The role of academic and research libraries as active participants and leaders in the production of scholarly research report was commissioned by RLUK, in partnership with the AHRC, in order to investigate the role of academic and research library staff in the initiation, production, and dissemination of academic and scholarly research. The research project has been led and delivered by Evidence Base, a research consultancy within Birmingham City University, and their associates.

Academic and research libraries already play a valuable role within the research and scholarly landscape in the arts and humanities and beyond. The potential value of libraries, archives, museums, galleries and special collections as research partners has increasingly been recognised by research funders. These conditions provide an opportunity for library staff to further contribute as active collaborators and leaders in research.

The full project report, produced by Evidence Base, will be published in the coming weeks here on the RLUK website. This will be joined by UK and international case studies to further contextualise the experience of libraries and collection-holding institutions as partners and leaders of cross-disciplinary, pioneering, research. Further details regarding the individual elements of this project are available here.

RLUK, AHRC, and Evidence Base would like to thank all of those colleagues who have contributed and supported this research.

This study aimed to:

  • Understand what roles academic and research libraries are currently playing as partners and as leaders in the research process

  • Understand what further roles academic and research libraries could play in the scholarly research process

  • Understand the nature and extent of the barriers and challenges that exist to exploiting this potential further

  • Make recommendations of what steps need to be taken to engender further collaborative research, and by whom.

This project has engaged extensively with colleagues across the research and academic library sectors and members of the academic community. It has engaged with university leaders, research managers, and funder representatives. In all this project has been informed by:

Headline findings and recommendations

Note: The project has taken a broad definition. The term ‘Library Staff’ refers to staff working in academic and research libraries. This also includes staff working within archives, special collections, museums and galleries reflecting the multifaceted nature of the term and structure of ‘libraries’, especially within a university context.

Wealth of expertise:

Library staff bring a wealth of expertise, skills and insight as collaborators and leaders of research. Although libraries have a unique strength and expertise around the collection, their expertise goes far beyond this to include a variety of technical, curatorial, and pedagogical skills.

Collaborative by default:

Collaboration is in the nature of libraries and the staff that work within them. Libraries sit at the centre of a complex web of communities, and can act as conduits and catalysts of collaboration between multiple groups and disciplines. Libraries can leverage this central position to foster new collaborative relationships and to lead and contribute to innovative and cross-disciplinary research partnerships.

Concept of research:

Library staff are involved in a wide variety of activities which constitute research but often aren’t termed as such. This absence of a shared understanding of research amongst libraries and academics researchers can affect the extent to which the contribution of library staff is recognised.

Complementarity of skills, knowledge and expertise:

Library staff bring a range of valuable skills and experience to research projects which can complement those of other research partners. These include skills around public engagement and curation, literature searching and systematic reviewing, digital scholarship and technical skills, as well as open access, bibliometrics and research data management. Collaborative research between libraries and academics is mutually beneficial.

Spectrum of engagement:

Libraries can be involved in research in a number of ways, which will vary by project, institution, and staff member. Library staff add greatest value to research when they are involved from the outset and have an active role in project formation, including as Co-I and P-I, and through more informal routes.

Recognising the contribution of library staff:

Library staff are not always recognised as research partners. The importance of recognising all contributors to research has been emphasised by initiatives such as the Technician Commitment and the Hidden Ref campaign. While these initiatives are to be welcomed, library staff are not always aware of how they might relate to their work.

Funding eligibility:

Library staff (working within a HEI or IRO) are eligible to apply for UKRI research council funding as a Co-Investigator or Principal Investigator, without the need for a PhD or an academic contract, as long as they can demonstrate their fulfilment of specific eligibility criteria. Awareness of this varies across institutions, both within the library and amongst university research offices.

Perceptions are shifting:

Perceptions of the library continue to shift within institutions and amongst members of the academic community, from one of service provision to one of active and equal partnership, and, to a lesser extent, research leadership. This progress varies between institutions, amongst individual academics, across disciplines, and is not uniform.

Challenges to overcome:

A number of challenges exist which can limit the ability and opportunities for library staff to expand their role as research partners and leaders. Institutions, funders, academic staff, library leaders and library staff all have a role to play in overcoming these barriers, which will enable libraries to realise their potential as collaborative partners in, and leaders of, pioneering research.

Opportunities to be seized:

There are many exciting opportunities for libraries to further develop and enhance their role as partners in, and pioneers of, research. These require changes around how research is viewed within libraries, how the library is perceived within their institution, and a focus on building the research capacity and visibility of library colleagues. RLUK and the AHRC stand ready to support the research and academic library community seize these opportunities.

Select recommendations

The project report makes a number of far-reaching recommendations for the AHRC, RLUK, libraries, their parent institutions, and members of the academic community. 

These recommendations will be supported by a joint action plan between RLUK and the AHRC to shape and support their implementation. Progress against this action plan will be evaluated after two years.

Below is an abridged selection of the report’s final recommendations:

Supporting the Research Capacity and Skills Development of library staff:

AHRC: Eligibility

AHRC should re-emphasise and communicate that Research Technical Professionals (RTPs), which in the arts and humanities context includes library and collections staff, are eligible to apply for AHRC funds, providing they can demonstrate professional experience and expertise equivalent to that of a postdoctoral researcher. This includes as Co- or Principal Investigator where specific criteria are met, which can include professional practice and experience. The eligibility of these categories of staff to be named on funded research projects needs to be communicated to the appropriate people within institutions, including research offices and other research support staff. AHRC should work in partnership with key sector bodies to communicate the eligibility of Research Technical Professionals to apply for research finding via the Technician Commitment activity AHRC will carry out as part of UKRI’s Technician Commitment Action plan.

AHRC: Research development programmes

AHRC should nurture and support research development within research libraries, and other collection-holding institutions, through professional development and research enablement schemes. These should include the award of bespoke or targeted ‘research development grants’ to library and collections staff, ‘highlight calls’ which require library colleagues to act as Co-Is or P-I, or the creation of a Professional Fellowship scheme to enable library staff to enhance their research skills, experience, and credibility. These funded opportunities would provide a clear demonstration of the value and recognition of library and collection-holding institution staff as researchers and will support cross-sector networking through sandboxes, workshops and conferences.

AHRC, RLUK and libraries: Peer review colleges

AHRC should encourage greater diversity within the Peer Review College and ensure that members of the Research Technical Community, such as library staff, are represented. RLUK should work to promote these opportunities throughout the research library and collections-holding community, and libraries and parent institutions should support and enable their staff to participate in such roles. Staff membership of a Peer Review College should be seen as an important element of a colleague’s career development and bring internal recognition and be endorsed by libraries.

AHRC and RLUK: Technician Commitment

AHRC and RLUK should work together to highlight the significant contribution that library staff can make to the research process as outlined by the Technician Commitment. This should include ensuring that library staff, and their wider institutions, are aware of the potential impact the Technician Commitment will have on acknowledging and valuing the considerable expertise and skills they bring to research.

Libraries: Collaborative Doctorates

Libraries should leverage and make greater use of Collaborative Doctoral Programmes, Collaborative Doctoral Awards and practice-based PhDs to develop their research capacity and confidence. Case studies should be sought and published by RLUK where this is happening already, and lessons learnt. These should highlight the mutual benefits of such programmes for both the student and host organisation, and how supervision can be an important element in staff development.

Engagement and Advocacy for library staff:

AHRC: Advocacy

AHRC should continue to celebrate and support the significant collection-holding community, within and beyond the IRO network, which engages in research and innovative scholarship, which can encompass research and academic libraries, museums, galleries, and members of the creative industries. This can include via case studies, spotlight features, advocacy campaigns and events.

RLUK and AHRC: Research engagement programme

RLUK should create an engagement programme, in partnership with the AHRC, to develop a shared understanding of research between libraries and members of the academic community,  and to support the recognition of libraries as research partners and leaders. This engagement programme should include and enable:

a) Advocacy RLUK should capture, synthesise, and powerfully present the contribution of libraries to research, in its broadest sense (offering a definition and examples of this), through the creation of advocacy documents and resources. These should highlight the original contribution to research that libraries make across a range of disciplines and should be targeted at academics, institutions, and funders, not necessarily libraries themselves.

b) Best practice RLUK should publish a series of case studies, aimed at libraries, exploring best-practice and lessons learnt regarding collaboration and research leadership.

c) Cross-sector conversations Working with its partners, RLUK should continue to convene cross-sector conversations with colleagues from across the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums sector, with members of the Academic community, regarding the encouragement and support of cross-disciplinary and sector research. This will include via the AHRC-RLUK joint engagement programme.

Institutional recognition for library staff –  changing cultures:

Libraries showcasing research expertise and capacity:

Libraries should support and enable their staff to effectively communicate the research they undertake and the research skills and expertise their library holds via research profiles, featured staff publications and staff contribution to research seminar series or events. This will help potential research partners, both internal and external to the organisation, to identify expertise held within the library to support research partnerships.

Libraries/institutions: Supporting research skills and capacity

Libraries should explore ways of developing and supporting staff research skills and capacity through activities such as staff research development schemes and the inclusion of research as part of core responsibilities. RLUK will support this process and a working group should be established to investigate this further, drawing on recently available resources to RLUK members such as the ARL Position Description Bank to examine how this is done internationally. Libraries, and their parent institutions, should also explore secondment and fellowship opportunities within the library, through which academic researchers can share their experience and expertise.

Institutions: Library representation and recognition

The contribution that libraries can make as research partners and leaders should be recognised and represented within their wider institutions. This can include through the library being represented on institutional research committees and panels, and members of research offices having the opportunity to develop a greater understanding of the potential contribution that libraries can make to the research process.


RLUK and AHRC will work to ensure a strong academic voice features within any forthcoming research development programme, and that researchers are represented across a range of disciplines and institutions. Members of the academic community are encouraged to engage with this programme and its discussions.


Should actively engage with library staff during the development of research and academic programmes, including Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships and Awards, to ensure that these benefit from the skills and expertise of library staff wherever possible.


To be conscious to cite and reference the contributions made by library colleagues to the research process, whether as a formal research partners or via informal channels, including via such frameworks as the CRediT – Contributors Roles Taxonomy.