Supporting researchers in the social sciences

Supporting researchers seems to be a hot topic at the moment and last Thursday and Friday I was in Belfast, at the ALISS event at Queen’s University Belfast on Supporting Researchers in the Social Sciences. There were five speakers at the event including: Alan Gomersall from the Centre for Evidence and Policy at King’s College London who was speaking about systematic reviews and the role of the information professional. Alan had some interesting insights into how rarely proper systematic reviews are carried out. Citing an example of Home Office research into the effects of street lighting on crime, he showed how such studies often over-rely on large US databases, and miss a lot of the relevant research in this area. The key message is that systematic review teams need to include information professionals, but rarely do. Paula Divine spoke about the service funded by the ESRC called ARK (Access, Research and Knowledge). They host some fascinating data, for example CAIN – the Conflict Archive on the Internet – which is material on the troubles in Northern Ireland since 1968. They also have a lot of survey data from Northern Ireland. John Power is the Head of Library and Research Services at the Northern Ireland Assembly and spoke about the service he is leading. We got to visit the Library the next day, which is currently looking to expand it’s services, after a period of suspension.
After the coffee break, overlooking the beautiful quad at Queen’s which was bathed in sunlight, we had two further talks, firstly from Rebecca Ursell, who’s based at LSE and the head of IBSS. She spoke about meeting the challenges of Google age researchers. She talked about some of the ways IBSS are trying to meet researcher’s needs, such as the new IBSS blog and use of RSS feeds.

The final speaker of the day was Niamh Brennan from Trinity College Dublin who spoke about open access repositories and the extensive work that is going on in Ireland in this area. The breadth of her talk was quite incredible, starting with the 1847 famine in Ireland and the work of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland to tackle this issue. She brought it right up to date, citing how the journal of this society now being on open access. She had some insights such as less than half of NHS funded research reports are available to those who work in the NHS! And how important it is that research gets to policy makers, using an example of how the cure for scurvy (citrus fruit) took over 150 years to become Naval policy. She believes the role of the social science librarian lies in translational research – filtering and amplify evidence for researchers.

The day was rounded off with a wonderful meal at a fabulous restaurant, Deane’s at Queen’s. Friday was then spent with a tour of the Linenhall Library in central Belfast who have a fascinating collection of Irish literature, but also are a valuable resource for family historians and have the Northern Ireland Political Collection. We were then taken to Stormont, for a tour of the National Assembly buildings and the Library. Overall it was an extremely well organised event, ALISS’s first in Northern Ireland and I know both Norma and Margaret from Queen’s worked very hard on the event. For me it was a really fascinating trip, a chance to visit a great city but also to network with other librarians who might not always attend London based events.


One thought on “Supporting researchers in the social sciences

  1. I doubt if Niamh’s figure is correct since all NHS staff in England have full access to around 2000 digital medical journals via Athens, including all the major research journals (see They also have access to other journals in their local libraries. In addition the NHS R&D Programme has in the past published summaries of *all* funded research on an open access basis, publishes full results of HTA funded research on an open access basis, and now, like the MRC, requires researchers to make copies of papers freely available. It is also a supporter of PubMed Central.

    I have asked Niamh to cite her sources for the number of research reports available to NHS staff but have yet to receive a reply.

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