Developing the next generation of peer review expertise

This week is Peer Review Week – what better time to announce the launch of a peer review elearning resource we’ve recently developed at Manchester?

At the University of Manchester Library, we work closely with our colleagues at Manchester University Press in support of a number of the University’s strategic goals. One benefit of our collaboration is that we can provide scholarly communication development opportunities for researchers and students.

Currently we are working together on a project funded by the University’s Centre for Higher Education Research, Innovation and Learning (CHERIL). The Publishing and Research Learning for Students (PuRLS) project aims to provide opportunities and resources to help students and early career researchers develop an awareness of the publishing process and the skills to participate as an author, editor and peer reviewer.

We believe that the resources will support students and postgraduate researchers who want to set up and manage their own journal or simply learn about academic publishing, and also enhance their employability within academia or the publishing sector. Feedback from medical students involved in our previous CHERIL project (SOAR – Student Open Access Research) has informed the focus of the resources we’re creating, and we’re finalising further usability testing at the moment.

The online modules have been created by drawing on expertise from the Library, the Press and the wider University community. Meredith Carroll, Journals Manager at Manchester University Press, prepared text content which the Library’s elearning team has turned into interactive resources, using Articulate Storyline 2 software.


The peer review module takes approximately 30 minutes to complete and includes activities which allow users to take on the role of a reviewer, eg, responding to scenarios and critiquing real peer reviews. Naturally our peer review resource has been peer reviewed – for this we asked a number of our academic colleagues for their expert input.

The peer review online module is available via the Library’s My Research Essentials webpage and is licensed as CC-BY.


Database Interface Design – washing powder optional

As a librarian supporting students and academic staff over the last 20 years, I have substantial experience of working with digital content and currently work with around 30 electronic databases. My ability to work productively and assist students in gathering information or data is influenced significantly by interface design – a critical component of the user experience (‘UX’) of these databases.

The following represent my personal views on interface design.


Why is interface design important?

The ability of a user to work well with an interface influences their productivity. Design changes to the front end of any database system are comparable to the challenges faced with a new computer operating system. For example, changing from: Windows 3.1 to 95 to 98 to 2000 to XP to 7 to 8 to 10 – meaning the familiar is no longer so, resulting in one’s productivity going down, at least initially.


Changing search interface / results display

I am not advocating that interface design is set in stone and appreciate that carefully considered changes can generate substantial improvements. What is important is that those changes are driven by user needs and then tested to ensure they have met those needs. Otherwise they can cause major difficulties for students. The Passport database is such an example, where a simple and intuitive process appears to have been replaced in such a way that it is far less clear and valuable functionality has disappeared altogether. Previously, when selecting the ‘Menu Search’ option, a three-step process was revealed:

Topics →  Geography →  Results

Passport. Menu search. Logical search steps.
Passport. Geography search stage (old version).

A helpful feature was the ‘predefined selections’. Here, many country groupings (e.g. EU, G20) are clearly visible and easy to select.

The ‘Results List’ screen displayed a variety of categories available to select (e.g. Industry Overview, Local Company Profile).

Passport. Results screen (old version).
Passport. Results screen (old version).


The look and feel of the interface has now changed, in such a way as to reduce the effectiveness of the interface. I find it very confusing, with the results screen not showing the options of the old version.

Passport. Search/results (new version).
Passport. Search/results (new version).

I’m not alone, if the comments on the Business Librarians Association (BLA) bulletins are a guide. So if I and my professional colleagues are having difficulty, students must be in an even worse position.

Mock-up Washing powder boxIt is hard to see these changes as being driven, as they should be, by attention to the user and how they work. Instead they feel to me more like change for the sake of change. Just as washing power might be branded ‘New and Improved!’ so these changes  to the look and functionality of a database must be a step forward over what went before. Mustn’t they? Well, no.


The user experience (UX)

The Japanese concept of Kaizen, Kaizen in Japanese characters. By Majo statt Senf - Created with Affinity Designer - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, which translates roughly as ‘continuous improvement’ is pertinent here.


This principle runs through effective UX developments. With the emergence of ‘the perpetual beta‘ and web 2.0, users can be seen as co-developers, through an ability to feed into service changes.  By monitoring the take up (or not) of new features, service providers can reflect user needs.

Such an approach drives a user-centred evolution of a system interface, introducing incremental and necessary improvements over what has gone before. This is far preferable to a revolutionary approach, resulting in drastic changes to the interface design which risk causing significant disruption to its users.

This reflects the position taken by Joe Hardenbrook, that a state of permanent beta is OK, when feedback is received and adapted to, enabling improvements to flow from this.

For example, in undertaking a review process, the provider of the Factiva database has reassuringly put the user experience at the heart of the exercise. This includes undertaking interviews, with the goal of improving productivity, through ‘compact, clear and consistent design’.


Why do effective design features matter?


Does the database have a look which persists over time? Some good examples, in my opinion, include Thomson Research and Factiva. Both the search interfaces for these databases have remained similar for over five years. The search screen is a single page, with no scrolling down required and all options clearly visible. These can be selected by typing in a free text box or using a ‘look-up’ option from a magnifying glass icon. Other selection methods are equally clear, from clicking to select options (e.g. Report Type: [Company, Industry] in Thomson Research) or using a drop down menu (Date in Factiva [e.g. In the last week]). In Factiva, search options flow from top to bottom, in a single column, on the left, culminating in a blue colour-coded ‘search’ button, at the lower right of screen. Thomson Research has two columns of search options and again a blue colour-coded ‘search’ button, bottom left of screen.

Familiarity contributes to ease of use. If a database has reached a clear and effective design, there is value in maintaining this appearance. Why is this important? Because students (and library staff) have many demands on their time. When faced with a radically altered search interface, time is wasted trying to get familiar with the new ‘look’. So I would urge our suppliers to ensure such changes respond to user needs and behaviours rather than simply to refresh the brand so that it looks ‘new and improved’.

Some suppliers are seeking insights through user engagement, to improve their products. For example, EBSCO Information Services seeks insight into today’s student as an ‘information seeker’. Kate Lawrence, Vice President for User Experience Research, noted students have an ever increasing desire for efficiency, approaching their studies by looking at priority (which deadline is first) and looking at the return on investment in terms of getting the best results for the amount of time invested. [1] Being aware of such requirements allows a provider to meet these user needs.


Clear search options

By providing options clearly visible on the search screen, alternatives can be selected without confusion. A prime example of this is the Factiva database (Business News). Using the ‘Search – Search Builder’ option from the drop down menu, many alternatives become apparent on the left of the screen. For example, Date, Source, Subject – which can be easily explored and used as part of a search. Should it need to be refined, after viewing the results, this can be achieved by simply clicking on the ‘Modify Search’ button to retrieve the original search options.

I sought comments from a colleague who works in a different area of the library, relating to database design. He noted that a lack of familiarity makes usage more troublesome – in his case, identifying financial databases, which I often work with. Further, the examples of Compendex, IEEE Xplore, Scopus and Web of Science were noted as being ‘easy to use’, having good basic and advanced search options. I think this again reflects a point made earlier – to be able to proceed in a search, without confusion.



‘Evolution rather than revolution’ can be translated to mean small improvements, which  leave the basic search design unchanged. Again, in Factiva (in the past), to indicate a phrase search in the text box at the top of the screen, two or more words had to be included within quotation marks. For example, “Tesla Model S”, which searches for these terms in this exact format, rather than as keywords scattered throughout the documents being searched. Now, however, this is done automatically. If you attempt to enter quotation marks, a message appears on screen noting: ‘Please check your query, we have identified unbalanced quotes’. This is a good example of an enhancement, which  maintains the basic search interface.

Factiva searching
Factiva: search screen.



Additional challenges faced

Name changes

This is a hindrance, in that students are no longer aware of a particular title and the location, when accessing from an A to Z listing. Some examples include:

Global Market Information Database  →  GMID  →  Passport.

Global Insight  →  IHS Connect.

Removing content / features

KeyNote:  this market research database previously showed a comprehensive listing of sections for an individual report on the left hand menu (e.g. Market Size, Competitor Analysis) which I found really helpful. This no longer appears, which I believe is a backward step.

Mintel:  by splitting up and scattering the constituent sections of a market research report on a results page, rather than offering a PDF link to display as a single report (available for KeyNote reports) it is far less user-friendly. I have witnessed students and library staff finding the layout  confusing.



I appreciate excellent database design when faced with a substantial enquiry and a tight deadline – reflected in stability and a clear, intuitive search interface.

Incremental improvements to a database are preferable to radical changes, when seeking to support students and academic staff in their research. This process can be enhanced through testing and should be driven by user needs, such as the Factiva review noted above.

In conclusion, I can do without the washing powder mentality – ‘new and improved’ – as it isn’t always so.

[1] Lawlor, B.  An Overview of the NFAIS 2015 Annual Conference: Anticipating Demand: The User Experience as Driver. Information Services & Use. 2015, v.35(2), p.15.


Open Access and Academic Journal Markets: a Manchester View



In February, a thought piece was issued jointly by Jisc, RLUK, SCONUL and ARMA which aimed to start a conversation about academic journal markets and progress in the UK towards Open Access. This blog post represents the combined thoughts of two leaders in Open Access publishing at the University of Manchester Library. The post does not represent an official position at Manchester, but illustrates some of the thinking that informs the development of our policies and services.

The thought piece makes a number of statements, and we have chosen to respond to a selection of them:

Academic journals play an important role in the work of universities

In our view, one might argue instead that academic research papers play an important role, and that the correlation is between availability of that research and university research performance.  The journals just happen to be the containers for the research.  The same is true of student satisfaction and access to journals.  Students want access to the ‘stuff’; whether it’s in journals is largely immaterial, and may not even be noticeable via modern library discovery systems, or Google.  The question is whether the journal remains the best container in a networked digital environment.

Two issues in particular occur to us in the context of this part of the thought piece:

i) We wonder how true it is that journals ‘allow researchers the freedom to choose appropriate channels to publish their work’.  It could be argued that they are, in fact, constrained by a system in which they are expected to publish in certain titles if they are to develop their careers;

ii) It’s true that journal articles are measurable, insofar as citations are a reliable indicator, but there’s growing support for a campaign to eliminate journal title-based metrics, with over 600 organisations now signed up to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment.

The markets are changing

The thought piece describes a market that has been split in two, where the options now are Hybrid Gold and Pure Gold. We would suggest there are other ways to think about the way the journal market is evolving.  Although many of the ‘wholly Open Access journals’ levy APCs, we should keep in mind – and OA advocates often remind us – that many Gold OA journals do not require them.  Nobody is suggesting that publishing is free, but charging the author at time of acceptance is not the only approach.  It’s interesting to see the Open Library of the Humanities adopt a Library-funded model, something which Knowledge Unlatched has shown can succeed, at least at the pilot stage, for OA monographs.

Our second point would be that another way of splitting the market would be into a) commercial publishers and b) university presses.  Open Access has stimulated renewed interest in the concept of the University Press, as universities begin to consider how they could bring their publishing operations back in house.  UCL Press is a significant example of a new and wholly Open Access press, and more recently we have also seen a consortial approach emerge in the form of White Rose University Press.  Bringing scholarly publishing back into the academy allows us to present an alternative OA model in which prices do not need to be determined by shareholders and their demand for profits. The recent University Press Redux conference at Liverpool identified this as a key theme. We are also seeing innovation with repositories, such as the  arXiv overlay journal Discrete Analysis, launched in February.

Performance of the legacy/hybrid journals market

The anticipated transition to OA, post-Finch, still seems depressingly distant.  Instead, we continue to pay above-inflation subscription prices while simultaneously paying the same publishers APCs.  Despite the average cost of hybrid APCs being higher than those for Pure Gold, the power of the journal brand means that most of the funds we have available for Gold OA are going to hybrid publishers.  We are seeing some offsetting models emerge, but we are aware that some institutions find these  complicated to manage and while publishers have a global market which is not, on the whole, moving to Gold OA, there is little prospect of the transition we hoped for.  Pure Gold journals offer lower prices and no scope for ‘double-dipping’ but are yet to be well-established beyond a few disciplines.

On the point in the thought paper about the service we might expect for our APC payments, much certainly needs to be done.  We are both members of the RLUK Open Access Publisher Processes Group which focuses on this, and we welcome feedback from colleagues who are dissatisfied with publisher systems and procedures that authors struggle to navigate or the level of service and support received in return for their APC payments.

Shortcomings in the legacy journal market

Given that we have limited funds available to pay publishing costs, it is attractive to consider using them only to support publishers who are not also taking subscription payments from us.  It is increasingly so when we see that Pure Gold APCs tend to be lower than those charged by hybrid journals.  The issue we face is the power of the brand, as our researchers know they need their papers to be in the ‘right’ journals in order to gain the esteem they require to progress in their careers.  It is depressing that this remains the case in a digital world in which the concept of the journal is so outdated.  In a print environment, bundling the latest research papers up in this way was a sensible approach to their dissemination.  Today, new models like PeerJ can work quite differently, and the only barrier to their adoption is an academic culture which holds fast to the power of the journal title, even at a time when so many organisations are turning away from the notion that the impact of a journal says anything about the individual article. Hybrid, despite the arguments of the Publishers Association, is not providing what we need. As the Wellcome Trust reports, “hybrid open access continues to be significantly more expensive than fully open access journals and that as a whole the level of service provided by hybrid publishers is poor and is not delivering what we are paying for”.

Given the complexity of offsetting, the profit margins of the commercial publishers and the lack of a substantial transition from subscription to OA, it is time to consider using the available funding for Pure Gold rather than for Hybrid, and to invest in those initiatives that are emerging from academia, and which focus on providing the widest access to our research rather than the returns expected by company shareholders.

This post was jointly authored by Simon Bains and Helen Dobson 

Image: Patrick Hochstenbach, CC-BY. Open Access Belgium


Whistleblowers sculpture. Image by Davide Dormino, CC BY SA.

The Battle for Open

The University of Manchester launched a postgraduate certificate in Higher Education in 2014, aimed at its academic and professional staff. This qualification seeks to encourage staff to think more deeply about their sector, and by doing so to increase their understanding of their roles and progress professionally. The course ran very successfully in 2014-15 and is now into its second intake.

This year, the University Library is very pleased to be leading an elective module: Open Knowledge in Higher Education, which examines the context, contribution and constraints of the relationship between open knowledge and higher education. The course represents an opportunity to bring people together to discuss the issues at a level of detail that is usually impossible to achieve. Instead of focusing on the operational priorities and policy compliance requirements which we tackle in university committees, we can instead engage in a more intellectual debate about why we are on a trajectory towards ‘open as default’, whether that’s a good thing, what the implications are for professional and academic careers, and whether tensions between openness and other drivers can be overcome.

Whistleblowers sculpture. Image by Davide Dormino, CC BY SA.

As I prepare my notes to launch the module on 10 February, it strikes me that this is a fascinating time to be thinking about these issues, given that we are witnessing simultaneously the rapid rise of the openness agenda, new attempts to introduce censorship, and efforts to access data that many people would prefer remained personal. The image that accompanies this post epitomises for me the opposite sides of the argument: on the one hand, Assange, Manning and Snowden are regarded as criminals, recklessly putting lives at risk by breaching necessary security laws. On the other, they are perceived as heroes of free speech, to the extent that these sculptures of them now exist, alongside an empty chair which invites the viewer to join them and use the artwork as a platform for his or her own free speech.

Openness in higher education

But can we argue that, safe in our ivory towers, we are in a very different environment? The majority view now holds that published scholarly research ought to be freely available if it has been funded from the public purse, and open education resources (known widely as MOOCs) serve to bring learning to new audiences, and, we hope, drive new students through our doors. On the surface, at least, these seem to be sensible and entirely beneficial developments. But we should not analyse the Open Access (OA) and MOOC movements in a vacuum, somehow shielded from wider social debates about privacy, sharing, security and censorship. We might think that the distribution of academic research is very different from the release of the Wikileaks documents, or Snowden’s publishing of classified National Security Agency materials. But it would be a mistake to hold this view: the case of Aaron Swartz, facing 35 years in prison for sharing JSTOR documents when he committed suicide in 2013, is surely evidence enough that it is time to bring very careful thought to the issues raised by the growth of networked digital information and the existence of an environment in which anyone can be a publisher. It is difficult not to regard the heavy-handed response to Swartz’s case as being driven by anxiety about loss of control following the Wikileaks affair and it is a strong, if tragic, example of the need to understand the bigger picture.

We now live in an HE environment which, certainly in the UK, broadly encourages openness. Many of our research funders require it, and universities are putting policies, services and standards in place to achieve it. But we are part of a wider political, commercial and legal society which is a long way from making this as easy and free of risk as advocates of Open (and I count myself among them) think it needs to be. Commercial publishers still seek to protect business models which depend on paywalls, and initiatives like Open Access Button and the Elsevier boycott try to challenge them. Copyright legislation still lags behind digital and networked technologies, and so we witness illegal filesharing, and we see publishers fighting to prevent it. Meanwhile, university researchers are caught in the middle. While there are a number of encouraging stories about independent researchers making breakthroughs as a result of accessing open research, some university researchers face harsh penalties as a result of illegal, if arguably not immoral, sharing practices.

Looking ahead

In the first half of 2016, the Dutch Presidency of the European Union has committed to push the Open agenda very hard, having been through a fierce national struggle about the costs and availability of the research it funds. In the UK, HEFCE will introduce a policy that links OA to research assessment. Openness extends beyond publishing to encompass data, and the open data movement is gaining momentum. There are also signs that the world of online learning is growing faster than ever, but at the expense of the original concept, that it would be available for free. Now is an excellent time for staff at Manchester to be thinking about these issues. Indeed, this opportunity is not restricted to Manchester; it would be very hypocritical of us if we did not open our course up to others! To that end, we are making all of our materials available on Medium, and hope to see widespread interest beyond the course participants. We are working with excellent colleagues, and our academic lead, Professor Martin Weller, is a highly-regarded thinker and teacher in this space. I have taken the liberty of using the title of his book as my blog post heading. We will also see contributions from a major funder, a leading publisher, other academic experts and senior academic administrators, as well as what I know will be some insightful contributions from a strong group of students. So join us, contribute to the debate, and form your own views! Hashtag #OKHE

Bloomberg Market Concepts

Developing technical knowledge and boosting student employability

I recently completed the new Bloomberg Market Concepts (BMC) course, which provides an introduction to Finance (Economic Indicators, Currencies, Fixed Income and Equities) including assessments, linked to numerous Bloomberg functions. This has improved my technical knowledge as a librarian, meaning I am better prepared to answer research enquiries.

A ‘Certificate of Completion’ is available at the end of the self-paced course, which is undertaken at a Bloomberg terminal.

BMC Home Page (Logged In)

BMC home page with ‘Certificate’ option highlighted (when logged in).

In designing a training course to promote the benefits of undertaking BMC to students, this provides an opportunity to meet both a Library and University goal – that of improving student employability. Students can improve their familiarity with Bloomberg, enabling them to better support their research, with data and business news content available to assist in completing assignments.

Bloomberg Professional is a financial data and news service, available to current students and staff of The University of Manchester.

Training and support is provided by the Business Data Service, part of the Research Services Division within The University of Manchester Library service.

See a more detailed post within the Business Research Plus blog.

Seven tips for promoting ORCIDs to busy academics

Administrators of research are sold on the potential benefits of ORCIDs – but the ultimate success of the identifier relies on buy-in from academics too. Global ORCID take up is rising but hasn’t yet reached the tipping point at which significant benefits start to accrue. Until then, it’s fair to say that advocacy is still needed to convince many academics what’s in it for them.

The pipelines for ORCIDs to flow in and out of the world’s research management databases are under construction. New integrations with institutional, publisher, and vendor systems come online all the time and soon the infrastructure will be in place to enable serious improvements to the way research is administered.

Meanwhile, it’s increasingly difficult for academics to avoid claiming an ORCID and continue to publish the findings of their funded research. At Manchester, for example, we’ve achieved high levels of uptake amongst our REF-eligible academics by making it a requirement of a recent research assessment exercise.

REF-eligible academics with ORCIDs (September 2015)


REF-eligible academics with ORCIDs (December 2015)


But whilst most of our academics now have an identifier, some that we’ve spoken to are unconvinced that investing further time to link their activities to their ORCID record is worthwhile right now. Addressing this, a Library-led project is now rolling out a communications campaign highlighting benefits and dispelling myths around the use of ORCIDs.

With generous but finite resource the ORCID team are attempting to solve the author name ambiguity problem for the entire world, and rely on this type of advocacy initiative at the institution level to maintain momentum. So based on our early experiences, here are our seven tips if you or your team are tasked with developing a communications plan to support your own institution’s ORCID strategy.

1. Protect time for desk research

Perhaps obvious, but before tapping up contacts for invitations to committee meetings clear an afternoon to immerse yourself in all things ORCID (the FAQs page on the ORCID website is a great place to start). On the face of it ORCIDs are a simple concept, but beneath the surface are more esoteric nuances. For example try answering the question, “Is the ORCID registry a single-point-of-truth for all of an academic’s research activities?” and see where this leads you.

2. Perfect your ORCID elevator pitch

When the invitations come in you might only have five minutes on a packed school board agenda so get your key messages clear in your own head first. Try your slides out on a friendly audience to get it perfect. It’s easy to get tied up in knots explaining abstract concepts like ‘round-tripping’ so the more preparation the better.

3. Tailor your message to engage your audience

You may need to spend extra time on background for a humanities audience where (at least at Manchester) there’s lower awareness levels than in the STEM disciplines. Also be sure to highlight key developments of particular relevance to the audience. For example biomedicine researchers will be interested in the Wellcome Trust mandating inclusion of ORCIDs in grant applications; physics/maths/computer science academics may be interested in arXiv’s use of ORCIDs to replace the internal arXiv author ID; and the MLA International Bibliography integration would be of most interest to humanities researchers.

4. Make the problem real

Asking if anyone shares their name with another academic is a good way to make the name ambiguity problem real. Invariably at least one hand goes up and you sometimes get an interesting anecdote too. It’s a good way to break the ice and prompts those in the room to acknowledge the problem.

5. Be honest!

Get ahead of the accusations that this is just for the ‘bean-counters’ by being up-front about the benefits to administrators – in many ways it’s easier to articulate these benefits anyway. And if you can sense that you’re not winning the argument then don’t be afraid to say “Look guys this is going to be 15 minutes of your life that you’re not getting back – it’s a question of when not if you do this because it isn’t going away.”

6. Emphasise the registry

The social network style ORCID profile page has created misconceptions that ORCID is just another social network. We’ve heard comments along the lines of, “I already have and LinkedIn – I don’t need another site to keep up to date”. It’s important to stress that ORCID is first and foremost a registry allowing data to be transferred between these types of systems, ultimately reducing the keystroke burden to the academic.

7. Anticipate the tricky questions

And finally, try to anticipate the tricky questions whether they be technical (eg “Who has access to the API?”) or more philosophical (eg “This sounds a bit ‘Big Brother’ to me”), and have answers prepared for them. However much you prepare you’ll not be able to anticipate every question. For example, following one presentation we delivered recently in which we quoted the fact that in China, people with the top three family names (Li, Wang, and Zhang) account for 21% of population (nearly 300 million), one academic remarked in exasperation “What’s wrong with just using my name?!”

Rivers merging, metaphor of data

Library data-merging pilot grows to exciting partnership opportunity

A technical prototype I developed for the Business Data Service has been used as the driving force behind a new and exciting research project post, bringing together partners from outside The University of Manchester Library.

What is the basic premise?

To develop a collection of tools to bring together commercially available databases from separate suppliers for use in leading, innovative research, using specialist knowledge of the field for accurate and efficient execution.

Who are the partners?

Why is this new post useful?

After spending money on expensive data sets, we need to make the most out of them. It is critical to use them together in order to unlock their full research value. In the case of some specialist resources, this activity is non-trivial.

Why is joining these datasets difficult?

databases with no join
There is no easy way to use the data from these different sources together, no common index.

Identifying companies across different databases is difficult as the codes used within each platform usually do not correspond to those used in another. There are good reasons why a platform will do this (their intellectual property is one), but this makes work harder for researchers, sometimes resorting to checking company name matches by eye, one at a time!

Writing code to map these where cross-checking is available requires the software developer to be aware of the various identification codes used such as CUSIP, ISIN, SEDOL and various ticker symbols, some of which can change with time or be further complicated in other ways. A close relationship to the curators of these databases at the University is required; this is found in the Library’s Business Data Service team whose expertise is well respected and appreciated by its users.

How will it happen?

As part of the project funding application, a new post was created. It sits outside the Library but is dependent on the library staff’s curating skills and knowledge of the library’s specialist financial databases. Under this post I will use my skills as a software developer and experience working in the Library to write new tools to combine access to various datasets within the project, as the products become available and as the researchers need them.

I’ll still be working my usual job in the Library as well, so nothing is lost from the Business Data Service.

Where might it lead?

The primary objective is to publishing new research on topics covering institutional investors, financial innovation and the “real economy”.

Once the research is published, we can develop new teaching topics and further broaden access to the University’s data sets with these tools, introducing them to new audiences in other subject areas.

Simon Bains presenting

SOARing into a research career: developing student publishing skills

When The University of Manchester Library restructured its learning and research support activities in 2012 (as explained in a Research Libraries UK blog post), one of the aspirations was to do more to support our researchers in their publishing activities. Subsequently, our developing Scholarly Communications Service has explored the role of the Library in supporting researchers who are interested in creating new journal titles, a service area which has seen substantial growth in the academic library sector, illustrated by the emergence of networks such as the Library Publishing Coalition.

James Baldwin review on Manchester University Press
Volume 1 of the James Baldwin Review on Manchester University Press

At the same time, Manchester University Press, under the leadership of Dr Frances Pinter, a well-established innovator in the publishing industry, embarked on a strategy focusing on Open Access publishing, and the Press and the Library began to develop a collaborative approach to furthering the research publishing ambitions of the University.  This partnership led to a joint project to create a new academic journal, which has recently been launched under a shared brand: Manchester Open Library.

Further opportunity to work together came in 2014, when the University established a Centre for Higher Education Research, Innovation and Learning (CHERIL). CHERIL issued an internal funding call, and the Library led a bid with the Press as a partner. We succeeded in winning funding for our proposal, Student Open Access Research (SOAR), and embarked upon a project to explore the issues surrounding student publishing. We sought to understand levels of awareness and demand, support and training needs, technical infrastructure requirements and the costs of running student publishing services.  In addition, we wanted to explore the relationship between research and learning, and the concept of the student publishing service as a tangible benefit to taught students at a research-intensive institution like Manchester. The University has a strategic commitment to research-led teaching, and SOAR aimed to support this aspect of the University’s 2020 strategy.

SOAR comprised a number of interrelated work packages, including:

  • To complete work that had already commenced on a student journal based in Manchester Medical School,
  • To produce a toolkit to support students interested in starting and editing a new journal,
  • To test software and recommend the best platform for student publishing,
  • To explore the value of publishing not just research papers, but also student reflective pieces on their learning.

CHERIL workshopTo deliver on these objectives, the project was highly consultative, engaging with students at all levels, and academics in a variety of disciplines. Workshops and interviews developed our understanding of student views, the opportunities and the barriers , and the dimensions of a potential service offering. In addition, we benchmarked our activities against other institutions doing interesting work in this space, including Edinburgh and Purdue.

So what did we find out?

Our final project report includes a large number of conclusions and recommendations, so this is a selective list of key findings. The full report is available alongside other completed CHERIL projects:

  • A student journal can act as a training tool, developing the skills of research students, and preparing taught students for what it means to be a researcher.
  • Don’t underestimate the work necessary, from the students themselves, from their supervisors, and from service provider. Publishing is time-consuming, and requires student editorial teams to develop expertise in activities that are likely to be very new to them.
  • Academic support is critical: experiences with the Manchester Medical School student journal showed us how important strong and committed academic leadership is when working with inexperienced editors, and let’s not forget the succession planning issues associated with the inevitable turnover as students graduate.
  • Interestingly, we found the well-established open source journal platform, Open Journal Systems (OJS) was not ideal for student publishing, as the levels of complexity associated with it would bring a significant support overhead.
  • The notion that students might publish ‘learning logs’ did not emerge as likely, at least in terms of scholarly papers. Instead, such pieces might lend themselves more to informal publishing, such as blogs.
  • We couldn’t determine fully what the market for a student journal publishing service at Manchester would be, and so concluded that it would be premature to develop a service, at significant cost, ahead of clarity about the demand. Instead, it will be more sensible to develop the draft toolkit we produced into a full training service, allowing us to develop our students without committing to resource-intensive and potentially unsustainable journal production.
  • It will be vital that any student publishing associated with Manchester is of high quality, and this reinforces the need to be cautious at this stage, and only develop titles we have confidence will deliver outputs we wish to be associated with the University. We also concluded that an interdisciplinary approach would be helpful, as this also delivers on a commitment in Manchester’s strategy and we are influenced by the success of Purdue’s multidisciplinary student journal, JPUR.

Where do we go next?

It’s very pleasing to be able to announce that the work completed by SOAR allowed us to make a compelling case for funding for the coming year, and we will shortly commence work on our next project in this area, PuRLS (Publishing and Research Learning for Students). This project will focus on the production of face-to-face and online training materials, and further build on the relationship between the Library and the Press. Look for news about PuRLS in a future blog post here!

Brian delivering Bloomberg

Memorising your presentation


To stand up and deliver a presentation can be a daunting prospect, whether for a new librarian or researcher. Fortunately, we all have access to the most advanced storage and processing unit in the known universe. No, I don’t mean a smartphone and a quick search on the Internet via Google, but your brain.

This is spectacularly good at integrating disparate facts, jumping between memories spanning decades of your life experiences and forming connections to apply to a task – such as developing and memorising a training session. You also get additional benefits: creativity and inspiration leading to relevant ideas ‘popping into your head’, often in the middle of the night – you don’t get that courtesy of Google.

When I first conducted training sessions as a librarian, assisting in an EndNote course, in combination with another librarian (before going on to deliver on my own) you were left to your own devices to improve (or not). A determination to be better and overcome nerves led me to the techniques described here.

First steps

Once you have devised a first draft of your presentation dialogue, if on paper, I would then type it up in a Word document, where it can easily be edited and printed. Continue to edit and proofread until you are happy with the content and timing (established by reading aloud to yourself). You are then in a position to develop an Outline – a single page summary of your presentation dialogue to be delivered and memorise the content, using the Peg Rhyme memory technique.

Peg Rhyme Memory Technique

Memory Jump #1 [-27 years to 1988 ]
Memory Jump #1 [-27 years to 1988 ]
I became aware of this technique through a fortunate happenstance – watching a television programme in 1988, entitled After Dark, on Channel 4. This was a late night discussion programme in which a varied group discussed a topic. Appearing in this particular episode was David Berglas, who talked about memory, commenting on another guest’s inability to remember a name (also in the group) and adding that he had just written a book on memory. Being an accomplished magician, he was used to making use of numerous memory techniques and conducting seminars for executives of multinational companies, to improve memory skills.

This piqued my interest, as anything which could improve my memory – a useful skill – was worth following up. I therefore purchased a copy of the book, entitled ‘A Question Of Memory’ [1], which includes many effective, practical memory techniques, such as Peg Rhyme.

This technique can be illustrated through an actual Outline for a training session (Bloomberg Certification) I currently deliver to students, which builds on the basic structure of Peg Rhyme. It uses number order (1 to 10) for the sequence linked to something which is familiar (and fixed) – the Peg – which is in turn associated with the item to be remembered.

In order to get to this stage I would summarise the dialogue of the training session to Section Headings, Sentences, Phrases, Keywords and Acronyms.

Peg Rhyme:

1 – Gun, 2 – Shoe, 3 – Tree, 4 – Door, 5 – Hive, 6 – Sticks, 7 – Heaven, 8 – Gate, 9 – Wine, 10 – Hen.

Associations to memorise the section headings of the training session I use:


I visualise myself firing a starting Gun – a beginning or ‘introduction’.


I visualise gold coins falling into Shoes – from above – valuable – a ‘benefit’.


I visualise myself walking into a Tree branch – a ‘L’ow ‘O’bject ‘L’ and ‘O’ remind me of ‘L’earning ‘O’bjectives.


I visualise a Door with two rectangular name plates, one above the other. This reminds me of the access screen (two boxes for username and password) when starting Bloomberg, for which you can use a Bloomberg (Bb) Personal Login.


I visualise a bee hive, with an image from different BESS function screens (explaining Bloomberg content) on each of the four sides of the bee hive.


I visualise myself running on stilts (Sticks) and leaping over a pommel horse in my old school gym, where sports went by the abbreviation PE (for Physical Education) which links to ‘P’ for PREPTN. and ‘E’ for EXAMS.


I visualise a scene from a film (A Matter of Life and Death – US title: Stairway to Heaven) in which the number of people expected in Heaven is displayed on a piece of paper, which looks like a ‘certificate’.


I visualise a large wooden Gate, of the type giving access to a farmer’s field. Part of the gate has a diagonal bar which crosses the horizontal sections, looking similar to a plus [ + ] symbol. At school, addition (2 + 2 = 4) was known as doing ‘sums’, which reminds me of ‘summary’.

You need to get familiar with these 10 pegs and consider them visually – linking images.


An association doesn’t need to be true, accurate or possible (point six – the image of myself leaping a pommel horse on stilts being physiologically impossible). These visual associations may seem novel, being long-winded to explain, but are instantaneous and reliable in operation – they WORK.

Outline Development:

The Peg Rhyme structure forms the basis for an Outline. I use a Word document in landscape format, with the title at the top and a date when the document was last updated.

Bloomberg training outline using Peg Rhyme
An example of Peg Rhyme in practice: Bloomberg Certification training course outline

For each Section Heading I manage to summarise dialogue, which may take two to five minutes to deliver. The following make this possible:


For example, GAWT – Good afternoon and welcome to …


FORMAT – ‘The format for today’s training session will be a presentation, with a practical demonstration in the middle to illustrate the ‘look and feel’. This will last about 25 minutes with five minutes for questions at the end. Handouts will also be distributed at the end.’

With practice, this technique can be used for a number of presentations, with the same keyword to represent similar details. So here, a single keyword has been used to represent an entire paragraph of speech.

Symbols and Special Characters:

>75% For example, ‘ > ‘ Greater Than symbol, cuts down space.

A Large Leap?

You may consider it a large leap to be able to speak for 30 (to 60) minutes by memorising the section headings, using the Peg Rhyme technique, from a single page Outline. However, the many small steps in summarising the full text of your presentation progressively (Section Headings, Sentences, Phrases, Keywords, Acronyms) means you are gaining a good familiarity with the dialogue.

Additionally, associations related to each Section Heading are helpful. These can be generated by asking yourself the question: what type of information would I expect from a section with this title? For example, in the Introduction, you might expect to talk about the title of the presentation, what will be covered, the format, any practical elements, handouts and how questions would be dealt with.

Hence, this gives you a framework to aid recall of the details you would be covering.

Practice And Effective Use Of Your Time

Memory Jump #2 [-34 years to 1981]
Memory Jump #2 [-34 years to 1981]
Mr Gibson was the name of my O’ level chemistry teacher in 1981. One of the useful tips he passed on to the class, in terms of working to become familiar with a topic, was to do ‘a little bit of work at a time, but often’. He noted that he had used this approach to achieve 2nd place in a national chemistry examination and that it had been effective. I concur.

In putting this advice to use, I work on my presentation preparation in the library (training room, before opening time) and also at home after work, in front of the mirror.

Another extremely useful time is when travelling to/from work. Observing fellow train commuters, reveals four typical behaviours, as we enjoy the journey, jammed in like sardines:

  1. Gazing out of the window.
  2. Tapping with a single finger at the surface of a slim, rectangular artefact – think 2001: A Space Odyssey, but much smaller.
  3. Reading/reviewing printed material.
  4. Sleeping.

I always go for option one or three, not owning a smartphone. When preparing for a training session, option three. It is surprising, but you can still work effectively with your Outline printout a few centimetres from your nose, wedged in by the doors, with others in close proximity.

So, 15 minutes well-spent, twice a day, commuting. Spacing out your efforts across train, work and home gives you a spread of times throughout the day (i.e. ‘often’) to get familiar with your presentation and makes best use of your time.


The key point in improving competence is Practice, before the actual presentation to be delivered. Confidence is boosted and nerves reduced by effectively utilising the Peg Rhyme technique via an Outline to memorise your dialogue. Knowing what you have to say means you don’t fall back on improvisation: getting rid of ‘umm’s or ‘err’s will ensure clarity of expression and understanding for your audience.

Turning full circle, I sometimes get emails from students thanking me for a training session, ending their email:

Thanks Brain.

Indeed. This never fails to raise a smile with myself.


[1] Berglas, D. and Playfair, G.L. (1988) A Question Of Memory. London: Jonathan Cape.

Bloomberg BESS October 15

Financial Database Certification – Updated

Bloombgerg BESS October 15 (full screen)One of the certification schemes mentioned in my ‘Financial Database Certification’ post of 25 September 2014 has been updated. Bloomberg Essentials Training Program, better known as ‘Bloomberg Certification’, has new content, display format and examinations, post 16 July 2015.

In order to keep up to date and be in a position to better advise students attending the Bloomberg Certification training sessions I deliver, I have successfully retaken the certification examinations.

See my updated post noting changes on the Business Research Plus blog.