The OCLC Research Library Partnership: the challenges of developing scholarly services in a decentralized landscape (North American edition)

On November 1st, North American members of the OCLC Research Library Partnership came together in Baltimore to engage in day-long discussion on three concurrent topics:

My colleagues Karen Smith-Yoshimura and Merrilee Proffitt have previously written on the first two discussions.

Attendees at the North American meeting of OCLC Research Library Partners, 1 Nov 2017

Scholarly communications in a complex institutional environment

While recognizing the landscape of evolving scholarly services and workflows is extremely broad, my colleague Roy Tennant and I chose to frame our conversation around three distinct areas of research university and library engagement:

  • research data management (RDM)
  • research information management (RIM)
  • institutional repositories (IR)

We discussed each focus area for libraries singly but also explored how these services are increasingly intersecting, driven by needs for improved workflows for researchers—and institutions. These service areas may also intersect with non-library services such as annual academic review workflows and institutional reporting, as well as with the growing numbers of resources researchers are using to independently manage their citations, lab notebooks, and more.

We engaged in an in-depth discussion utilizing two recent OCLC Research reports:

and also looked to the recent report of a CNI Executive Roundtable, Rethinking Institutional Repository Strategies, as well as a short 2008 blog by Lorcan Dempsey on “Stitching Costs”, or the costs of integrating services and workflows.

While the topic of our conversation was scholarly communications workflows, services, and interoperability, the theme was the challenge of libraries responding to enterprise-wide needs. Participating institutions represented a variety of states of exploration and implementation, particularly in relation to emerging areas like RDM and RIM, and librarians described their own experiences and challenges, as they seek to build relationships with other institutional stakeholders that have different goals, priorities, and practices. Every institution is decentralized, and each institution is unique in its organization. Relationship building and communications across silos is time consuming and often political, and efforts to develop meaningful collaborations can be stymied by individual personalities or limited knowledge of another unit’s priorities.

The theme of our conversation was the challenge of libraries responding to enterprise-wide needs

This is particularly true for RIM and RDM services, as there are a great many institutional stakeholders, including academic colleges and departments, the research office (usually led by a VP of research), institutional research, graduate school, registrar, human resources,  tech transfer, and public affairs.

Libraries must work collaboratively with other stakeholders across the institution

Roger Schonfeld describes this situation well in the recent Ithaka S+R issue brief, Big Deal: Should Universities Outsource More Core Research Infrastructure?, which explores the rapid development of research workflow tools being adopted by researchers,

“Today almost no university is positioned to address its core interests here in any truly coherent way. The reason is essentially structural. There is no individual or organization within any university . . . that is responsible for the full suite of research workflow services. . . . No campus office or organization has responsibility for anything other than a subset of the system.”

What can you do to learn more?

Libraries are important stakeholders in these conversations but will be ineffectual if they try to act alone. It is increasingly important for librarians to understand the goals and activities of other university stakeholders as well as to succinctly and persuasively communicate their own value proposition. I want to encourage readers to explore a couple of OCLC Research publications that address these challenges:

Join us

Our interactions with OCLC Research Library Partners helps inform our future research plans, as we learn more about the challenges, pain points, and ambitions of our partner libraries. We will be continuing this conversation with our UK and European Research Library Partnership members on February 19 at the University of Edinburgh. We also want to encourage ALL research institutions to share about their practices and collaborations by participating in our Survey of Research Information Management Practices, conducted in collaboration with euroCRIS, which remains open through 31 January 2018.

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