November 24, 2014

Research Librarians Discuss New Ways to Support Scholars

The stable and predictable days of the 20th century, when research libraries could rely on their prized local collections to define their distinct and distinguished place on campus, are long gone.

The 21st-century’s user-centric networked world and the concomitant Sturm und Drang of cyber scholarship have caught research libraries in a seemingly unending flux. Traditional practices and services are no longer adequate to support scholars, but how best to reassess and redefine services, how best to reposition the library within the scholarly enterprise, how best to add new value, remains an ongoing, critical challenge.

Thirty-two research librarians gathered March 5-6 in Scottsdale, AZ, at a symposium hosted by Ex Libris to discuss this challenge, which is as prickly, vast, and shifting as the nearby Sonoran Desert.

“We have to constantly assess where scholarly communications is going and what we are doing to support research in this world of rapidly changing options,” said Catherine Murray-Rust, the vice provost and dean of Libraries at Georgia Institute of Technology. “The game really has changed and it continues to change in dramatic ways.”

“Libraries and publishers of scholarly content need to pay attention to where research is going, not where libraries are going so much, but where research is going, and that’s the only way we’re going to manage to stay in this game in the future,” said Murray-Rust.  “The important question is what services are we going to provide that will add value to the scholarly enterprise.”

Like other attendees at the symposium, Murray-Rust said that the research library’s mission isn’t any different than it has been–the creation and dissemination of new knowledge– it’s just that the means by which the mission is fulfilled has changed.

As noted in a recent ARL issue brief titled 21st-Century Collections: Calibration of Investment and Collaborative Action, mission fulfillment entails a shift of focus: “Rather than focusing on acquiring the products of scholarship, the library is now an engaged agent supporting and embedded within the processes of scholarship.”

Research-focused scholarly publishing is one such process.

“Publishing is very much a part of that great new world of library services,” said Murray-Rust, who co-authored the March 2012 report Library Publishing Services: Strategies for Success. ”The campus is moving rapidly, publishing is moving rapidly, and we are in the middle of this thing trying to figure out what value we can add.”

The report, which surveyed 223 deans and directors, indicated that 55 percent of respondents either had or were developing library publishing services and almost 90 percent of those programs were launched “to contribute to change in the scholarly publishing system, supplemented by a variety of other mission-related motivations.”

“The overarching message of the report was entering the publishing business as a library requires a long-term, sustainable commitment to the effort as well as funding and expertise,” Murray-Rust said. “It is not something you do lightly. … It requires a lot of careful thought and careful planning in order to do it well.”

Murray-Rust also noted that these ventures not only require a more business-like attitude than traditional services but they also require broader collaboration among institutions, which was another theme at the symposium.

“Like so many of the new services that we are trying to install, to create, and have thrive, we can’t do it institution by institution,” Murray-Rust said. “We just do not have either the expertise or the funding to sustain some of these projects.” (Meanwhile, the publishing services report has  partially inspired a group called the Library Publishing Coalition attempting a concerted effort toward many of these same issues.)

The symposium attendees tackled a range of topics including faculty profile systems, robust data management and digital preservation, new forms of scholarly measurement (altmetrics), new staffing models, all of which are high priorities if research libraries are to move further upstream in the scholarly research process.

Scholarly production and authoring projects are also piloting new forms of scholarly communication that have implications for humanities scholarship and infrastructure, as discussed recently at a program of the Scholarly Communication Institute of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA.

“We need to be thinking about how our digital collections can be incorporated into this kind of work, and we need, of course, to help scholars manage the resources they create,” said Carol Mandel, the dean of libraries for New York University, who came to Scottsdale after attending the Virginia program. Mandel also heads NYU’s university press.

Mandel cited MediaCommons, Press Forward, and the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture as new models for interactive, media-rich digital scholarship and pedagogy that encourage open access and draw attention to web genres of scholarly publishing. New technological platforms like Scalar are a key part of the process, as Nicholas Mirzoeff demonstrated in his latest work.

“They are searching for new ways to give work authority and validation and, of course, tenure credit,” Mandel said. “And where does that fit in with this very complex world of new communication, or does that validation only come with some kind of traditional imprimatur of a print product at the end?”

Mandel said there is growing pressure to provide such publishing platforms, and projects like Press Forward served not just as a scholarly communication model but as a library curation model.

Such paradigm shifts also cropped up in the numerous conversations around open access at the symposium.

Tom Wall, the university librarian for Boston College Libraries, said a robust, searchable, multi-institution repository of open access materials could provide a radical shift in how research librarians think about publishing and scholarly communication.

“It’s a question of whether we can mobilize in a unified way to start creating a different model. We need to make that shift,” Wall said.

Wall questioned whether the academic journal would be necessary in the future.

“Can’t we take these item-level pieces of information and put them in an open repository?” Wall asked. “We all have [institutional repositories], who’s to say those IRs couldn’t collaborate in a way that makes a massive IR. It’s all open access and it’s the place that legitimizes the open access movement.”

Wall said this approach could help overcome a fragmented landscape where legitimacy is often a question mark.

“If we took a leadership role as research librarians and said we are going to bring it together, we are going to provide the portal at item level by bringing our repositories together that have open access materials then we are creating a completely different experience.”

In some ways, the idea reflected the Get It Now model that the Copyright Clearance Center introduced in 2011. And Ex Libris recently released a new service for institutional- and open access repositories that simplifies the process of indexing the content in Primo Central. The new registration service is open to all institutions, not only Primo customers.

The Georgia Tech faculty passed an open access policy that took effect at the beginning of the year, and Murray-Rust cautioned that the faculty must drive such efforts.

“Our library success was to facilitate the conversation, but basically it’s their promotion and tenure, it’s their intellectual property, it’s their research works and until they lead this we will have an extremely difficult time getting all this content out to the world,” Murray-Rust said.

(LJ will publish in an upcoming issue an in-depth interview with Oren Beit-Arie, chief strategy officer at Ex Libris, about issues raised at the symposium and how the company is positioning itself in this landscape.)

This article was featured in Library Journal's Academic Newswire enewsletter. Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to your inbox for free.

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley (mkelley@mediasourceinc.com) is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.

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  1. “We all have [institutional repositories], who’s to say those IRs couldn’t collaborate in a way that makes a massive IR. It’s all open access and it’s the place that legitimizes the open access movement.”

    Bepress already has developed something akin to this, called the DigitalCommons Network: http://network.bepress.com/about/. As I understand, any IR can sign up and be included in this network.

    The Digital Commons Network brings together scholarship from hundreds of universities and colleges, providing open access to peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, dissertations, working papers, conference proceedings, and other original scholarly work. This constantly growing body of publications is curated by university librarians and their supporting institutions, and represents thousands of disciplines and subject areas—from Architecture to Zoology.

    You’ll never run into pay walls or empty records, because only full-text, open-access research and scholarship are included in the network.

    This network of research commons continues to grow thanks to the contributions of researchers, librarians, faculty, and students who believe that scholarship is a community enterprise. If you would like to participate in the Digital Commons Network, please contact us.