OCLC-LIBER Open Science Discussion on Skills

Photo by kyryll ushakov on Unsplash

I had the pleasure of attending the OCLC-LIBER Open Science Skills discussion. Before sketching the landscape of the ideal future state, one of the participants suggested we start with a cocktail! She asked us to pour a clear vision of our goals, add our needs, intentions, and polices, stir in technical skills from various professions not just librarianship, add a pinch of pedological skills and motivation, and sprinkle with human resources and talent management.  

Then she shared the LIBER Open Science Skills Visualization. Drawing from the seven focus areas in the LIBER Roadmap, the visualization identifies four skill types needed to practice Open Science – digital content creation, information and data literacy, safety, and communication & collaboration. What resulted was a lively, engaging, and rich conversation about skills in the Open Science ecosystem.

We discussed the ideal future state of skills, challenges that prevent swift achievement of the ideal, and ideas about how the library and other communities can take collective action to address the challenges. The conversation focused on hard and soft skills library staff would need to translate Open Science for researchers, empathize with researchers as they apply Open Science principles to their scholarship, and support and educate them in light of their needs.

The Ideal Future State of Skills in the Open Science Ecosystem

“It’s really important to realize the words we are using are not common language for everyone.”

In the ideal future state, library staff would do more to translate Open Science principles, vocabulary and activities for researchers. As one participant explained, there is a lot of information about what funders want in data management plans, but the language is not easy to understand. Researchers don’t understand the questions being asked or the concepts being used. They don’t understand the FAIR principles. Another agreed and suggested we “look back at why they should do this and then from that point of view explain FAIR…the separate parts of FAIR [so researchers] get a feel for it and understand why they should use it…we think everyone knows about it, but they don’t.” In an ideal world, a participant suggested having champions adapt the language to each discipline, so researchers would have a better understanding of Open Science and what it means for them and their scholarship.

“We need people with soft skills to be able to see how someone is feeling when we make these advances with Open Science.”

Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash

Empathy also would be present in the ideal future state of Open Science skills. One participant explained, “In the UK we’re sort of calling it Open Research because some of our arts and humanities and social science researchers feel intimidated by the idea that this is for physicists and we have to be really empathetic and say ‘You are already doing some of this actually.’” Another suggested changing how Open Science is introduced to researchers by talking less about the Open Science mission and the skills they need. She described Open Science Quest as a way to invite researchers to engage and learn about Open Science informally rather than only discussing what they should be doing to support it. Based on conversations with researchers, a third participant discussed respecting and supporting different approaches to openness, including researchers not wanting or being able to open up their work. From her experience, listening and adapting our points of view, pedagogy, and project management in conversation with researchers is important when seeking to understand and support their needs.

“I agree we also need soft skills…but I think what we also need is really the hard skills.”

Developing and applying hard skills to support and educate researchers would also be present in the ideal future state. As one participant explained, “[Researchers] use a lot of digital methods and a lot of digital tools, so they need to know the basics of software programming, they need to know the basics of tools and data criticism.” Another stressed coordination between librarians and colleagues providing research support in labs and through other core services. Having librarians develop and deliver hard skills is one way to be able to support and educate researchers who need them. Another participant described how her library is hiring PhD students from different disciplines with these skills to develop and teach workshops in their areas of expertise. The students gain teaching experience and the library delivers instruction it wouldn’t have been able to provide otherwise.

Challenges Preventing the Ideal Future State and Collective Action to Address Them

The top three challenges preventing swift movement toward this ideal future state were: 1) culture change, 2) skill development for librarians, and 3) integration of skills into the curricula. Each challenge was discussed to consider how the library and other communities could take collective action to address it.

Culture change

Culture change was viewed as one of the most common and hardest challenges to address. This difficulty was the sum of many changes related to information literacy, Open Science, research metrics and rewards, collection development, licensing, skills, etc. One participant challenged our group to reflect on why this blog post would not mention participants’ names. “Why not? We’re talking about Open Science, why shouldn’t we be the first to be open about what we think and what we share?…There’s the thing about keeping things private, but why?”

Her point shows the need for a culture change when it comes to openly sharing. However, it also raises the question of how to balance culture change against researchers’ desire to keep some aspects of scholarship private and/or focus on other activities that are more career enhancing. Collective action to address these issues centered around publishers, funders, and the academy.

  • One participant who has attended meetings with these three groups on different occasions found they had different Open Science goals that acted as barriers and stopped conversation. Even though challenging and complicated, she believes bringing these groups together again (and again) could help move things forward.
  • Another suggested that library staff act collectively to provide more time and attention to young researchers, because opening up their research can be risky and they may not be able to try out new models for dissemination and sharing, if they are being evaluated against traditional tenure and promotion criteria.
  • Although the need for culture change comes bottom up, participants agreed that top down actions from policy makers and funders could play a big role. A participant from the UK acknowledged how Wellcome’s role in ensuring compliance increased her university’s effort to include Open Science, peer reviewing, and mentoring activities in researchers’ tenure and promotion evaluations.
  • Another participant suggested library staff work together to develop new metrics for rewards that are based on evidence-based information that shows the impact Open Science is having on research and society through Open Access publications and FAIR data for example.
Skill development for librarians
Photo by Jacob Morch on Unsplash

Participants agreed that library staff were not as skilled as they should be, but what skills were needed and how to develop them was up for debate. One participant suggested hard skills weren’t the most important skills librarians needed to develop, because they could hire people who had those skills. “It’s making the connection that is most important…because we don’t know what they need.” Another countered, “To be a good person to speak with and make a connection, [we] need to understand the basics of hard skills, because the question is whether you can be a good partner.” The first agreed, but wasn’t sure how to do it, given the size of the challenge. A discussion ensued about how to collectively act to create what one participant called “the modern renaissance librarian.” 

  • A participant suggested librarians need to develop basic knowledge and a specialism, whether data management, research intelligence, research software, etc. The goal would not be to have one librarian do everything, but rather to have all librarians do something by developing an area of expertise that supports some aspect of Open Science. 
  • Another suggested early career librarians, researchers, and publishers be trained together so they could learn from one another and see the benefits of acting in the interest of the group.
  • A third suggested sharing training materials and instructional content with the library community, particularly across country borders. Where and how such an exchange would take place remained unanswered.
Integration of skills into the curricula

The challenge of integrating skills into the curricula also was mentioned. Participants agreed, “We know how to advise and teach researchers, but in a generic way,” such as explaining Open Access, license types, data management plans, data repository options. The issue was with taking the next step to provide domain-specific support and education.

A second issue was related to culture. When developing curricula where Open Science is expected to be a core part of what it means to be a researcher, one participant stressed the importance of creating an environment where everyone feels they can safely share. Another explained how the weight of academic history, memory, and culture has made progress long, hard and slow.

  • A couple of participants suggested learning from institutions that taught hard and soft skills in order to advance Open Science in their country, despite a lack of resources, because these institutions often developed more creative solutions and were not hampered by culture.
  • Another mentioned using a more holistic approach to creating courses that included lectures by stakeholders from various areas on campus, such as the research office, information technology department, legal department, and library.  
  • Asked how the OCLC and LIBER could help, participants mentioned using the OCLC-LIBER partnership to reach out and convene key stakeholders such as researchers, information technology developers, and research institutes, in order to stimulate discipline specific activities related to making data FAIR, publishing openly, and creating sustainable research software.

About the OCLC-LIBER Open Science Discussion Series

The discussion series is a joint initiative of OCLC Research and LIBER (the Association of European Research Libraries). It focusses on the seven topics identified in the LIBER Open Science Roadmap, and aims to guide research libraries in envisioning the support infrastructure for Open Science (OS) and their roles at local, national, and global levels.

The kick-off webinar opened the forum for discussion and exploration and introduced the theme and its topics. Summaries of the topical small group discussions are published on HangingTogether: (1) Scholarly Publishing, (2) FAIR research data, (3) Research Infrastructures and the European Open Science Cloud, and (4) Metrics and Rewards.

The series runs from 24 September through 5 November. On 5 November the findings from all seven group discussions will be consolidated and presented during the closing round-up webinar for which you can still register.

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