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, 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 ‚Äď combined with constraints on funding ‚Äď administrators at research-intensive universities perceive that libraries are presently at risk. Internationally, significant attention has been given to demonstrating the value and ‚Äėbusiness‚Äô of libraries to universities and funding agencies. Managing research information ‚Äď whether research data, articles, or administrative information about researchers and their work ‚Äď 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‚Äô 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. These blog posts are my meta-analysis of the results of some 30+ years of studies ‚Äď including recent reports from RIN, Ithaka, OCLC Research, and the DCC ‚Äď 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.’”