“Creative destruction”

The classical research library is, in some senses, a central part of the identity of the university as a university. Around here at OCLC Research, we’ve been thinking about challenges that research libraries face to develop new services that continue to function as infrastructure and centers for co-creation of research within universities. A new report from RIN – companion to our report on A Slice of Research Life by Susan Kroll and Rick Forsman – comments that sometimes Research Support Services in UK Universities (like in US universities) can seem somewhat marginal to university researchers. Ouch.

Both reports are short (under 20 pages) and both have one-page summaries. One conclusion shared by both reports is the crying need for expertise in data structure, management, and preservation. For example, in her recent presentation on the Slice report at DLF, Susan offered the example of researchers who report that they will repeat a prior experiment rather than try to retrieve older data. The DLF-goers just winced, knowing what Susan would say next: that the VP of Research was apoplectic when she heard that. All that research funding to duplicate research, for lack of data management? Ouch.

Both studies report on our greatest success central to the university as a university – delivering electronic journals. In the eyes of our researchers, we have significantly transformed their work for the better. Also, both reports point to the possibility that universities and libraries may not have to spend as much time and money to develop some services that we thought we ought to. Phew.

Our own John MacColl and RIN’s Michael Jubb are collaborating on an essay that will synthesize the results from these parallel interviews with top-notch researchers and their staff in the US and the UK. I’m looking forward to seeing what John and Michael think about similarities and differences in the views of exemplary researchers in exemplary universities on both sides of The Pond. I think there’s a lot to learn on all sides about the demand-side of information-related research support services, so watch this space.

Steve Fuller, a British sociologist of science, distinguishes the creation of knowledge and innovation in universities from the creation of education and making knowledge available. The latter, in which the library has played a significant role (with, say, e-journals), Fuller calls “the creative destruction of social capital.” If I understand Fuller (and Joseph Schumpeter) at all,  “creative destruction” is an advantage to society. “Creative destruction” is what research and teaching do – create new knowledge and make it freely available. Is it possible that universities and research libraries can continue to play a role in “creative destruction” by creating useful research support services? What do our researchers use now, and what do they need?


The Future of Research and the Research Library, from Denmark’s Electronic Research Library (DEFF), is the single best background reading to the Slice report, in my opinion. This is where I picked up Steve Fuller’s construct, that I’ve been trying to digest for the past year. The DEFF report pointed me to Fuller’s piece on “The University as Creative Destroyer of Social Capital.”