Michael Jubb, Convener
John Coggins, University of Glasgow
Nathalie Cornée, MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology
Lesley Gilder, University of Southampton
Judith Hegenbarth, University of Birmingham
Ken Hollywood, British Geological Survey
Pat Spoor, University of Leeds
David Zeitlyn, Oxford University

1. Introduction

The workshop was convened as part of a programme of work in which the RIN is working with Research Libraries UK to examine a range of issues facing research libraries: how they currently support research; pressures and drivers for change, and strategies for the future. The aim was to help libraries in defining the potential range of activities at both institutional and collaborative levels for the future, and to provide ideas and exemplars for them to use.

Discussion focused on a series of topics and questions arising from a group of papers prepared by Lesley Gilder on the changing roles of research libraries.

2. Content and Collections

2.1 Comprehensiveness

The group noted that the provision of increasing amounts of information online has brought a fundamental change in (perhaps undermined) the notion of a collection. There was agreement that, from the perspective of researchers, a fundamental role for libraries was to provide speedy access to published content that covers as comprehensively as possible their fields of study. There were some concerns about the ‘just-in-time’ (as distinct from ‘just-in-case’) approach being suggested by some librarians and others; for the kinds of delays involved in inter-library loans and related systems brought risks of a loss in the train of thought for researchers, and thus a lessening in the efficiency and effectiveness of research. Access to comprehensive sets of material was also important if new facilities such as text-mining were to work effectively.

2.2 Archiving

There was also agreement that a key role for libraries remained the preservation of archives of publications, in digital as well as physical forms. These were not roles that could be left to publishers. Related to this was the need to ensure that when libraries purchased licences for access to publications, access for what had been subscribed to should be perpetual.

2.3 Special collections

With regard to special collections, the group acknowledged that there could be a tension between the benefits that arose for the host university on the one hand, and for the wider scholarly community on the other. It was stressed, however, that universities gained benefits in reputation across a wide range of communities, including alumni, from special collections that were known and used; and that such collections provided opportunities for targeted research, and for research-informed teaching within the institution itself. Such opportunities should be exploited more fully than was sometimes the case at present.

Hence there was agreement on the importance of digitising special collections, and providing good metadata so that they can be easily searched and used. It was also agreed that libraries needed to collaborate on digitisation projects. It was noted that digitisation, with good metadata, could lead to increased usage of the physical resources.

3. Library services

3.1 Information skills and training

There was strong agreement on the need for specialists in libraries to provide training in key information skills, going beyond search and navigation to information management and newer fields such as bibliometrics. Such training tended to be focused on doctoral students, and some libraries were now extending their coverage to include broader areas such as reading and writing skills for young researchers. There was less resistance from academics to notions of ‘training’ than there had been in the past, and this was perhaps associated with the rise of Graduate Schools. It was important for libraries to develop good links and relationships with them.

3.2 Publishing and dissemination

Young researchers in particular (but also many of their senior colleagues) needed guidance on matters such as open access, social media and their implications, copyright and broader intellectual property issues. Libraries were also the appropriate organisations within universities to provide institutional repositories (including practical support for researchers in depositing their publications and other outputs), and perhaps also to deal with the administrative arrangements relating to the payment of publication fees for open access publications.

3.3 Research data

Research data management is becoming an increasingly important issue, and libraries have a role in helping universities and researchers to grapple with it, particularly through the provision of advice and training. The group noted that the provision of expert curation and preservation services was patchy across the UK; and it was not clear how it would develop for the future. On the whole, the group believed that national and subject-based services – rather than individual libraries – were best for the provision of long-term access for re-use of large-scale datasets. It was also noted that researchers were reluctant to see more spent on data, at the expense of funding for new research.

3.4 Space

Libraries are providing increasing amounts of space for students both individually and in groups. In some libraries, researchers found it difficult to find quiet space to work. There was a need for dedicated space for researchers.

4. Staff and skills

4.1 New skill-sets

Libraries have adapted to new developments in the past, and would have to continue to do so in the future. But with regard to the support of research, one member highlighted the statement in the papers that ‘there is, at present, no consolidated professional library approach to mapping the requirements of the research process in detail onto library skills and knowledge’. This is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed as libraries seek to develop their roles for the future.

The group agreed that libraries would have to re-assess the skill-sets they needed in a rapidly-changing digital world, and make sure that they could provide the necessary expertise in ICT in areas such as programming, systems architecture, web development, data and metadata management, and so on. Perhaps above all, libraries need to develop and sustain a closer knowledge and understanding of their users, their attitudes and behaviours, and the systems and tools they use.

4.2 Subject/liaison librarians

The group noted the points made in the papers about the changing roles of subject and liaison librarians, who were seen as essentially brokers and co-ordinators of specialist support from other parts of the library. There was no consensus on the importance of subject expertise for such roles: there were some examples of highly-effective subject librarians who had doctoral qualifications in fields quite different from those in which they now operated. (So is research expertise in some field the key requirement, along with library training?) Provision of subject expertise was in any case becoming more difficult as disciplines changed and fragmented, and with the growth of inter-disciplinarity. Libraries had to be alert to these developments.

5. Libraries and their host universities

5.1 Relationships

Many people in universities, including senior managers, held rather traditional views of the library; and such views presented a risk to libraries as they sought to develop their role and their activities. The position of Librarian/Library Director had suffered from a loss of seniority within many universities, and this underscored the need to build more effective relationships with researchers and managers at all levels and in all parts of the institution: the senior management team, the research support office, the Graduate School, and so on, as well as with academic faculties and departments. Where libraries had played a key role in institution-wide and strategically-important developments such as preparation for submissions to the RAE/REF, that had had a positive impact on the perceived importance of the library. Libraries needed to be alert to opportunities of that kind.

6. Evaluation and assessment

There was agreement on the need to gather, analyse and present better information about the performance and value of libraries. It was suggested that more should be done with usage logs, looking for possible correlations with research performance across the university; and that much of the analysis should start from the data available about research outputs. One suggestion was to examine the bibliographies of key publications (eg those submitted for RAE /REF) and ask the question how the authors got access to the works cited: whether, for example, via their library (on paper or electronically); ILL; personal or learned society subscription; PPV; forwarding from a friend or colleague; owning the book; visiting another library; via the internet (outwith their home institution); and so on. Such a study could be conducted through survey/interviews with a sample of individuals whose work was/will be submitted to the RAE/REF.

Note: there was insufficient time for any focused discussion on questions of partnership and collaboration

Top image courtesy of Tim Pestridge, University of Exeter Library