An increasing role for libraries in research information management

It’s no secret that the research ecosystem has been experiencing rapid change in recent years, driven by complex political, technological, and network influences. One component of this complicated environment is the adoption of research information management (RIM) practices by research institutions, and particularly the increasing involvement of libraries in this development.

Research information management is the aggregation, curation, and utilization of information about research. Research universities, research funders, as well as individual researchers are increasingly looking for aggregated, interconnected research information to better understand the relationships, outputs, and impact of research efforts as well as to increase research visibility.

Efforts to collect and manage research information are not new but have traditionally emphasized the oversight and administration of federal grants. Professional research administrative oversight within universities emerged in the 20th century, rapidly accelerating in the United States following Sputnik and exemplified through the establishment of professional organizations concerned primarily with grants administration & compliance, such as the Society for Research Administrators (SRA) in 1957 and the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA) in 1959.

Today research information management efforts seek to aggregate and connect a growing diversity of research outputs that encompass more than grants administration, and significantly for libraries, includes the collection of publications information. In addition, both universities and funding agencies have an interest in reliably connecting grants with resulting publications–as well as to researchers and their institutional affiliations.

Not long ago the process for collecting the scholarly publications produced by a campus’s researchers would have been a manual process, possible only through the collection of each scholar’s curriculum vitae. The resources required to collect this information at institutional scale would have been prohibitively expensive, and few institutions made such an effort. Institutions have instead relied upon proxies of research productivity–such as numbers of PhDs awarded or total dollars received in federal research grants–to demonstrate their research strengths. However, recent advances in scholarly communications technology and networked information offer new opportunities for institutions to collect the scholarly outputs of its researchers. Indexes of journal publications like Scopus, PubMed, and Web of Science provide new sources for the discovery and collection of research outputs, particularly for scientific disciplines, and a variety of open source, commercial, and locally-developed platforms now support institutional aggregation of publications metadata. The adoption of globally accepted persistent identifiers (PIDs) like DOIs for digital publications and datasets and ORCID and ISNI identifiers for researchers provide essential resources for reliably disambiguating unique objects and people, and the incorporation of these identifiers into scholarly communications workflows provide growing opportunities for improved metadata quality and interoperability.

Institutions may now aggregate research information from numerous internal and external sources, including information such as:

• Individual researchers and their institutional affiliations
• Publications metadata
• Grants
• Patents
• Awards & honors received by a researcher
• Citation counts and other measures of research impact

Depending upon institutional needs, the RIM system may also capture additional internal information about faculty, such as:
• Courses taught
• Students advised
• Committee service

National programs to collect and measure the impact of sponsored research has accelerated the adoption of research information management in some parts of the world, such as through the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the UK and the Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) in Australia. The effort to collect, quantify, and report on a broad diversity of research outputs has been happening for some time in Europe, where RIM systems are more commonly known as Current Research Information Systems (CRIS), and where efforts like CERIF (the Common European Research Information Format) provide a standard data model for describing and exchanging research entities across institutions.

Here in the US, research information management is emerging as a part of scholarly communications practice in many university libraries, in close collaboration with other campus stakeholders. In the absence of national assessment exercises like REF or ERA, RIM practices are following a different evolution, one with greater emphasis on reputation management for the institution, frequently through the establishment public research expertise profile portals such as those in place at Texas A&M University and the University of Illinois. Libraries such as Duke University are using RIM systems to support open access efforts, and others are implementing systems that convert a decentralized and antiquated paper-based system of faculty activity reporting and annual review into a centralized process with a single cloud-based platform, as we are seeing at University of Arizona and Virginia Tech.

I believe that support for research information management will continue to grow as a new service category for libraries, as Lorcan Dempsey articulated in 2014. Through the OCLC Research Library Partnership and in collaboration with partners from EuroCRIS, I am working with a team of enthusiastic librarians and practitioners from three continents to explore, research, and report on the rapidly evolving RIM landscape, building on previous RLP outputs exploring the library’s contribution to university ranking and researcher reputation. 

One working group is dedicated to conducting a survey of research institutions to gauge RIM activity:

• Pablo de Castro, EuroCRIS
• Anna Clements, University of St. Andrews
• Constance Malpas, OCLC Research
• Michele Mennielli, EuroCRIS
• Rachael Samberg, University of California-Berkeley
• Julie Speer, Virginia Tech University

And a second working group is engaged with qualitative inquiry into institutional requirements and activities for RIM adoption:
• Anna Clements, University of St. Andrews
• Carol Feltes, Rockefeller University
• David Groenewegen, Monash University
• Simon Huggard, La Trobe University
• Holly Mercer, University of Tennessee-Knoxville
• Roxanne Missingham, Australian National University
• Malaica Oxnam, University of Arizona
• Annie Rauh, Syracuse University
• John Wright, University of Calgary

Our research efforts are just beginning, and I look forward to sharing more about our findings in the future.

Rebecca Bryant is Senior Program Officer at OCLC where she leads research and initiatives related to research information management in research universities.

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