Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) has just published its latest annual Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). This is one of the most widely used global league tables for universities. The top university (for the twelfth year running) is Harvard. The US has 52 universities in the Top 100, and the next-best performing country is the UK, with eight. Cambridge is the top UK university this year – ranked 5th in the world.
Our own university, Manchester, has risen three places to 38th in the world, and ranks 5th in the UK. Like many other universities, Manchester is keen to rise even higher in the rankings, and the Library’s Citation Services team is providing expert bibliometric analysis to help inform discussion of how to achieve this.
Measure for measure
The many global league tables, such as the ARWU and those produced by Times Higher Education and QS, all use different metrics for ranking universities, ranging from the number of publications produced by a university to its reputation for research excellence among its peers as measured by a survey.
Most of the metrics which the ARWU uses are based on how many articles a university publishes in top journals or how many citations these articles receive. These include
how many articles a university publishes in science and social science journals covered by the Web of Science, the most long-established multidisciplinary bibliographic database
how many articles a university publishes in Natureand Science, generally considered the most prestigious of all multidisciplinary science journals
A frequent early criticism of the ARWU was that, although SJTU gave details of the elements used for creating the ranking, it did not explain how these elements were converted into scores, and so the results were not reproducible. However, recent research has succeeded in reproducing the results, and has thus ‘opened the black box’ of the ARWU.
I recently attended my first conference representing The University of Manchester, for the annual Business Librarians Association (BLA). It was a particularly good conference for a first-timer as the themes were interesting and relevant to most academic libraries across the country, not to mention the friendly and welcoming atmosphere from fellow delegates and sponsors.
The major themes were:
Customer Service Excellence
Employability and Information Literacy
Customer Service Excellence
Many academic libraries are thinking about Customer Service Excellence (CSE) status, which The University of Manchester Library achieved in 2013. Helen Loughran from Leeds Metropolitan University (soon to be known as Leeds Beckett University) spoke about her experiences with her institution’s application, which is the largest university in the country to achieve accreditation so far.
While Helen’s talk was of most benefit to people thinking about or currently working towards CSE status, there were certainly ideas to take away for those with it already, to maintain and continuously improve standards. She posed some thought-provoking questions:
Are customers engaging with a library’s social media platforms, asking questions? If so, are there staff allocated and trained to answer these questions?
Do all staff across the institution know who to pass online queries on to, including when received in error?
When a customer has expressed dissatisfaction, should we consider inviting them in for a chat?
To this I would add my own thought:
Could we use a computer-aided text analysis program for determining the tone of free-text (typed words) feedback? There are many processes for qualitative data summation, but putting qualitative text data through a tool like Diction could give better analysis.
How do librarians improve student employability?
The position of a careers service will vary between institutions, in some cases being closely tied to the library. But I think everyone whose work is related to students will have some concern for those students’ employability. Paul Chin from the University of Hull quoted that 79% of students go to university to improve their job opportunities (NSS, 2011). He went on to explain that people don’t always realise all the skills that they have already, asking this question:
Can students articulate their graduate attributes?
In addition to developing and offering excellent training, if we can help students to be able to explain why they studied and what it will enable them to do, this will ultimately improve their interview performance.
Kaye Towlson from De Montfort University ran a breakout session titled How do librarians improve student employability? In groups, we produced an image-enhanced mind map to visualise a student’s journey through the library. Our group’s mind map (pictured) includes a customer-centric hub with spoke roads leading to books, social media, technology, skills portfolio, meeting spaces and global citizenship.
Jane Secker from LSE spoke about how information literacy relates to digital literacy. It’s not just about technology, but extends out of the library into the curriculum for all students. She also made this suggestion:
Just because young people are mostly “tech-savvy”, this does not mean that they can “just do” academic research without guidance.
Tuning out the white noise
Ned Potter from the University of York gave a great presentation on library marketing, explaining how unfocused communication is often lost or not seen at all (noticeboards, websites, some email). He suggested ways to counter it. We may well be offering services beyond the traditional (book lending) remit of a library:
Promote non-library specific expertise via non-library specific channels.
This could include ensuring your content is searchable via Google, which is used must more than a library’s website as a starting point (much more). Ned also encouraged the use of direct, tailored and targeted communications to ensure the message about library value really hits home.
The Library is working in partnership with Altmetric LLP to trial their new ‘Altmetric for Institutions’ application. We’re really excited to be one of the first Universities to have access to the platform which provides powerful insights into the online attention that our researchers’ outputs attract.
So far we’re getting lots of positive feedback which we’ll share when we write up our experiences of the trial later in the year.
In the meantime, if you’re a member of staff or a student at The University of Manchester and would like to take part in the trial please get in touch to find out how.