Staffing libraries with librarians

It may seem a little obvious to the general public to say that libraries should be staffed with librarians.
It must appear that one is saying that schools should be staffed with teachers, banks should be staffed with bank clerks or hospitals staffed with Doctors and Nurses. But we know that in today’s complex job market where there are more people than jobs to go around, well in the UK anyway, it is not that simple anymore. Libraries are staffed with library assistants, schools have teaching assistants, banks have Automated Teller Machines (ATMs, or “cash-points to the likes of you and me”). Hospitals have a whole range of specialised technician roles as well various non-health related roles. There are many reasons for this, some to do with the expense of paying staff with higher qualifications and some to do with the changing nature of these establishments.

I also think that the definitions of the job titles have changed over the years. Librarian once really did mean someone who worked in a library and now I think that it means someone who holds the Higher Education Qualification of Librarian.  Looked at in that way it is easy to see how the confusion exists.

However, being highly qualified and knowing all the theory about a subject does not necessarily mean that someone really fits the role. For example, I have observed many a newly trained teacher struggle with controlling their class until they have had a few years experience of discovering the subtle skills of psychological crowd control.  Similarly, W.C. Berwick Sayers wrote about the role of Librarian in the introduction to Ranganathan’s 5 laws. Please forgive the gender bias in this passage, it was written at a time when the pronoun “he” was taken to represent humanity, so in your mind read this as meaning either “he” or “she” depending on your predilection.

“it is the personal element that the librarian brings into the library which gives it its vitality. Many libraries, alas, lack vitality ; they have staff, but no librarians…

…the librarian must be a man of acquisitive mind who closes his mind to no subject of human interest. He is always a learner; he must always be awake to and welcome every development of human thought and every adventure of the human spirit. He must, however, be a man educated not only in the general sense but in every operation and process of libraries. He must be a lover of other men. When young people come to me as aspirants for library work I ask them, “Do you love books?” They invariably reply that they do, but I ask them next, “Do you like people and serving people?”

All this means that to truly be a librarian you must have the social skills to deal with people, the curiosity of pursuing knowledge and the sensitivity to be a natural educator.


JUSP Community Survey 2017

A little over a year ago I blogged the results of the 2016 annual survey that Evidence Base runs for the Jisc resource for academic and research  libraries, reporting their use of e-journals and e-books (JUSP) which they have purchased or to which they subscribe.

We have now completed this year’s survey and the 2017 report, which has been interesting because JUSP has added more reports and other resources to its service since last February. As well as being able to see how many times the library users have downloaded or viewed e-journals or e-books, library e-resource managers can now find out those statistics for a select number of data bases and aggregators. The JUSP team have also developed a set of data visualisations of the statistical reports that can be used by library staff to add to their own reports, or presentations, or as an analytical tool.


These data visualisations have proven popular with the JUSP community and although it is early days since their introduction in November it seems that some institutions are already making good use of them and see potential for these to have a positive impact on their work. We will be monitoring the use of these and are interested in any interesting ways that libraries are using the JUSP visualisations.

Overall, the JUSP community are happy with JUSP, they would find their work much harder without it. Special mention was given about the customer support provided by the JUSP team who tirelessly work in the background ensuring that JUSP users are accessing their e-resource usage figures and develop the online resource in the way that is most useful to the JUSP community.

A bit about Data Visualisation

A few years ago I came across the term “Data Visualisation” which I supposed was something very complex that turned data into those wonderful pictures of aeroplane flight paths in many colours on a map of the world.
Related image

Or, I marvelled at huge pictures of digital art, like the one below, Courtesy of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy.

ORNL EVEREST visualization

I longed to be able to learn to do something just as bold and beautiful, and started finding out about the process. I didn’t realise that although these impressive images are data visualisation, there is a much simpler and far more prosaic method of visualisation data.

Quite simply it is charts and graphs – things that I have known how to do since secondary school and actually taught to quite young children in my days of being an infant teacher. This may be simpler than the digital art, but it still takes data (the height of children, for example) and communicates the information of the tallest or shortest person easily to anyone who cannot see the children standing together.


The example above is done in Google Sheets – other tools are available. In my teaching days it would have been made more interesting by doing a pictograph – little pictures of people standing in a line, something like this one:

Historically, information and data that has been communicated through a picture, or visualisation, has changed the world. For example, Florence Nightingale was actually a very astute statistician who gathered data about army deaths and their causes. She compiled the diagram below to show how many of these deaths were preventable. I particularly like the detailed explanation of how to read the visualisation

Diagram of the causes of mortality in the army Wellcome L0041105

I also recently come across a rather wonderful visualisation of Napoleon’s March across Russia which is a very poignant visualisation of the human losses incurred at war. The thick beige line dwindles in size as soldiers die on the journey. The returning troops are shown by the black line which also gets thinner and thinner. In all around 410,000 men were lost. I believe that the visualisation demonstrates the enormity of that loss in a more powerful way that looking at the figures.

Minard's Map (vectorized)

Comparing these simpler pictures with the digital art that I showed at the beginning of this blog, I think that the simplicity tells the story and communicates the meaning of the data in a much better way. So there is really no need to use very complex algorithms or expensive data visualisation tools to produce a picture of your data. Google Sheets and Excel have the wherewithal to produce a clear chart or graph.

At this point, I have to give a plug to JUSP and the technical team behind the resource. They have produced visualisations of JUSP data using “Tableau” so that e-resource librarians can download them and use them for analysis or presentations. So far, these visualisations are proving popular with JUSP users.  We at Evidence Base will be monitoring the use of these visualisations over the forthcoming weeks and will find out how useful and powerful it will be to put journal usage data into a visual form.

Online Resources for Library and Information

I have recently been doing some investigations of online resources that you could describe as portals to Library and Information information. What has surprised me is that although I have been active in this field since 2004 there are some incredibly useful portals out there which had not previously come to my attention. Obviously, some of these are newly devised resources, but others have been around for a long time.

The interpretation of what a “Portal” is, appears to have become a rather slippery concept. In my days as a library assistant, I was taught by a wise and ancient Reference Librarian that a Portal is a website, or a webpage that collects, collates and possibly curates information from other online sources and simply posts the links to those resources. This is the definition of Portal as Gateway – something that allows you to step from your location to many others beyond.


Some of the resources that I have investigating certainly do that. Observatory for a Connected Society is an app that can be downloaded to a smartphone. It contains links to reports, case studies, government papers and comment and review by current Influences. It also includes a calendar of interesting events. The resource has been developed in partnership with RAND Europe and consequently also includes some high level comment about topical issues from their researchers. It has the feature of sending you alerts when they add something new which is either a good thing or bad thing depending on your point of view.

The UK  Government Library Taskforce has been quietly gathering details of research on Library and Information and although they do not have a special website, you could call their “Research Overview” spreadsheet a portal. The link to the spreadsheet is available on and it gives information about many research studies: who they were conducted by; who were the funders; what new research is being done, and so forth. Each entry includes a link to a report on the research itself. I wish this resource had been around when I was doing my PhD.

inward portal

Of course, a gateway can lead you inwards as well as out and a really good resource is the British Library Social Welfare portal. This leads to a multitude of resources from the British Library collections.  It includes working papers, reports, books, briefings, literature reviews and briefings.

Similarly, for any technical information about Library Management Systems, there is a resource called Library Technology Guides.  This is a one man website of comprehensive information and statistics about library systems, the companies that develop them, and the libraries that are using them. The information is collated and data is analysed to provide insight as well a merely linking out to the source of that information.

However, a completely different type of resource caught my attention, and it is something that I would not at all define as a portal. It is more of a Knowledge Hub as it is a place which gathers together knowledge and information on any subject whatsoever and then disseminates it to anyone who may be interested. Like a town square where you arrive for one thing and get tempted by something else through another doorway. In fact it is really a cross between a journal and a magazine.

market place Lisle Sur Tarn

It is called The Conversation, you may have come across it before, I have seen articles from this shared on social media. It works as an online magazine, but the articles are written by academics and researchers about the work in which they are authorities. In that sense, it is a portal to information, but the information is all gathered in one online presence. I believe that this is a resource that is essential for every academic or school librarian to know about, and probably extremely useful to any public librarians who have customers with very enquiring minds.






Unlocking ground breaking research: Open Access Week 2017


open padlock

“Old padlock” by Futurilla is licensed under CC BY 2.0

So it is nearing the end of Open Access Week and here in the UK Institutional Repositories have been promoting the benefits of allowing the ordinary person to read scientific work. I follow some Jisc lists and I have been watching as various events unfurl, the most amazing one that has overshadowed everyone else is Stephen Hawkins’s PhD thesis. He gave permission for Cambridge University’s repository Apollo to make the digitised copy of his work open for anyone to read. Needless to say, the repository was overwhelmed. Apparently by Tuesday 410,000  had viewed the thesis. By Wednesday the Altmetric figures showed that the thesis was shared 1525 times, 964 times on Twitter and of those, 840 were members of the public.

On Tuesday another 30 Cambridge alumni gave permission for their theses to be digitised and uploaded as open access. The only drawback of all this is the expense of digitising the work, but the university are working with a charitable fund; Arcadia Fund to make this happen. The project is explained here.  Apparently there is also a project in collaboration with the British Library which will digitise another 1,400 theses that had been microfilmed.

Evidence Base works with IRUS-UK which has done its own little contribution to Open Access Week. IRUS-UK records the number of times a thesis has been downloaded and in advance of OA week the IRUS-UK tech team developed the function to report repository usage statistics daily. This means that repositories can calculate the impact of Open Access Week; has their usage increased, have more thesis or articles been downloaded? It will be interesting to find out what has happened and I may well report back on that.

However, my favourite remark from an open access staff member of another university was “We are not doing anything specifically for OA week – We OA all the time…” This is surely how it should be and one day there will be no OA week because it has become normality.


Libraries promote potentially dangerous books

Last week it was the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week when libraries across America hold a variety of events to draw attention to attempts of banning books from schools, bookshops and libraries. The ALA always appear to me to be activist librarians and the organisation of Banned Books Week is an outward expression of their stance on freedom of information, upholding the right of free speech and an individual’s right to read. A truly objective librarian does not censor the reading matter of other people however much they dislike it themselves. For example, I would ban all Mills and Boon books, but I concede that, for some people, reading Mills and Boon brings pleasure.

Banned Books Week started in 1982 when librarians noticed that, increasingly, the content of many books were being challenged. They found that although the content of books were being questioned, many more people fought against the books being banned outright. The ALA website has links to lists of these books and actually some may surprise you.


Which of these books faced being banned?

This year, the UK have been joining in, with the British Library holding a discussion event on Censorship and the Author  and Islington library compiling their own list of Banned Books. Their list suggests that if the challenges to the books had succeeded we  may not have had the Harry Potter series, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time or Roald Dahl’s Matilda. However, London is SO behind the times. Fife Libraries in Kirkcaldy held a Banned Books event LAST year.

This event was not scheduled for Banned Books Week but was part of  Book Week Scotland which is held each November. Fife Libraries’ “Banned Books and Prohibition Cocktails” event was rather more fun than a debate on censorship, it took the form of a Speak Easy, and teamed up local gin producers with the library to offer prohibition style cocktails as well as book readings and the books themselves available to borrow – presumably in plain covers! It appears that the local constabulary were not invited. I am not sure about how much more aware the good (or bad?) citizens of Fife become about the importance of freedom of speech or reading, and the issue with censorship, but I do know that many more people became aware of the library with the event attracting some people who did not usually visit libraries. Hopefully the event opened their eyes to the great delights of of literature and expanded their thoughts enough for them to come back and explore the library shelves for the “dangerous”, potentially forbidden books.

Latest News from JUSP

I have two pieces of information from JUSP. The team has been very busy over the past few months and two items have come into fruition. We did some interviews earlier in the year about e-book statistics. You may recall that I blogged about “the trouble with ISBNs”, and that post was due to my work with the e-book statistics project.

We wanted to know what challenges were faced by the teams and individuals whose roles include the collection and reporting of e-book usage statistics. We did some case study interviews that included a cross section of publishers, librarians, aggregators and  library consortia, from the UK and other countries. We not only asked about the challenges, but also about how they overcame them and what recommendations would they give for the future collection of e-book statistics.

We discovered that one major problem was the lack of a standard for what was termed a section of a book. This means that if you are counting the number of times that a book section has been downloaded, you cannot be sure whether that is a whole chapter, a page, or even one dictionary entry. Surprisingly, we found that there was a lack of relevant common identifiers – hence my thoughts on ISBNs. Again, in this age of machine automation, we found that many of the solutions to challenges meant a great deal of manual work and manipulation.

The project and the recommendations that resulted from the work have been written up as an article in Insights and as a full report.

The second news item is that the e-book portal in JUSP will no longer be called the e-book portal. This is because that portal will contain COUNTER reports of databases as well as e-book reports, starting on 4th September. The portal will be re-titled “Books and other”. The team are working towards including other reports on that portal as well, such as multi-media. As always, the team are speaking to many publishers and with the addition of more COUNTER reports more publishers will be joining JUSP. You will find a little more information about this in the JUSP newsletter and look out for further details as the team make the changes to the portal.