RLUK21 workshop: The role of academic and research libraries as active participants and leaders in the production of scholarly research

Highlights from the workshop that took place at the RLUK21 Conference

The 2021 RLUK Conference included a 90-minute workshop led by members of Evidence Base (Birmingham City University), the organisation commissioned to carry out the scoping study on shaping the future funding landscape to enable collaboration between researchers and academic and research libraries. The event was well attended, with some 140 participants in all and a high level of interaction through a mixture of presentation, polling, discussion, chat and question and answer session.

The aim was to:

  • Provide an update.
  • Gain feedback.
  • Seek input.

The event was led by Professor David Baker, of Evidence Base and Professor Jane Winters, of the School of Advanced Study, University of London (academic adviser to the study), with contributions from Professor Christopher Pressler, University Librarian and Director of The John Rylands Library at The University of Manchester, Daryl Green, Head of Special Collections at the University of Edinburgh and co-convenor of RLUK’s Special Collections Leadership Network, Tao-Tao Chang, Head of Academic Infrastructure at the AHRC and Dr Matt Greenhall, all of whom formed the panel for the debate towards the end of the workshop.

At the heart of the workshop was a presentation by Pete Dalton (Director) and Dr Sarah McNicol of Evidence Base on the results of the study so far. This incorporated information from the survey (over 300 responses had been received by the end of March), the interviews carried out to date, and two AHRC town hall meetings. Sarah gave an update on the demographics of the questionnaire, while Pete described the emerging themes from the ongoing work.

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It was clear that there were differing interpretations of ‘research’ and an ‘academic hierarchy’ that could prove problematic for librarians aiming to be active partners. Additionally, issues of support and the challenge of running library services (‘the day job’) were also emerging from the study. Librarians were also sometimes confused about their eligibility to participate in research projects, not least at institutional level, where support was not always evident, including through the infrastructure that typically supported research endeavour. There was also a confidence issue in some environments, with librarians often suffering from ‘imposter syndrome’. The opening up of collections was key to future developments, along with recognition, reward, advocacy, and, perhaps most importantly, awareness raising.

One aspect of the research is the identification of case studies (which are planned to include partnerships or collaborations with institutions outside the academic sector). Chris Pressler described the work of the John Rylands Research Institute: ‘a library with an institute; an institute within a library’ that provides a catalyst and a focus for the University’s world-leading research, incorporating new approaches in digital humanities and creation. This inspirational approach is underpinned by library and academic staff working together to shape future strategic and operational priorities in an inclusive research and work environment where everyone is empowered to participate.

It was evident from the workshop that there is a great desire for libraries and librarians to engage as full research partners. Recognising special collections and archive cataloguing – and, increasingly, collection creation as a research output could be a significant motivator. Librarians are brilliant at collaboration and team approaches need to be foregrounded. As Chris Pressler concluded, librarians are also very good at ‘being loud in a creative manner’. This should be highlighted in the final report!

David Baker (EvidenceBase)