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