The library as an integral part of research – University of Alberta Library, Canada

What is the University’s institutional context?

A member of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities, the University of Alberta (UoA) is the oldest and largest higher education institution in the Edmonton province. It is in the top five public research institutions in Canada. [1] UoA has a large and comprehensive range of academic and professional programmes alongside its significant research endeavour. The University was instrumental in starting the national conversation around Research Data Management (RDM).

UoA Library has 10 branches and more than 5.4 million titles and 8 million volumes, including 140,000 scholarly ejournals, 1.92 million ebooks, 806 online databases, 120,000 digitised titles, 67,000 newspaper issues. The UoA’s museums are part of the Vice-Provost and University Librarian’s portfolio. The library is informally regarded as a library of last resort for a large portion of Canada and prides itself on being substantively involved with research projects on a national level as well as offering significant research support across the University. [2] More formally, the library acts as a print library of last resort for the Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries (COPPUL), the Western Canadian regional consortium, and for NEOS, a consortium of central and northern Alberta libraries. The library realised this through the RCRF – the Research and Collections Resource Facility, a large and modern storage facility the opened in 2017.

The RCRF Cold Room

The RCRF Cold Room. The new Research & Collections Resource Facility (RCRF) has replaced the Book and Record Depository (BARD) in housing the Depository Library.

Unlike the USA, Canada offers no major funding programmes for libraries. The only recent exception was the federal government’s CAD $ 575.50 million investment for its New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization (NDRIO). Its goal is to unite disparate organisations and infrastructures into one agency, with the two main components being Compute Canada (HPC and research computing broadly) and CANARIE (the network backbone organisation).


New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization (NDRIO).
Canada’s New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization (NDRIO) is a national not-for-profit with a vision to harmonise and improve access to digital tools and services for Canadian researchers.

What is the ‘collaborative context’ for UoA?

Libraries are seen as an integral part of the research enterprise in Canada. Supporting research is one of UoA’s strategic priorities. [3, 4] The library focuses increasingly on research as a strategic focus. This is provided in the areas of publishing (via UoA Press and the digital scholarship centre), open access including ERA, research impact, text mining, Research Data Management (RDM), and systematic reviews. ‘In some cases, workload permitting, librarians may join a research team and co-author on comprehensive reviews, usually systematic reviews or scoping reviews, when the intended outcome of the project is a publication that requires a published search strategy’. [5]

The Digital Scholarship Centre

The Digital Scholarship Centre

ERA (Education and Research Archive) is the name for UoA’s Digital Asset Management strategy, being developed and supported by the library. ERA’s open access content includes the intellectual output of the University and promotes global opportunities for research discovery as well as for archival preservation. It provides an easy and convenient solution for faculty who must deposit their research in an open access repository to meet funding agency requirements. The library collaborates to digitise unique collections [6], based, for example, through its Research & Collections Resource Facility.

Some library staff are already active researchers, and their publications and instructional materials are included in ERA. Individuals have been Principal or Co-Investigators (or substantial partners in the work) and won grants across UoA’s whole subject range.

What skills and staffing are required for effective research?

In Canada, most librarians working in libraries at post-secondary institutions have academic status. The Chief Librarian typically reports direct to the Provost/Deputy Vice-Chancellor. This leads to a much closer alignment with the academic mission of the institution rather than the professional services side of operations. Librarians have the ability and the opportunity to do research, although there is no hard-and-fast requirement. Some take research activity very seriously and ‘carve out time’ to publish their findings.

Those who are less research active may have significant operational or managerial roles. The more time spent on leadership and management, the less time that an individual has available for research activity within the library setting. Professional advancement is typically linked to increasing levels of supervisory and managerial responsibility rather than research endeavour.

Although few if any Canadian libraries impose a research production/publication policy on their staff (a small number of institutions in the US have specific publications requirements for their librarians), research activity among librarians has a strong cultural relevance in many institutions. A PhD is not essential, though some staff already have a doctorate when they enter academic librarianship, while others gain a PhD after joining the profession, often in a discipline related to their job (Higher Education, Administration, Leadership Studies). It is common for librarians to pick up publishing credit by doing significant bibliographic legwork as part of a research team, though this is not an organisational expectation.


Archive-It is a web archiving service for collecting and accessing cultural heritage on the web.

What is the future of research at UoA?

Over the next 5-10 years, in a post-digital world, there is a real opportunity for libraries to establish themselves as the place of expertise around research data. UoA Library is moving from the classic librarian as gatekeeper to a model that allows the library as more critical to faculty’s research activity by de-emphasizing this disciplinary approach and putting in its place projects, [7] tasks and services that attend to academic research and teaching. [8] An example of this is the library’s  publishing programme.

The Canadian Association of Research Libraries’ (CARL) Portage network is dedicated to the shared, cohesive, and high-performing stewardship of research data within the country and provides a clear and dramatic representation of the value that libraries can provide collectively in the research framework, including a collection of tools and services that allows researchers to turn big data into leading-edge scientific breakthroughs. Administration and funding of Portage comes under the New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization (NDRIO), an umbrella NGO governed by a board made up of top executives from corporate entities, academic bodies, and libraries. One of the extant services from Portage is the DMP Assistant for generating data management plans. This is hosted at the UofA.

Dr Dale Askey, Vice-Provost (Library & Museums) and Chief Librarian, University of Alberta