How social media can support academic research

The ALISS summer conference focused on how innovative uses of social media can support academic research - and ensure that services are promoted effectively.

The ALISS (Association of Librarians and Information Professionals in the Social Sciences) one day summer conference - Social Media, Libraries, Librarians and Research Support (held at Coventry University in July 2011) attracted over 30 delegates from university libraries, the British Library, hospitals and publishers.

The conference focused on the ways in which innovations in social media could be used to promote services and support academic research. The day included presentations and practical tips from practitioners, opportunities for discussion, and the chance to try out some of the recommended resources with hands-on practice.

Supporting research with web tools and social media

Heather Dawson from the London School of Economics, (presenting on behalf of Anna Drabble from Emerald Group Publishing Limited), reported on a major international survey into the use of social media in the research workflow.

Paula Anne Beasley and Linda Norbury from the University of Birmingham spoke about their experiences in advocating social networking to academic staff, the survey that they had undertaken and the training that they have provided for researchers.

Miggie Pickton from the University of Northampton discussed the 'Web Tools for Researchers' guide that she had developed, and the training sessions that had been provided to introduce researchers to a range of web-based tools and services.

Alison Wootton, the Accessibility and Inclusion Advisor for JISC RSC West Midlands, talked about the ways in which social media such as blogs and nings (online platforms for people to create their own social networks), could be used, and the comprehensive set of open source and freeware applications available to support learners with sensory, cognitive and physical difficulties.

Sarah Oxford from the University of Worcester demonstrated how she had used Web 2.0 applications such as Mixxt, Netvibes, Pebblepad and flavours.e to pull resources together and disseminate them to learners and researchers.

Promoting services

Jerry Jenkins from the British Library, explained how Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube were being used to promote their collections and communicate with the general public.

Key learning points from the conference

  • Information professionals and researchers have a lot to gain by using social media in many aspects of their work.
  • Whilst there is a high level of awareness of social media, the actual usage of these tools by academic researchers is still quite low. Most academics still prefer to disseminate their research through academic journals and conferences.
  • Adoption of Web 2.0 tools has little to do with the age of academics but seems to depend more on the 'type' of person they are.
  • Academic adoption of Web 2.0 tools is hindered by their concerns about quality and lack of trust.
  • There are a multitude of Web 2.0 tools that are freely available and it is essential that researchers use tools that are relevant to their needs.
  • Librarians and information professionals are ideally placed to raise awareness of Web 2.0 tools and applications, to help academics find appropriate tools, and to provide any necessary training.
  • Most institutions don't have any policies or strategies about the use of social media. It is important to give some thought to how social media can fit into, and enhance your institution's core functions.

The conference proved to be an enjoyable and informative day, and everyone went away with some good ideas about how social media could be used in their own work, and how academic researchers in their own institutions could be encouraged to engage with social media.

The presentations can be found at either of the following websites:

Judith Thomson qualified as a librarian in 1989. She is a Subject Librarian at Coventry University supporting Biomedical and Sports Sciences.  She also shares responsibility for Research Support with a colleague, Chris Bark.