Digital romance and relationships

“Living like a 1950s housewife has saved me money, helped me lose weight and kept my marriage strong”.

Leafing despondently through a copy of WI Life, I came across this feature.  The interviewee and her new husband had agreed to spend the first year of their marriage without television, computers or mobile devices.  This radical decision had meant that they now “actually have to talk to each other to communicate”.

A small (and unrepresentative*) survey published in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy looked at how young adults in serious relationships used digital technology in their relationships. The researchers found that young people in a relationship were more likely to use text (rather than social media) to communicate with each other.   They also found that sending a loving text made both sender and recipient feel good about the relationship and those who attempted to resolve arguments via text message were associated with unhappier relationships. 

The Pew Research Center has just published its updated Online Dating and Relationship report (it first began researching this area in 2005).  The latest report explores how social networks and mobile devices are impacting the world of dating.

Key findings

Social networking profiles can contain a wealth of information on potential (or past) partners (relationship status, photographs, hobbies and interests…) and many respondents report doing so:

  • 31% of social network users have ‘checked up’ on someone they used to be in a relationship with
  • This rises to 48% of those aged 18-29

Breaking up can be complicated enough but the sensitive politics of breaking up now have to take social media presence into account.  Many respondents report blocking, unfriending, deleting and untagging their exes.  Women users of social media are much more likely to be doing this, either because a relationship has broken down, or because the other person’s behaviour is making them uncomfortable.   

  • 37% of smartphone users have asked someone out on a date by sending a text message on their cell phone
  • 17% have posted details or photos of a date
  • 30% with ‘recent dating experience’ have researched prospective partners on social media
  • This rises to 41% of 18-29 year olds 

Breaking up is hard to do

  • 17% of those who have a smartphone and/or use the internet have broken up with someone via text, email or an online message!
  • 17% have been broken up with digitally! 

* A small study with a much higher than average proportion of engaged couples – and Mormons.


[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

Developing professional networks – what social network analysis teaches us

Social network analysis has been used to measure the impact of the DREaM project which set out to nurture a network of researchers.

Social Network Analysis (SNA) explores social relationships and their implications.  As a research methodology, it is employed by a range of subject specialists, and is much favoured by knowledge management practitioners seeking to explore the ‘human’ aspects of knowledge mobilisation.

A new article by Louise Cooke and Hazel Hall* explores the applicability and value of Social Network Analysis (SNA) as a means of investigating the development of researcher networks. The authors believe that their study provides transferable lessons about SNA as a tool as well as the interventions that can encourage speedy development of social infrastructure in new networks, which are applicable across professional groups.

After a discussion about the development of SNA as a research tool and its previous use in the context of library and information science (LIS), the article reports on a case study based on the Developing Research Excellence and Methods (DREaM) project.

DREaM was established in 2011 to create, and support the development of, a network of LIS researchers, connecting them in new ways and improving the quality and impact of LIS research. It is this case study that will be of most interest to LIS practitioners.

What does the ‘before’ and ‘after’ data from the case study tell us about how strong professional networks can be nurtured?

Key findings

  • ‘before’ data shows that members of this participant network were not highly connected or aware of each other’s expertise: existing networks were highly centralised around a small number of academic librarians and researchers
  • ‘after’ data shows a demonstrable increase in expertise awareness and interaction; participants had increased their number of network ties; the network became more ‘even’ with less dependence on a small number of densely networked actors; academic librarians in particular moved towards the centre of the network

What was it about the way the DREaM project was designed that helped develop the network?

The authors suggest that the combination of workshops, social events, networking opportunities, the development of an online community and the effective use of social media tools:

  • Reduced the isolation of participants
  • Helped participants exchange ideas and broaden their knowledge base
  • Provided opportunities for participants to exchange sources of information and references

A range of event amplification techniques (live-blogging/tweeting; delegate reviews; session recordings and many more) also helped those unable to attend events in person, to participate in the network remotely.

This inclusive, boundary-spanning approach helped the participants double their awareness of each other’s expertise and almost double their levels of social interaction.


*Cooke, L. & Hall, H. (2013). Facets of DREaM: a Social Network Analysis exploring network development in the UK LIS research community. Journal of Documentation, 69(6), 786-806.

Further information about the article (Hazel Hall’s blog).  You can download the full text of the article from Emerald (subscription-based service).  You can download the full-text of the article manuscript at no charge here.   Further information on the DREaM project can be found here.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]


Open Access and MOOCs – disrupting academia

Research set outs to explore the impact of disruptive innovations on academia and teaching.

Green and Gold models of Open Access (OA) have been growing steadily over the last decade.  An estimated 17% of articles indexed in ISI’s Web of Knowledge index are published in Gold OA journals; almost 7000 free online journals are currently listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and it is estimated that 25% of peer reviewed research is already deposited by authors in open archives.

A new study by Richard Wellen (published in SAGE Open) sets out to explore the consequences of moves towards the ‘new digital academic commons’ in the shape of OA publishing, megajournals and Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs).


The value of knowledge is best realised when it is shared.  It is beneficial for society to create an ‘academic commons’ to facilitate the reciprocal use of knowledge.  Scholarly journals have an important role here, but high prices and other barriers to access can exclude many. The drive towards OA comes from a consensus about the importance of openness for progress and productivity.

Wellen asks whether and how OA could bring a disruptive challenge to the market power of publishers and to what extent new academic platforms and other intermediaries will take on such roles as quality control, filtering and content discovery.


  • Stakeholders have embraced OA as a solution to ‘dysfunctional’ publishing models and as a way to maximise the impact of research
  • Open content and ‘academic unbundling’ look set to transform the economics and social structure of higher education and research communication
  • Megajournals, academic networking services and MOOCs are all linked to a market-oriented reform of academic governance
  • An emerging ‘gift’ economy in academic content is linked to new ways of commodifying academic services
  • Researchers still place a high value on journal prestige
  • Some library functions may move to independent services operating at a trans-institutional level
  • Despite being open, MOOCs are meant to earn revenue
  • MOOCs have become marketing tools for universities
  • Politicians want to address cost, access and productivity issues in HE e.g. by loosening the link between teaching and research ranking
  • Academic unbundling raises challenges for the governance of academic commons

You can access the full article Open Access, Megajournals, and MOOCs: On the Political Economy of Academic Unbundling here.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

What drives traffic to corporate websites?

Visits to corporate websites are up (24% in two years) – and the rise is being driven by mobile.

Research from Investis IQ has been tracking visitors to corporate websites from social media platforms to see which sites drive the most traffic. The company tracks the website analytics of European companies (12% of the total surveyed), FTSE 100 (24%) and FTSE 250 (42%) companies along with AIM companies (27%).

The figures show that website visits from mobile devices have increased by 400% in two years.

  • 20% of all visits to corporate websites are now made by people using mobile devices.
  • 66% of all mobile visits are being made by iPhone/iPad
  • Only 23% of the companies surveyed have a dedicated mobile or a responsive website

Social media and search engines

  • 54% arrive at a corporate website via a search engine
  • 56% of the FTSE 100 companies studied link to at least one social media site from their website
  • LinkedIn drives the most visits – 64% of all visits to corporate websites from social media sites come via LinkedIn
  • Facebook’s importance is declining – it is driving 17% of the visits (down from 30% in two years)
  • Twitter however has grown from driving 4% of visits two years ago to 14% in 2013
  • Between them LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are driving 95% of all visits from social media sites – the influence of other social media sites is, as yet, negligible.

The report is available here.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

Public access to ICT: Another reason why libraries matter!

The Technology and Social Change Group of the University of Washington’s Library School published its report of the five-year project exploring the impact of public access to ICT around the world.

The results show the impact that public libraries and cybercafés have when it comes to promoting digital inclusion and the development of ICT skills, particularly for marginalised populations.

Public access facilities bridge a number of digital divides.  They broaden access to both ICT infrastructure and to information resources.  For over half the users surveyed, libraries and cybercafés provided their very first contact with computers or the internet.  For over a third, they continued to be the only source of access to the internet.

The importance of empathy

The researchers explored in depth the role of ‘infomediaries’ to users in Bangladesh, Chile and Lithuania.  The findings showed that the ability of infomediaries to empathise with users is just as important as their technical skills.  This included giving them confidence to learn and to understand often unexpressed or unformed needs.

In-depth research amongst teenagers in Cape Town, South Africa showed that mobile phone internet access and public access computers were no substitutes for each other.  Indeed, interviewees had very often developed elaborate practices which combined the use of public access and personal devices.  The evidence shows that public access is not obsolete, even as mobile device ownership is growing.  They continued to use public access for help from staff and simply to ‘be alone together’ – a trend which is also emerging in newly designed academic libraries.


At a policy level the report calls for continuing support for public access to ICT, maximising the use of existing infrastructure.

Librarians should:

  • adopt a flexible approach to rules such as limiting time spent on machines or noise levels
  • be flexible to emerging needs.
  • embrace the mobile revolution
  • pay attention to venue design
  • focus on content awareness and market their resources

The full report is available for download here.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

MOOCs and librarians – fulfilling the potential

Recent OECD research measured the literacy, numeracy and information skills of adults in 24 countries.  The results show how the divide between those who have skills and those who do not can be perpetuated.  Those with lower skills can be excluded from the job market altogether, or stuck in low paid work.  They can also be excluded from other aspects of society.  However, those who have already achieved high levels of education are much more likely to continue to develop their skills throughout their lives.

Statistics also show that the vast majority of those engaging with MOOCs already have some form of degree.  There is no evidence that education is ‘opening up’ – as yet.

MOOCs and universities

MOOCs have the potential to transform the ways in which people participate in higher education or develop their skills.  For universities they offer new ways for people to engage with the institution (whether virtually, or in real life).  A MOOC can be a shop window for the institution, enhancing its reputation and reaching out to new audiences.   MOOCs have the potential to transform the way that people learn – and teach.   At a lively pre-conference workshop at Internet Librarian International delegates heard from those who had created, taught or been a learner – and considered the potential for librarians to contribute to the success of MOOCs.

Learners and MOOCs

The current statistics show that the announcement of a MOOC generates a great deal of interest but that engagement begins to tail off by week two.  Average completion rates are approximately 7-10%.  However, these rates should not been seen as a failure.  Participants do not need to have completed the entire course to have benefited from the process.

Jo Alcock, an academic librarian, gave an interesting account of her experiences as a MOOC learner on two courses.   With one course she chose a basic track which involved 2-3 hours of work per week for ten weeks with a final multiple choice exam.  She declined the option to pay a sum for more advanced material.  For the other course she was much more engaged – participating for 8-10 hours per week for six weeks.  Reading was released for the course and she undertook weekly assignments which were graded using a peer review process.  The peer review process was incredibly rich and valuable – both as a reviewer and being reviewed.

Lessons learned so far

  • MOOCs represent a new model for education – one which is lifelong rather than something we intersect with periodically
  • It is possible to be a student, a mentor and a teacher simultaneously
  • Creating a MOOC involves so much more than simply making learning materials available online
  • Libraries and librarians should ‘knock on doors’ and get involved asap
  • Invite yourself to every meeting you hear about!
  • MOOCs are a great opportunity for librarians – they are truly ‘public’ schools!

Opportunities for librarians

  • Helping learners develop their digital skills – with a view to widening participation
  • Facilitating and moderating peer support processes
  • Helping to make connections with OA resources and repositories
  • Copyright and data protection

Speakers at the workshop: Ben Showers, David Lankes; Gavin Beattie; Claire Beecroft; Andy Tattersall; Jo Alcock.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

Digital skills for life: OECD survey

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) has published the initial results of its worldwide survey of adults’ skills.  The report focuses on the literacy, numeracy and ‘key information processing competencies’ of 166,000 adults in 24 countries*.

The digital skills of the participants were tested on laptops using simulations of databases, emails, word processing and websites.  The report confirms that those with lower skills are likely to be left behind, not just in the job market but also in their ability to access services and participate in society.

The highest performing countries overall were Finland and Japan – in both of these countries 20% of the participants performed at the highest level. The skills they demonstrated included the ability to perform multi-step operations to integrate, interpret, or synthesise information from complex or lengthy texts, make complex inferences and interpret or evaluate subtle claims or arguments.

The importance of building skills outside formal education

One of the key messages in the report is the importance of a lifelong learning approach to skills development. Participation in adult learning helps to develop and maintain literacy and numeracy skills.  In countries with higher participation levels in adult education, adults demonstrate higher literacy and numeracy skills overall.  Levels of participation in adult education are highest in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden (over 60%).

The OECD hopes that the findings will help policy makers assess the performance of education, training and social policies in developing the skills needed in the workforce – and society in general.

The report comes with some interactive charts where you can compare countries against other and against the OECD average. You can also view the findings by age of participants and education and occupation.  You can access the skills report here.

*Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, UK, USA.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

Cyber-attacks and staying private

Cyber-attacks on banks have been high-profile news in the UK.  £1.3 million was taken from Barclays when a computer was hijacked, while police foiled a similar plot against Santander.

The Bank of England’s policy makers have responded, drawing attention to the ‘potential vulnerabilities’ in the banking system, including old and complex IT infrastructure and a reliance on centralised systems.

Concern about a lack of preparedness against cyber-attacks was also expressed at a recent London meeting of information security risk and management professionals. Delegates discussed the ‘perfect storm’ of cyber-security risks – the widespread adoption of social media, cloud services, mobile devices – combined with the proliferation of unstructured data.  Potential risks to organisations include intentional or accidental data breach; social media account hacking and identify theft.  (Government figures for the cost of cyber-security breaches have been discussed previously on this blog.)

The UK is a global leader in identify fraud.  Fraud is said to have cost the UK over £70 billion in 2012 and nearly a quarter of residents have fallen victim to some form of identity fraud.

Staying private

Personal data is ‘the new oil of the internet’ according to the World Economic Forum. Increasingly sophisticated criminals are using the information and data we share to develop ‘spear-phishing’ targeted email campaigns or are able to glean personal details such as pet’s names or mothers’ maiden names which can be used to answer security questions.

As information professionals we are well-placed to help our organisations – and individual colleagues – understand the new information landscape and to help them stay safe and secure.

Phil Bradley is speaking about Privacy (session C103) in a special session at this year’s Internet Librarian International conference.

Val on Google+



Cyberbullying, trolls and good manners

Anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label has surveyed over 10,000 young people in the UK about their experiences of cyberbullying.  70% of respondents aged between 13 and 22 claim to have been victims of cyberbullying and over a million young people are subjected to ‘extreme’ online bullying every day.

In 2012, the charity ChildLine held over 4,500 counselling sessions with children and young people who were concerned about cyberbullying – up 87% in a year.  Boys and girls are equally as likely to be victims.  Facebook is the most common place for young people to be victimised, followed by Twitter and

Meanwhile, YouTube has announced that it is reorganising its comments field, which previously had been structured to show the most recent comments at the top.

The changes use modified versions of Google+ comments which will use signals such as people you are connected to and social affinity to help display customised and more meaningful comments.  The aim is to increase the likelihood of ‘engaged discussion’.  New moderation controls will also be rolled out, so channel owners can manage and review comments and block certain words.

It’s not simply social media sites that have decided to change – or even close – their comments fields. has announced that, despite its aim to foster ‘lively’ scientific debate, comments are no longer welcome on its site.  It blames trolls and spambots and quotes research which suggests that uncivil comments and attacks can change other readers’ interpretation of the original posting.

Trolls and shamers

The shaming of Twitter trolls has also been news over the last few months.  Cambridge University professor and TV presenter Mary Beard shamed a troll who backed down quickly when Twitter ‘threatened to tell his mother’.  Boxer Curtis Woodhouse was the victim of a troll and managed to track him down to his own home.  Once again, the troll apologised.  An article in Wired describes how a delegate at a conference tweeted a picture of two other delegates who had been making ‘not cool’ comments.  The story went viral and people lost their jobs.

Etiquette experts Debrett’s have bewailed the decline of etiquette in the digital age.  The application of a combination of common sense, empathy, good manners and ‘social resilience’ could benefit all of us.

Val Skelton on Google+

Open access: academic libraries and article processing charges

Despite challenges, the new emphasis on OA provides librarians with a positive platform to re-establish their role in the research process.

A new report published by SAGE explores the current – and future role – of academic libraries in helping implement OA processing charges.  The report explores the current state of the art, and shares recommendations.  Although librarians support the goals and principles of open access, the OA mandates from funders are creating many challenges.

Institutional policies – still evolving

  • Although some participants reported full OA policies were already in place, the majority of policies are still ‘evolving’
  • Libraries at every participating institution are involved in OA policy development
  • Institutional repositories are an essential element
  • Participants expressed concern at possible shortfall in funding for author pays (‘gold’) OA publishing (RCUK is currently making some funds available)
  • Some institutions are making up the shortfall; others are not

What roles and tasks are librarians undertaking?

  • Entering into publisher OA agreements
  • Allocating funding for individual papers – including one library which split its total funds into equal quarters for the year
  • Most reported a low take-up of APC requests by researchers – many librarians are working to educate and advise researchers
  • Working with publishers to administrate the cost – a task which many reported as frustrating or overly-complicated


  • Funders should provide clear guidance on reporting and measurement
  • Publishers need to better communicate copyright options and which of their publications are RCUK policy compliant
  • More robust systems for managing APCs are needed
  • Cross-industry initiatives and international standards should be developed

The report Implementing Open Access APCs: the role of academic libraries summarises the round table discussions of a panel of academic librarians and other interested parties and is available for free download here.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]