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Over the past year and a bit I’ve been working with the team at the OU working on the Telstar project. Earlier today we ran the second Innovations in Reference Management event and coming home on the train I had a few thoughts about the two IRM events (in Milton Keynes in a snowy January and in a much warmer Birmingham today). www.open.ac.uk/blogs/telstar/

Today’s well-attended event in a really nice location in the centre of Birmingham (http://www.studiovenues.co.uk/) covered a wide spectrum of reference management aspects: from digital literacy, through different reference management systems, to referencing for the web and citing datasets, to practical sessions on systems in use.

Before we had the first event in January we did have a moment of doubt that there was sufficient interest in reference management. The answer, with over 100 attendees across the two events (and with more than 300 members signed up to the recently created Jiscmail list Reading-List-Solutions https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=READING-LIST-SOLUTIONS) seems to be a fairly unqualified yes. And that got me wondering about what it was that was driving that interest.

So a few ideas about what might be driving that interest.

Firstly, there are an increasing number of different solutions. Increasingly the personal and local systems are being supplanted by web and collaborative ones. Some Mendeley (http://www.mendeley.com/) and Zotero (http://www.zotero.org) come out of the needs of researchers, others such as the Aspire reading list solution (http://www.talis.com/aspire/) come out of library requirements. But there are many more systems and much more interest.

Secondly, there are a range of different people who are interested in these systems – librarians, academics, researchers, information literacy people, technical people and data curators

Then there’s a big information and digital literacy aspect of reference management with interest around fostering good academic and pedagogical practice, around digital scholarship and around tackling plagiarism by fostering an understanding of why students should cite the sources they use.

Next there’s the whole area (and something that is growing more and more important) about reuse, efficiency savings, not reinventing the wheel, improving workflows and about not doing unnecessary or duplicating work

And finally, there’s a lot of innovation in this area. From traditional systems moving to the web or introducing APIs, to the new web-native players such as Zotero and Mendeley, to the challenges around citing new types of material. All of which indicates an area of increasing interest.

So there’s a challenge here. Telstar, almost incidentally, through the two IRM events has managed to help to identify a community of interest and practice. The Reading-List-Solutions jiscmail list may give that nascent community a longer-term voice after the Telstar project ends, and perhaps it is wishful thinking to suggest that ‘Innovations in Reference Management’ might be an idea that should live on?

Thanks to Owen and everyone who has worked on the various bits of the Telstar project through early ideas, through development to the present day.

I had the opportunity to go and listen to Martin Weller (@mweller on twitter) and Nick Pearce (@drnickpearce) talking about their work on Digital Scholarship this morning.  I’d put together some thoughts last year on an earlier blog post – Digital scholarship and the challenges for libraries – so it was good to get an update on how the work is moving forward.

Digital Scholarship context
Nick Pearce set the context for Digital Scholarship with a short presentation – available on slideshare here.  Looking at technology first he set out the view that books and language could be viewed as ‘technologies’.   Books as a technology wasn’t too contentious for a room full of library people.  Language as a technology is a bit more of a stretch but if you view it as a tool to enable change in a community then it’s a good analogy.   His comment that ‘old technologies often persist – for good reasons’ was particularly interesting and the classic example is radio continuing alongside TV.   But I’d wonder if these two technologies are fulfilling exactly the same role or whether they have established different roles for themselves. 

Turning to digital technologies he pointed to the large number and wide variety of services.  Using Ludwig Gatzke’s image of the incredible range of web 2.0 services as an illustration of how this year’s favourite technology is next year’s history.  Many of the services shown in the image no longer exist and the list doesn’t show services such as twitter that are currently very popular. 

That points to a real risk that you choose to adopt a technology platform that turns about to be transient or you find that ‘a year later everyone has moved on’.

Nick then looked at some of the key features of the digital environment and suggested that only a small number of users were actually creating content (which gives me pause for thought given the enormous growth that sites like YouTube are experiencing with user-generated content), and that you are relying on sites that are in perpetual evolution, effectively constantly in beta-testing.

 

Technologies, issues and challenges
Turning to scholarship and using Boyer’s “Scholarship reconsidered” model we started to briefly look at what technologies, issues and challenges might present themselves for the four elements of Boyer’s model.

  • Discovery
  • Integration
  • Application
  • Teaching

Ideas that came up include the ever-increasing amount of data (data deluge), challenges in economics and funding, and issues around social networking.   Nick went on to give some examples of Open Data (e.g. datacite.org), Open Publishing (the Open access movement), Open engagement through blogs and twitter feeds from people such as Richard Dawkins, and Open education (Open Learn and OERs).

“the Open Scholar is someone who makes their intellectual projects and processes digitally visible and who invites and encourages ongoing criticism of their work and secondary uses of any or all parts of it–at any stage of its development.”  Academic Evolution

Digital Scholarship work
Martin Weller then took us through the work that is being carried out to investigate digital scholarship.  This comprises three elements:

  • promote digital scholarship
  • work on recognition 
  • research current practice

It was interesting to hear of the work to create a new digital scholarship hub DISCO that is being launched shortly, and good to get a brief preview of it.  Martin talked about his aim to formulate some kind of ‘magical metric to measure digital scholarship’ and it would be interesting to see how this sort of scoring system could be used – take the scorecard along to your appraisal with the results?   Aims included trying to decide what represented good public engagement and working on case studies that academics could use as part of their promotion case. 

Martin briefly covered some of the issues around digital scholarship including issues around rights, skills, plagiarism, time and quality/depth.  We then spent a little time looking at issues, benefits and what we’d like to change.  The sorts of things that our group talked about included: difficulties of getting people to engage; the lack of awareness of what the technology can do and concerns about quality in comparing peer-reviewed journals with blogs, for example.  For the library we thought there was a fit around the library increasingly focusing on electronic rather than print resources but there are challenges around managing and curating access to material in social networking environments that may be ephemeral.   The issue of persistent identifiers to this type of material is a real concern.

Finally, in an all too brief session, Martin flagged up the JISC Digital Scholarship ‘Advanced Technologies for Research’ event on 10 March 2010.

Reflections
It was interesting that the presenters had slightly different perspectives on Digital Scholarship.   It would have been good to have a bit more time to talk through some of the discussions and have more feedback, but time was a bit limited.  It is fascinating to hear at first hand some of the work that is taking place to map out equivalencies between traditional academic practice and potentially new academic practices.  It would be good to get some of the counter-arguments as to why some people don’t think that blogs and suchlike are equivalent to traditional practice.

For libraries the issues are especially around discovery and providing access to the material.  A colleague made the point that librarians can’t evaluate the content in a blog as they don’t have the subject knowledge.  At present evaluation of resources is as much down to evaluating the quality of the publishing medium, e.g. it’s in Nature or a reputable resource so it should be appropriate.  With blogs librarians don’t have that context to use.

And the other big issue for libraries is persistence of links.  A whole technology industry has grown up around these problems e.g. SFX, OpenURLs, DOIs etc etc and work is going to be needed to work out the implications of content migrating from a few hundred aggregrated collections of peer-reviewed academic journals to many thousands of individual resources in the cloud.  But maybe this is where technologies such as Mendeley come in?

Reflecting on last week’s Innovations in Reference Management event. http://www.open.ac.uk/telstar/event there was an interesting discussion at the panel session around whether libraries should be in the business of providing free reference management software.  The analogy was made that libraries don’t provide free pens (although somewhat ironically the event and venue did!), or free Office software so why should libraries buy subscriptions to products such as Endnote or RefWorks?

I think it is quite easy to understand why libraries might have started to offer such products.  I’d suggest that the train of thought went something like this:

  • Good practice in managing references should contribute to helping to deter plagiarism.
  • Libraries see reference management as one of the Information Literacy skills that they should teach.
  • Reference management software was mainly provided by paid-for products.
  • To encourage students to adopt good practice libraries should provide access to the software
  • Settling on one software package theoretically meant that libraries could concentrate on supporting one product

But, it was suggested and I’d certainly agree, the world has moved on.  There are now several web-based free tools (Zotero and Mendeley for example) and Reference Management features are built into Office 2007 so has come very much into the mainstream.  Users are likely to choose a product that suits them rather than using the product recommended by their course or library.  And they may already have invested in building their references in a tool and want to carry on with it.

I’d suspect that few libraries would now make the same kind of decision, particularly given the pressure on library budgets.   That leads me to wonder about whether libraries would continue with funding these products unless there are other reasons to retain the software.

The TELSTAR http://www.open.ac.uk/telstar/ project’s approach (and I should declare an interest here in being involved with the project) is to build on the RefWorks subscription that the OU Library provides by creating a set of reference management tools within the Moodle VLE using the RefWorks API.   Users of the VLE can store their references in RefWorks and manage them from within the VLE.  RefWorks also becomes a repository for course and library references adding value to the RefWorks subscription.   But the approach isn’t the full answer as although the tools allow users to import and export references they can’t use their preferred tool to store their references but have to use RefWorks.

With bibliographic management tools proliferating libraries have some difficult decisions to make about which (if any) tools they should support or provide. Unless libraries find other ways of using bibliographic management tools I’d start to wonder how many libraries will start to see subscription tools as something they can no longer afford to provide.

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