Forming international collaborations – University of Leiden Libraries, Netherlands

What is Leiden’s institutional context?

Leiden University (LU) was founded in 1575 and is one of the leading international research universities in Europe. It has seven faculties and a campus in both Leiden and The Hague. There are significant research partnerships with other Dutch universities. Within Europe, LU works intensively with the other members of the League of European Research Universities (LERU) and is a partner in the European University for Well-Being (EUniWell). Research at LU is organised into five broad clusters: Fundamentals of Science; Health and Wellbeing; Languages, Cultures and Societies; Law, Politics and Administration; Life Sciences. There is also one overarching research theme: Artificial Intelligence. [1]

LU Libraries (UBL) is primarily a provider of significant research collections (including object-based ones) and services, though because of recent developments, management is reviewing to expand its education services and support.

The Centre for Digital Scholarship (CDS) is an initiative set up by the library 5 years ago. It stemmed from research developments and innovations where staff expertise was greater than in the faculties. Support is provided in four areas: Open Access, Data Management, Copyright, and Text and Data Mining. [2]

You Share, We Take Care project

You Share, We Take Care project. The Taverne amendment is an extension of Dutch copyright law that allows scholars to share their publications quickly and easily. In You share, we take care the Dutch universities cooperate in their effort to help researchers make use of this possibility.

LU is developing a new strategic plan during 2021/2. It is being shaped through a transparent process that will conclude with the release of the new strategy in February 2022. The consultation process (delayed originally by COVID-19) is in full swing (June 2021) and initial results are being fed back to the groups leading the planning process. ‘Topics such as curiosity-driven research, the importance of free speech on the campus and creating a safe environment were given a high score. And a job guarantee and achieving more stability with fewer fixed-term contracts were topics that garnered plenty of support in the second round. Various other topics mentioned relate to impact, such as the relationship with the city’. [3] Parallel to this, UBL is also currently preparing its own new strategic plan for 2022-2026. The six key themes in the new plan are: Research Support, Education Support, Collection Development; Library as a Place; Public and International Role; Organisation Development.

What is the ‘collaborative context’ for Leiden?

UBL’s primary user group is University staff, though there is also a global dimension to its work through the digitisation programmes and digital services. The library works with Oxford and Cambridge Universities on digital humanities developments, e.g. in the area of tool development and knowledge exchange via seminars. A collaboration with the John Rylands University Library is planned. Leiden and Oxford Universities both contribute to the 2021 Digital Humanities Summer School ‘Distant Reading and Data-Driven Research’. Leiden has worked with both CUP and OUP on Open Access agreements and Evidence Based Acquisition models.

The Scaliger Institute (a collaboration between the Library and the Faculty of Humanities), chaired by the librarian, aims to bring researchers from across the world into closer contact with the wealth and diversity of UBL’s special collections and to facilitate their use. The Library takes the lead in this initiative. LU has a fellowship programme for digital scholarship sponsored by Elsevier. One recent fellowship supported the reconstruction of the networks of René Descartes and his supporters from epistolary sources using digital tools. [4] The CDS recently hosted a visiting Fulbright Specialist [5] to help envision what a scholar’s lab space might look like.

The UBL-Elsevier partnership also hosted a series of online seminars in 2021 on the challenges involved in achieving reproducibility in research. The seminars aimed to identify best practices and to showcase concrete experiences gained during various case studies. Elite academics from Oxford, Maastricht and Oregon Universities took part.

Leiden University Libraries & Elsevier seminars on Reproducible Research

   Leiden University Libraries & Elsevier seminars on Reproducible     Research

LU is a decentralised institution; UBL’s collection budget therefore comes partly from the central resources and partly from the faculties. This encourages good library/faculty relationships, as UBL needs to take care of transparent reporting on the spending of the budgets to faculty boards and academic staff.

What skills and staffing are required for effective research?

All university staff works under the same national labour agreement, and staff contracts and terms of employment are generic for everybody. [6] However, the university does make a formal distinction between academic vacancies and supporting non-academic vacancies. Library roles are currently all designated as non- academic positions. There is no predetermined requirement for a librarian to have a doctorate, though for certain positions, a master’s degree is necessary.

Within the library, a few positions have ‘faculty liaison’ as a core activity, e.g. for the subject specialists and the digital scholarship librarians, but their role is more focused on ‘research support’ rather than on research collaboration’. [7]

Research and projects undertaken by Library staff mostly deal with improving information infrastructures and services and on special collections activities, given its designation as an ‘expertise centre’ within LU. The ‘what’ question is answered by faculties; the library staff focuses on the ‘how’, though there is much common ground – and hence extensive collaboration between UBL’s Centre for Digital Scholarship and the Faculty of Humanities is doing in terms of research, e.g. in the area of Text and Data Mining.

Marco de Niet, Deputy Director, Leiden University Libraries