Thursday April 17th 2014




Posts Tagged ‘Alison Hicks’

Digital Scholars?

I ended the last column with some thoughts about subject specific information literacy- and whether we, as subject specialists, ought to be focusing on helping students with more universal information problems, such as information overload, productivity and keeping up in the field, as well as facilitating student engagement with Spanish/Portuguese tools and information practices. My research with bilingual Coloradans showed that, for the most part, people had come up with workable strategies to manage Spanish information challenges, but they really struggled with the process of working with information in the 21st century. Another group of people who often struggle with changing information landscapes are faculty. While they may be eminent researchers or well regarded teachers, many professors still stick to their own complex systems of citation storage or journal browsing, while also assuming that graduate students in the field will either just work it out, or were born knowing this type of thing (digital native, NOOO!) While, admittedly, learning to use a citation manager isn’t rocket science, I believe that digital scholarship capacities that graduate students and faculty will need in the future are important and go far beyond that. This column will explore some of these developments in an effort to think further about our role as subject specialists.

Like information literacy, “digital scholarship” is rapidly becoming one of those phrases that has multiple meanings and interpretations. Often encompassing digital humanities or big data, I’m using it in this context to mean the process of doing scholarship within today’s increasingly digital information landscapes. So, on a very basic level, this could cover using a citation manager such as Zotero or Mendeley; using RSS feeds to get Table of Contents; using productivity tools such as Evernote to keep track of your work; or perhaps using Twitter to build a network of colleagues, or a personal webpage to store open access journal articles. All of these are important tools that can make the process of scholarship more efficient, easier to manage, and you may already talk about them in your graduate seminars. More importantly, however, they make the process of scholarship more visible. On a practical level, this is another key reason why faculty and students might want to learn about these new tools, especially as research funding starts to be tied to scholar engagement and public impact, as happens in the UK and Australia.

However, this is a dospuntocero column- so, of course, it’s not just about the technology :) Underneath all the new flashy import, share and collaborate functionality it is clear that there is a bit of a sea-change going on here- and what is most important is the change in scholars’ values and attitudes. So instead of thinking that scholarship should be shut off behind a paywall, researchers are starting to openly publish their work in Open Access (OA) journals or posting PDFs in repositories. Instead of making students purchase expensive textbooks, Open Educational Resources (OERs) and open courses such as MOOCs (well, ok, that could be contentious) are growing in number and usage. And finally, instead of closing scholarship off in an ivory tower, researchers are starting to develop places to debate research online, or create more of a “public intellectual” presence. So what, you may think. Well, take as a whole, these tendencies mean that digital scholarship is therefore becoming defined by “the open values, ideology and potential of technologies.” For many researchers, this is revolutionary- moving from secretive, individual scholarship, to public sharing and defending of your research and ideas. In addition, it requires a whole other set of literacies- from creating or nurturing an identity online to the ethics of digital participation to a critical consideration of tools and emerging trends. Again, maybe you are thinking, so what. Well, to my mind this is another opportunity for librarians- because it forms a key part of information literacy as well as our outreach and engagement with our liaison departments. In addition, no-one else is teaching this, and scholars are struggling with these concepts.

So, yet another question to think about- in particular, the shape and role and nature of our information literacy efforts. Combined with last column’s questions it adds another angle to the conundrum of how far should we, as subject specialists, be engaged in what could be classified as technically non- subject focused goals? If we don’t do this, who will? And while you may have a general library workshop series that looks at these questions, is there a way to capitalise better on the deep links we have with our departments? Of course, I have opinions (did you doubt that?!) but, recognising that many librarians and reorganizations have been trying to think longer and more broadly about these questions, no real clear headed answers as yet.

Alison Hicks


Working Out!

On my research leave, last March, I interviewed several bilingual Coloradan professionals in order to try and uncover how they used information in the workplace. My plan was then to use these findings to drive some of my classes. While the research uncovered some interesting and unique challenges for Spanish information seekers in the US (hopefully to be published soon!), I was more struck by the similarities that I noticed with English language workplace information practices. Call me daft, but I’m always been so focused on teaching students about the differences between English and Spanish research that I had completely forgotten to think about the broader picture. Sure, Spanish researchers may use different tools, and wow, you may want to consider all those regional variations of Spanish when you’re thinking about keywords, but, in essence, what the bilingual Coloradan professionals struggled the most with (even the experienced folk) was similar to English language professionals: information overload, keeping up in the field, and being organised. While I’m in no way negating the importance of Spanish focused instruction, and most importantly, trying to burst that filter bubble of English language privilege for at least 50 minutes, these results got me thinking. So, in the spirit of those unfinished and fairly woolly thoughts (!) this column will be dedicated to a recap and update about digital tools and strategies that could help address these more process oriented information problems.

Information Overload

By far the number one problem for the professionals I interviewed. This probably isn’t news to anyone, including myself since I wrote a column about it back in April 2012. While I still think that being ok with the idea that we’re never going to feel in control of all that information is a major step, it seems that most stress is linked to the need to keep up in the field, as well as being organised.

Keeping up in the field

As a whole, my friendly professionals really disliked trying to keep up, perhaps related to the thought that they felt that they would lose their edge in the market if they ignored it. Psychoanalysis aside, however, there are several tools that I haven’t mentioned before that could help make the process easier. In terms of keeping up with social media, Tweetdeck and Hootsuite are my new favourites. Tweetdeck is limited to Twitter (duh!) but is a simple to use program that lets you track hashtags as well as search words, people and anything else you do on Twitter. Hootsuite has a cute owl logo (what more could you want?!) but most importantly, allows you to keep track all of your social media sites from one place. I know, amazing. From Facebook to Linkedin to Twitter, you can track all updates in one easy to use interface, and it’s free for a basic account. There’s also been a bunch of new tools that allow you to keep track of RSS feeds, or blog updates since the demise of Google reader. Feedly is my current favourite- with a simple to use subscribe and read feature as well as an app.  The Old Reader is another good alternative though it is currently in beta testing.

Productivity tools for the workflow

The professionals I worked with were also fairly unorganised- yet didn’t feel they could take the time to try and work out the tools to help them. Like most of us, the situation was complicated by the fact that they had to be able to store or remember different formats of information- from emails to papers to web pages, as well as different types of information, including ideas, lesson plans and works in progress. Since writing the productivity tools column in August 2012, I’ve learned about various new softwares that could help. Scrivener is one of those. It’s been around since 2007 and is continuing to grow in popularity, especially as it combines a word processor with project management tools AND research material storage and organization. Wow. While there is an annual cost it’s super flexible and easy to use. DEVONthink is another one of those tools. While its emphasis is more on information management, rather than writing, like Scrivener, I’m kind of blown away at the different types of file formats that it will store, as well as the search and organization functionality. It’s only available on Mac, sadly, and there is a cost, but it’s an easy to use and very powerful organization tool. A final interesting alternative is Colwiz, a research management tool from the UK. One of the major attractions is the focus on enabling collaboration between researchers, combining project management functionality with research tools such as the ability to create bibliographies and organise PDFs. 2GB of storage is free, and it is available for Mac and PC.

Having said that…

Before you accuse me of just recycling and updating two columns, I think one of the biggest things I have learned from my interviews with professionals is the need to emphasise the process. No tool will solve all a researcher’s problems- and as librarians we need to focus on helping people critically examine their workflow and needs, as well as pushing the shiny technologies. These interviews raise other important questions for librarians too- hey, it wouldn’t be a proper dospuntocero column if I didn’t finish with at least one unanswered question (sorry, Jesus!) In this case, while these are important aspects of Spanish and Latin American professional information needs, how far should we be thinking about incorporating workplace information literacy into our academic programmes? Some of you may remind me that we have more immediate scholarly goals. Others may wonder if I am becoming a bit of a neoliberal in my old age, focusing on a very functional view of education for workforce readiness. But, I can’t help thinking about the Alexandria Proclamation that states that information literacy “lies at the core of lifelong learning.” In addition, all these points also raise the question about whether we as good SALALM-istas, with all the demands on our time, should be focusing on non-specifically Spanish and Latin American information needs, such as helping students combat information overload. As Mr Kipling said, that is another story- though it is one I shall try and write about in my next column :)

Alison Hicks


Referencing the greatest: reference services and web 2.0

Once a stalwart member of the holy trinity of public services librarianship, reference and the reference desk have, over the last few years, gradually become to be seen as an anachronistic relic of our past. Declining statistics and the idea that sitting “waiting for business” is inefficient and a waste of the professional librarian’s time seem to be the rationale behind many libraries’ decisions to shutter the desk. Yet, as the rise of the catchily named sites such as Quora, Reddit, ChaCha and Google helpouts demonstrate, the need for help or question and answer services has far from disappeared. In fact, as SALALMista, David Nolen points out in his 2010 article, even the anti reference desk movement doesn’t negate the value of human to human interaction. Accordingly, this column will look at some of these new web 2.0 reference type services to explore what makes these work, and how libraries can learn from their experiments.

Briefly, Quora, Reddit, ChaCha and Google helpouts provide different forms of online help. Quora is more of a standard Q&A service where users can pose text based questions, which are stored for future reference. Reddit is more like a cross between a social bookmarking service and news curation or aggregator where users can vote for the best links on a topic. ChaCha and Google helpouts offer more of a personal connection. Questions posed through ChaCha are answered by a series of guides who are paid for their work. Google Helpouts uses the power of video conference to connect students with teachers, who may charge for their services.

Different Formats

The first common feature of all these new services is that they are online and function through a mix of crowdsourcing and expertise. Quora and Reddit offer a searchable bulletin board format, while ChaCha is based around users texting in their questions. Google Helpouts uses video conferencing to connect teacher and student.  While, by and large, libraries moved beyond the traditional reference desk to embrace chat and text reference a long time ago, these have kind of been the limit of our online innovations. Various libraries have dabbled with alternatives such as Skype or LibAnswers, or Library DIY but overall our online approaches to reference are a bit clunky still, focused around the librarian as expert model and inversely proportional to the amount of research that happens online. Perhaps this doesn’t matter. Perhaps we want to focus on building our library as destination, and excellent new programs such as Office Hours or Jesus Alonso Regalado’s Librarian with a Latte are meeting our needs. But, judging by examples of people who are already answering each other’s research questions, for example on Foursquare, and the scalability that will probably be involved in educational initiatives of the future, maybe this is should something to which we should be paying more attention.


Another interesting aspect of these tools is their approach to trust and reliability. Quora makes people sign in with their real names (and has some mildly famous users) but people can vote for the answers that are the most helpful or useful. Reddit operates in a similar way though users can also gain link or comment karma for posting particularly popular links. In this way, these sites are reflecting our move from a paper to a networked society, and consequently bigger changes in how we establish authority in the world of Web 2.0. After all, as David Weinberger points out, why we should “trust what one person – with the best of intentions – insists is true when we instead could have a web of evidence, ideas, and argument?” So what has that got to do with librarians, I hear you cry! Surely we’re some of the most trustworthy people on the planet, right? Well yes, but the problem is that fewer and fewer students seem to enter university with a knowledge of what librarians do. In a way, perhaps this is where the biggest disconnect within research services lies. None of these new tools and techniques will help if students don’t trust us as valued members of their research or social networks or if they have no idea that librarians can help them with research questions. In this way, we need to earn the students’ confidence, whether it’s by breaking down barriers, explaining what we do, promoting our services, or wearing blue.

Critical Models

These are just two aspects of the new reference services that stand out to me- and that could affect library reference services. It will be interesting to see if any of these services takes off; ChaCha, especially, was launched to great fanfare, but has been far less visible since then. Most importantly, by highlighting these services I don’t mean to suggest that they form a model we should pursue uncritically. In fact these services may introduce other unknown dynamics, for example, Reddit and other sites which involve voting, have been shown to be far more attractive to male users. More worryingly, if we push to adopt these business models for our educational purposes we run the risk of deprofessionalizing the profession even further. Instead, critical analysis of technologies can help us think constructively about the goals and the future of our services, with no trendy rebrand required.

Alison Hicks

University of Colorado, Boulder


Professional development: capability, sophistication and productivity

    It’s the beginning of December, the traditional time for the ubiquitous and alliterative review article (“Top Ten Tech Trends of 2012!!!”) that always seem to be slightly too enthusiastic for the pale, twitching, shadow of our former selves that we have become by the end of another crazy year. But even Scrooge (topical seasonal joke high five!) would agree that there is some merit in reflecting, especially when it comes to thinking about learning. So, drawing on the idea of contemplating the old to welcome in the new, I thought I’d try and kickstart 2013 by reflecting on this year’s columns; a meta-column if you will (yep, I haven’t got out much recently…)

    So the last column of 2012 will be on professional development. Now wait. I’m envisaging half of you rolling your eyes because you now have 6,387 unread items in your Google Reader, and the other half of you laughing wryly about how you couldn’t even come to the SALALM conference last year. For those of you in the first group, I’m going to be pretty blunt. I know that life is crazy, that the instruction requests keep piling in, there is another weeding project and you’ve been appointed to a new taskforce. BUT this is the single most important thing that we can do as librarians. Just 10 minutes a day of reading or sharing, or heck, even skimming headlines or your RSS reader. That’s all it takes, I promise. For the second group, most of the ideas here are going to be free or low-cost, they just involve a bit of DIY savvy. Whichever group you’re in, it’s vital that we take time for our own lifelong learning. As John Naughton said, disruption is a feature, not a bug. That stable state of yesterday is never coming back, and lifelong learning is a way that we can enhance and adapt our personal and professional lives to meet whatever challenges are thrown at us.

In October I wrote about MOOCs and the role of librarians. The good news is that if there are hundreds of courses that you too can take for free. Some start on a specific date, others are more self-directed, but all offer traditional introductions to a broad range of topics. Looking to brush up on your Spanish? Try Spanish MOOC, starting in January. Carnegie Mellon offers French, MIT offers foreign language courses and there may be a Portuguese course too.  What about literature and culture? Coursera offers Fiction of Relationship (featuring Borges!) and Listening to World Music, (featuring the Buena Vista Social Club!) among others. There are thousands of technology based courses, from Udacity’s Intro to Statistics, to Udemy’s classes on Facebook, Photoshop or Excel.  Don’t forget the education classes too- try E-learning and digital cultures or Fundamentals of Online Education. More Spanish universities are getting involved too, watch out for offerings from Alicante to La Rioja. There are also several courses out there if you want a more library focused professional development. CPD23 is a UK based initiative that aims to introduce librarians to web 2.0 tools. While the course has finished for 2012, you can still complete the modules at your own pace.

    In June, I tried to reassure you about information overload, highlighting the need to rely more on friends and colleagues as recommender systems. This is known as your personal learning network (PLN), because we learn through forging connections and building networks between people and ideas. I won’t mention my number 1 tool for doing this, because you all laugh at my obsession with my blue avian friend whose name begins with T, but it’s a great way of meeting new people and encountering new ideas. Another option is Google communities, which brings us back to February’s column on Google Plus. Yes, Google + still lags behind Facebook, but Team Google is stealthily making it even easier to follow interests, experts and more, all of which are super valuable for maintaining your PLN. Other tips? Take your time, use the tools that work for you, don’t just follow people because everyone does, use the same username across different tools, share, comment and engage as well as lurking- and don’t forget to challenge yourself to think outside your field, which can resemble an echo chamber at times.

    Lastly, while I believe people are a key part of learning, productivity tools that help you keep track of literature and more keep getting easier to use. August’s column on productivity tools may help you decide which tools to use, as does the CPD23 programme mentioned above. (so much hyperlinked win in this column!) Other tools I really like are Journal TOCS; (they’ve actually gathered hundreds of new journal issue feeds in one place!) and several new mobile apps such as SoundNote (it records audio as well as your notetaking or drawings!) and Zite or Flipboard (create magazines out of your RSS feeds!).

So, professional development. In 2013 it’s all about the people, the free online courses, and the magic 10 minutes a day. I did fail to work April’s column about Impact Factors in. And there were quite a few exclamation marks. Nonetheless, I didn’t try and make some random and arbitrary predictions for 2013, another feature of end of year articles, so count yourself lucky :) Happy Holidays!

 Alison Hicks

University of Colorado, Boulder

alison.hicks @

Producing the goods: winning your gold medal

Go Team, Go Team! Maybe it’s the Olympic spirit that’s getting to me (which also explains the delayed column, sorry!) but I’m increasingly thinking of myself as a coach, or mentor in the research process. Finding, citing, storing and organizing information is such a messy, cyclical, convoluted business nowadays that it’s hard to confine librarian activities to just one of those areas. And I think it’s high time we stopped trying to remove ourselves from the broader social context anyway as we have a lot to offer in the information age. So this column will attempt to highlight some productivity tools that will be useful for trying to tame the research process- as well as maybe helping those of you who are still feeling paralysed by information overload. (I told you that you need to try meditation…)

Are you having trouble organizing documents and emails or finding that great article that you read last month? If so then maybe Evernote is the program for you. This has been around since 2008, and is a multi-purpose note taking and archiving program. Organized around a system of notebooks, it provides a really easy way to organize and take notes, which can be text, voice memos, photos, file attachments and more. And, if you download the web clipper you can “clip” copies of online articles and webpages for reading later on. You can tag and annotate all notes, as well as sharing them with other people. Consisting of a web, desktop and mobile version, you can sync content across all three accounts, meaning you can catch up wherever you are. Free for a basic version with a generous monthly usage limit. Similar to: Diigo, which allows you to bookmark and annotate webpages.

Do you want an easy way to keep track of tasks and deadlines in group projects?  Trello is a new program that is fabulous for project management. Established in 2011, it’s got a really cool visual drag and drop interface that allows you to create to do lists and tasks for any project that you are working on. It’s easy to share with other people, as well as setting deadlines, checklists, and sharing content. It would also work well as a personal tool. Like Evernote it can be synced with a smartphone too, giving you even more control.  Free. Similar to: Basecamp.

I just need a simple to do list program… Sounds like you need Remember the Milk, an easy to use time management program. It was set up in 2004 by a couple of Australians (don’t let that put you off :) ), so it’s pretty well established and very easy to use. It’s kind of hard to explain- you make to do lists, and that’s about it… You can set it to send you SMS, text or IM reminders, and it will tell you off if you postpone a task too many times… It syncs easily with Google and Outlook calendars, as well as with a smartphone, but you can also work offline too. Free for a basic version but you need to pay if you want to sync across multiple devices. Similar to: Toodledo.

I want a place to record my lightbulb moments: Try Mindomo, a mindmapping tool. Available since 2007 the free version of this program will allow you up to three maps that you can share or make public. Very easy to create a visual brainstorm, or a to-do list or just a presentation of various ideas. Similar to: Mindmeister or

Alison Hicks
University of Colorado, Boulder

Alison.Hicks @

Pecha Kucha 2012!

Standing room only at the very last panel of the SALALM 2012 conference: Pecha Kucha! This is the third time that we have run a Pecha Kucha, where participants are allowed roughly 7 minutes to present their work. There was a wide variety of fabulous topics- thanks to presenters and participants!

Here are the presenters’ presentations and details. Enjoy!

Alison Hicks, University of Colorado, Boulder.

What Digital Collection? Issues of Collection Development, Cataloging Trends and Standards, and Ethical Considerations of Underground Music in the Caribbean and Latin America / Samuel Wicks (University of Pittsburgh)

Developing Local Cataloging Procedures for Access to Foreign-Language Films / Tina Gross (St. Cloud State University)

Strategies for Patron-Initiated Acquisitions / Sarah Wenzel (University of Chicago)

Collaborative Digital Archiving: a Non-Custodial Approach / Carolyn Palaima (University of Texas)

Library Outreach using Library a la Carte (TM) / Laura Shedenhelm (University of Georgia)

Publish or Perish? Supporting Graduate Students as Aspiring Authors / Barbara Alvarez (University of Michigan)

How much is too much? Embracing “information overload”

How many of you have made a New Year’s resolution to “keep up with [insert topic of choice] more”? Anyone feel guilty when they see their Google reader has 1,064 new unread items? Cry inwardly at the thought of drowning in the information tsunami, the fire hose of knowledge, the flood of media, the sea of despair?! (Yep that’s a lot of water metaphors…) According to Miriam Levin, (2000) that’s due to the fact that large bodies of water maintain the aura of “awesome, untamed power and impenetrable mystery”  and of course, the implicit dangers of drowning and destruction. That’s a pretty powerful message, and one that we librarians probably worry more about than most people (isn’t my job to be good at managing all this information?!) This column will be all about “information overload” and some tips to start managing this additional stress in our lives.

Firstly, the concept of “information overload” is a tough one. As Clay Shirky and others have explained, people have always complained about information overload. That’s one of the reasons that librarianship was so necessary- our classification systems and collection development specialists, among others, helped people understand the world by filtering, ordering and reducing the knowledge to a beautiful, ordered whole. (Weinberger, 2012) So although there’s always been too much information for any one person to read or digest in their lifetime, humans designed systems that could prevent material being published, or shelved- controls for the printed flow of information.

However, with the explosion of the internet and its low barriers of participation, our traditional systems could not keep up with the torrent of information. Furthermore, as the field of critical information studies has shown us, these systems of strict editorial or library control meant that many ideas were excluded from this process according to political, social or economic rules of the day. So we’re stuck with two conundrums- exabytes of information and a broken system of filtering. No wonder those water metaphors are so descriptive.

So what can you do?! Firstly, stop worrying that you’re falling behind. Several great books have been written recently about how the concept of knowledge is changing around us, and I believe there is much more to be written. We’re in a state of flux, and new technologies are engendering massive social change. As information specialists, we’re never going to go back to having that control over the world of knowledge- so you need to relax and start getting excited about these exciting new possibilities of the information age.

Secondly, practise information meditation. Howard Rheingold (2012) has written extensively on “info-tention” and how we need to be more mindful about our attention and information consumption. He believes a lot of our information overload stress comes from poor attention literacy- getting distracted, forgetting to breathe when you check email, failing to pay attention to the humans in our lives and lack of focus on our goals. He advocates scheduling a specific amount of time for professional development every day (even just 20 minutes) and meditating on our information use (understanding goals, intentions and reflecting on how you deploy your attention)

Lastly, content curation or using the power of your friends as filters can also be a successful strategy. Facebook’s “Like” button is a good example of using your friends to filter out the useful information, as is Amazon’s recommendation system. Programs such as Scoop-it and Diigo allow you to subscribe to curated articles, links and information on a topic- you can see what other people have recommended as useful in your area of interest. For example, I am interested in embedded librarianship, but rather than go crazy trying to scour the web for updates, I subscribe to a couple of curated content streams on this topic through Scoop-it. Technologies such as Google Reader, Twitter, Google Alerts can definitely help manage or streamline information, but human contacts are still your most valuable tool. By focusing on building (and tweaking) your personal learning network of experts, or groups of people, their blogs or their curated content, you’re creating a valuable filter that will help cut through the flotsam and jetsam.

Information “overload” is a feature of our time, but by being mindful of our habits and the changing information landscapes it is possible to feel less overwhelmed. And geeky old me even thinks it’s kind of exciting as we consider the role that information literacy and librarians can play in our networked future. Water may be uncharted and uncontrolled- but it is also a symbol of life, renewal and reflection- inspiring metaphors for the information age.

Alison Hicks: University of Colorado, Boulder | alison.hicks [at]

Great books on the topic

Davidson, C. N. (2011). Now you see it: How the brain science of attention will transform the way we live, work, and learn. New York: Viking.

Levin, M. R. (2000). Cultures of control. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic.

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net smart: How to thrive online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: Rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts are everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

REM and Impact Factors

What do REM and impact factors have in common?! To a few of you, the answer may be something to do with sleep. But to my mind, the movement to reconsider the place of traditional measures of scholarly publishing (aka alt-metrics) is fast becoming the new alternative rock, a challenge to the scholarly status quo. Yep, that’s a pretty tortuous metaphor- and not being an alternative rock fan, my knowledge is based on the trusty Wikipedia article, but either way, alt-metrics is becoming visible and more widespread. And just as REM went on to fame and fortune, librarians too need to be aware of where this may lead.

Alt-metrics (or Alternative Metrics) aims to track scholarly impact on the social web. It is an approach that attempts to supplement traditional citation measures of quality by taking into account how researchers work on the open web in the 21st century. The idea of quality has always been important in academia, not least for the promotion system, funding agencies and for the development of personal reputation. Within the traditional, limited print publication system, peer review, citation counting and journal impact factors have formed the backbone of these measures of academic excellence. In the web 2.0 world, however, these systems of measurement have started to be seen as too limiting. Detractors pointed out that reviewers are not held accountable, that context and impact outside academia are ignored, and that it is relatively easy to game the system. Furthermore, information, knowledge and learning have changed. Knowledge is no longer confined to journal output, especially in the still far too closed world of academic publishing. Scholarship is becoming far more diverse, and information, data and evidence of learning can be found in social citation tools or through self publishing such as blogs or social media. By looking at readership or re-use statistics as well as citation statistics, a richer picture of the influence of a piece of work can be formed.

Crucially, alt-metrics do not claim to provide a complete new system to measure impact. They are designed to be used in conjunction with more traditional tools. And with the glacial rate of change in the academy, it is clear that new measures of impact may take a while to develop. However, as the success of the Open Access movement in Latin America shows, it is also evident that for us as subject specialists, we need to be even more aware of the potential for change in our area of expertise.

Tools to measure impact:
Total Impact: Measures readership and re-use across several sites such as Mendeley, Slideshare, Delicious, Wikipedia and Twitter, among others. Ability to search by DOI, URL or Mendeley library means that it’s one of the most complete tools around. It gives numbers of mentions/tool.
ReaderMeter: Designed to provide more real-time impact, Readermeter has adapted the H and G index to measure readership (bookmarks) instead of citations. It relies quite heavily on Mendeley data.
For other tools (particularly for the sciences) see the AltMetrics tools.

Tools to establish authority:
As digital scholarship practices become more established, scholars should establish an online presence to establish authority and cement a digital reputation. The following tools can help:
Google Scholar Citations: When people search by author on Google Scholar, scholar profiles that show personal details and citation information will be displayed. This also provides basic and more traditional citation metrics such as the H index and i10 index.
Mendeley: Public profiles, which are indexed on Google provide personal details as well as relevant article statistics. Mendeley provides readership statistics by cumulative total, as well as readership statistics per article (including readership by discipline, academic status, and country.)

Plus ça change?

Google +: Facebook slayer or privacy exploiter? Yet another log in, or the dawn of a new age? Asset? Liability? Plus? Minus?! Launched to great fanfare in September 2011, commentators pounced gleefully on Google +, Google’s latest attempt to join the social media bandwagon. For the uninitiated,  Google +, (also known as G+) is technically a social network that integrates Facebook style personal profiles, status updates and friendships with Twitter style information sharing, within a familiar, easy to use Google format. It claimed to fix many of the privacy problems associated with Facebook, which, at 7 years old, is now the grandmother of social media.

The jury is still out on the success of Google +. While it integrates many useful features, many users did not think it was worth migrating to a new social media service. However, while much commentary has focused on Google + as a social network, there has been much less focus on Google +’s other features which, in my opinion, make it a serious rival to many VOIP (eg Skype), IM and other educational services. While I’m the first to admit that I haven’t fully engaged with Google + yet, my dislike for Facebook remains thinly veiled (the future’s Twitter shaped- just sayin’…) and I think it’s worthwhile to highlight a few uses of Google + within academia.

Firstly, a couple of the greatest advantages of Google + are the “hangout” and “circle” features. A “hangout” is Google’s equivalent of a Skype call on steroids. Not only can you video chat with up to 10 people (for free!), hangouts can also integrate with Google Docs, meaning that a group can collaboratively edit documents or share screens while video chatting.  The “circle” is a way to categorise your contacts into friends, acquaintances or colleagues. While this may sound a little utilitarian, even the hardened facebook fans among you must admit that the ability to share your favourite “i can haz cheezburger” clips among just your closest friends would have been an advantage. Lastly, (and unsurprisingly!) Google + is searchable, meaning that it is an awful lot easier to find that information that you vaguely recall someone posted about.

The benefits to libraries are also obvious. The “circle” means that privacy in Google + is much improved. While it could be difficult to separate information shared between students, administrators and colleagues on Facebook, people can be categorised into different groups on Google +, meaning that information can be tailored to each group. Useful if you’re liaison to different departments, or want to share different information between grad students, undergrads and faculty. The hangouts is the feature that I’m most excited about though- imagine being able to see the student’s screen while you chat or IM. No longer will you have to write out essays about how to get from the catalog to the database, or wonder why they can’t see that blindingly obvious button. Coming up with some great search strategies? Add them to a shared document while you work, and the student can refer back to them later. You could hold virtual office hours in Google +; or what about a book club or review session when papers are due? Google + gives a lot of flexibility, which could work well as student schedules become more elastic.

There are many ways in which Google + can be frustrating. Users need a Google account to participate- and this could raise questions about how personal data is used to filter/change your web experience in the future. A small download is needed for the hangouts, and the more public nature of Google + means that many may worry about sharing private information. Lastly, because it is so new, there are fairly frequent changes, which can get frustrating.

Ultimately, though, Google is an information processing giant, and Google + provides an easy way for people to find and talk about new information, and for companies to market themselves and to reach out to users. If libraries want to remain in the business of knowledge creation, then Google + provides an interesting glimpse of the future. Furthermore, as Google Apps for Education starts to integrate Google + features into academia, students are only going to become more accustomed to working with this functionality. Google + probably isn’t a Facebook killer (boo!) However, as a communication and information tool, it is a great addition (geddit?!) to the web 2.0 world.

A cite for sore eyes…

It’s that time of semester again when most reference questions I get seem to have something to do with punctuation, a DOI, or placement of footnotes. Yep, happy citation season, to one and all! Despite running workshops and creating webpages on citation formatting, it’s often hard to get even graduate students interested in citation management programs. And up till now, finicky was a polite way to describe most of the existing software. But the spread of web 2.0 is such that it has even caught up with the MLA and the APA- and has created a new class of, dare I say it, fun and user friendly tools.

One of the most exciting new kids on the block is Mendeley ( While fulfilling most regular requirements of a citation management program (stores citations, cite in MS Word, web and desktop access) it also stores and organizes PDFs as well as allowing PDF annotation and provides easy importing into Mendeley, including a genius “watched folder” function for automatic importing. And that’s not all! One of the best features is the online research catalog that it maintains, allowing users to track article citations, follow experts, find recommendations for articles and more. By hooking up with the inherent citation networks in academic publishing, Mendeley is taking advantage of the interconnectedness of the web- instead of trying to smush all results haphazardly into one search box, the development du jour in many libraries today. I know which is more helpful for me, as a librarian… Oh and did I mention that a basic account is free? And it has a mobile app?!

Colwiz ( is another similar program. Although it is not as widely known as Mendeley, it provides many excellent features, particularly for group work. It may be worth pointing out that both excellent programs were designed in the UK. (Note nationality of columnist and draw appropriate conclusions!)

Longer standing citation management programs are trying to keep up. Refworks ( has released its 2.0 version- as well as a mobile app for citations on the go. Endnote ( also has a new web version and an app. Zotero, ( which was king of the free citation programs for so long, is responding by releasing a version that does not rely on the Firefox browser, as well as a mobile app. Zotero still manages to deal with web pages better than Mendeley so with these new developments, the citation “lucha libre” may get even more exciting.

Another final class of new citation programs include apps for smart phones that allow users to scan materials from their phone in order to generate a citation. Quick cite ( is one such program, although it is obviously limited to book citing.

In the craziness of the end of semester these programs won’t help panicked students. But reaction has been so positive to these tools that it may be worth mentioning them next semester as honors projects and Masters theses wrap up. All that I have tried so far seem to work well with foreign characters too, so there is no excuse :) It looks like in 2012, citing = sexy again- who would have thought it!

Alison Hicks

alison.hicks @

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