Creating a 23 Research Things programme

Today is the launch of the 23 Research Things programme that I have been working on and developing for the past few months. A lot of work has gone into it and over the next few weeks I will blog about the various Things as and when they are released. But I also wanted to write about why I developed this programme. So read on!

When I started my sort-of-not-really-anymore new job as a Research Support Librarian, an immediate challenge struck me. There is only one of me. Let me unpack this seemingly obvious observation. I work for a library that used to cover just maths, a complex subject area in itself. But since the closure of the main science library in Cambridge which was then merged with aforementioned maths library, we suddenly found ourselves responsible for supporting the vast majority of STEM across the whole of the University of Cambridge.

Now for those of you that aren’t familiar with the *interesting* and *unique* library system at Cambridge, we don’t have one almighty library to rule them all. Oh no. Well we have the main University Library but that’s a bit of a red herring. We have generally speaking over 120 individual libraries. A good chunk of those are college libraries which are libraries based within colleges which are, in the Cambridge world, students’ homes. A student gets allocated a college which often has nothing to do with their subject. They THEN get access to their department library, whichever that might be and those department libraries make up the rest of the rather confusing array of library options open to students.

Don’t get me wrong, all those libraries are amazing and offer lots of great opportunities for students and staff alike. But it’s still a confusing system in comparison to most typical universities.

I mentioned the University Library which is the main library for the whole University but it doesn’t support specific subjects. It is a legal deposit library which historically had a few sister sites, including the Medical Library (which looks after medics, obviously), the Betty & Gordon Moore Library (my library) and the Central Science Library (now closed). These sister sites are now part of a wider affiliated library system where some libraries are now affiliated with the main University Library as opposed to being independent within their own departments aaaaand I think my brain just melted. My point is, the library system here in Cambridge is super complicated and while my library looks after the vast majority of STEM, there are lots of department libraries too that are dedicated to individual subjects like zoology or physics. So I have an overview as well as no real control when it comes to STEM research support which is tricky.

Many libraries are run by very small teams or solo librarians and a good chunk don’t have dedicated Research Support Librarians like me. Some do, but not many. A lot of librarians do research support stuff alongside their many other responsibilities but some are more stretched than others so it can become a real source of stress and strain for underfunded and understaffed departments.

Why is this all relevant to the fact that there is just one of me? Well in an ideal world, I would be able to clone myself and skydive into these many many libraries to help support my colleagues in what they’re already doing and maybe do some new stuff that they haven’t had a chance to do yet for whatever reason. There are even some departments within my ridiculously vast STEM coverage that don’t even have a dedicated librarian anymore. I know. I’m shocked too.

But other than Dolly the Sheep, cloning doesn’t really exist that much yet and while you can clone beloved pet labradors in labs in South Korea, I’m not sure anyone is willing to try and do the same with me.


So what was the solution? Well I thought that if I can’t get out to the various people that could benefit from my various skills and expertise, they could come to me. But again, that doesn’t work. There are thousands of people across Cambridge who I could be supporting and there is no lecture theatre on the planet that could accommodate that many people. Plus, en masse teaching only can go so far and people need focused support too. So instead of trying to sell out the O2 Arena, I thought I’d do something a bit more simple.

Create online resources. Yup. Online resources that people can use to start their learning and then I can support them in real life once they’ve done that initial exploration of a topic or a tool. These online resources aren’t intended to replace in-person teaching but I hope that they can at least bridge some sort of gap. Rather than create a whole bunch of stuff without much context, I wanted to frame it around something a bit more purposeful which is where the 23 Research Things idea comes in.

23 Things programmes are nothing new. I first came across one when fab colleagues in Cambridge designed and ran a 23 Things programme for librarians based on work done in Oxford. I don’t know why 23 is the magic number but the whole process seemed to work well and I’ve seen it rolled out in different forms, most importantly as a self-directed programme for researchers. And so 23 Research Things Cambridge was born.

But again, because I quite like trying something new and a bit different, I wasn’t happy with having a programme that was entirely text-based as many of the previous 23 Things programmes have been. I wanted to bridge that gap remember? Have people be able to learn from me even if I’m not with them in person. And so I turned to that place that people find out information from in a visual and engaging way – YouTube.

Through hosting videos on YouTube, I have created 23 (well 25 in total) teaching videos that can be used as part of the 23 Research Things programme (each one to be released on a schedule). Each video is embedded in a dedicated post with associated resources and learning opportunities. But, as anyone who has seen the videos might have picked up on, I have mostly branded them as Moore Methods. A play on our library’s name, I deliberately topped and tailed them with credits that are not tied to the 23 Research Things programme so I can use them in different contexts AND so colleagues can use them to supplement their library support services.

23 Research Things will run for 8 weeks. I will leave the programme blog online for as long as WordPress exists. But those videos will live on past the programme and will be a batch of new resources and new things that anyone can use. I wanted all the work that went into those videos to be worthwhile and to create something sustainable and not time sensitive to a specific programme or event. Moore Methods will, hopefully, continue beyond 23 Research Things too and I have plans to develop more videos with research colleagues from across the University, as well as anyone else who is interested.

The entire programme is deliberated licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY NC to be precise) because I want other people to use this stuff and I want everyone to participate in the programme however they see fit, regardless of discipline or academic affiliation. I’m a big believer in sharing and putting stuff out there. I will run in-person training sessions throughout the 23 Research Things programme as part of my already planned teaching sessions and I will share the slides and other bits and pieces online too via services like SlideShare.

The whole point of me creating research support resources is for people to use them and to learn from them. I’ve learned a lot through researching, writing and developing the content for the programme and I want others to benefit from that, in whatever way is best for their individual circumstances. So, I hope you like the programme, I hope you appreciate the ethos behind it, and I hope you find it useful.

So until next time, bye!


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