Monday, 27 July 2015

Grant Success for Demartini

Dr Gianluca Demartini of the Information School has secured funding from The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for his project entitled "BetterCrowd: Human Computation for Big Data".

A short summary of the project proposal can be read below:

In the last few years we have seen a rapid increase of available data. Digitization has become endemic. This has lead to a data deluge that left many unable to cope with such large amounts of messy data. Also because of the large number of content producers and different formats, data is not always easy to process by machines due to its its diverse quality and the presence of bias. Thus, in the current data-driven economy, if organizations can effectively analyze data at scale and use it as decision-support infrastructure at the executive level, data will lead to a key competitive advantage. To deal with the current data deluge, in the BetterCrowd project I will define and evaluate Human Computation methods to improve both the effectiveness and efficiency of currently available hybrid Human-Machine systems.

Human Computation (HC) is a game-changing paradigm that systematically exploits human intelligence at scale to improve purely machine-based data management systems (see, for example, CrowdDB). This is often obtained by means of Crowdsourcing, that is, outsourcing certain tasks from the machine to a crowd of human individuals who perform short tasks (also known as Human Intelligence Tasks or HITs) that are simple for humans but still difficult for machines (e.g., understanding the content of a picture or sarcasm in text). Involving humans in the computation process is a fundamental scientific challenge that requires obtaining the best from human abilities and effectively embedding them into traditional computational systems. The challenges involved with the use of HC are both its efficiency (i.e., humans are naturally slower than machines in terms of information processing) and effectiveness (i.e., while machines deterministically compute, humans behavior may be unpredictable and possibly malicious).

The objective of the BetterCrowd project is to improve Human Computation quality and scalability for Big Data processing. The project will deal with the fundamental scientific challenge of understanding how humans and machines can better interact and collaborate in computation problems. The findings will make possible to deal with more complex Big Data analytics problems. While most current Big Data solutions focus on volume, this project aims to improve HC to make it applicable to the analysis of heterogeneous data with variable quality.

Thus, research goals of this project include the improvement of efficiency and effectiveness of current HC techniques making it possible to deal with high volume and velocity of data.

The project is composed of two main parts. We will first look at how to improve crowdsourcing effectiveness by proposing novel techniques to detect malicious workers in crowdsourcing platforms. In the second part, we will make HC techniques scale so that they can be applied to larger volume of data focusing on scheduling tasks to the crowd.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Bath and Ellis have article published in The Conversation

Professor Peter Bath and Research Associate Dr Julie Ellis of the Information School have had an article published in The Conversation - a collaboration between editors and academics to provide informed news analysis and commentary. The article, entitled "Save your outrage: online cancer fakers may be suffering a different kind of illness", can be read in full here.

Monday, 20 July 2015

The future of public libraries: some thoughts from a library user

In this blog post, Dr. Briony Birdi presents a shortened version of her presentation at the workshop ‘The role of the local public library’, hosted by the Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield, 15 July 2015. The original presentation also presented ‘four future scenarios’ of public libraries, adapted from Hernon & Matthews, 2012.
The public library: outdated, or what?
This short piece focuses in the main on the future of public libraries, as I was requested to do. But before I do so, I’m going to briefly go back to the Victorians – what could be the harm in that? Have a look at the following two comments:
‘How…does an idea that was adopted in the Victorian era to enhance access to learning and knowledge remain relevant in an age when many people now have such access within their homes via the world wide web?’ (McMenemy, 2009, p.3).
‘The original reasons why they [public libraries] were introduced could be argued to be of lesser importance today, since literacy and numeracy rates are now much higher than they were in the Victorian era. Book prices have come down considerably…thus many more people are now able to afford books than they could even 20 years ago.’ (McMenemy, 2009, p.198).
I’m guessing that some readers will not agree with these two comments. Those of you who know David McMenemy will know that he does not either, but I have rudely taken them out of context, to selfishly make my point.
Please, no more hubs…
A second writer has affected my recent thinking on this topic: ‘A new, Orwellian vocabulary has arisen to disguise the significance of what’s happening. My favourite term is ‘vibrant community hub’, used to describe the co-location of the library service with other, wholly unrelated Council services, and to cover up the degrading and diminishing of the library element of the ‘hub’. Not vibrancy, but rigor mortis.’ (Andrew Green, blog post, 28.06.15). I must admit I have some sympathy with Green’s view. Not specifically with the idea of a hub, but with the unfortunate use of the term when a library closes and a community-run ‘hub’ opens. This is not what the Victorians intended!

‘Libraries are irrelevant’, and ‘we can all buy our own books, why would we need to borrow them?’ Whatever our background and professional interest, we have all heard those arguments many times before: in the press, from the politicians, even within the information profession itself, I’m ashamed to say. And they are all seriously missing the point.

But what is the point? It’s my view that in order to develop a solid future for our public library service we should stop talking obsessively about library buildings and whether they are closed or open, and we should stop talking obsessively about the books they may or may not contain. To explain what I mean I think we need to remind ourselves of the librarian’s core values.

Remember, we have core values
Core Value no.1: Providing equity of access. The public library remains a vital contributor to democratic life, through its mission of equity, freedom of expression, and opposition to censorship of all kinds. There is a national need for social and economic wellbeing. There is a lack of literacy skills among both children and adults. Recent figures reported by the National Literacy Trust show that approximately 4 million children don’t own a book, 11 million people don’t have access to the internet at home, 1 in 6 adults struggle to read, etc. etc. A lack of literacy skills in Victorian times has been replaced by a lack of literacy skills in the 21st Century. Reading is the prerequisite of all other learning and creativity – and we must not forget this.

Core Value number 2: Recognising both cultural and leisure roles. Giving children access to library services will help them to develop a broader world view beyond that of their own surroundings. Through the techniques of reader development adults can expand their choices and tastes. Reading groups, for example, offer an intellectual and social element to the reading experience and help to enhance community engagement.

Core Value 3: Supporting an informed citizenship. Speaking at the CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) Conference in Liverpool on July 3rd, Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, said: ‘Many people have not even seen the Human Rights Act so they don’t know what we’ve got to lose. Librarians and information professionals can play a special role in helping people to understand their human rights; and libraries offer a safe civic space for people to hear about and take part in much-needed political discourse.’ And she’s right: an information literate community relies on the public library to act as a gateway to responsible and accurate information, and that need is as vital as it has ever been.

Core Value 4: Supporting lifelong learning. Public libraries offer an informal space for people to learn new skills and knowledge through texts and ICTs. Where else can you go to develop your learning if you don’t have access to formal education? This role is not going away.

So what were the points our ‘nostalgia trip’ may have missed?
To go back to my previous point, there wasn’t a great deal there about library buildings, and books certainly weren’t the only resource referred to. On the screen you have two quotes taken from Lankes’ keynote presentation at the national CILIP Conference in Liverpool earlier this month. ‘It’s not about the presence of a library, it’s about the presence of a trained librarian.’ Librarianship isn’t something you can just do without training, to be a qualified Librarian means passing a higher degree, usually a Masters degree and ideally one accredited by CILIP – and the nature of the skills and knowledge developed during this educational process is quite elaborate. The 1964 Public Libraries Act – still in place today - requires libraries to be a statutory service, but Paragraph 7 also requires the employment of suitably qualified staff – a point often overlooked in the current rhetoric. 

Lankes’ second point regards the books. ‘We need to change the narrative: the great damage to our communities is not that people won’t have access to books. It’s much broader than that.’ He also said: ‘We’re not just about books, we’re about knowledge and learning…we’ll use whatever tool is necessary to make that happen’. ‘We need to get over the idea that libraries are just about books…they have a much more noble goal!’
The role of the librarian has changed since the 19th Century, but the core theme of knowledge creation has always been there.

Some final thoughts
I started to write down some final thoughts on the future of public libraries, and then I re-read Ian Anstice’s editorial in Public Libraries News from 24th June, and realised that he was saying the same thing – only more effectively. So I’ll end with his thoughts, pointing out that they align with mine, on an optimistic day.

‘It is all too easy in UK public libraries in 2015 to get depressed or focus on the tasks immediately ahead of you and not further afield…But if one has the chance to look up…this is actually a most interesting time to work in the sector.  Libraries have never been [under] such pressure as now and so, counter-intuitively, there [has never been] a better time to try something new, to re-examine priorities and to… look at what the community wants and try to serve those needs.’

Grateful thanks to David McMenemy, John Dolan and John Vincent for their valuable thoughts on my original presentation.
Briony Birdi, Lecturer
Information School, University of Sheffield
Anstice, I. (2015). The best of times, the worst of times. Blog post, Public Libraries News, 24 June,
Green, A. (2015). The beautiful librarians are dead: academic librarians and the crisis in public libraries. Blog post, Gwallter, 28 June,
Hernon, P. and Matthews, J.R. (2013). Reflecting on the future of academic and public libraries. London: Facet Publishing.
McMenemy, D. (2009). The public library. London: Facet Publishing.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Bonne attends White Rose Doctoral Training Centre's workshop

PhD student Marc Bonne attended the White Rose Doctoral Training Centre's STS (Science and Technology) PhD network in York, where the focus was on Responsible Research and Innovation. This workshop provided an opportunity for students to give brief presentations on their work and receive feedback. There is more information at

Friday, 17 July 2015

Strong representation at i3 conference

Four iSchool members presented at the i3 conference in Aberdeen, Scotland in June 2015. Sheila Webber gave a paper on Self-identified Information Behaviour of learners in the FutureLearn “Play” MOOC. Three of her PhD students also presented on their research: Joseph Essel (Conceptions of the Information literate teacher by teacher trainees at a Ghanaian University), Syeda Shahid (Assessing children’s IL skills: Findings from a multiple case study of six primary schools in Pakistan) and Kondwani Wella (Experiencing HIV and AIDS information: a phenomenological study of serodiscordant couples in Malawi).
Additionally, some iSchool alumni presented including Sara Chizari who graduated with MSc Information Management in 2010 (How do cultural differences and cognitive styles affect online information searching behaviour?) and Yi Wen Hon who graduated with MA Librarianship last year (presenting on her Masters research, Representations of privacy in the context of conflicts of interest between government, newspaper and public discourses)

Thursday, 16 July 2015

MSc Data Science Course Receives Coverage in The Times of India

Dr Jonathan Foster of the Information School recently visited India to speak at several universities in Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi and to meet prospective Information School students to discuss the department's range of courses.  As a result of this visit, the Information School's MSc Data Science course has received coverage in The Times of India newspaper. The article was based on an interview Dr Foster gave in Delhi and can be read below:

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

iFutures 2015 "Open Information Science: exploring new landscapes"

iFutures, now in its third year, was held on the 7th of July 2015. The conference is for all information science PhD students and is organised by PhD students from the University of Sheffield’s Information School. The conference is deliberately open and welcoming for early stage researchers to present their research to their peers in a constructive environment. 

The keynote speakers included Prof. Helen Kennedy in the morning session and Prof. Fabio Ciravegna in the afternoon session. As with previous years there were two parallel workshop sessions, one led by Prof. Paul Clough and the other by Dr Barbara Sen.

PhD students across the Information Science discipline presented their research over three sessions: the morning session: applied social media, the Pecha Kucha Session, and the paper session. Over lunch PhD students also had the opportunity to showcase their research via colourful poster presentations. 

This year saw PhD delegates and speakers from not only across the UK, but also internationally from Croatia, the U.S, and Australia. Overall the event was very well received with delegates already enquiring about next year’s conference. 

The conference was chaired by Matthew Seddon, and the committee was comprised of:

Wasim Ahmed (Social Media coordinator)

Marc Bonne (Secretary)

Edmund Deusbury (Webmaster)

Halima Egberongbe 

Jessica Elmore (Submissions Coordinator)

Lucyantie Mazalan 

One of the committee members, Wasim Ahmed, has created a Storify of the day’s tweets which can be found here.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

PhD Blog Post Published on LSE Website

Wasim Ahmed, Information School PhD student, has had a blog post published on the London School of Economics and Political Science website. 

The post is entitled 'Using Twitter as a data source: An overview of current social media research tools'.  

The popularity of social media sites and the ease at which its data is available means these platforms are increasingly becoming primary sources for social research. Wasim Ahmed presents a quick look at some of the tools available to social scientists for analysing social media data and also reflects on the limitations of the platforms and the methods used for this type of research.

Read the full blog post here.

Wasim Ahmed's blog about his research can be found here.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Highly Commended paper for Sen

Congratulations to Dr Barbara Sen of the Information School whose paper, “Community, complexity, the public library and community orientation”, has been published in Library Review and selected by the journal’s editorial team as a Highly Commended paper in the 2015 Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence.

The paper is freely available until the end of July 2015 from the Emerald Group Publishing website.