Guest post: How do you make bibliometrics fun? Training librarians at the University of Otago, NZ

Librarians Fiona Glasgow and Dr Antje Lübcke discuss how they trained their colleagues in bibliometrics with fun and creative workshops at the University of Otago, NZ.

The 11 IATUL Research Impact Things 

How do you make bibliometrics fun? That’s the question we set out to answer when our manager told us we had to roll out a series of bibliometrics workshops for our colleagues at the University of Otago Library. 

Luckily, a group of university librarians were already working on finding a solution in the form of the now ubiquitous “Things” online programmes.1 The International Association of University Libraries (IATUL) Special Interest Group – Metrics and Research Impact (SIG-MaRI) recognised the lack of formal training and development programmes to upskill staff transitioning into research support roles, and at the end of 2019 formed a project team led by Janice Chan from Curtin University Library to look at adapting and revising an already existing programme developed at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Library.2 

The result is the 11 IATUL Research Impact Things website, which went live in September 2020 and is a flexible self-paced training and development tool. People can do as much or as little as suits them. While some Things are interlinked, each of the Things is designed to be completed separately, in any order and at any level of complexity.  

Logo for IAUTL Research Impact Things website

There are three levels for each Thing: “Getting started” is for those who are just beginning to learn about each topic, “Learn more” is for those who know a bit but want to know more, and “Challenge me” is often more in-depth or assumes that people are familiar with at least the basics of each topic. Topics include traditional metrics; emerging metrics; benchmarking; publishing strategies; equity, diversity, and inclusion; and societal impact.  

Bibliometrics training at the University of Otago Library 

Bibliometrics are only superficially covered in the Master of Information Science programme available in New Zealand. This means that new academic librarians are being thrust into roles with little knowledge of bibliometrics, and the expectation that they just “pick it up on the job.” This might work well for librarians that end up in sciences, but often those that work in humanities struggle to get enough hands-on experience. 

This means that new academic librarians are being thrust into roles with little knowledge of bibliometrics, and the expectation that they just “pick it up on the job.”

The challenge for us here at the University of Otago Library was developing a series of face-to-face workshops based on the 11 IATUL Research Impact Things and targeted at the entry and core levels of the Cox et al. framework. Our solution was running two separate workshop series at these two levels, focussing on selected Things we felt were most relevant to our colleagues’ day-to-day work at the University of Otago As well as these face-to-face workshops, participants had to complete specific Things before each session. These sessions were run fortnightly over eight weeks, with changes in COVID-19 alert levels in NZ forcing us to adapt to offering a Zoom-in option as well.  

Designing and delivering these workshops was a challenge, but ultimately a fun one. The aspect that we found most challenging was creating content that was engaging for the experienced participants but simple enough for the fledgling bibliometrician. The sessions were designed to be conversational and we encouraged participants to bring examples or questions to the workshops so we could talk about their specific work situations. Making use of free game-based learning platforms such as Kahoot! to break up the learning and revise material the participants encountered in the Things and previous workshops also proved a fun way to discuss certain metrics and their application (or missapplication, as the case may be).  

We decided to draw a thread through the programme from day one, getting participants to create mock research impact reports over the course of the two months for two Otago academics they selected. In the altmetrics session, we even asked them to put themselves in the academics’ shoes in order to craft cases for promotion or draft funding applications, citing alternative metrics for impact. This gave participants a clear focus when exploring tools such as Scopus, PlumX, Google Scholar, and Dimensions, for example. As with many things, learning is often easiest when you have a real-life problem you are trying to solve, and having the online Things to refer to throughout the programme proved incredibly helpful. In their feedback, participants noted their appreciation that this resource would remain available to them after the workshops had finished.  

In the altmetrics session, we even asked them to put themselves in the academics’ shoes in order to craft cases for promotion or draft funding applications, citing alternative metrics for impact.

After a couple of workshops had been run, in which we covered mainly traditional metrics and altmetrics, we decided to bring in some academics to hear about their experiences when it comes to publishing as well as measuring and tracking the impact of their work. We invited two academics, as well as our Open Access and Copyright Manager, and gave them a list of talking points to cover. We strongly encouraged participants to bring questions to engage with the presenters. This session proved a hit for the presenters as well as the workshop participants who appreciated the window onto researchers’ experiences. 

Our work wasn’t over after the final face-to-face session. The next challenge was delivering the training to colleagues on our Christchurch and Wellington campuses. We opted for a half-day Zoom session for these cohorts, which presented some technological challenges – though, nothing we haven’t all now grown used to with online meetings! The programme was pared back to cover traditional and emerging metrics only and participants had to complete the full online Things programme before attending. Given the success of the publishing strategies panel discussion in the face-to-face workshops, we brought in our OA and Copyright Manager once more as well as two academics from the health sciences division (our Christchurch and Wellington colleagues work exclusively with health sciences academics and students on their campuses).   

In the end, given the time and resources we had to hand, as well as the logistical hurdles as a result of COVID-19 alert level restrictions, the bibliometrics training programme was a success! Participants commented that not only were the workshops thorough, but we presented material in a simple and accessible manner with plenty of time to work through examples and to ask questions. Teaching the material with real life/work scenarios also helped participants understand the purpose of certain metrics. While listening to academics speak of their own experiences in the research impact arena gave them a better idea of what our researchers are contending with.   

Did we succeed in making bibliometrics fun? Perhaps. At the very least, we made them more accessible and introduced our colleagues to a great online resource that they can keep coming back to. 

Want to run or adapt the IATUL Research Impact Things programme at your institution? Go to the Information for Programme Organisers page on the website.  


  1. Examples of “Things” online programmes include the University of Edinburgh’s “23 Things for Digital Knowledge” (, Australian National Data Services’ (now the Australian Research Data Commons) “23 Research Data Things” (, and Curtin University’s “23 Things” for developing digital capabilities ( These programmes are based on the original “23 Things” programme that was run at the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County in the USA in 2006 ( 
  2.  The UNSW Library launched its 10 Research Impact Things in 2019 (Byrne, J., 2019), which aimed to develop foundational skills in research impact across the Library based on the bibliometric capabilities framework (Cox, A., et al., 2017). We joined the IATUL SIG-MaRI team in the final months of the project to assist with the final editing process.


Byrne, J. (2019). Building a Future-Ready Workforce – Embedding Bibliometric Capabilities at UNSW Library. Proceedings of the 2019 IATUL Conference. 

Cox, A., Gadd, E., Petersohn, S., & Sbaffi, L. (2017). Competencies for bibliometrics. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 51(3), 746-762.

About the Authors

Fiona Glasgow was, until recently, a Research Services Librarian at the University of Otago. She now works as the Scholarly Communications Librarian at the American University of Sharjah. Fiona has an interest in supporting open access, particularly via institutional repositories, and using bibliometrics for good, not evil.

Dr Antje Lübcke is a Research Services Librarian at the University of Otago. With research impact a significant side-interest, her work at Otago centres mainly around digital scholarship and literacies (she is Otago Library’s Digital Dexterity Champion and a certified Carpentries instructor), as well as research data management.

Unless it states other wise, the content of the Bibliomagician is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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