finally, for consistency, we wanted to ensure that all interviewees were asked the same questions and that all key areas were discussed.

An initial set of questions was developed by members of the RSWG, and these were then circulated to the other colleagues who would be undertaking the interviews for comment before being finally agreed. The questions covered three broad areas:

  • An introductory section – demographics about the interviewee, some questions about how they viewed and used the library services, and their awareness of what support was offered.
  • Specific questions relating to trending research issues: Social media; reference management software; Research Infokit; publishing influences; Open Access (compliance, article processing charges, Research Data Management); Cranfield Research Information System (CRIS) and CERES (the institutional repository) and IRUS-UK (Institutional Repository Usage Statistics UK).
  • Training and Communication.

93 structured interviews were carried out by Information Specialists over a three month period. Each Information Specialist had a minimum target of 10 researchers to engage with.   The process provided an unexpected training opportunity for staff who were less involved in research support, as it identified areas where subject or background help and knowledge was needed – CRIS and Open Access compliance were the main two. In cases where the interviewer lacked confidence, there was an offer from members of the RSWG to partner with them to undertake the initial interviews.

In terms of analysis and reporting, Qualtrix did save time and we were able to produce graphs and word clouds easily. We were delighted to receive very positive feedback about the library service and the resources we provide. Although this was a small sample the results confirmed some things we already suspected: Google Scholar was identified as one of the most popular search tools; social media was used by many to promote their research (with Research Gate topping the list of tools), but very few had used social media in conducting their research; and Mendeley was the preferred tool for reference management. It also highlighted areas where we needed to communicate better and provide more help and support, e.g. Open Access compliance, CRIS and CERES. Information about different communication preferences was gleaned and noted for future reference; and gaps in terms of resources, training and support were identified.

Following on from this, we have been mapping typical research information needs and interventions for funded research projects and doctoral research programmes. This has provided an opportunity to compare different subject discipline needs; and we are now sense checking the mappings, by inviting Doctoral students and researchers to come and discuss their research journey with the RSWG. The establishment of close links and collaboration with the Research and Innovation Office and Centre for Andragogy and Academic Skills and others working with researchers has enabled us to work with them to address some of the issues we uncovered.

So would we do it again? Definitely! Having a better understanding of the research process and the needs and behaviours of researchers is fundamental to our strategy and service provision, and we see this as the start of an ongoing dialogue. There are a couple of caveats: carrying out the interviews created work and was very labour intensive; and not all staff engaged with the interviews to the same degree, which had a slightly negative effect on the quality of the results. However, overall the exercise was perceived to be a huge success. It was an excellent relationship building exercise, as we engaged with many new researchers and re-kindled links with well-established researchers, who can often be overlooked, as they are considered to “know everything”. Awareness was raised on both sides – we learned what our researchers would like, and they learned about what we had to offer. Finally, we came away with follow-up questions, requests for help, and a much clearer understanding of what our researchers really want, and where we need to invest our time and effort.

K & IM Refer 33 (1) Spring 2017

Opportunities in Research Data Support: The Data Librarian’s Handbook

Helen Edwards, Editor Refer

“I’ve come to believe that learning how to search for and manipulate data will become the next “must-have” skill sets for academic librarians.”

Aaron Tay, Musings about librarianship, March 12 2017.


XKCD Comics, Data. Used in accordance with https://xkcd.com/license.html

Research data support offers new opportunities for librarians to become more active partners in the research process. This is the central argument of The Data Librarian’s Handbook by Robin Rice and John Southall.   Much of the data used for and generated by research are now in digital format, and volumes are growing increasingly rapidly. Many funders now require grant applications to be supported by data management plans, and mandate that the data produced in the course of research are made available to other researchers as a research output in their own right.   This has led to a data function becoming a necessary part of many research projects – to evaluate, select, purchase, promote, describe and preserve data inputs and outputs, and to advise, train and support data creators and users.

Unlike printed books and journals, data is utterly dependent on how it is managed. The authors comment: “in the case of digital data there is no such thing as benign neglect of the printed era, in which old books could miraculously be rediscovered after many years in dust-ridden attics. Digital information is entirely dependent on a properly functioning hardware and software environment.” This gives a new importance to ensuring that data resources are properly described, and attributed correctly to their creators, that they are linked as evidence to claims based upon them in the scholarly literature, that there is a consistent mechanism for shared access, and that their preservation is managed. This is the work in which librarians can play a central role and one that is complementary to that of researchers.

A key underlying theme of the book is the different perspectives librarians and researchers have on data generated by research. Whereas researchers may see data in terms of their specific research objectives, librarians necessarily focus on the wider context of the broader research and scholarly record. This has several implications:

  • Firstly, even if the data fails to support the research hypothesis, description and preservation can still be important. In the field of clinical research, for example, there is already a positivity bias in the literature – negative results are much less likely to be published.   Lack of awareness can lead to experiments being needlessly repeated.
  • Researchers may not consider other uses to which their data could be put. Rice and Southall comment: “many researchers make the mistake of assuming data they are making available for secondary usage will be used by others for projects with similar objectives and methodologies as their own. This is not always the case as the data may be used by researchers in related disciplines or radically different fields, so any associated metadata that helps secondary users understand how the data was created and coded is going to be important.”
  • As experienced data librarians themselves, the authors also identify the strong emotional attachment researchers may feel for their data. This can result in reluctance to let go of their data or to allow others to reuse it. These concerns often manifest themselves as sensitivity or confidentiality issues, or fears of inappropriate use. The role of the data librarian is to negotiate these issues so that potentially valuable data is not unnecessarily destroyed.   The secret is to focus on specific issues for which practical solutions such as embargos or light touch anonymisation techniques can be used. The increased emphasis on replication and re-verification of research analysis, and the potential of future use makes preservation of research data increasingly important: “curating data so they remain re-usable into the future allows them to be reanalysed with new techniques or combined with other data collections to create fresh findings. A great deal of data represent information that cannot easily be collected again because of their cost or nature.”

The new focus on data management in the grant making process and the requirements this makes on researchers provides the opportunity for librarians to identify and support unfamiliar activities. An excellent example is the data management plan. In the chapter Data management plans as a calling card, the authors provide several case studies showing how librarians have been able to participate in the creation of grant mandated data management plans and, by doing so, establish close links and increase their credibility with researchers.   However, this opportunity is time-sensitive. Once a research group has experience of creating data management plans and templates, and good practice exist, they will naturally become more independent. This also applies to new tools for analysing and manipulating data. The authors comment: “what makes big data challenging is not absolute size or volume, but the necessity to rethink data handling and analysis and then retool.” The challenge for librarians – which the insights in this book very usefully address – is to be able to adapt their support to continuing new developments in the whole research lifecycle.

The authors devote one chapter to Data sharing in the disciplines. This shows both the diversity of data in existence and the different cultural approaches to it. At one extreme, Astronomy is at the forefront of open data sharing and the use of big data. Galaxy Zoo (www.galaxyzoo.org), one of the leading Citizen Science projects, uses millions of images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, to invite the public to classify galaxies by shape. Other big data projects in the social sciences include work on large scale survey and census data collected by government agencies, and the potential of social media streams. However, in the arts and humanities, there are many small or unfunded research projects with no formal requirement for data management and no tradition of data sharing. This is big data’s opposite – long tail data. The authors define long tail data as: “data and activity based around small-scale projects lasting only a few years and producing small volumes of material. Often these are based on the work of an individual or small research team.” The potential for making much greater use of this material – which many consider the norm in many areas of academic research – by applying the principles of research data management to it, offers an exciting opportunity for librarians to make a real contribution to future research and scholarship.

The Data Librarian’s Handbook   DataLibrarian

Robin Rice and John Southall

Facet Publishing, 2016.

K & IM Refer 33 (1) Spring 2017