On 27 April almost 100 colleagues came together for an interactive virtual seminar and workshop to explore the application of the Technician Commitment to research and academic libraries.

Co-convened by Research Libraries UK and the AHRC, the event included a series of case study presentations and facilitated discussions. It considered the range of library roles that relate to the Technician Commitment, the benefits of library and archive staff seeing themselves within this, and the use of the commitment to advocate for the wider role of academic libraries as leaders and partners in research.

Our speakers included:

  • Jessica Gardner, RLUK Chair and University Librarian, University of Cambridge
  • Christopher Smith, Executive Chair, Arts and Humanities Research Council

Case study presentations:

The event included four case study from library, archive, and conservation professionals regarding the importance of technical and specialist skills to their role and the application of the Technician Commitment to their professional practice.

  • Gary Brannan, Keeper of Archives and Special Collections, Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York
  • Claire Knowles, Associate Director, Research and Digital Futures, University of Leeds
  • Elisabeth Carr, Collection Care Manager, John Rylands Research Institute and Library
  • Dominic Tate, Head of Library Research Support, Library & University Collections, University of Edinburgh

Interactive discussions:

The event also featured a series of interactive discussions through which delegates considered the application of the Technician Commitment within their own institutions. Within small breakout groups, colleagues considered how the Technician Commitment could apply to their own role and professional practice, and the tangible ways in which the commitment might be used to support technical and specialist skills within the academic library community.

The results of these discussions are being collated into a Summary document, which will be the subject of a longer blog to be published shortly.

Research libraries make it happen: The Technician Commitment applied

This event followed the announcement that RLUK have become a named supporter of the Technician Commitment and have published a statement of support regarding the recognition, support, and celebration of technical and specialist skills contained within research libraries.

The event was open to colleagues working across the academic and research library sectors, academic community, and research managers and administrators. It formed part of the joint RLUK-AHRC Research Engagement Programme, which is a direct outcome from the findings and recommendations of the joint AHRC-RLUK scoping study (January-June 2021) regarding the role of academic libraries as partners in, and leaders of, research.

A further, more detailed, blog will be published shortly outlining some of the key conclusions from the session and a summary of next steps that might be undertaken by individual professionals, institutions, the wider academic library sector, and RLUK and AHRC specifically.

Research libraries make it happen: Sprint summary of discussions

This document contains a sprint-written summary of discussions held at the joint RLUK-AHRC event The Technician Commitment and the role of research and academic libraries as centres of technical and specialist expertise, held on 27 April 2022. The event explored the application of the Technician Commitment to research and academic libraries. It considered the range of library roles that can relate to the Technician Commitment, the benefits of library staff seeing themselves within this, and the use of the commitment to advocate for the wider role of libraries as leaders and partners in research. 

This summary is written on behalf of colleagues working across the academic library community, the AHRC, and RLUK. It acts as a record of these discussions, as a blueprint for further work, and as a rallying cry for the greater visibility, recognition, support, and advocacy of technical and specialist skills within academic libraries. It is divided between the four pillars of the Technician Commitment regarding the visibility, recognition, career development, and sustainability of technical skills, and recommends actions on behalf of individual professionals, their institutions, the academic library and archive sectors, and RLUK and AHRC. 

This summary should be read in conjunction with RLUK’s statement of support of the Technician Commitment.

Visibility: We will use the Technician Commitment to enhance the visibility of technical and specialist skills within research and academic libraries.


Terminology: We recognise that the term ‘technician’ can sometimes be difficult to apply to the variety of roles contained within academic libraries, but we also recognise that this is an established term, well recognised by funding councils, university leaders, and other disciplines. We need to be brave as a community to identify ourselves as ‘technicians’ if this is the best way to showcase our technical and specialist skills to those outside of the sector. We recognise that this will sometimes be problematic, but using an established term and definition is important. 

Relationships: As individual professionals, we need to build relationships across institutions through our participation in cross-disciplinary conversations and committees, both to build our own awareness of emerging developments and discussions, and to build wider awareness of our work.

Presence: We need to encourage librarians, archivists, and research support professionals to develop and manage their professional profiles through ORCID, staff profiles, and our online presence through platforms such as Academia.edu. We need to be proud of our skills, knowledge, and expertise, and present these in a discoverable and accessible way to potential partners.


Terminology and perception: Terms such as ‘academic’ and ‘non-academic’ staff, as used within universities, can obscure the real research contribution and potential of library staff (who are often termed as non-academic). Institutions should adopt more inclusive terminology to denote staff roles and we should advocate for this within our institutions. We need to challenge established perceptions around the ‘role of technicians’ and engage with senior leaders, including vice chancellors, in these conversations.

Relationships: We need to continue to foster and strengthen relationships between academic library staff and research offices. This can be done at an institutional level, but also be supported sectorally through RLUK and AHRC’s relationship with ARMA.


Sharing success: we need to be more confident in sharing successes across the sector and celebrate co-creation, where this has worked, and challenges encountered. We should work, as a sector, with key sector stakeholders, including ARMA and ICON, to raise the status of individual professions within our institutions, who work in support of the Technician Commitment.


Definition: AHRC should continue to develop an inclusive definition of a ‘technician’, highlight the importance of technical contributions to Arts and Humanities research, and support communication strategies which increase the visibility and understanding of the diverse roles of those who contribute to research, for example, via the 101 Voices Campaign.

Research Funding Guide: AHRC should continue to revise the AHRC Research Funding Guide to highlight the importance of acknowledging and identifying the contributions of those who offer technical and specialist expertise.  The AHRC should ensure that guidance is clear and ensure that academic and research library colleagues are eligible recipients of research funding in their own right. 

Career Development: we should use the Technician Commitment to support career development amongst technical and specialist staff within research libraries and to promote clear pathways for progression.


Building confidence: we need to build the confidence of colleagues working with technical and specialist skills to see themselves as researchers. We should highlight the diverse range of skills required to undertake our work and our ability to work collaboratively across a wide variety of disciplines and professional practices. 

Space: We need to dedicate space and support for continued professional development, and collaborative skills development opportunities. We should advocate for this within our institutions and consider the opportunities to use CPD frameworks to build and develop our skills base individually.


Career pathways: Institutions need to invest and establish career pathways for staff with technical and specialist skills so individuals are able to progress within their institutions and institutions retain their unique expertise.

Time and space: is required for the development of technical and specialist skills within academic libraries. Institutions should provide colleagues with the time to reflect and develop their professional practice through secondments or short sabbaticals.

Grading: greater recognition should be given to the importance of specialists skills in job descriptions and grading, and we should advocate for these within our institutions.


Attraction and retention: we need to be more proactive in advocating for the research library community as an attractive sector to work for colleagues with specialist and technical skills. We need to explore ways of attracting and retaining expertise and knowledge within the sector, especially during the period of the talent crunch.

Mentoring: we should create opportunities through which colleagues can mentor one another regarding their technical and specialist skills development, and to foster connections across the community.

Coordination: greater sectoral coordination is required around professional development opportunities, and RLUK should work with key sector bodies, including CILIP, SCONUL, ARA, and ICON, to explore collaborative opportunities.


Pipeline: RLUK and AHRC should explore ways of supporting the talent pipeline and sector entry points and development opportunities for those colleagues with specialist and technical skills.

Programmes: RLUK and AHRC should continue to develop their collaborative programmes to support those working within research libraries to develop their confidence as research professionals. This includes future iterations of the Professional Practice Fellowship scheme and Research Catalyst Cohort programme.

Recognition: we should collectively use the Technician Commitment to build greater recognition of technical and specialist skills within research libraries.


Pride: We should place greater recognition on the strength, value, and variety of our skills as professionals. We should be proud to tell our stories, to showcase our skills, and publish case studies of our successes and experiences within equal partnerships. We should consider doing this, as individuals, through blogs, articles, conference papers and other cross-sector outlets.


Definition of research: We need to rethink and redefine the meaning of ‘research’ within our institutions, and to foster and encourage conversations to support this revision and a more inclusive definition of a ‘researcher’. More recognition needs to be given towards practice-based research, in which academic and research library colleagues have real strengths.


Collaboration: we need to emphasize the collaborative nature of research and to explore the opportunities and challenges of this for academic libraries through knowledge-sharing events and exchanges.

Opportunities: Greater consideration should be given to people starting out on their research careers, building on the foundations of the AHRC-RLUK Professional Practice Fellowships and Research Catalyst Cohort programme. These opportunities should be promoted as widely as possible to ensure the greatest variety of applications from across the sector.


Advocacy and engagement: RLUK and AHRC should engage with senior decision makers, and vice chancellors in particular, regarding the recognition of academic and research library colleagues as skilled research professionals.

Acknowledgement: The AHRC should ensure that the Research Funding Guide states that technical and specialist expertise need to be acknowledged within applications, and that the value of technical and specialist skills are recognised and considered by members of the Peer Review College in any assessment and moderating activity. 

Case studies: RLUK and AHRC should collate case studies and myth busting examples of where libraries have led research and the tangible ways in which we position and promote ourselves as research professionals .

Sustainability: use of Technician Commitment to embed sustainability around technical and specialist skills development within research libraries.


Capacity: we should work with our institutions to identify ways to develop our research capacity, capabilities, and confidence. This might include applying to schemes such as the AHRC-RLUK Professional Practice Fellowship scheme or embedding research objectives within our professional development goals. We should think critically regarding the elements of our role that might constitute ‘research’ and how we can showcase it as such.


Succession planning: Greater emphasis needs to be placed on succession and long term planning, especially how to retain skills and talent beyond the funding period of discrete projects. Institutions should explore how to sustainably embed project-based skills and learning within their institutions, and to retain highly skilled technical staff beyond the end of projects wherever possible.

Holistic: institutions need to take more of a holistic approach to supporting staff to develop their skills and knowledge, to be proactive in doing so, and to develop skills beyond triage. This can include an increased emphasis on professional development and the exploration of mentoring/coaching opportunities, and skills exchange initiatives between departments or institutions.


Resource sharing: cross-sector collaboration is essential and we need to build partnerships across the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museum (GLAM) sectors.

Retention: We need to collectively advocate for the retention of skills within the sector, including the adoption of more permanent contracts and sustainable positions beyond project-based funding.


Make sustainability a priority: Make sustainability of skills a key element for those who are applying for funding, ask applicants to demonstrate commitment to developing a skills legacy to ensure those we invest in are committed to the long-term development of staff and their skills.  

Pipeline and career pathways: RLUK, AHRC and other sector bodies should support and advocate for the development of new career pathways for technical and specialist staff, with an emphasis on sustainability.

Emerging roles: RLUK and AHRC should undertake research regarding the representation of technical and specialist skills within established roles and those emerging within the sector.