Archive for the 'Supporting Scholarship' Category

User studies and risks for research libraries?

Monday, July 8th, 2013 by Jennifer

This is the first in a series of posts that synthesize conclusions of published user studies about desires and needs for research support. I’ve collected quite a stack of them. For the past three years I’ve been reading up on what academics themselves say about all this. Along the way, I’ve also gathered studies that include administrators and librarians. When the latest Ithaka US and UK faculty surveys came out this spring[1], I integrated their findings into my growing pile of evidence.

The cumulative effect is rather foreboding. Academic libraries appear to be somewhat out of touch with the needs of researchers. This shouldn’t be a surprise. The typical library often does not provide the support that researchers need to do their research. As a result, researchers report not being as well-served as they should be, and in their eyes academic libraries are losing relevance.

Today’s synthesis introduces user studies about risks for research libraries, especially the risk of doing nothing. In separate future posts I’ll focus on what researchers themselves say. If I get ambitious, I may delve into to user studies with university administrators and – last but not least – librarians.

Why user studies?

Many leaders of research libraries are concerned that their institutions have become less relevant to faculty members and academics, whether due to advances in technology, success in licensing journals, or over-investment in teaching services for undergraduates at the expense of research. In the current context of disintermediation of libraries – combined with constraints on funding – administrators at research-intensive universities perceive that libraries are presently at risk. Internationally, significant attention has been given to demonstrating the value and ‘business’ of libraries to universities and funding agencies. Managing research information – whether research data, articles, or administrative information about researchers and their work – has recently become a strategy for libraries to weave themselves into the fabric of the research lifecycle, in order to demonstrate their value and mitigate risk of losing relevance and funding.

To re-establish the research libraries’ alignment with research needs, the community has called for investment in developing new services that support research workflows and university administrations. Considerable thought has been given to the nature and function of such new services. National and institutional initiatives have enabled a handful of research libraries to spend significant resources planning and developing up-to-date research services.

For years, librarians have called for studies that articulate what researchers desire by way of support for their research.[2] These blog posts are my meta-analysis of the results of some 30+ years of studies – including recent reports from RIN, Ithaka, OCLC Research, and the DCC – in order to gather together evidence of system-wide needs for research services, both within and outside libraries. Of course, methodologies used to generate the numerous studies vary, such as interviews, surveys, and focus groups. Also, the objectives of the various projects are different, so exact or parallel comparisons are difficult and the conclusions are not necessarily overlapping or consistent.

Nevertheless, clear trends and distinct patterns emerge from the body of work as a whole. Recent research on scholarly behavior converges on conclusions about all manner of information-related services in universities and across academic disciplines. Qualitative and quantitative studies of scholars and academic administrators provide a mountain of evidence about the nature of services and infrastructure required to span the entire lifecycle of the fruits of research. While we have witnessed simultaneous evolution of discipline-based and institution-based services, diverse international reports have identified gaps in digital infrastructure and provision of services to manage research information, both by libraries and by university administrations.

Risks: disintermediation, funding, value

Martin Feijen, in a literature review from the Dutch SURFfoundation titled What researchers want, gleans the crux of the matter: “There is one very concise statement about risk: ‘The biggest risk is to do nothing.’”[3]

Read the rest of this entry »

Irreconcilable differences? Name authority control & humanities scholarship

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 by Karen

This post is co authored by David Michelson, Vanderbilt University

Over the past year OCLC Research has been working with a group of Syriac studies scholars with the goal of tapping their expertise to enrich the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF), by adding Syriac script to existing names and adding new ones. Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, developed in the kingdom of Mesopotamia in the first century A.D. It flourished in the Persian and Roman Empires, and Syriac texts comprise the third largest surviving corpus of literature from the fourth through seventh centuries, after Greek and Latin. We anticipated that the issues we addressed could then be applied to scholars in other disciplines. We started with the assumption that the scholars could use the Library of Congress’ Metadata Authority Description Schema, or MADS.

We have learned a lot in the process of building a bridge between scholarly interest in names as a subject of historical research and VIAF’s interest in persistent identifiers for each name in authority files. We found that we shared values for name authorities:

  • Scholars and librarians share a mutual appreciation for each others’ work on identifying names appearing in historical research.
  • Many scholarly projects in the digital humanities are already relying on VIAF for authority control and to anchor Linked Open Data. The Syriac scholars pointed us to digital humanities projects— such as the Fihrist, a union catalog of Islamic manuscripts hosted in the UK, and those listed in the Digital Classicist Wiki under “Very Clean URIs”—that have adopted VIAF URIs as the best method for authority control and to link to other data sets.
  • VIAF can provide part of the cyberinfrastructure for digital humanities, a standard way for linking and querying data, a need identified by The American Council of Learned Societies’ national Commission on Cyberinfrastructure.

We discovered two key issues important to scholars that just don’t mesh well with the library practices represented in name authority files, which VIAF aggregates, due to differences in intended audiences, disciplinary norms, and metadata needs:

  • Scholars eschew a “preferred name”. Libraries need to bring together all the variant forms of a name under one form, choosing a “predominant form” if a person writes in more one language. This approach meets the discovery needs for a specific national or linguistic community. Scholarship is international, and the “preferred name” in one locale will differ from another. Further, the context is crucial for classifying names. For scholars, a “preferred name” needs to also include by whom and for what purpose it is preferred. For example, a Syriac name in use in 600 may be classified as “classical Syriac”; but the same name in use one thousand years later may be classified as a neo-Aramaic dialect. The same Syriac author might have multiple “preferred forms” in multiple languages (Syriac, Arabic, Greek), each used by different or competing cultural communities. This applies to other languages as well. Scholars resist declaring a “preferred form” because it could exclude some historical or cultural perspective. Each form may be “authoritative” depending on the time and place it appears.
  • Scholars need to know the provenance of each form of name. When a name has multiple forms, scholars—especially historians— need to know the provenance of each name, following the citation practices commonly used in their field. Historical and textual scholarship is built on conventions of evidence and values the process of contesting intellectual claims. MADS does not provide the structure for citing these sources or providing the required contextual information. Although library practices require “literary warrant” to justify why one form of name was chosen as the authorized heading or access point, they do not document the context for any of the variant forms. There is not even a field to indicate the language of a name’s form. We can deduce the language of the preferred form only by the source of the authority file. Scholars find little value in name information without provenance data, an equivalent of footnotes.

The good news is that our collaboration has pointed the way for future interaction between VIAF, the VIAF Council, and the scholarly community:

  • Syriac studies colleagues are building their own database where they can describe each personal name with the granularity that meets their scholarly requirements. We will work together to create a crosswalk so that OCLC Research can extract the information that fits into a MADS structure, and can still enrich existing VIAF clusters with Syriac and other script forms or add new names. VIAF and will follow existing protocols for using the namespace in minting URIs for new names not yet in VIAF.
  • For those who need the additional details, people could click a link to the name in the database, much as those who want to read a biography of a VIAF name can click on a Wikipedia link, if present. Thus VIAF can still integrate scholars’ expertise and serve scholarly users without needing to overcome the fundamental differences between library and scholarly practices.
  • will work with OCLC and the VIAF Council to establish a path for other scholarly research organizations to contribute to VIAF.

The screen captures of the current VIAF cluster and a Syriac Reference Portal Demo record for Ephrem below help us imagine how VIAF could be enhanced.

VIAF Cluster

VIAF Cluster

Extract from the Syriac Reference Portal Demo

Extract from the Syriac Reference Portal Demo

David Michelson is the assistant professor of early Christianity at Vanderbilt University and director of The Syriac Reference Portal, a joint project among Vanderbilt University, Princeton University, St. Michael’s College Vermont, Texas A&M University, Beth Mardutho the Syriac Institute and other affiliate institutions, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Special Collections in the Collective Collection

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 by Jennifer

Last month I facilitated a forum at the New-York Historical Society about Putting ‘Special’ in the ‘Collective Collection.’ We think it might be the first ever meeting about the centrality of distinctive and unique materials in discourse about the contemporary research ecosystem of shared print agreements, digital materials (both free and licensed), print collections, regional consortia, and resource sharing.

The meeting was standing room only, with a substantial waiting list. This group of thoughtful representatives from OCLC Research Library Partnership institutions set out to reconsider entrenched ideas about the irrelevance, or even the danger, of the collective collection to special collections.

What is the collective collection? In the recent mega-regions report, Constance and Brian defined the “collective collection” to be the combined holdings of a group of institutions, excluding duplicate holdings.

In our thought experiment, we mentally set aside the widespread overlapping collections, like those runs of STEM journals, subscriptions to Evans Online, or Google Books and the Hathi Trust. What’s left is a virtual collection of scarce publications – all in situ – that are held across the institutions in the group.

What remains is the rare stuff, “thy true heritage.” It is the widely-held material that allows us to focus on collecting (collectively) in the margins. The collective collection is not complete without special collections.

What does this strategy mean for researchers? It means that I can look every one of them in the eye and tell them that I can get them everything they need, regardless of where those materials “live”. And I can provide my rare books and special collections to all of my researchers, no matter where they do their work.

What are the implications for library administrators? The distinctiveness of your library’s materials – in concert with your colleagues’ special collections – is the hallmark of the collective collection.

Putting “Special” in the “Collective Collection” from OCLC Research

Share your ideas, in comments below, or in email to me.

Elusive Quality

Thursday, October 25th, 2012 by Ricky

We talk a lot about data curation, but rarely about data quality. How do researchers determine if a dataset is appropriate for their intended purposes? They may need to know how the data was gathered (sometimes including the sensor equipment used and how it was calibrated), the degree of accuracy of the data, what null elements mean, what subsequent changes have been made to the data, and all sorts of provenance information.

The University of North Carolina invited about 20 people from a variety of communities to an NSF-funded workshop, titled, Curating for Quality: Ensuring Data Quality to Enable New Science. The final report has just been published. In its appendices are the white papers that were prepared in advance of the workshop, including one that Brian Lavoie and I wrote, titled, The Economics of Data Integrity, which is on page 53 of the report.

The most useful outcomes of the workshop came from the group’s brainstorming of projects that would advance the discussion. We settled on eight that seemed actionable and fleshed them out a bit. We were encouraged to pursue the projects that moved us, either by working informally with like-minded individuals or by making a proposal to NSF. There’s no reason, however, that anyone couldn’t take up any of these ideas.

For those of you in a hurry, the Conclusion and Call to Action on page 17 and 18 of the report sum up the issues quite nicely.

Libraries Rebound – A Personal Partial Recap

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012 by Jim

In the three earlier posts Merrilee did a great job of summarizing the content of the three different themes – directly supporting researchers, special collections and institutional mission and space as a distinctive asset. The important things to take away were captured in those posts which reflect the attendees highlights as captured in the twitter stream (which has increasingly become the record of conference events).

For those who want a short list of action items from the conference here are mine:

Examine the full research life cycle for one or more disciplines at your institution to identify gaps and pain points where the library could be a continuing source of support. (See the DeBelder slides .pptx

Consider assessing special collections via a task force composed of individuals external to the department to look for alignment with university strategy. (See the Pyatt slides .pptx)

Create a long-term library space plan even if you don’t have current funding or immediate renovation opportunity. (See the Pritchard .pptx and Group4 .pptx slides)

For me the best frame for the event was provided by something taken from a presentation by Wendy Lougee (discussed in an earlier post) in which she characterized future library services as built around local priorities (cf. research support), local infrastructure (space and buildings) and unique institutional assets (special collections). Mixed together thoughtfully these three would result in a portfolio of distinctive services. Read the rest of this entry »

Coming to terms with disciplinary repositories

Friday, May 11th, 2012 by Ricky

Academic librarians are coming to terms with the likelihood that institutional repositories and disciplinary repositories will coexist into the future. In order to provide good support to researchers, librarians should be able to assess the reliability of disciplinary repositories as part of their role in furthering scholarly discourse. [And even more important if the library is involved in operating a disciplinary repository!]

In the report Lasting Impact: Sustainability of Disciplinary Repositories, OCLC Research provides an overview of disciplinary repositories, profiles seven with different business models, and offers ways to assess or improve the sustainability of disciplinary repositories.

OCLC Research 2011: “Seeking Synchronicity,” insights into virtual reference

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011 by Merrilee

At the end of 2011, we are doing a mini series of blog postings to reflect on some of the year’s highpoints. This posting is the second in the series.

“Seeking Synchronicity” was published as an OCLC members report in 2011, but is based on many research projects on virtual reference, both research conducted by OCLC Research Scientist Lynn Connaway and Rutgers Professor Marie Radford, and others. Marie and Lynn have helpfully boiled down findings to a very readable set of recommendations and guidelines about virtual reference and optimizing your chances for satisfaction and success.

What has stuck with me after reading the report, is the importance of building relationships. Practicing good customer service goes well beyond virtual reference.

You can view a webinar (and find more information about the project) here.

Supporting research, and how we aren’t

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 by Ricky

OCLC Research and the UK’s Research Information Network conducted complementary studies of research support services in universities in the US and UK. Hot off the press today is a report, Supporting Research: Environments, Administration and Libraries, by John MacColl and Michael Jubb that highlights the findings. While the reports attempted library-agnosticism, this synthesis takes a stand as to what it means for academic libraries. It ain’t pretty, but it’s important to face as we think about ways academic libraries can better support their universities’ research missions.

The Empires Fight Back – Globalization and Area Studies

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011 by Jennifer

Last week at our FutureCast meeting, Deborah Jakubs, University Librarian at Duke, gave us a thoughtful analysis of internationalizing education and research collections. She was commenting on Ben Wildavsky’s talk about an increasingly mobile academy, the emergence of global universities, and the role of global rankings. Deborah  put Wildavsky’s thesis about globalization and higher education in a research library context. I asked Deborah for her notes, and she has allowed me to post them. I have made my own personal selections here.


  • Higher education has gone global
  • Language learning/fluency very important
  • Increased collaboration with research partners, co-authors,  beyond the US
  • Access for non-US researchers to scholarship produced in the US and internationally


  • Title VI funding for area studies is threatened precisely when language/cultural expertise is needed
  • Research libraries see continued decline in “foreign acquisitions”
  • Trend in libraries to justify expenditures on use, ROI
  • Limited and/or uneven production of and access to digital scholarly resources worldwide
  • Contradiction between globalized universities and diminishing focus on global acquisitions
  • How will needs of scholars for access to non-English, often obscure, materials be met?
  • Erosion of the mission of research libraries to focus on the most-used or most-requested, turning away from more specialized
  • Implications of just in time vs. just in case for foreign materials?


  • Focus more on less available materials;  “core” is easily found (see Hathi Trust, etc.)
  • Treat foreign materials as special collections
  • What’s the information landscape beyond the US, in developing countries?
  • Can we develop centers of strength?
  • Given the partnerships between US and non-US researchers/institutions, we should develop parallel partnership with libraries in other countries

It will come as no surprise to many that Deborah is on the task force on International Engagement of ARL Libraries.

The video recordings of the FutureCast plenary sessions and response panels will be posted shortly.

Economics of Scholarly Production: Supplemental Materials

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010 by Constance

At the Spring CNI Taskforce meeting last April, Karen Wetzel (Standards Program Manager at NISO) announced a new piece of work related to “supplemental materials” in journal articles. In the scientific literature, it is not uncommon for articles to be accompanied by a secondary set of figures, data, documentation of experimental protocols that aren’t considered part of the core content. Karen reported that thought-leaders from a variety of sectors had expressed concerns about the expense that publishers incur in managing this material, as well as the additional work that it creates for editorial staff and authors. Libraries were included in a long list of potential stakeholders, as potential curators of this supplemental material.

A central concern is that scholarly citation and reuse of this kind of supporting material is limited by the absence of identifiers, bibliographic metadata etc. Read the rest of this entry »