About Val Skelton

I am the editor of Information Today, Europe. On the main site, we cover news and publish feature articles by information, research and knoweldge practitioners and thought leaders. On this blog, we aim to cover other topics of interest to our readers.

Author Archive | Val Skelton

The (Australian) university of the future

The Australian university of the future

In a report by Ernst and Young, Australian universities are described as being on ‘the cusp of profound change’, with current models unlikely to remain viable over the next decade and beyond.

The report discusses five ‘mega-trend’ drivers of change in the academic sector:

  • Democratisation of knowledge – access and availability of knowledge growing globally (especially in emerging markets)
  • Fierce competition for both students and funding
  • Digital technologies transforming the way people access education
  • Globalisation – opportunities for global mobility and partnerships and the emergence of global, elite university brands
  • Integration with industry – driving innovation and research via deeper relationships and new partnerships

If they are to be successful, universities need to respond by creating new lean business models (which involves reducing the ratio of ‘support staff’) and becoming more ‘corporate’ in the way they work.  This may include the streamlining of the number of subjects/programmes offered and taking decisions to focus on specific sectors.

New business models

The report describes three potential business models (while acknowledging that there are other models open to universities):

  • Streamlined status quo –in which established universities maintain broad-based teaching and research but transform the way in which these services are delivered and administrated
  • Niche dominators targeting customer segments and refining their services
  • Transformers  - new entrants, new market spaces, new sources, new partnerships


The report also explores future scenarios for research within university

  • Research will  become concentrated on universities that can demonstrate research impact and excellence
  • Smaller universities will focus on narrower range of research programmes, and build links with partners

The report is free to download.

Young people, libraries and reading

Young peoples’ attitudes to books, reading and libraries are assessed in research from Pew Internet.

In the US high-schoolers (those aged 16-17) are the group most likely to be using local libraries and borrowing books, whereas older adults are much more likely to have bought the last book they read, rather than borrowed it.  However, although they are the most intensive users of libraries, young people are the least likely to actually appreciate the services they receive from their libraries.

The research looked at just under 3000 people aged 16-29 and discovered the following:

  • 83% had read a book in the past year
    • 75% read a print book
    • 19% read an e-book
    • 11% listened to an audiobook
  • 60% had used the library in the past year
    • 46% used the library for research
    • 38% borrowed books (print books, audiobooks, or e-books)
    • 23% borrowed newspapers, magazines, or journals

Young people and e-book borrowing

The majority of e-book consumers under the age of 30 are not using dedicated devices but are reading via their desktop/laptop computers or phones.  Many respondents said they had been unaware that their local library lent e-books until they had sought out information after buying e-reading devices.  For some respondents, e-borrowing was easy, but others expressed frustration with multiple log-in screens.  Young people also expressed interest in borrowing ‘pre-loaded’ e-readers and attending classes on how to use e-reading devices.

Attitudes to libraries

Worryingly, 45% of high schoolers (and 37% of ‘older’ young people) stated that the library is not important or not too important to them and their families.  Combine this finding with the feedback from many respondents that they had been unaware of e-book lending services, the implication is that libraries would do well to design marketing and awareness campaigns that specifically target young users.

Download the research here.

Creation and curation – image sharing on social media

The rise in smartphone ownership and the continued growth of social media are contributing to the rise in picture and video sharing online. These image-driven activities are most popular amongst those in the 18-29 age bracket.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project conducted a telephone survey of just over 1000 US adults to explore how they curate and create and share images via:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

Key findings

  • 56% of internet users are either creating or curating images
  • 32% of internet users are curating and creating
  • Women dominate Pinterest (12% overall use of Pinterest; 19% of women use Pinterest)
  • Young people dominate Instagram (overall use = 12%; 27% of 18-29 year olds)
  • 5% use Tumblr (11% of young adults )
  • 66% use Facebook
  • 20% use LinkedIn
  • 16% use Twitter

The Pew figures include demographic details such as age, income and education levels.  The report is free to download from the Pew websiteSocial Media Today analyses these figures here.

Learning from 36 million Twitter users

The social media monitor company Beevolve has studied 36 million Twitter user profiles around the world to produce some interesting Twitter trends and statistics.

  • 25% of Twitter users have never tweeted
  • On average a Twitter user follows 102 people
  • 10% of users follow no-one
  • An average Twitter user has 208 followers
  • 6% of Twitter accounts have no followers
  • Overall gender split – 53% female; 47% male
  • Female Twitter users outnumber males up to age 25. But after age 35, female users start dwindling relative to males.

The research points to the correlation between the number of tweets sent and the number of followers.

Top ten countries by % of Twitter users

  • US             51%
  • UK             17%
  • Australia       4%
  • Brazil            3%
  • Canada         3%
  • India             3%
  • France          2%
  • Indonesia      1%
  • Iran              1%
  • Ireland          1%

US trade e-book sales trends

In a blog post published ahead of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Publishing Perspectives explores sources of data on the e-book marketplace in the US.  Two major sources are the BookStats project (run by the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group) and StatShot, which collates actual revenues reported to AAP by a growing list of participating publishers.

2012 trends

  • Slowdown in e-book growth – e-book growth is no longer doubling year on year – 2012 should see growth rates of approximately 33%
  • Adult e-book sales increase slowing down (they drove much of the increase in e-book sales between 2010 and 2011).  The latest figures suggest a ‘modest increase’ of 27%
  • Emergence of a digital children’s market – children’s e-book sales have gained much more
  • Total trade e-book revenues have comprised 23% of sales for the first four months of 2012
    • 27% of the adult trade market
    • 13% of the children’s market

Individual publisher reports for first half of 2012

  • Simon & Schuster – digital content responsible for 23% of worldwide sales
  • Penguin – e-books  account for 19% of total sales (30% of US sales; 15% of UK sales)
  • Harlequin – digital accounts for 20.5% of sales
  • Hachette Book Group – e-books account for 27% of US revenues and 23% of UK sales

Access to ICT in developing countries – the value of libraries

The Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington’s Information School explores how information and communications technologies (ICT) can impact communities – in particular those which face social and economic challenges – and explores how public libraries can help.

Its latest briefing paper (Public access and development: The impact of public access venues and the benefits of libraries) explores the impact of public access to the internet and computers in developing countries, and in particular explores the value of public libraries in enabling this access and improving ICT skills.  5000 users of public access services were surveyed in Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Ghana, and the Philippines

The importance of public access venues

  • Half of those surveyed said they had first used computers at a public access venue
  • 62% first used the internet in such a venue
  • 50% said that these venues were the most important place they honed their internet skills
  • 34% said that public access venues are their only route to internet access

A range of positive impacts were mentioned by those surveyed

These include improved communication (79%); education (78%); meeting new people (73%); access to employment resources (57%); access to government information and services (40%) and access to health information (37%).

The benefit of libraries

Some activities are more likely to occur in a library setting and with a greater impact.  These include accessing health and government services.  This may reflect the additional support provided in public libraries.

Public access to ICT plays a critical role in development and libraries play an important role in this.

You can access the briefing, and more information about TASCHA, here.

How mobile affects customer services

As customers become more sophisticated users of devices, organisations need to be able to offer smart, connected interactions that link customer information and unique, mobile-optimised data. When they get this right, organisations can offer personalised interactions and improve the overall customer experience.

According to Ovum, by 2016 over half of inbound customer service calls will be made from mobile devices.  The increasing use of smart and mobile devices means that more sophisticated and interactive customer service experiences are inevitable.  In other words – we all need to rethink our customer services strategies.

Customers are increasingly demanding ‘online attention’, turning to social media to vent their dissatisfaction and concerns.  Brandwatch, which produces an annual customer services index, has explored the ways in which leading brands are using social media to deal with this increased demand for attention from customers.   John Lewis scores highly amongst the retailers studied.  It was quicker to respond to customers tweets than other retailers (with a median time of only 16 minutes) and was also the most prolific tweeter.  It also responded to almost a third of Facebook posts.  64% of social media mentions of John Lewis were positive ones – a massive 47% above the average.

(Libraries, it seems, can learn from the retail sector. At Internet Librarian International this year, Liz McGettigan of The City of Edinburgh’s Library and Information Service will describe how their new strategic model for library services borrows heavily from the retail sector.)

Social media opens up new customer conversations.  Many of us blast out exasperated tweets when we feel let down.  But an instant and genuine response can quickly turn around our negative opinions. It’s great to talk – but it’s even better when someone listens to us – and acts accordingly.

‘Dare to try’ – how to encourage transformative innovation

In the drive towards growth, and against a background of economic uncertainty and changing markets, how can business leaders encourage transformative innovation in their organisations?  At an RSA event, a panel of experts (including an inventor) shared their experiences of innovation.  Some interesting themes emerged.

Who is responsible for innovation?

Over the last few years, new innovation models (e.g. crowdsourcing) have joined the more traditional paths (R&D departments).  The challenge is to balance an engaged model (‘innovation is everyone’s job’) with knowing who is responsible for making innovation happen.  Organisations need to establish networks that increase the flow of ideas across organisations and to ensure that there are opportunities for regular cross-team interactions.  Information professionals can help by ensuring that relevant information flows freely.

Overcoming barriers

One of the most interesting insights came from Richard Palmer, an inventor who had a long struggle to find the right investors and believers in his product.  At earlier pitches he met resistance (‘if it worked/ if it was wanted, we’d have done it before’).  Success came when he told the right story and won ‘believers to his story’.

Setting priorities and taking risks

A culture that encourages innovation will also need to accept failures.  Tata was cited as a company that understands the role that failure plays in innovation.

Developing an alternative viewpoint

Electronic components company Premier Farnell moved quickly when new legislation (about lead content in components) was passed.  By viewing changes as an opportunity they emerged as thought leaders in the industry.  Then, by creating the first online community for engineers (Element 14), they developed a platform for innovation and conversation that helped transform their brand image.  This had a snowball effect on internal morale – and innovation.  They became one of the official distributors of Raspberry Pi – which also raised the company’s profile.  ‘Pride’ and ‘excitement’ became words which employees associated with the organisation.

The importance of trust

Mutual trust across organisational networks is important.  CEB (formerly Corporate Executive Board) suggests that building trust across dispersed teams requires:

  • Intent – the belief that everyone is working towards the same innovation goals
  • Vision – the belief in clear and credible plans to achieve innovation goals
  • Execution – trust in each other to encourage information sharing

Purpose, passion and persistence

In his book on personal leadership (Lead Yourself: be who you are and what you want to be) Mick Cope writes about how understanding what drives you can help you fulfil your potential.  The three qualities of Purpose, Passion and Persistence help people choose, and navigate, their own paths.  And a good balance of these three characteristics is required.

Mick’s ‘three Ps’ came back to me when I was reading a Harvard Business Review blog post called Solving Gen Y’s Passion Problem.  In it the Gen Y’er Cal Newport sets out a theory that his contemporaries have been brainwashed into believing that career choice was simply a matter of following a passion – rather than working hard to get good at something first and then slowly falling in love with it (for it’s hard to love something we are not good at).

“The early stages of a fantastic career might not feel fantastic at all”, Newport reminds us.  He is not surprised that some young people are disappointed with the reality of work.  He calls for a ‘nuanced’ conversation about people’s relationship with work and for concrete evidence-based observations about how people end up really loving what they do.

Perhaps the ‘nuances’ that are missing in some peoples’ attitudes to work are the other two Ps – purpose and persistence.

(Unsurprisingly the blog post has garnered many comments, some in agreement and others not.  An interesting lunchtime read!)

“Best blog post ever” – the rise of fake reviews and why it matters

As businesses aspire to build up a (positive) social media presence, and consumers become increasingly informed by social network reviews and noise, Gartner is predicting a growth in the rate of ‘paid-for’ social media reviews.

According to Gartner’s latest research, by 2014 paid-for (or, let’s face it, ‘fake’) reviews will account for 10-15% of the total.  The majority of these reviews will not disclose any relationship between the reviewer and the reviewed organisation.

And it’s not just organisations who are seeking to enhance their brand and push their products.  Individuals are not above ‘faking’ reviews either.  There have been high profile stories of authors providing rave reviews for their own works via ‘sock puppet’ pseudonyms on Amazon and elsewhere.

However, authors and organisations can also be subject to fake negative reviews.  Gartner’s research suggests a growth in organisations that can help create social media reputation and also defend it against unfair attack.

In a social media enabled world, reputation capital is becoming increasingly important.  However, consumers and others need to be able to trust that what they are reading about products or services reflects the true opinions of real people.

Gartner is predicting that in the next two years in the US two organisations will face litigation over fake reviews.  But even if some organisations are not deterred by the threat of the law, they should be truly afraid of the backlash of consumers when they discover they have been duped.