A View from the Reading Room

UCL LibraryIn this post, Kieron Jones, an academic librarian at UCL, discusses recent initiatives to promote and critically engage departments with data resources, and what the future may have in store.

To set the institutional policy context, UCL’s Strategic Plan advances 5 academically-led Grand Challenges, given our continued practice of applying leading-edge research in developing answers to the world’s most intractable problems. One such challenge is a data-empowered society (moving beyond simply a data-driven one), that “will require a more collaborative, democratic and inclusive approach to the way that choices are made, as well as a much more ‘data-savvy’ population.” The forthcoming UCL Library, Culture, Collections and Open Science (LCCOS) Strategy will reflect on our role at the information coalface, from the critical and ethical use of technologies, through to supporting educational capacity, governance choices and multiple research methods spread across disciplines.

Business As Usual

Librarians are well-positioned in a sense, given our traditional activities of collection management, information organisation, resource discovery, digital preservation and repository management. Nonetheless, we are cognisant of the scale of the undertakings and by extension opportunities with which we are now presented. Naturally, one key concern for many library services is the significant cost implications of myriad databases available from commercial providers, especially when it comes to business and financial microdata – increasingly utilised by an increasingly large array of users.

A timely paper by Berninger, Kiesel and Schnitzler conducted a systematic overview of commercial data in financial research by investigating those databases used most frequently. This involved screening over 14,000 articles published in 16 leading academic journals for named databases. As reflected in previous studies, their findings show that empirical research is pivotal to finance, with 74% of papers employing at least 1 database from a compiled list of 87. Moreover, the quantity of resources identified in a paper is expanding, although figures vary depending on the journal. They conclude, “data choices are very path-dependent due to the long-term nature of contracts, familiarity, disagreement among researchers solidifying the status-quo, delegation to library managers and standard budgeting procedures.”

While we have been in a fortunate position to have made some sizeable investments of late, it is incumbent on us to continue to liaise with departments to ensure that, wherever possible, resources align with teaching and research priorities.

Library Skills

If responding to novel faculty requirements is one challenge (not to mention the subsequent administration, such as licence allocation), alerting stakeholders to what we have already in an impactful and time-appropriate fashion certainly represents another. As Ralph suggests, every library user-base has their own unique needs and level of engagement, applicable to library space and resource provision, which subsequently makes it difficult to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to promotion.

A recent broad-brush project here at UCL involved the creation of a Data and Statistics Guide, using Springshare’s LibGuides software – an easy-to-use content management and information sharing system designed especially for libraries. An escalating number of deliciously obscure business and finance enquiries in particular has made such a guide a necessity, with granular resource lists of asset classes included alongside support material and FAQs, which will only expand over time. Although other topic areas are primarily limited to the social sciences, library colleagues across the institution have been invited to create and maintain lists if they so wish. Although, even as things stand, a lot of content is not specific to a particular discipline, so hopefully many students and staff members will find the general pointers useful. These are accompanied by guidance and signposting information about analysing, visualising, citing and managing data, as well as text and data mining, which is being used progressively more in research.

A screenshot of the UCL data and statistic webpage for their training material.

A screenshot of the UCL data and statistic webpage for their training material.

Relatedly, skills training, one of the core roles of the liaison librarian, has ranged from numerous programme-embedded workshops (surely the holy grail of library intervention) to a spot of teaching in the past as part of the preparatory Skills Lab to UCL Economics’ undergraduate research conference – Explore Econ. Last term new sessions were added to our regular scheduled offering of bookable library skills sessions, including the ‘Spotlight on…’ series. These were 25-minute live online sessions to give a brief insight into selected resources and included the invaluable UK Data Service!

Adaption, Revision and Change

Emerging areas for further research and framework development, ripe for collaboration with peers, include establishing our role in data literacy: will clear pathways evolve organically, be formally established or will we continue to negotiate pragmatically with engaged lecturers depending on those competencies with which we are able/qualified to cover? The burgeoning nexus of data discovery, collection and analysis will undoubtedly require the upskilling of library staff, especially those new to this domain. While some HEIs employ dedicated data librarians, sometimes in addition to established Research Data Management (RDM) units, others view this all as another material type to be managed by subject librarians/site specialists, often with economics and business librarians bearing a disproportionate load given more readily apparent data connections.

Priorities will involve the enhancement of asynchronous tutorials, class-based activity material and, fundamentally, a more adaptive and innovative teaching pedagogy. For example, moving beyond bombarding unsuspecting session attendees with bountiful resources to approaches which incorporate active learning, enquiry-based strategy, experiential learning and data storytelling.

From coordinating numerous resource needs, deriving from and between departments – with their differing levels of engagement, to raising awareness of the rich options available, future activities to improve communication methods will also necessitate the entirely practical. For example, the use of more visible modes for booking individual consultations, social media platforms, localised marketing options and comments from student surveys as ammunition to highlight the need for greater partnership in a ‘data-empowered society’.

About the author

Kieron Jones is the Subject Liaison Librarian for Economics, Political Science and History in LCCOS, UCL. He liaises with departments to ensure that print and digital resources are in place to support teaching and research, and provides guidance and support to users through group training sessions and 1-2-1 consultations. His research interests include global inequality, citizen involvement in international affairs and data visualisation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *