Data is the new oil

Guest post by Selena Killick, co-author of the forthcoming book Putting Library Assessment Data to Work

With the move to increasing online provision within the education sector, and by association academic libraries, we have seen an explosion in big data sets. The initial COUNTER compliant statistics containing electronic journal title downloads seem quite quaint now as the granularity and scale of data harvesting has continued to expand. It is not uncommon for an academic library to have usage data for its electronic resources at an item level on an individual customer basis. The University of Huddersfield Library Impact Data Project were the first exploration into how library analytics could be used to identify the impact the library was having on student success. The researchers successfully identified a correlation between library usage and student success (Stone & Ramsden 2013). Coincidentally this research was being replicated in Australia and the USA at the same period, all with similar results (Cox & Jantti 2012) (Soria et al. 2013). Five years on, where are we now? And, if data really is the new oil, where should we drill next…?

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The Ethical Debate

Before we look at where we could drill next, the question on whether we should drill at all needs to be considered. The librarian field is divided on this issue with strong views on both sides. Quantitative data is not the only source of information and it should not be used in isolation to evaluate library performance. That being said, it is a source of insight available to us and we should consider carefully if and how we use it. Personally, I think that if we are able to use library analytics anonymously, ethically, transparently, legally and with the goal of improving learner success we should exploit the data to benefit our students. I know some will disagree with me, and I’m happy to debate the subject. As data analytics becomes increasing part of the academic institutional infrastructure libraries need to identify the role they will play in this arena or risk becoming obsolete and ultimately redundant.

The Next Drilling Expedition

Until now, library analytics research has focussed on student satisfaction, library usage and student success. The Jisc Library Data Labs project has worked with librarians to combine and visualise various data sets. SCONUL Statistics and National Student Survey (NSS) scores have been combined to see if students who are the most satisfied with library provision are studying at the universities with the largest library budgets (Baylis & Burke 2017). LibQUAL+ satisfaction scores have been combined with Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) statistics to see if there is a correlation between satisfaction, usage and expenditure in academic libraries (Hunter & Perret 2011).

As an increasing number of library services move online the ability to harvest and analyse user data in the areas of enquiry handling and information literacy training is growing. Libraries are starting to use customer relationship management systems to manage enquiries received at help points (Killick 2017). Webchat transcripts between customers and librarians can be analysed to identify common enquiries with a view of improving the customer experience (Mungin 2017). Within the area of information literacy training provision, live online tuition and webinars are now being used by academic libraries. Delivery tools such as Adobe Connect can provide the library with data at the individual student level for live attendance and subsequent video views. With regards to data drilling, services are the new content, and it is only a matter of time before someone breaks ground.

Learning Analytics

Within the wider academic sphere the field of learning analytics has emerged, using big data to understand the characteristics of successful students with a view to optimise the learning environment (Rienties et al. 2017). As an important stakeholder in the learning environment, libraries are considering their role in supporting the learning analytics agenda (Oakleaf et al. 2017). The Library Integration in Institutional Learning Analytics (LIILA) Project is currently reviewing how libraries can support learning analytics. This one-year Institute of Museum and Library Services National Forum grant is working with a variety of international stakeholders, including librarians, system vendors and policy makers. The project team hope to get to the position where libraries are culturally ready and technically able to engage in this arena. This is our opportunity to shape the use of library data in this field, ensuring its use is anonymous, legal, ethical, and transparent; with the goal of improving learner success. If we fail to engage in the debate I suspect our publishers will bypass the library and pipe their usage data Killick_blog jacket cover.jpgto the learning analytics community directly.

Selena Killick is co-author of the forthcoming book Putting LibraryAssessment Data to Work alongside Frankie Wilson. She has presented, published, and provided consultancy services to academic libraries on an international basis on library assessment for over 15 years. She is currently an editorial board member of the International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries. In 2003 she was part of the team that introduced LibQUAL+ to the UK in partnership with the Association of Research Libraries. Previously she has worked on the SCONUL Value & Impact Measurement Programme (VAMP) and the SCONUL Statistics e-measures pilot.




You can follow Selena on Twitter @selenakillick


Baylis, L. & Burke, S., 2017. Insights from Jisc & HESA Analytics Labs: An Agile, cross-institutional approach. In 12th International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries. Oxford.

Cox, B.L. & Jantti, M., 2012. Capturing business intelligence required for targeted marketing, demonstrating value, and driving process improvement. Library and Information Science Research, 34(4), pp.308–316.

Hunter, B. & Perret, R., 2011. Can Money Buy Happiness? A Statistical Analysis of Predictors for User Satisfaction. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 37(5), pp.402–408.

Killick, S., 2017. Exploiting customer relationship management analytics to improve the student experience. In 12th International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries. Oxford.

Mungin, M., 2017. Stats Don’t Tell the Whole Story: Using Qualitative Data Analysis of Chat Reference Transcripts to Assess and Improve Services. Journal of Library and Information Services in Distance Learning, 11(1–2), pp.25–36.

Oakleaf, M. et al., 2017. Academic Libraries & Institutional Learning Analytics: One Path to Integration. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 43(5), pp.454–461.

Rienties, B. et al., 2017. A review of ten years of implementation and research in aligning learning design with learning analytics at the Open University UK. Interaction Design and Architecture(s) Journal, 33, pp.134–154.

Soria, M.K., Fransen, J. & Nackerud, S., 2013. Library Use and Undergraduate Student Outcomes: New Evidence for Students’ Retention and Academic Success. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 13, pp.147–164.

Stone, G. & Ramsden, B., 2013. Library Impact Data Project: looking for the link between library usage and student attainment. College and Research Libraries, 74(6), pp.546–559.


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Delivering a Data Strategy in the Cauldron of Business As Usual

Guest post by the co-authors of The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook, Caroline Carruthers (Group Director of Data Management, Lowell Group) and Peter Jackson (Chief Data Officer, Southern Water).


Being a Chief Data Officer in the current climate is a rather interesting place to be, it can feel a little like dancing on quicksand while you have to learn to juggle wriggling snakes. So in order to help people interested in this area, whether you are a new CDO, well established data hero or just wondering what all the fuss is about, we have worked on a set of articles to answer some of the questions we are asked at nearly every conference we go to. While we can’t promise you a solution to all your data related problems handed to you on a plate, we can promise that once a week you can look forward to another concise, interesting and easy to read article to help you on your data and information related journey.

One of the most difficult tasks for the new CDO is developing a Data Strategy whilst the organisation continues to operate (and must continue to operate) using and abusing data, continuing with bad habits around data and often with a lack of governance and planning. This has been likened to performing open heart surgery on a runner while they are in the middle of a marathon, in reality it’s more like patching them up, giving them water to keep them going and a clear map to get them to the end of the race. In most situations for a new CDO the organisation probably feels that it has been operating quite happily without this new person for a very long while. So, for the new CDO it may feel like they are sitting in the corner talking to themselves. Alternatively the CDO may be met with comments like ‘Yes, we tried that before and it didn’t work’ or ‘ IT/ Finance/ Procurement/ Marketing (delete as appropriate) won’t like you doing that’ or my personal favourite ‘that’s not how we do that here’.

What is the context of Business As Usual? In most cases (unless the organisation is a start-up) it will be:

  • a legacy data environment: siloes of data, multiple records, ‘duplicates’, weak data governance, no useful meta data, heavy MI and no BI.
  • legacy systems: burning platforms, bespoke developments, hard to maintain and manage, reporting systems remote from end-users, no true data management systems
  • legacy business processes: evolved over time, limited by technology and data available at the point in time, containing many work-arounds
  • multiple suppliers: of software and systems
  • legacy IT department: focused on building stuff rather than delivering and supporting software-as-a-service, internal networks as opposed to cloud
  • legacy ‘transformation’ process: based on project governance and waterfall, struggling with agile and innovation. Not able to adapt to transformation being data driven rather than technology driven

The task for the new CDO is how to steer their way through this bubbling cauldron and deliver a data strategy. One approach is to break the task down into two parts: an Immediate Data Strategy (IDS), a tactical approach to deliver support for BAU, gain quick wins and temporary fixes and to prepare the way for the second part. The additional benefit of the IDS is the delivery of incremental value to the organisation through its data, avoiding the hypecycle on the way (the next article deals with this in more detail). The second part is the Target Data Strategy (TDS), the strategic approach. The new CDO cannot sit back and deliver the TDS over a two to three year window, the organisation will probably be expecting some results now, so it is just as important to set realistic expectations as it is to provide some tactical delivery through the IDS. One piece of advice, don’t call these tactical deliveries ‘Projects’ instead refer to them as ‘Initiatives’, this might engender a more agile approach.

The IDS should listen to the organisation’s data pain and try to deliver high profile quick wins. The tactical initiatives of the IDS should blend into the strategy of the TDS, and not run down a rabbit hole or blind alley. The IDS should help build up the narrative and vision of the TDS.

The six key elements of the IDS could be:

  1. Stability and rationalisation of the existing data environment
  2. Data culture and governance
  3. Existing and immediate data and IT development projects
  4. Data exploitation and integration
  5. Data performance, quality, integrity, assurance and provenance
  6. Data security (especially with GDPR in mind).

Whilst the new CDO is delivering the IDS they should be pushing the TDS through business engagement, the organisation needs to be prepared, ready and believe in the changes that are coming. The CDO should also be using the IDS to show the ‘art of the possible’ to a data illiterate business to help the business engage with the new data possibilities. Through the IDS they should be running Proof of Concepts, feasibility studies, data science initiatives and building a narrative around the vision of the TDS for all levels of the business.

Finally, six tips on how to succeed using the IDS and TDS approach:

  1. Use internal communications to sell the vision, don’t allow a vacuum to form
  2. Seek every opportunity to communicate the vision. Do not be frightened of becoming a data bore.
  3. Socialise the data visons and the changes that could be coming, especially the controversial ideas, locate the data champions to support you
  4. Engage the organisation’s leadership and find your senior sponsors, they will be crucial
  5. If you can’t explain it, you’re doing something wrong, ‘it’s me not you’
  6. Win hearts and minds, often a good argument is not enough to win the day.

The book is available to purchase now



How do I make a career in Special Collections?

Guest post by Alison Cullingford, author of The Special Collections Handbook.


Why work in Special Collections?

Special Collections work is fantastically rewarding: one never knows what will happen when the phone rings or a new email comes in.  It is a joy to bring hidden collections to life, to see how they inform and inspire users.

Special Collections is a sector which is booming and full of confidence and innovation.  Many universities and other organisations are realising that in tough times their collections are unique and distinctive assets, and investing in premises, and, crucially, staff.

A note of caution

As with most heritage and arts careers, Special Collections work is popular and therefore competition for jobs can be significant.  The widest range of opportunities is probably in London or ‘Oxbridge’, though do not despair: there are jobs in national libraries, research libraries and universities, cathedrals etc all over the UK.  Permanent roles are scarce so project work is often the way to get into the sector.

Here are some tips to help you build a career in Special Collections despite the challenges.

Focus on skills

Special Collections staff need many skills, including:

  1. ‘Traditional skills’. These are distinctive to Special Collections, or shared with specialist academics and colleagues.  Traditional skills include:
  • Historical bibliography: how items in collections were made.
  • Preservation: how to look after collections.
  • Cataloguing: how to describe collections so people can discover them.
  • Languages: Latin is particularly useful, though not always essential.
  • Palaeography: how to read handwriting.
  • Subject and collection knowledge.
  1. Soft skills. You will need to be able to communicate effectively orally and in writing, to work well in a team but to manage your own time, including conflicting priorities, and to be able to help users of all kinds and levels of experience.
  2. Future skills. The Special Collections librarian of the future will need to be equipped for a tough and fast-changing world. Consider:
  • Digital literacy – encompasses a huge range of skills and will continue to develop.
  • Advocacy and evidence-based practice. Understanding statistics is essential!
  • Knowledge of legal and contractual issues.

But please don’t be too put off by these huge lists.  Skills are built up gradually and not all jobs require everything all at once.  There are many ways to improve your skills, even if you are unable to attend conferences or training events.  Consider apps (very useful for languages), online learning resources, webinars, reading printed books, not to mention the resources which appear below under ‘Connections’.

Seek and seize opportunities

For example:

  1. Your job title may not involve Special Collections, but maybe you can find a way to work with collections in the organisation. If you are working in a library, there are probably distinctive collections somewhere on the premises.  Consider talking to colleagues and managers about your interests so they can help you find opportunities.  Some element of voluntary work could be helpful and would show evidence of commitment to the sector as well as boosting your skills.
  2. Conference bursaries. Most significant library conferences offer these, in exchange for helping out and/or writing a report about your experience.

Build connections

Join and engage with relevant groups, such as CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group and the Historic Libraries Forum.

It is easier than ever to connect with Special Collections communities:

  1. Social media platforms: full of librarians, archivists, scholars and enthusiasts sharing collections objects and discussing the joys and challenges of their work. Watch out for ‘chats’ and other themed events. I recommend #uklibchat, #archivehour, and, coming up later in November, #explorearchives.  You can also join in with conferences via their hashtags, such as the recent #rbscg17 and forthcoming #dcdc17.
  2. Mailing lists reach all professionals including those who aren’t active on social media. Lis-rarebooks is a low-traffic list populated by helpful rare book people.
  3. In recent years more and more librarians and heritage professionals have set up their own events and groups. Watch out for such activities as teachmeets, show and tell, and unconferences.  These often take place out of working hours so folk in less relevant jobs can still attend.  See for example Heritage Show and Tell.

Think like an employer

Most Special Collections jobs are in public sector organisations, which recruit and select via automated and standardised processes which aim to be fair to all applicants.  You need to engage with these systems but make sure you stand out.

Above all, if you are asked for an example during the application process or an interview, give a strong, real one that illustrates your skills.  Employers are looking for specific examples not vague generalisations.  Do draw on whatever work experience you have, for example dealing with difficult customers or teamwork can be demonstrated well by experiences from shop or bar work.

Persist, but be flexible

It took me eight years from qualifying as a librarian to becoming a full-time Special Collections person, so I do understand that it is not easy.  It is worth reflecting on what attracts you about Special Collections work, and being open to other opportunities that may give you similar job satisfaction.   Many roles in heritage, education and the arts offer similar rewards.

Best of luck!

About the author9781783301263

Alison Cullingford is the author of the Special Collections Handbook, now in its second edition.  She is Special Collections Librarian at the University of Bradford and loves writing, blogging and tweeting about the challenges and rewards of working with heritage.  Her website is and she tweets as @speccollbrad.

About this blog post

This post was inspired by talks and discussions at CILIP Rare Books Group New Professionals Days, held in 2015 and 2017.  Thanks to all who were involved, and follow the story of the days via the #RBNewProfs hashtag.

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Empower people to take control of their personal digital information

Facet Publishing have announced the release of The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving, edited by Brianna H Marshall

Blanchett et al. Guide info lit 101.qxd

Academics and the general public alike need help managing the digital information they create and save every day. But how can librarians and archivists translate their professional knowledge into practical skills that novices can apply to their own projects? The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving helps information professionals break down archival concepts and best practices into teachable solutions. Whether it’s an academic needing help preserving their scholarly records, a student developing their data literacy skills or someone backing up family photos and videos to protect against hard-drive failure, this book will show information professionals how to offer assistance.

Featuring contributions from experts working in a variety of contexts this practical resource will help librarians, digital curators and archivists empower people from all walks of life to take charge of their personal digital materials. Key coverage includes explanations of common terms in plain language, quick, non-technical solutions to the most frequent user requests and guidance on how to archive social media posts, digital photographs and web content.

Marshall said, “From the outset, my intention has been for this book to be used as a primer for information professionals who haven’t been quite sure how to approach personal digital archiving (PDA) yet. My hope is that they become not just informed but also excited to pass along critical skills that will help equip members of their communities to have a less painful and more fruitful PDA journey. I am convinced that sharing even simple principles for how to store, share, and preserve digital objects will benefit our users in both their personal and professional lives. The chapters are intentionally practitioner-focused so that after finishing this book, readers will feel ready to start conversations and make amazing things happen within their communities.”

Brianna H Marshall is director of research services at the University of California, Riverside. Previously, she was digital curation coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She holds master of library science and master of information science degrees from the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing.


International Digital Preservation Day Roundup

Last Thursday was the first ever International Digital Preservation Day. People from all around the world came together to celebrate the collections preserved, the access maintained and the understanding fostered by preserving digital materials.


CC image credit: ‘Preservation Park’ by Flickr user torbakhopper

Throughout the day we shared some free chapters from some of our digital preservation books which we have gathered below in one handy reference post.

  1. An extract from Adrian Brown’s DPC Preservation Award-Winning book Practical Digital Preservation
  2. Digital preservation strategies for visualizations and simulations – a free chapter from Preserving Complex Digital Objects by Janet Anderson, Hugh Denard and William Kilbride
  3. Digitization in the context of collection management – a free chapter from Anna E Bulow and Jess Ahmon’s Preparing Collections for Digitization.

Finally, it didn’t quite make it in time for IDPD17, but Brianna Marshall’s The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving is out today.

Blanchett et al. Guide info lit 101.qxd