Friday, 17 January 2020

Student Blog: A Balancing Act - Top tips for distance learning students

I just want to preface this blog post by stating that I understand that everyone’s week is different. Especially if you are a distance learner. In this blog post I am going to outline my average week with what my other commitments are along with the periods during the day with which I study. The days that I am busy regularly are Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The commitments I have beside university work is my volunteer work which is twelve hours a week, my university ambassador job, any appointments I might have and any hobbies that I may have such as reading, writing and making YouTube videos.

This blog post is to give tips that I’ve learnt from both my undergraduate degree and the first term of my postgraduate about how I’ve been able to manage my time as well as being able to have time to look after myself and to relax. I hope you’re able to take something away from this and for it to help you in managing your studies.

Here are a few tips that you can pick and choose from to try out throughout with your own week. I understand, as I’ve stated before, that everyone’s week is different so some of these tips maybe helpful and some might not. Here are my top tips:

Make sure to have a dedicated space to study
It’s important when you are a distance learner to have your own place to study so that you don’t have any distractions. If you have a dedicated space in your house then try and make that into a study area. If you do not have a place in your house to make a study area then go somewhere else and make it your study area such as the library or a coffee shop. Having somewhere where you know you will be able to study will help motivate you in being able to study more.

A dedicated number of hours per week to study
Most courses will let you know a recommendation of how many hours you should study per week to be able to keep up with the amount of work on the course. This can either be for a full time or part time course. I was recommended for my part time course that I should study around 15 hours a week so I study 12 hours because of my other commitments. Make sure you spend enough hours on your university work to get the grades you want but also to make some time in order to relax from your studying.

Make room for other commitments and being flexible
Going off the previous point, you need to make time for your other commitments. Along with this you should be aware that you need to be flexible with your study since things can come up that are not planned and you need to be flexible to be able to accommodate this into your timetable.

You may have heard of this term a lot recently but it is important one to know and practice. Especially if you’re a student. You need to make sure you have time in your timetable for self-care so that you can take care of your mental health. It’s easy to get stressed with all the work a student has to do but it’s important to have a break if you need one. Remember that the work will still be there even if you need to take a break from it. Your mental health is more important than getting stressed over your work but self-care needs to be practised in order for you to do it regularly. Once you’ve established a routine with your self-care, you’ll find that the benefits will affect your course work since your mental health will improve. Make time for this and make sure you practice it if you want this to be successful.

As previously stated in the introduction, I understand that everyone’s week is different and that these tips might not be all relevant to you. However, after now reading them through I hope at least a couple of them have helped you in some way. These tips were always meant for you to use them to design your own ideal week as an on-campus student or a distance learner student. Remember that you need to look after yourself in order to be able to put your all into your university course and other commitments. Your health, mental or physical, comes first before everything else. I hope that this blog post helps you in some way and that this benefits your degree too.

Rachel Colley
MA Library and Information Services Management

Friday, 20 December 2019

The end of an iSchool era

Friday, 20th December marks the end of an era for the Information School. Our very own Professor Peter Willett is retiring, having joined the department following the completion of his MA in Natural Sciences (Chemistry) from Oxford University in 1975. At the time, the School was known as the Postgraduate School of Librarianship and Information Science and Peter studied for an MSc in Information Science. Following the completion of his MSc, Peter undertook a PhD on the indexing of chemical reactions and post-doctoral work on the automatic classification of document databases. Peter was appointed to a lecturership in 1979, was awarded a personal chair in 1991 and a DSc in 1997.

We are privileged that Professor Willett has spent his entire professional career here in the School.

Professor Willett reminisces, “It was a very different world.  In 1975, one could go through one's entire primary, secondary and tertiary education without going anywhere near a computer, so it came as a bit of a shock to find that computer programming was a core module for the MSc course. This involved the use of punched cards that were loaded by specially trained operators into the university computer (yes, THE university computer) hidden away on the top storey of the Hicks Building, with the output produced a few hours later in the form of fan-folded line printer paper.”

“It wasn't just the technology; the School itself was very different too from what it is now. We had ten academic and three professional services staff supporting about 50 PGT students and about half a dozen PhD students. All of us were housed in three rather splendid Victorian houses opposite the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. Money was different too: my first research grant, in 1982, was for a two-year PDRA project and was worth just £24,200; and you could travel by bus anywhere in South Yorkshire for the princely sum of 12p.”

“I have been extremely lucky in spending my entire career in a wonderfully friendly, supportive and intellectually stimulating environment: it's been a pleasure and a privilege to work here, and I wish you all the very best for the future.”

Peter's contribution to the School has been immeasurable and this truly does feel like the end of an era. However, I am delighted to say that the University will be conferring the title of Emeritus Professor on Peter from Jan 2020 in recognition of his "most distinguished services and contribution to the Information School". I’m also delighted to say that Peter will still be involved with the School on an ad-hoc basis for the foreseeable future.

I’m sure that staff and students both past and present will join me in wishing Professor Willett all the best for his retirement and in congratulating him on his most deserved title.

Professor Val Gillett
Head of School
The Information School, The University of Sheffield.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

PhD student Gianmarco Ghiandoni presents at GCC 2019

PhD student Gianmarco Ghiandoni recently attended well known chemoinformatics conference GCC 2019, in Mainz, Germany, as an official speaker.

'I presented some content from my PhD project which describes the use of Reaction Class Recommendation models in de novo Drug Design', says Gianmarco. 'These models have shown to have a role as deterministic search components which maximise the chance of generating meaningful synthetic patterns in de novo design and compound optimisation.'

'In addition to this, the application of these models has resulted to yield product libraries characterised by higher synthetic accessibility, whilst reducing drastically the algorithmic enumeration times.'

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Dr Suvodeep Mazumdar - How and when will we know if ‘Smart City’ residents are happy?

After a very interesting meeting at the lovely premises of the Connected Places Catapult last week, I am back, researching Urban Planning initiatives, studying outcomes and output measures. Based in London, the Connected Places Catapult is a UK Government-backed urban innovation agency that aims to help UK firms develop innovative products and services to help meet the growing needs of cities across the world. The CPC works with Industry, SMEs, academics, transport and local authorities and provides an excellent setting for my Researcher in Residence project, UrbanMapper. Cities are constantly adapting, changing and innovating to meet the rising demands of increasing populations, constrained resources and increased expectations from residents. With the increased availability and affordability of sensors (IoT), faster connectivity (mobile, broadband and the Internet), smartphones and high computational resources, new opportunities are emerging where large volumes of data can be collected and processed at city scale.

‘Smart cities’, as we perceive from popular discourse, appear to be a vision where everything is connected, collecting large volumes of data, intelligently making and facilitating decisions, digitising every aspect of cities that can possibly be captured. Indeed, this opens up enormous opportunities of understanding how our cities (and communities) behave in response to various stimuli and how decisions can be made to make our cities more efficient. Within the field of urban planning, understanding the impact of planning interventions (e.g. the development of a new railway station or pedestrianising busy streets) is a critical component and has traditionally involved measuring outputs such as increase in greenspace or number of jobs created. Traditionally, this has involved measuring spaces or estimating quantities. However, it has become increasingly more important to answer questions that relate more with social value generated out of such interventions, such as ‘are residents happier?’ or ‘do communities have a greater sense of belonging?’. These questions, in some sense challenges our approach to and assumptions about smart cities, while at the same time offers new opportunities for using alternative forms of data and new technologies.

Coming from a Computer Science background, the field of Urban Planning is very new to me and the UrbanMapper project is a massive learning opportunity. Whilst the project is only in its initial few months, engaging with large volumes of literature, policy documents, planning frameworks and the large number of discussions and meetings have already been extremely interesting. At this stage, I am only grappling with the intricacies of urban planning and it has been a fascinating experience. During the later stages of the project, we will prototype and experiment with low cost sensing and data processing solutions which will explore these social dimensions of planning initiatives. I expect these stages to be exciting and am looking forward to how the project evolves in the next stage.

Dr Suvodeep Mazumdar

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Celebration of Peter Willett’s Career

Over 40 of Peter Willett’s ex-PhD students and long-time collaborators gathered in Sheffield in mid-September to celebrate Peter’s long and very influential career and to thank him for the personal support that he has provided to very many throughout this time.

It is a mark of the very high regard in which Peter is held that so many people attended. They had travelled from as far as Canada, North America, Germany and Taiwan, as well as from all over the UK.

Many of the attendees are now in very influential positions of their own including in academia, software companies and industry. Their connections to Peter spanned the full range of Peter’s career with one of his early PhD students having obtained her PhD over 30 years ago.

A number of presentations were given that included reflections on Peter’s contribution to the fields of Chemoinformatics, Information Retrieval and Bibliometrics, a “Peter Willett: This is your Life” tribute, as well as many personal messages of thanks. The event was rounded off with an evening meal in the city centre.

Photos by Peter Bath

Friday, 18 October 2019

Bite-size webinars for #GlobalMILweek - engaging citizens in transformational learning; food and activity logging

Global Media and Information Literacy week is a UNESCO-sponsored annual celebration of media and Information Literacy, with events organised around the world. This year’s theme is Media and Information Literate Citizens: Informed, Engaged, Empowered and the centre for Information Literacy Research (Information School, University of Sheffield)  is responding with events and activities on this theme


Free bite-sized webinar for Global Media and Information literacy Week: Dr Pamela McKinney: The Information literacy of food and activity logging in three communities. 11-11.30am UK time, Thursday 24 October 2019 (check the time in your country at

To join the webinar go to just before the webinar start time. It uses Blackboard Collaborate (see here for details on how to use it). You do not have to register for the webinar in advance, but if you’d like to sign up and get reminders that it is coming up, go to

Dr Pamela McKinney, Information School, University of Sheffield, will talk about research which aimed to discover what data is tracked by people in three communities (parkrunners, people with type 2 diabetes and people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome). She will also discuss why the data was tracked, and the barriers to safe and effective tracking, particularly in relation to information literacy. There is increasing interest in the use of mobile apps and devices to track aspects of diet, health and wellbeing activity, and research has shown that use of apps can motivate people to adopt healthy behaviours.  Information literacy is crucial to the safe and effective use of tracked information in this landscape.

The survey for this project was distributed in early 2018. 143 responses were received from parkrunners; 140 from and 45 from the IBS Network. There were differences in the logging practices of the three communities, and differences in motivations for tracking.  The extent of sharing of tracked data also differed, for example parkrunners were the biggest sharers of data, whereas IBS and Diabetes respondents shared less data, and only with close family. Respondents were confident in their abilities to understand tracked data, and how this enabled them to achieve their health goals. However, critical to Information literacy is an understanding of the potential re-use and sharing of data by third parties, and respondents demonstrated much less awareness of this.


Free bite-sized Webinar for Global Media and Information literacy Week: Sheila Webber: Transformational Media and Information Literacy learning for adult citizens: “this street is full of heroes”, 4pm-4.30pm UK time, Tuesday 29th October (check the time in your country at )

To join the webinar go to just before the webinar start time. It uses Blackboard Collaborate (see here for details on how to use it). You do not have to register for the webinar in advance, but if you’d like to sign up and get reminders that it is coming up, go to

Sheila Webber, Information School, University of Sheffield will present a paper coauthored with Bill Johnston (Honorary Research Fellow, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow), outlining use of theories from adult education and information science to address the challenge of engaging adult citizens critically and transformationally with media and Information Literacy. As the Media and Information Literacy (MIL) concept matures, it is important to expand the MIL focus to the majority of the population who are not in formal education. The title quotation is from a poem by Benjamin Zephaniah (transformed to street art in Sheffield) which inspires us to think of each citizen as a potential MIL hero.

Firstly, Jack Mezirow’s Transformation Theory is proposed as way of framing MIL engagement with adult citizens. Transformation Theory posits meaning making as “becoming critically aware of one’s own tacit assumptions and expectations and those of others and assessing their relevance for making an interpretation” (Mazirow, 2000; p. 4). Sandlin, Wright & Clarke (2013) link Transformation Theory with the notion of “public pedagogy”: learning outside formal education, which may be mediated by popular culture, public spaces, dominant discourses, activism etc. These ideas are taken further by linking them to Information grounds (IG) theory (Fisher & Naumer, 2006). Sheila and Bill propose a strategy for developing MIL outside formal education: Transformation Theory provides a framework for learning goals and learning design; literature on public pedagogy provides examples of the public places and discourses that can be channels for learning, and IG theory provides a structure for thinking about which physical and virtual spaces are most likely to foster the reflective discourse (between citizens) and provide the supportive context which Mezirow identifies is key to transformational learning. This enables us to reflect on who could be the “MIL heroes” in this different spaces who can enable reflective discourses about MIL.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

A message for new students from Professor Val Gillet, Head of School

As Head of the Information School, I would like to welcome all of those who are joining to study with us. I understand that this is a new start for you and I hope you have found your first few weeks with us to be beneficial.

Like yourselves, this year is a new start for me too. It is the first year in my current term as Head of the Information School. I have been Head of the School previously, and I am excited to see that the School is still evolving to meet the needs of our students and employers with our cutting-edge courses and technological advances.

That said, it’s not too much of a new start for me: After completing a degree in Natural Sciences at Cambridge, I took a short term research post in the Department of Information Studies (as the Information School was then called). This post fueled my interest in the discipline and I took the MSc in Information Science and subsequent PhD.

Having spent such a long time at this School, and in higher education in the UK, I am able to tell you that, during your time here, we will provide an outstanding academic education centred around research-led teaching. We are recognised nationally and internationally for our world-class research, our excellence in teaching, and, importantly, the achievements of our graduates who go on a whole range of positions across the information professions.

As a School, we have seen our numbers of students (and subsequently, staff) grow rapidly over the last few years. Our recent successes in the QS World Rankings By Subject (First and Second in the World in 2018 and 2019 respectively) have seen our School be recognised even more than ever and, inevitably, our cohort of students has grown with our reputation. For you, this means that you have more peers to work with, more ideas to share and learn from, and more opportunities to build lasting relationships with other Information Professionals after your studies.

We are proud of our research, our teaching and our rankings. We’re proud of our colleagues, past and present, our University, our reputation and our impact. However, the true impact of our School and our teaching is our students and alumni. Our alumni go on to do brilliant things in both academia and in industry. This year will move so quickly, and you’ll be challenged in great ways.

I wish you a successful time in Sheffield, and I look forward to meeting many of you over the coming year.

Professor Val Gillet
Professor of Chemoinformatics & Head of School

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Top highlights from the iSchool Conference 2019

Now the dust has cleared from the 2019 iSchool Conference, we’ve had a break and come up with some interesting findings from the presentations at the event.

The conference boasted a wide range of disciplines that PhD students from the iSchool are researching. The day kicked off purely with quantitative research, followed by mixed methods methodologies and ending with some thought-provoking qualitative research presentations. Here are our top highlights:

Recommendation Systems in Drug Design

The morning began with the first presentation by Gianmarco Ghiandoni, a 3rd year PhD student in the Cheminformatics research group. The study looks at De Novo design, a branch of cheminformatics dealing with the design of molecular structures. Gianmarco adapted  methods that are widely applied for recommendation purposes on human data - for example by companies such as Google, Amazon, or Netflix - to the computational drug design processes, where chemical and biological data are mainly used to drive decision making. Results are very encouraging since the designed compounds resulted to be easier to be synthesized and the speed of the design algorithm increased significantly.

Data Visualisation for lead optimisation

Jess Stacey from the Cheminformatics research group presented research on the work undertaken in her PhD. She presented the first section of her thesis that involves generating a new visualisation for chemical structures in a hope that better relationships can be extracted. The workflow and decisions made to create this were shown along with a video demo of the visualisation tool.

Knowledge transfer from the perspective of a “Quadruple Helix”:  The banking sector in Bahrain 

Another highlight of the day was the presentation by Hooreya Ali, 2nd year PhD student from Information, Knowledge and Innovation Management research group. Hooreya presented her work on exploring the interactions involving key “Quadruple helix” actors in the banking sector in Bahrain, and the role intermediaries take in mediating power asymmetry.

An investigation of the role of social media in Saudi students’ transition to study in the UK

The number of international students around the world has significantly increased and it is expected to reach eight million by 2025. During their transition period, international students face various challenges, such as loneliness, anxiety and depression. In this study, Anas Alsuhaibani, a 1st year PhD student from Digital Societies research group, showed how social media helps students maintain their wellbeing and provide international students with necessary information.

The Use of Social Media for Sousveillance: A Palestinian Case Study

Jenny Hayes, a 1st year PhD student from the Digital Societies research group presented her research on the investigation into Palestinian activists’ use of sousveillance on social media as a means for countering state surveillance and official narratives and providing evidence of human rights abuses. Jenny works on a new perspective on how social media can be used for sousveillance by examining its use in one of the most extreme surveillant societies.

Informal Caregivers perceptions of Assistive Technologies of people with dementia

In this project, Liliana Sepulveda from the Information Systems research group (who is in her writing-up year), reveals the lived experiences of informal caregivers of people with dementia who use Assistive Technologies (AT) as part of their caring role in Mexico. Liliana’s findings suggest that Mexican cultural values influence how carers perceive their experience with technology. The study provides detailed user profiles for future designers and developers of dementia-related AT.

Mapping and Aligning Large Knowledge Bases 

Another great highlight was the presentation by Omaima Fallatah, 1st year Information Retrieval research group student. Omaima focused on the introduction of a novel ontology matching approach targeted towards large, automatically constructed, inadequately structured and multi-domain Knowledge Bases.

The quantified runner: digital understanding, memory and identity in leisure

This session done by Lee Pretlove, first year PhD student from Digital Societies Research group, explored understanding the value of self-tracking data amongst participants of a UK running community. Lee’s study investigates whether the data will be of use both in the short term and the long term and whether participants have any particular attachment to the data.

After such a fun, thought-provoking and information-filled event, the votes were counted and the award for best presentation went to Liliana Garcia for her work on the use of Assistive Technologies by Informal Caregivers. Though it should be noted that all presentations were the best in their own way. Congratulations and thanks to everyone who took the time to submit their abstracts and put together a presentation that made the event a great one.

We look forward to next year’s conference.

Naveendra Weerakoon and Marc Bonne (iSchool Conference Committee)

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Wednesday, 2 October 2019

The Information School at CODATA 2019, Beijing

Yingshen Huang, from Peking University, China, who is working with Andrew Cox and Laura Sbaffi surveying Chinese universities about research data services, presented their joint work at  the CODATA 2019 Conference, held on 19-20 September in Beijing, China.

The conference theme was: “Towards next-generation data-driven science: policies, practices and platforms.”

Yingshen Huang presented the paper “Research data management in Chinese academic libraries”.

Friday, 27 September 2019

On Governing Information in a Globalised World

Lecturer in Information Management Dr Jonathan Foster responds to the recent news story about the historic 'Right to be Forgotten' ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union in favour of search engine giant Google.

The Ruling by the European Court of Justice earlier this week raises two important issues. First the issue of how democratic societies strike a balance between the privacy rights of the individual on the one hand, and the public interest on the other. Second, the limits of legal jurisdiction and of institutional obligation.

The ‘Right to be Forgotten’ - or ‘Right to Erasure’ as it is now known - is a provision under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This provision provides individuals with the right to request organisations, search engine operators for example, to remove specific personally-identifying information about them. A number of reasons can be given by the user to justify their request: that processing of the data is no longer necessary in relation to the original purposes for which the data was collected, that data processing relies on the user’s or ‘data subject’s’ consent and the user now withdraws their consent, or that data processing is considered unlawful. For their part the Right to Erasure also places a number of obligations on organizations: to respond to the user’s request and if not acceding to it, to provide their reasons for not complying with it. Again, a number of reasons can be given including freedom of expression and of information, legal necessity, or considering the user’s request to be unfounded or excessive.

What the ruling does this week is re-visit the question of absoluteness. That a user’s right to erasure is not absolute, and indeed that there are limits to jurisdiction and to the extent to which one country or group of countries can impose their values and laws on those of others. To quote the ruling the “operator of a search engine is not required to carry out a de-referencing on all versions of its search engine”. In other words, should an EU citizen submit a request for erasure, the search engine operator is only obliged to erase a person’s name from versions of that search engine that correspond to the Member States of the EU, e.g., etc. The search engine is not necessarily required to remove information from versions of its search engine that correspond to non-Member States of the EU. For example, if an act of data processing has made the personal data accessible from within the US, that information will in principle still be accessible to a user within that jurisdiction(s).

In short, the European Court of Justice has determined that a user’s right to privacy is limited by geography, national boundaries, and therefore a specific public - as are the obligations of data controllers’ e.g. those of search engine operators. What in turn the ruling alo raises is the perennial issue of whether the Internet is a place for universal access to information or a differentiated landscape of interacting parts.

NB: It is worth bearing in mind that the above ruling is not affected by Brexit. The UK has its own version of the GDPR!

Dr Jonathan Foster

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: 

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