Wednesday, 4 September 2019

My Year as a Student Ambassador

I’ve been a Student Ambassador for the Information School this academic year, which mostly involved talking to prospective students for my course, MA Librarianship, during Open Days. As well as (hopefully) helping them make a decision about where to study, I also found this really useful for myself; I got to talk to other people working, or wanting to work, in the same profession as me, and it also gave me a chance to reflect on my own experiences so far.

I also really enjoyed getting to know other Student Ambassadors from other courses in the Information School – it was good to check in with them throughout the year, particularly when the dissertation period rolled around!

With fellow student ambassador, MSc Data Science student Na Li
I had the chance to try out some other skills when I took on a special project for the School. I filmed myself on a day out around Sheffield where I tried out as many free activities as I could (find out what I got up to here). This was a great opportunity to explore the city I’d moved to, and I got to try out some filmmaking and editing skills. 

The experience I gained on the Open Days also helped me when I applied for bursaries to attend library conferences this year, and as a result I got to attend the LILAC and CILIP conferences.

Overall, I’ve had a great experience as a Student Ambassador this year. Not only was it a handy way to fit in some paid, flexible work around my studies, it also gave me some useful experiences and skills that I can take forward into my future career – including networking, communication, and video making. I also met some lovely people along the way, which was a great plus! I would advise anyone considering becoming an ambassador for their department to apply and give it a go.

Elle Codling
MA Librarianship student

Monday, 2 September 2019

Digital solutions in the field of cultural heritage: Mozambique-Sheffield research collaboration

Last month (5-10 August) Dr Jorge Martins visited the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique, to meet with Professor Solange Macamo at the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology.


The research visit, sponsored by the QR Grand Challenges Research Fund, enabled the development of a partnership to scope out a research project focused on the opportunities created through digital technologies for the promotion and presentation of cultural heritage in Mozambique.


During the visit, Jorge met with research students working on information and communication technologies and heritage management projects and gave a research seminar on ‘Creative Industries and Digitalisation’ at the Faculty of Letters and Social Sciences.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

'Critical views on open scholarship - an African perspective' - Summary of Speakers' Debate

On 3rd July 2019, the Information School, University of Sheffield, hosted a one-day workshop that started a conversation between Global North and Global South practitioners, researchers and academics about open scholarship in a global context, with Africa as a focus for that discussion. We were also lucky enough to be hosting (courtesy University of Sheffield GCRF QR funding) participants in this debate from Rwanda, a country in the East and Central African region, which has an interesting socio-political context deriving from a checkered colonial past, internal conflict and genocide and language policies implemented to craft a modern political identity. In introducing the debate, the two convenors of the workshop, Pamela Abbott and Andrew Cox, both senior lecturers in the Information school, set out some markers as to why they were interested in this topic. For Pamela, her background as an ICT4D researcher working in African contexts with librarian communities of practice, and her own personal experience of postcolonial life made her exploration of this topic a journey of self-discovery. For Andrew, this was about learning in new contexts where different ways of knowing could be encountered.  He set a tone to the introduction by being quite self-critical and pointing out the irony of his “position of white male privilege” in such a setting and his ignorance of Africa beyond it being seen as a problem portrayed by a biased Western media which conveniently ignores the source of these problems being to a great extent a product of historical Western hegemony.  In many ways, our collective privilege in this university setting diminished our “rights” to hold this workshop but maybe we could learn from the experience and engage in some decolonial thinking as well. With this introduction, the floor was opened to the first panel of speakers.

Speakers Stephen Pinfield, Florence Piron and Louise Bezuidenhout
The debate started with a global view of the open access (OA) movement delivered by Stephen Pinfield, Professor of Information Services Management, at the Information School.  Stephen began his talk by showing a distorted image of a world map demonstrating the inequality of recorded scientific output in the bloated Global North as opposed to the attenuated Global South.  The image brought home the point that even though the OA movement was originally intended to provide a level playing field to address these inequalities, it may have only resulted in exacerbating them and creating further divides in open scholarship. Stephen’s aim in his part of the debate was to see if some rapprochement could be reached between the “pessimistic” views of OA in a global context and the more “optimistic” visions that impelled this movement in the first place. He thus took us through a history of the OA movement from its beginnings in Budapest, Berlin and Bethesda (BBB), stressing the various dimensions of OA, its defining characteristics, the economics of OA, landscape studies on OA, underlying reasons for biases in OA publishing and ways of addressing lack of uptake.  The main issue, he argued, that needs addressing in levelling the OA playing field, is participation (access and contribution).  Stephen’s response to addressing this issue - “the clue is in greater openness not just of publications but greater openness of scientific practice, that seems to be where things are going”.  In concluding, he added a cautionary note against an over-simplistic critical agenda that seeks to “demolish without rebuilding”.

From this opening salvo, Florence Piron, Professor in the département d’information et de communication, Université Laval, Québec, Canada, countered with an impassioned alternate viewpoint on open science: “une autre science est possible” (another science is possible), which she clarified by the end of her talk to be a science that is open, fair and decolonial.  In keeping with the standard that the convenors unwittingly set, Florence declared her positionality as well, (with Stephen, it was “ditto” to Andrew’s). She is a woman, she declared, a Franchophone and an immigrant. Furthermore, she contrasted herself from the “one world science” view (of John Watson, apparently) and knowledge “bubbles” by opening herself to other kinds of knowledges that do not depend on abstraction and theory (like Information Science) and which could be accessed from the pluralist mind of an anthropologist, philosopher and social epistemologist.  While making strong statements about her identity as a scholar, she nonetheless acknowledged that these were also traits that could potentially reduce her privilege in a world dominated by a “great uniform narrative” about what constitutes scientific practice.

Florence Piron presenting
Florence then proceeded to persuade the audience that a decolonial perspective could change our perceptions as to what open access/open science could be.  Science does not have to be neutral: "Et si la recherche scientifique ne pouvait pas être neutre?" (What if scientific research could not be neutral?) Florence referred to this published output as a “settling of the scores” against the notion of scientific neutrality of data and percentages.  She cited various other decolonial thinkers from the Global South (Autoro Escobar on the “Pluriverse - a Post Development Dictionary”; Shiv Visvanathan on “Cognitive Justice”; Paulin Hountondji on “extraversion”) from whom she drew inspiration for some radical enactment of a different way of thinking about science and openness.  Reproducing the distorted world map image that Stephen had introduced in his talk, she demonstrated to us how a “decolonial” view could allow you to reimagine a different conclusion from this image, when you considered the bias in the source and meaning of its underlying data.  In concluding the talk, Florence gave insights into the action research SOHA project which focused on cognitive injustice - “all the phenomena, situations, attitudes, circumstances, etc. that prevent the ability of African scholars and students to really deploy the full potential of their amazing intellectual skills, of their knowledge, scientific capacity and service to their local sustainable development” - and from which some truly inspirational and bold “reimagined” solutions to this problem were being pursued.

Louise Bezuidenhout was the next speaker, a South African researcher from the Science and Technology Studies (STS) field, who now practices in the UK (Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS), University of Oxford).  Louise challenged us in her talk to remember that inequality starts with physical resources and infrastructure that can unwittingly be reproduced in online environments with the introduction of open science and the spectrum of online activities that are meant to support it.   She reminded us that if we are not careful of the way in which we promote open science in low-resourced settings we may end up introducing unnecessary blockages to doing science in this way.  Openness as an egalitarian ideology could thus be threatened by unnecessary barriers introduced inadvertently by a model of open science that does not really take into consideration the heterogeneity of research settings; the little differences of contexts. In keeping with the technologically deterministic thinking of some of the early ICT4D interventions in the Global South, she mentioned that there might be an impression that once infrastructure issues are “fixed” then access to resources would be considered the same in the low-resourced setting as they are in high income contexts.  But such a view fails to understand issues about context that could be “invisible”, of which she gave several examples:  the researchers who fund research out of their own pockets; the embarrassment of revealing you are using antiquated equipment; the fear that others could reproduce your research at a much quicker pace and render your work obsolete.

Louise made the interesting observation that, “…embedding open science in African research is not simply a case of raising awareness and telling people it’s an awesome idea and we should be enthusiastically embracing it.  We need to find ways of overcoming the drastic divide between an endorsement of the values and an embodiment of the practices.”  She also made it a call to arms for the open science community to fix this problem by being more conscious of their design decisions and the potential to reproduce inequality in online settings.  But how could it be fixed?  Louise proffered some ideas to reduce the incidence of creating more inequalities through open science including normalising the discourse on challenges to research practice (i.e., it’s not just an African problem), recognising how open science could work in a low-resourced settings by emphasising the “small things” that do work and resisting the perception that African scientists need to “catch up”.  Indeed, they may be pursuing a vision of resource provision and research practice that is not endemic or achievable in their contexts. Open science cannot assume that accessibility and usability of resources is at the same level in all contexts.  Context does matter in this case.

Dr Pamela Abbott

This blog has been a summary of the main points of the debate presented by the speakers at this workshop. We will have further blogs outlining more of the day’s proceedings to follow.  The recordings of the presentations on this was based can be accessed at:  https://digitalmedia.sheffield.ac.uk/media/Clip+of+Critical+Views+on+Open+Scholarship+workshop/0_814dkitp 

Friday, 2 August 2019

CILIP Conference 2019, by Library and Information Services Management student Kelly Hetherington

Two weeks on from #CILIPconf2019 has allowed me plenty of time to reflect on what I learnt over the two whirlwind days.

Firstly, if you ever have the opportunity to go… GO! It is friendly and gives you a real taste of a variety of sectors of the profession and creates an atmosphere that is sure to inspire information professionals to go out and make a difference.

One of the stand out things I have taken away from the conference was its focus on equality and diversity and that librarianship is overwhelming white… 97% of information professionals in the UK identify as white which is not representative of our society which is 88% (CILIP, 2019).  In her keynote speech, Hong-Anh Nguyen (@DeweyDecibelle) used a quotation from Ed Yong: “I knew that I care about equality so I deluded myself into thinking that I wasn’t part of the problem.  I assumed that my passive concern would be enough.  Passive concern never is.” This struck a chord with me – equality is important to me – but what do I actually do about it? It challenged me to return to my place of work and think about how to start discussions about how we can be more inclusive.


One thing that shocked me about the conference was that delegates would be tapping away on their phones throughout the lectures and workshops – updating the world of Twitter about the conference.  I got sucked into doing this also but, I have to be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it… it makes me feel like a naughty kid at school where phones are totally forbidden.  Although it is a great way of updating the wider world about the conference and really useful to look back on, I’m not sure if it allowed me to be ‘in the moment’ and I think next time I attend a conference I might put my phone down and be present!

Speaking of Twitter, in Liz Jolly’s (Chief Librarian, British Library) keynote speech she mentioned the masters library qualification has become ‘fetishized’.  Although her point was meant to illustrate that there are many routes into the profession which should be recognised, some members of the Twitter community commented that they had not gained much from their Masters degree – as a representative of the Information School I felt compelled to wade into the debate to let others know how useful I have found my studies so far and how I have been able to tailor my assignments and readings so they are directly related to my job and career path – and I have recently received a promotion!

Finally – the workshop I was looking forward to and had been asked to blog about –authentic leadership – which fitted neatly together with Liz’s talk which centred around the importance of reflection of ourselves as practitioners.  Jo Walley (@joeyanne) is a former library professional who has changed the direction of her career to focus on coaching and workshops.  She began the session by spreading around a lot of beautiful postcards depicting different scenes (think flowers, sunsets, animals, bridges) and asked us to walk around the room, and without overthinking, pick a postcard that appealed to us.  I loved the fact that we were out of our chairs and moving around.  I chose a postcard picturing a giraffe stretching its neck to reach the leaves on a tree.  We discussed why we had chosen our cards – I decided mine represented ‘reaching your potential’, which reflects my belief that leaders should help the people they lead to strive to be the best they can be.


Jo encouraged to think of our goals and how we could achieve them in a reflection exercise.  This also helped us to focus on our positive achievements – we wrote our answers down on a piece of paper, and I have to admit, I’ve just re-read mine and felt all warm and fuzzy inside, remembering how I felt when I wrote it and reminding myself to keep challenging myself to improve!  We set targets – mine was to stick up for myself at work and I am happy to say that I had the confidence to do this when arguing the case for me to attend another conference in the coming weeks. Overall, a really positive experience.  I would also recommend signing up for Jo’s newsletter which lights up your inbox with positivity every month.

The CILIP conference was an amazing experience and I can’t thank the Information School enough for letting me be part of it – it helped me to feel part of something bigger, as distance learning can occasionally be a bit isolating and I left feeling enthused about my career and excited to take ideas back to my home institution.  Being a parent alongside working full time and studying can sometimes be a bit daunting but attending a conference allowed me to focus on me for a whole 48 hours!

Thursday, 1 August 2019

CILIP Conference 2019, by Data Science student Min Guo


It was a great honour for me to participate in the two-day CILIP Conference with my lovely Information School classmates in Manchester on July 3. This conference is a major annual event of information experts. I was very grateful to be sponsored by the University of Sheffield to attend this event. Within a limited two-day period, we have gained a lot of industry knowledge, career inspiration, and advanced techniques from talented speakers. It is also a friendly and open platform for discussing and sharing different opinions with other participants. It was a valuable experience in my life.

The conference included five topics: big ideas, specialisms, knowledge & information management, skill & technical and career insight. For each topic, there were several seminars and workshops. Among these sessions, I was very interested in the K & IM government seminar led by Dr Derek Shaw, Dr Dominic Davies and Larry Mount. They showed us many actual cases from the Ministry of Defence to explain the importance of knowledge and information management. Dr Shaw also highlighted the challenges that they met in the real scenarios. This boosted my huge curiosity about IM in the government context. The point in the final thought inspires me a lot: information will shape society only when people know to handle it suitably. All the informational or KIM tools just provide a new way, the important thing is how people make it happen and have positive effect on our society.

Knowledge and Information Management seminar
I also attended several session which were around how to use information power to change and improve human society’s efficiency. For example the “better knowledge and information behaviour” session provided consideration of google productivity tools (G Suit) and exploration of two different models of information management. The G Suit offers the best solution for cooperative work. In order to better manage the library, the speaker in the data behaviour session advised that data librarians should be equipped with AI-related techniques and the ability to handle data.

The conference had many interesting and thoughtful keynotes, covering topics including the diversity situation in the field, artificial intelligence, and librarians' responsibilitis. These sessions were very helpful for my career inspiration, diversity awareness, and interest in the information field.

I (right of photo) was recording the great speeches in the conference. Source 
In the break of each session, there was a big exhibition. At the Information School’s stand, I met many new people. It was a good time for networking and improving my communication skills. I exchanged my opinions with them about lectures and some related hot news in the information and librarianship field. During my times on the stand, I also met some wonderful University of Sheffield alumni. I really enjoyed talking with them about our courses and future plans, also exchanging experiences with each other.

Information School students at the exhibition stand
Overall, through the 2-day conference, I benefited a lot. It is truly a memorable and valuable experience.  I am grateful that the Information School offered me this opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the field of information and libraries. I would recommend this conference to all information and library professionals. 

Min Guo
MSc Data Science student

CILIP Conference 2019, by Data Science student Na Li

I was so lucky to gain a bursary from the Information School to attend the UK CILIP Conference 2019. It was a great opportunity for me to meet professionals from information-related industries, as well as other students from the Information School. I got to chat with some fantastic people and made friends with other students.

The conference involved broad topics related to information and librarianship, such as Artificial Intelligence, Diversity and Data Behaviour, which allowed every attendee to find topics they were interested in. Attending different sessions of the conference sparked many new ideas and different ways of thinking regarding leadership skills needed by information professionals, which are so important for a future career. This blog will focus on what kind of skills recruiters are looking for from information professionals, based on three experts’ views.

According to Sally Connor, who is a senior analyst from PWC, it is vital to have strategic thinking and always ask yourself if the things you do can help business make money. To be specific, information technologies are updating so fast, so information professionals should keep their eyes open for new technologies. and applications of these technologies, and think thoroughly how industries might change in the future, then teach themselves how to catch the technology development. Apart from this, analysing the market to find opportunities is an important competence for employees because it is pivotal for the company to keep competitive and make money; so called 'commercial competency'. Such work can be highly supported by analysing data in the right way. And with data-driven decision-making playing a more important role in business, companies tend to look for people who have the ability to analyse data, visualise data and tell stories with data. Overall, no matter what you do, a question should always be asked by yourself in terms of working for a company, that is: whether what you bring has value which can be quantified to the business, such as how much time can be reduced or how much money saved?

In terms of recruitment, Richard Gaston (who has gone through many résumés and interviewed many people) reported that employers look for evidence of abilities they require. There are skills to be learned in knowing how to show this evidence. For example, when an interviewer asks a behaviour related question, a good way to answer it is telling a story which you experienced in a previous workplace: describing the situations, actions you made and the final impact. In this way you can also show your soft skills, like problem solving, ability to learn, collaboration with other people, which employers think are more important. As explained by Sally Connor, soft skills need more time and are harder to develop than hard skills, which can be taught and learnt quickly by almost everyone.
Furthermore, Simon Burton, Managing Director of CB Resourcing, mentioned another key skill which they hear from clients: that is building professional networks in varied ways, such as social media and the opportunities presented by professional bodies. On one hand, it shows your passion and curiosity about the sector of your expertise. At the same time, by communicating and sharing with other professionals, we can learn from each other as well as maintaining good relationships, then they will also share with you in the future, which is a win-win situation.

All these are important points from just one of sessions, giving very helpful tips for developing your career. I gained a lot from other sessions as well. Overall, attending the two days of the CILIP Conference was really a fruitful trip for me. I really appreciated the opportunity.

Na Li
MSc Data Science student

CILIP Conference 2019, by Library & Information Services Management student Victoria Edwards

The CILIP Conference 2019 was held in Manchester and I was really excited to be able to attend and represent the Information School at the exhibition stand. It was really beneficial to meet a variety of people from the library and information profession and to share my experiences of being a distance learner on the Library and Information Services Management course.

The conference programme had a variety of really inspirational keynote speakers including AI expert Kriti Sharma who raised questions about the neutrality of AI in terms of diversity, Hong-Anh Nguyen from the King’s Fund who highlighted the need for greater diversity in the library and information profession, and Creative Guide Aat Vos, who had some really impressive ideas about the design of libraries. There was a wide range of break-out sessions to choose from across the two days covering topics such as digital innovation, health, diversity in reading, career tips, information literacy, and linked data to name just a few!

On the first day I particularly enjoyed the Digital Innovation session and learning from Olly Hellis about Somerset Libraries’ Glass Box project which features disruptive media such as drones, 3D printers and a Nintendo Switch. The scheme also provides digital services such as coding clubs for school children and advice for local businesses. The session on Information Management was also really useful to attend, especially hearing from former Information School student Arthur Robbins who is now the Information and Knowledge Services Manager at Roche. He discussed how important it is when measuring impact, to not only regularly update your managers about the projects you are running, but to explain clearly how these are linked to the mission of the company.

Olly Hellis, Somerset Libraries
I was keen to attend a session on the second day on Higher Education Developments, as my background is in academic libraries and this is a sector in which I am interested in pursuing a career. The event had three very different and interesting speakers. Firstly, Kate Robinson from the University of Bath talked about the Knowledge Exchange Framework which is a project designed to build stronger links between academia and industry. The pilot scheme for this is currently underway with 26 institutions taking part. Kate highlighted how libraries can support this by providing help with metrics and repositories.

Next up was Ann Rossiter the Executive Director of SCONUL who talked about the challenges facing university libraries, including higher costs of content, capitalising on new technologies, operating in a hybrid environment and having more responsibilities such as research data management and Open Access publishing. Ann also made a number of predictions about the future of academic libraries including more use of AI, virtual libraries becoming a reality and a stronger focus on repositories.

Finally, Steve Williams from Swansea University talked about the challenge of Open Access. He believes something needs to change as publishers are making a 37% profit on articles that are a result of publicly funded research, by restricting access through paywalls and charging high subscription costs. Steve made the point that it the current system cannot be changed by one institution, but by everybody working together challenge it.

Steve Williams, Swansea University
Working together to create change was a theme that ran throughout the conference, with some really inspirational talks about making a difference in the profession. I really enjoyed the buzz around the conference and came away having learned a great deal that I can take with me as I continue with my studies and my career.

Victoria Edwards
MA Library & Information Services Management student

CILIP Conference 2019, by Librarianship student Emily Pulsford

Thanks to the iSchool bursary, in July I attended the CILIP Conference 2019, my first large professional conference. As a full-time MA Librarianship student weighing up career options, I hoped to hear about new ideas and the latest developments in my areas of interest (academic and school librarianship) within the current wider professional context.

The set-up of the conference maximised opportunities to hear about projects and to network with other delegates. All delegates could attend the thought-provoking keynotes on a range of topics, from the ethical development of artificial intelligence to the role of the book in society, and designing public library spaces, while a varied programme of parallel break-out seminars and workshops ran throughout the two days of the conference. More than once it was difficult to decide which session to attend as they all sounded so interesting. Helping on the iSchool stand during breaks also meant chatting to professionals interested in doing a Masters at Sheffield, as well as iSchool alumni who dropped by to say hello. The evening social was also was a great opportunity to network in a more informal setting, and to find out what Library Twitter’s stars are like in real life.


A major theme running through the conference was diversity and inclusion, a pressing topic considering librarianship as a profession is very much majority white and therefore not reflective of wider society or the communities that libraries serve. Issues around bias and prejudice came up in Kriti Sharma’s keynote about AI, as work needs to be done to stop existing biases being adopted by AI or machine learning programmes working with biased training data. The effects of everyday bias and microaggressions were forefronted in a candid diversity panel where LIS professionals shared their lived experiences of being marginalised in work and life.

Highlights for me from the perspective of my future career were sessions on Media and information literacy, and the Diversity, books and reading panel chaired by Reading Development and Children’s Book Consultant, Jake Hope. In the latter, Dr Melanie Bold from UCL opened with an overview of her research into BAME representation in children’s literature between 2007 and 2017, highlighting that fewer than 2% of children’s book creators (authors and illustrators) published in that time were British people of colour. She emphasised that this situation can create a vicious circle where underrepresentation, as well as other issues such as lack of financial security for authors, deters others from becoming creators, entrenching the problem. To counteract this, she described positive steps that can be taken, such as author visits to school, which have been shown to improve literacy outcomes and provide inspiration, and the increasing popularity of alternative routes into publishing such as self-publishing.

Building on this introduction, panellists from Speaking Volumes and BookTrust talked about schemes they have been involved in to increase access to BAME children’s writing and change the shape of publishing to enable more creators to be published and reach their audience. Then the audience was treated to a reading by author Sita Bramachari from some of her work on the theme of storytelling. Author Onjali Q Rauf was also a great advert for how engaging authors can be and why author visits can be powerful for schoolchildren. After the session, her book about a refugee joining a new school called The Boy at the Back of the Class was swiftly moved up my to-be-read pile. Audience members also came away with a publication summarising the research highlighted during the talk and a useful list of BAME authors and illustrators, which may be of practical use in the future if developing a library collection for young people as part of my career.

Overall, the conference provided a great combination of practical takeaways, inspiring case studies and a sense of belonging to the wider profession, all of which I will carry with me when I graduate and start my first professional librarian post (all being well). Once again, I am grateful for the opportunity to make the most of the experience!

Emily Pulsford
MA Librarianship student

Thursday, 25 July 2019

CILIP Conference 2019, by Librarianship Student Elle Codling

On the 3rd and 4th July this year, I attended the 2019 CILIP conference in Manchester. In return for representing the Information School on the exhibition stand and talking to delegates about my experiences as a student, I got to attend a full programme of talks, presentations, and panel discussions about the world of libraries and information in the UK.

Me at the Information School’s stand, looking excited to get going! (Photo by Sheila Webber: https://twitter.com/sheilayoshikawa/status/1146166213657145347)
I’m particularly interested in school libraries, so the panel session on ‘Great school and college libraries’ by Lucas Maxwell (a former School Librarian of the Year), Corinne Walker (CoLRiC), and Alison Tarrant (School Library Association) was a highlight for me. There were some great tips for engaging both teachers and students in the school library (coffee and doughnuts is apparently the key to getting other staff members on board!), and Alison shared some fascinating findings from the recent #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign survey. I felt pretty inspired and enthusiastic about the sector I’m about to enter!

Tweets from the conference (https://twitter.com/bookish_fish/status/1146725618358394881
I also attended session on a range of other issues across the different library sectors, including ‘Don’t be afraid of social media’ for advice on using Twitter and other platforms personally and professionally through your career. A panel on ‘Diversity, books and reading’ also stood out, as it raised a lot of issues in the current children’s publishing industry. Did you know that in 2017, only 5.58% of children’s book creators were people of colour? It was great to hear about what is already being done to change these statistics. Overall, the broad range of topics discussed at the conference really helped expand my awareness of all the different things our profession is currently working on and struggling with. Diversity – both in books and in the profession – was a really big theme at this year’s conference in particular, and there don’t seem to be any easy solutions, but knowing that people are working together and sharing knowledge is really important.

Outside of the lecture rooms, I also really enjoyed meeting lots of new people. As I’m soon going to working in a school library (which can be quite a lonely experience), it was great to meet a lot of other school librarians, many of whom gave me some great advice and tips for my future job! I was also able to meet other students on similar courses to my own, including distance learning students, and we had a lot of fun sharing our experiences. Working on the stand for the Information School gave me a chance to talk to lots of people and expand my network of librarian contacts. I also met some people I’ve followed on Twitter face-to-face for the first time, including the amazing Jo Wood, creator of the Librarians with Lives podcast. Listen out for me on her special conference edition of the podcast!

In summary, the CILIP conference was a great experience because of both the fascinating range of topics discussed in sessions, and the chance to meet members of the library and information community. Everyone I met was really friendly and had lots of advice and support to offer. If you ever have the chance to attend the CILIP conference, it will definitely give you a lot to think about, as well as some great new experiences and a whole load of useful contacts from across the library world.

Elle Codling
MA Librarianship student

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Visitors from Mexico City

Last week the Information School was delighted to host two visitors from Mexico City, as part of the project "Place-making for sustainable development: Learning from Xochimilco", led by Dr Andrew Cox and Dr Jorge Martins.

Gibrán Rivera González is an alumnus of the department and is now a lecturer at Instituto Politécnico Nacional. He has been working with Cooperatives in the city training them in business and IT skills.
The other guest was Carlos Sumano Arias, one of the leaders of the Chinampayolo an agro-ecological cooperative. They are combining traditional agricultural knowledge with scientific knowledge to create a form of sustainable agriculture that promotes biodiversity.


While in Sheffield Carlos and Gibrán took part in a joint seminar. They also visited a number of social enterprises working in the food industry in Sheffield.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Dr Efpraxia Zamani & Dr Laura Sbaffi conduct GCRF fieldwork in Malawi

Between June 18th and June 24th, Dr Efpraxia Zamani and Dr Laura Sbaffi travelled to Malawi to carry out fieldwork for their GCRF QR Pump Priming grant on promoting support networks for informal caregivers of people living with HIV in Malawi. The project focuses on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #3: ‘Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’, and seeks to develop a collaborative network among caregivers, academics, NGOs, local authorities and health trusts for the support of caregivers of people living with HIV/AIDS in Malawi.


Malawi is third in world-wide rankings with respect to HIV-related deaths (more than 35,000 deaths in 2017), with 10.6% of the adult population in 2016 being affected by HIV. HIV/AIDS requires a lot of self-management for monitoring symptoms and conducting a healthy lifestyle, while being self-reliant. As a result, considerable support is required to help patients make decisions, adjust their behaviour and adapt to their condition.


Efpraxia and Laura conducted two separate research activities while in Malawi. The first one was a focus group with ten local family caregivers looking after one or more family members living with HIV. The participants were asked to describe their experience of being a carer, the extent of their support network and the dynamics and perceptions of their local community. The focus group was touching and enlightening, as the participants shared honest and candid recounts of their lives and of that of their loved ones. While caregiving can be self-fulfilling, it can also be taxing, emotionally and financially, with caregivers experiencing exhaustion, burnout, and self-sacrifice.


The second activity involved a workshop, which brought together caregivers, academics, local community chiefs, and NGOs working directly or indirectly with HIV/AIDS patients and caregivers, with the aim to establish a collaborative network toward supporting, empowering and promoting the wellbeing of informal caregivers. During the workshop, the participating partners discussed their activities and their general priorities for the support of HIV/AIDS patients and caregivers. The discussion then facilitated ascertaining specific activities that can be developed and pursued by the partners to address the identified caregivers’ needs. Efpraxia and Laura are now working with all partners in order to identify avenues for further funded research projects to implement pilot support activities. This will help to reinforce the collaborative network just established and, most importantly, will suggest ways to materialise the priorities identified at the workshop, and provide tangible support to informal caregivers in the near future.


Both activities took place in Namwera, a locality within the Mangochi district, in the southern region of Malawi.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Holistic smart approach required to address social inequality in rural and urban areas - Student blog from WSIS 2019


Smart cities refer to urban areas where the power of ICTs is leveraged in order to provide more efficient services to local residents. They typically benefit urban populations at the expense of rural communities where ICT development is inhibited by the poor return on investment (ROI) of such structures. These challenges and opportunities for the global community were a major talking point during the 2019 World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS) held in Geneva, Switzerland. Our recent policy brief explored the development of smart cities primarily through the prism of gender inequality and identified the urban-rural digital divide as a barrier towards the development of future smart cities. Calls for developing smart villages aim to address this gap; however, such initiatives are unlikely to replicate the success of the smart city framework in light of these digital divides.

Digital divides within digitally connected cities persist between affluent and less wealthy communities. Furthermore, cities are inherently complex systems constituting networks of subsystems such as energy, transportation, security and other similar services that are fundamental in supporting communities. Partnerships between key stakeholders, such as councils, city administrators and members of the public are responsible for the implementation of smart city initiatives. Barcelona, for example, continues to evolve its smart city strategy by enabling civic engagement with its City Council programmes via the Citizen Participation portal in line with the needs and priorities of the community. The socioeconomic element in city governance, nevertheless, introduces challenges in the design of smart solutions which are rarely easily resolved through a predefined set of rules or procedures. In this context, smart solutions should not be considered a remedy for socioeconomic inequalities within or between urban and rural communities. Instead, societal issues and their consequences should be considered in the development of effective smart solutions.

The objectives against which smart city development is measured are theoretical philosophies related to issues such as sustainability, mobility and the environment. The United Nations (UN) defined several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 11, in support of ensuring cities are “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. These high-level goals enable individualized definitions of success that are difficult to assess against a set of global benchmarks. For example, Rio de Janeiro, one of the more widely cited examples of effective smart city infrastructure deployment, instituted two command centres in advance of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics; the Centro De Operacoes Prefeitura Do Rio (COR) and Centro Integrado de Comando e Controle (CICC). The former is designed to aggregate and monitor data streams from services tracking traffic, weather conditions and emergency responses, among others. This system was initially conceived in response to fatal landslides in 2010 and realized through a partnership with IBM’s Smarter Cities initiative. The latter utilises similar data, albeit largely within the framework of public security, and was developed in fulfilment of contractual agreements for hosting the upcoming global sporting events of the time.

However, these infrastructures do not proactively address the threats posed by landslides. While COR’s smart early warning system might improve emergency response times during such incidents, it does not tackle its causes such as tropical climate effect on soil conditions and steep terrains supporting large populations in areas of unregulated development. A proactive approach would involve the restructuring of existing subsystems related to urban planning that may alleviate vulnerabilities to the natural environment. Integrating these silos could, therefore, provide a more holistic smart solution in mitigating the effects of these incidents upon urban populations. Nevertheless, this may not be feasible due to the complexities of these systems and their current lack of interoperability.

Gaffney and Robertson’s study of CICC and COR found that there was an uneven distribution of smart technology between wealthy and poorer areas within the city. The setup of traffic-monitoring devices, for example, were principally focused in the wealthier central business district (CBD) and southern zones where upscale neighbourhoods were located. In tackling issues of public security, the CICC leverages data from COR as well as from the many installations of monitoring devices placed strategically around areas connected to tourism, sports and transportation hubs. The concentration of security resources within these areas had the effect of displacing criminal activities to neighbouring less-developed areas within the inner city. This is indicative of challenges faced in addressing complex system problems where the targeted resolution of one issue exposes or creates a negative effect in another domain. Taken together, these discontinuities may be seen to intensify rather than overcome the issues smart cities are purported to resolve.

It is clear that piecemeal deployment of smart solutions does not automatically benefit all citizens living within urban areas. Public agency and indigenous knowledge should be leveraged in conjunction with efforts driven by governing authorities in upgrading services for communities. It is therefore imperative that a holistic approach be adopted that accounts for the specific requirements of these communities. Moreover, stakeholders should be wary of employing ICTs in support of such initiatives instead of utilising them as a driver of smart solutions. Smart villages have the potential to address longstanding urban-rural digital divides, but they must be informed by the lived experiences of those who reside within smart cities today.

Evelyn Baskaradas, MSc Data Science student
Dr. Paul Reilly, Senior Lecturer in Social Media & Digital Society

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Co-operation, knowledge and sustainability: Learning from Xochimilco


You are cordially invited to a panel discussion exploring issues around traditional knowledge, identity and sustainability in the context of chinampas agriculture, as practised in Xochimilco, Mexico City.

The Information School, Room RC204 – 10th July - 12:00-13.30

“The Heart of the chinampas” – Carlos Sumano Arias, Chinampayolo (https://www.facebook.com/chinampayolo/)

“Developing collaboration between the university and cooperatives in Mexico City” - Gibrán Rivera González, Instituto Politécnico Nacional

“Reclaiming traditional knowledge for cultural sustainability”- Andrew Cox and Jorge Martins, Information School, University of Sheffield

More than a thousand years ago, in the navel of the moon "Mexico", in a paradise of crystal clear waters, full of fish, birds and axolotes, men created the chinampas to live and feed themselves. The navel of the moon has become one of the largest cities in the world where channels, rivers, springs and chinampas are being replaced by asphalt and concrete. The plants and animals that lived for millions of years in this place are under threat and many agricultural producers have left the land.

In this discouraging context, in Xochimilco located in the southern outskirts of Mexico City, the heirs of the lake culture refuse to see their legacy disappear. Through community work, social participation, cooperative support, collaboration with academic, governmental and non-governmental institutions, Chinampayolo S.C. is strengthening its efforts in the areas of natural resource conservation, tourism, food production, education and commercialization. Their mission is to preserve the Chinampera culture through innovation and inherited knowledge to maintain their identity, dignity, resistance, love for the land and respect for present and future life.

Please note: two of the presentations will be in Spanish with translation to English.

For further information contact Andrew Cox, a.m.cox@sheffield.ac.uk

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

PhD student James Webster first winner of new Peter Willett Award at Eighth Joint Sheffield Conference on Chemoinformatics

The triennial conference on Chemoinformatics was held at the University of Sheffield Edge building earlier this month, organised by our own Professors Val Gillet and Peter Willett and Dr Antonio de la Vega de Leon.

A new prize has been established at the conference: The Peter Willett Award for Outstanding Poster Presentation, established by the Royal Society of Chemistry Chemical Information and Computer Applications Group. The establishment of the prize is in recognition of Peter's outstanding contributions to the field, for which he was warmly congratulated.

The Chemoinformatics research group at the conference
The first winner of the prize is PhD student James Webster for his poster entitled 'Reaction Vector Based Monte Carlo Tree Search for De Novo Design'.

James Webster with his poster and award
In addition, PhD students Christina Founti, Giammy Ghiandoni and Jess Stacey were all given honourable mentions for their posters.

The posters were judged by an independent external panel of experts from pharmaceutical and software companies.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Student blog: World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS) 2019

In April this year, I attended the 10th World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva, Switzerland. as part of the Faculty of Social Sciences' Global Leadership Initiative (GLI). I represented the Information School as a Policy Analyst in a team of eight students led by Dr. Suay Ozkula (Sociological Studies) and Dr. Paul Reilly (Information School). WSIS is a United Nations (UN) multi-stakeholder global forum that promotes the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines for advancing UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With a focus on “ICTs for development”, the Summit identified global trends and new partnerships to help achieve the SDGs.

In addition to attending various sessions during the week-long Summit, we worked on blogs and policy briefs on our topics of interest, which were later published on Global Policy Opinion. The team also had an opportunity to deliver our own panel during the event. ICTs in the University Environment – 7 Case Studies saw each member discuss innovative uses of ICTs within Higher Education such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), digital methods, digital activism, online admission systems and mental health. My talk focused on e-learning analytics and data usage, as well as Virtual Learning Environments such as MOLE. A walkthrough of the session was documented by Dr. Reilly in two parts (1 & 2). The panel allowed us to highlight our own interests and work as part of a team to deliver an extremely informative and engaging session (according to several audience members).





There were many sessions during the Summit that I found very inspiring. For example Ethical Dimensions of Artificial Intelligence, a panel hosted by UNESCO, discussed the societal implications of growth in these technologies. Speakers emphasised the importance of exposing the fallacy of “objective” data, especially when human biases are inadvertently coded into algorithms. This was one of several panels on the topic that inspired my Global Policy blog post on intelligent systems and big data, co-authored with Dr. Ozkula and Hana Okasha (B.A. Digital Media & Society). It also reminded me of our Data Science program, where we have consistently weighed the importance of integrating societal considerations with the deployment of advanced techniques such as machine learning and AI in society. It was encouraging to be part of conversations at a global level that were equally concerned about highlighting and addressing these specific issues.


In line with my evolving interest in smart cities, I also had the opportunity to follow several sessions on the subject and quickly came to appreciate the scale of issues that could arise in its development. This included a very brief but interesting foray into the threat of quantum computing to blockchain, an emerging platform in the management of high-volume data in smart cities. More immediate issues, however, centred around gender balancing approaches in the progress of smart cities. The session on (En)gendering Smart Cities discussed gender as one of several biases that are inherent in the technologies used to drive those very goals forward. While it was laudable that initiatives based on gender analyses were being brought to the fore, equal emphasis should have been placed on discussing the challenges that are associated with the deployment of such policies. This was an issue that I explored in further detail with Dr. Reilly in our policy brief published with Global Policy. We additionally discussed the advent of the concept of “smart villages” in connecting rural communities as well as gender implications that should be considered alongside these efforts.

Despite the intensive but extremely productive week at the summit, our experience was additionally enriched by a visit to the UN regional headquarters in Geneva for an informative tour of its premises as well as history of its operations. The experience was further enhanced by the company of our outstanding team from Sheffield represented by members of diverse backgrounds, interests and outlooks who complemented each other well. Our daily commute to and from the summit and after hours provided further opportunities for building friendships, discussing our experiences at the summit, Sheffield and life, and generally being helpful and encouraging of each other throughout the week. It is my belief that being a part of this exceptional team provided an important foundation for an immensely educational, successful and enjoyable experience at WSIS 2019. Moreover, this experience, with invaluable guidance and support from Dr. Ozkula and Dr. Reilly, has further enhanced my studies at the Information School by providing the added dimension of gaining first-hand practice in learning and effectively communicating ideas as they are transformed to policy at the highest levels. This will definitely be an experience that stays with and serves me for life, among many others that have been made possible during my time at the University of Sheffield.

Evelyn Baskaradas
MSc Data Science