Institutional researchers and librarians unite!

Institutional research information management requires the engagement and partnership of numerous stakeholders within the university or research institution. A critical stakeholder group on any campus are institutional researchers, and I encourage greater collaboration between university libraries and institutional research professionals to support research information management.

Last week I had the opportunity to present a poster at the annual meeting of the Association of Institutional Research (AIR), the primary professional organization for US institutional research (or IR) professionals. The IR professionals I spoke with expressed frustration with the ability to collect high quality, reliable information about the research productivity at their institutions. They require this information for many different reasons:

  • They are increasingly being asked to report on faculty research activities as a component of institutional decision support and strategic planning.
  • They support institutional and disciplinary accreditation activities which require extensive accounting of research activities.
  • They are asked to support cyclical internal reviews of undergraduate and graduate degree programs (typically called program review). While program review emphasizes student academic activities and outcomes, quantitative and qualitative information about faculty research is needed.
  • They aggregate information that may support institutional competitiveness in national and international rankings and conduct benchmarking against peer institutions.
  • They may be asked to support or lead annual academic progress review workflows (called faculty activity reporting or FAR in the US), in which faculty self-report research, teaching, and service activities to support promotion and tenure evaluation as well as annual reviews.

IR professionals, who usually report directly to senior academic leadership, are keen to discover improved ways to collect and interpret campus research productivity. While European institutions have been collecting and managing research information for some time, as demonstrated through the maturity of international organizations like EuroCRIS and the maintenance of database models like CERIF to support Current Research Information Systems (CRIS), this is still fairly new in the United States, and US research information management practices are developing quite differently than European CRIS models. As Amy Brand articulated in her excellent 2015 blog post, US RIM adoption straggles in great part because no single campus unit “owns” interoperability; instead, system development takes place in a decentralized and uncoordinated way. This could be seen within the AIR community, as conversations about collecting program review and benchmarking data were usually separate from faculty activity reporting (FAR) workflows. And completely absent from the conversation there were RIM components that libraries are usually keen to address, including public researcher profiles to support expertise discovery, linkages to open access content and repositories, and reuse in faculty web pages, CVs, and biosketches. Different components of the RIM landscape are being developed and supported in siloed communities. This isn’t good for anyone.

I see complementary goals and potential alliances between libraries and institutional research professionals. Collecting and managing the scholarly record of an institution is a challenging endeavor requiring enterprise collaboration. By working together and with other institutional stakeholders, I believe institutional researchers and librarians can collect and preserve quality metadata about the institutional scholarly record, and they can support a variety of activities, including public researcher profiles, faculty activity review workflows, linkages to open access content, and reporting and assessment activities–all parts of a rich, complex research information management infrastructure. By working together to enter once and reuse often, the researchers also win, as improved systems can save them time by reducing multiple requests for the same information, accelerate CV and biosketch creation, and automatically update other systems and web pages through APIs and plug-ins.

IR professionals are obviously data savvy, but publications metadata is usually outside of their experience. They understand that there are significant challenges to collecting the publications and scholarly record of their institutions, but they are largely unfamiliar with specific challenges of person, object, and institutional name ambiguity in bibliographic records or why sources or coverage may vary by discipline. Because they may have not previously collaborated with libraries, it’s easy for institutional researchers to miss the knowledge and expertise the library may offer in addressing these challenges. Libraries can offer institutional researchers this expertise, as well as knowledge about bibliographic standards, identifiers, and vocabularies.

Libraries have complementary perspectives on research and researcher information to offer cross-campus institutional research colleagues. For example, while libraries–and OCLC Research–is paying close attention to the evolving scholarly record and the growing importance of research data sets, grey literature, and preprints, this is largely unfamiliar and unimportant to institutional researchers. For the immediate future, publications remain the primary, measurable intellectual currency for benchmarking and reporting at US universities, as are traditional, article-level citation metrics. And unlike the library community, institutional reporting offices have little interest or experiences supporting open access, discoverability, expertise identification, and content preservation.

I think it’s equally important for libraries to ask what they can learn from the institutional research community. IR professionals are the experts about institutional data, and they hold the keys to demystifying campus information, including institutional hierarchies and affiliations that need to be addressed in any RIM implementation. They provide leadership and support for departmental, disciplinary, and institutional data aggregation efforts like accreditation, which provides them with a unique and powerful view of challenges and opportunities–for improving data, systems, workflows, and collaborations. They are familiar with institutional and national policies, like FERPA, that ensure personal privacy, and they also have well-established communities of practice to support data sharing, such as the Association of American Universities Data Exchange (AAUDE).

OCLC Research and working group members from OCLC Research Library Partnership institutions are working together to understand rapid changes in institutional research information management and the role of the library within it. Stay tuned for upcoming research reports this fall, as well as conference presentations this summer at the LIBER Annual Conference in Patras, Greece and the 8th annual VIVO conference in New York City.

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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