Reshaping Scholarship: a conference

This year’s RLUK conference was held between 20-22 March at the Wellcome Collection, London, and brought together around 200 colleagues from across the international research library, information, and academic communities. The theme of the conference was ‘Reshaping Scholarship: Transformation, Innovation and Cultural Change’. As RLUK Chair, Nicola Wright, stated in her introduction, this year’s theme reflected the unprecedented level of change being experienced by research libraries around the world, whether in relation to their ‘collections, priorities, spaces, or strategic positioning within their parent institutions’. Change was, therefore, a key strand running throughout the conference programme, whether caused by the shifting expectations of library users, the multiplicity and diversification of library audiences, and ongoing, and increasing, uncertainty in the macro-political, social, and economic landscapes in which research libraries operate. Delegates discussed how we can respond to this change as a community, and the role of RLUK’s strategy, Reshaping Scholarship, in supporting collective action.

Reshaping Scholarship: a challenge-based approach for collective action

The conference and its various discussions will shortly be summarised in a forthcoming blog. Instead, this post will reflect on the fact that this year’s conference marked one year since the launch of Reshaping Scholarship and the work now emerging from this. Based around eight shared challenges facing members, we’re now deep into the implementation phase. A lot has already been achieved in the delivery of the strategy, in which RLUK’s member networks have played a key role. Over the last year, the Associate Directors’ Network (ADN) have hosted a series of very insightful and enriching meetings around the issues of succession planning and empowerment, and will soon hold meetings to explore workforce development and research-led learning. The Special Collections Leadership Network (SCLN) has supported valuable and original research into evidencing the impact of special collections, has overseen the creation and launch of RLUK’s Professional Fellowship Scheme (in partnership with The National Archives), and has represented RLUK members within collaborative projects, such as the Digitisation for Digital Scholarship initiative, facilitated by Jisc. The work of the SCLN has formed an integral part of the wider Special Collection’s Programme, which has seen RLUK work closely with members, funders, and wider stakeholders around demonstrating the impact of special collections. Both the ADN and SCLN have continued to harness the collective knowledge and voice of RLUK members to explore key challenges and opportunities facing institutions, both individually and collectively, and have led tangible programmes of work to support these.

The ADN explore the role of staff empowerment within research libraries at the John Rylands Library, March 2019.

This work of RLUK’s networks has recently been extended following the launch of a Digital Scholarship Network (DSN). The network has already brought together colleagues from across the RLUK membership to explore the definition of digital scholarship, what this means for member libraries and their operations, and some of the emerging opportunities and challenges associated with this work. The meeting explored the various roles of the research library in developing and delivering Digital Scholarship services, whether as provider, partner, or pioneer.

The network has devised and launched a major piece of research, in the form of a Digital Scholarship survey, which interrogates both the nature and infrastructural needs of digital scholarship services, but also how they relate to the changing nature of the research library audience, collection, and mission. Importantly, the outputs from this research will go beyond a summary report, to enable international benchmarking and will form the basis of an action plan of activity for the network to undertake in the coming years.

The work of RLUK three established member networks was the subject of a panel session at this year’s conference:

Two new RLUK Member Networks

The ongoing implementation of Reshaping Scholarship, and the diversity of the challenges it seeks to explore and address, also provides new opportunities for members to come together. It was at this year’s conference that two new RLUK networks were launched, the Collections Strategy Network and the New Directors Network. Both of these new networks will address a series of challenges faced by RLUK members and will act as valuable arenas for knowledge exchange and peer support. The call to create these networks came directly from the RLUK membership and both will lead significant strands of the RLUK strategy over the coming months and years.

Collections Strategy Network (CSN): Co-convened by Anna Grigson (Head of Content and Discovery, LSE) and Paul Johnson (Associate Director, Collections Planning and Research, University of Reading), the CSN is a professional-peer network for colleagues who are responsible for collection strategy within RLUK member libraries. It will act as a forum for discussion, knowledge sharing, peer development, and will harness RLUK members’ collective experience and expertise. Importantly, it will be responsible for the development of programmes of work in direct support of several of the challenges contained within Reshaping Scholarship relating to the collective management of print collections, the management of content costs, and the digital shift occurring within collections. These are three significant challenges facing members, and topics which were discussed at both the 2019 conference and at November’s Members’ Meeting, held at the University of Reading. Not working in isolation, the CSN will also actively engage with RLUK’s other member networks on these challenges as its work develops.

New Directors Network (NDN): Co-convened by Martina McChrystal (Director of Library Services, University of Glasgow) and Tracey Stanley (Acting Director of Library Services and University Librarian, University of Cardiff), the New Directors’ Network (NDN) is a professional-peer network for RLUK colleagues who have recently been appointed as library directors or for those in interim positions. It will act as a forum for discussion, peer development, and knowledge sharing, and will also lead and deliver elements of Reshaping Scholarship. The network is currently developing a programme of meetings following an informal launch at this year’s conference and is actively looking for opportunities to work with the other RLUK networks.

The CSN and NDN will join RLUK’s existing three networks in providing an invaluable space for knowledge exchange, peer support, and the identification and development of programmes of collective action on behalf of the RLUK membership. Yet, the creation of new networks is not the only way in which RLUK is looking to deliver against the ambitions of Reshaping Scholarship and to facilitate collective discussion and action. The variety of challenges contained within the strategy requires a variety of responses and a flexibility of approach.


Reshaping Scholarship recognises that the members are facing significant demands on physical space – both for collections and for people. Recent conversations, whether at events or during member visits, have reemphasised the proliferation, importance, and complexity of spatial reconfiguration and capital-build projects across the RLUK membership. The changing behaviours and expectations of library users, the diversification of library audiences, and the shifting role of the library on campus are having a profound effect on how the library physically looks, feels, and functions. Many established library spaces are being repurposed and redesigned, often reflective of the need for more adaptive and flexible spaces, and of the central role libraries can play in supporting, sculpting, and showcasing the research and teaching of their institutions.

As members will know, spatial reconfiguration and capital build projects have to overcome multiple challenges and complexities, including those of an ageing and crowded university estate, complex procurement processes, and the need to satisfy multiple and shifting agendas and audiences.

In response to the challenges associated with such projects, RLUK is launching its ‘Space Programme’, a series of events and resources to explore and support its members around spatial redesign and capital-build projects. This programme will create a convenient forum through which colleagues can share their knowledge and experience in a collegiate and supportive environment.

This programme will:

  • Showcase the work being undertaken across the RLUK membership in relation to spatial redesign and capital build projects and initiatives, whether planned, underway, or recently completed;
  • Provide a convenient forum for knowledge exchange and peer support for those members considering or undertaking such work;
  • Enable knowledge sharing between members in a safe and informal environment and explore the physical implications of shifting demands on library spaces and the practical consequences of these.

The programme will achieve these aims by:

  • Holding two/three meetings every year, at a member library currently undertaking or having recently completed a space management, redesign, or construction project;
  • Having a dedicated Jiscmail list and area of the RLUK website for colleagues to exchange ideas, experiences and through which events can be promoted;
  • Building a collection of short, focused, member-submitted case studies outlining member experiences of spatial redesign or capital build projects;
  • Highlighting innovative projects and best practice from across the RLUK membership, and beyond, which might be of interest to those undertaking redesigns or capital builds;

We hope that this programme will make a big difference for members as they navigate what are frequently complex and multifaceted projects. It is another example of how the challenge-based approach contained within Reshaping Scholarship can give focus to our collective activities, whilst exploring and addressing issues that affect us all.


Each of RLUK’s three established member networks are now developing and delivering extensive programmes of work and are integral partners in the delivery of Reshaping Scholarship. RLUK’s two new networks, the Collections Strategy Network and New Directors Network, joined by the RLUK Space Programme, are further routes through which shared challenges can be discussed, collaborative actions identified, and through which the collective experience and voice of members can be harnessed.

Matt Greenhall, Deputy Executive Director