Research Information Management Practices in the United States: A New OCLC Research Project

Research Information Management (RIM) is an area of rapid growth and change in the United States. What is RIM? It is the “aggregation, curation, and utilization of metadata of research activities,” as defined in a 2017 OCLC Research report. RIM systems to support the collection and use of research outputs metadata have been in place for many years, and the RIM ecosystem is quite mature in locales where national research assessment exercises like the United Kingdom’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) and the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) require institutions to collect and report on the outputs of institutional research. A pan-European community of practice is led by euroCRIS

In the absence of national research assessment requirements in the United States, RIM practices at US research universities have taken a different—and characteristically decentralized—course. A complex variety of stakeholders have responded to a similarly complex mix of use cases, with silos and frequent duplication as a result.

To learn more about this complex US RIM landscape, OCLC Research has convened a team to examine Research Information Management Practices in the United States, documenting RIM practices through case studies of five US research universities:

  • Penn State University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Virginia Tech
  • UCLA
  • University of Miami
Topographic Map of the United States. Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USA_topo_en.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0

The institutions selected for study were chosen because they represent a diversity of:

  • Known use cases
  • Products (including proprietary, open source, and homegrown solutions)
  • Scale (encompassing both institutional practices as well as those occurring at the system or state level)
  • Stakeholders

Our study includes all institutional systems that aggregate, curate, and utilize the bibliographic record of the institution. This means we are examining several different use cases and engaging with an array of campus stakeholders. For instance, these use cases include:

  • Public researcher profiles are a primary use case here in the United States, of value because they are intended to facilitate expertise discovery, seed cross-disciplinary collaborations, catalyze business and university relationships, and support institutional reputation management. All five of the institutions in our study either have profile systems in place for at least part of the institution, or are in the process of implementing public profiles. These profile systems rely on metadata harvesting at scale from indexes like Scopus, Web of Science, or PubMed to populate faculty profiles, and they may use proprietary products like Pure (Penn State). Alternatively, they may also use open source tools like VIVO (Texas A&M) or Profiles RNS (UCLA). Public profiles may also appear in state-wide, multi-institutional portals intended to support economic development, such as Florida ExpertNet
  • Faculty Activity Reporting (FAR) systems support workflows for the annual collection and review of faculty research, teaching, and service. Long-decentralized workflows operating at the department or college level are being centralized at institutions such as UCLA (using the home grown Opus system combined with vendor modules from Interfolio) and Virginia Tech (Symplectic Elements).
  • Reporting, such as we’ve seen at European institutions where external research assessments are of paramount importance, hasn’t been a top driver of RIM system adoption in the United States. But institutions do want better data for internal needs such as competitive analysis, decision support, academic program review, accreditation preparation, and to support reputation management and ranking efforts. For instance, at Texas A&M, the Office of the Vice President for Research is working to develop a research dashboard combining Scholars@TAMU data with other institutional information in order to support strategic data-driven decision making. 
  • Reuse. APIs can be used to automatically update curated metadata from a RIM system to a department or faculty web page. Data collected in one system can ideally also be shared with other campus systems. For instance, at Texas A&M, publications metadata curated in their Scholars@TAMU system will be harvested to pre-populate faculty profiles in the Interfolio FAR system, a service requested by TAMU faculty.
  • Open access support. Institutions may use a RIM system to support promotion, tracking, and deposit workflows for a campus open access policy, as seen at the University of California. There are also various flavors of interoperability or full scale integration with the institutional repository, but in several cases researchers can use a workflow within the RIM platform to deposit a full text item without needing to separately visit the repository. New products in the landscape, such as Ex Libris’s Esploro, offer an integration of full text repository with public profiles—and also incorporate this content into the library catalog, which the University of Miami is in the process of implementing as a development partner.

This project is undertaken in collaboration with euroCRIS, which was also our partner on the previous report, Practices and Patterns in Research Information Management: Findings from a Global Survey. Other team members hail from OCLC Research Library Partnership institutions and bring a wealth of expertise as institutional RIM system managers.  Jan Fransen, Service Lead for Research Information Management Systems at University of Minnesota Libraries is my co-PI on this project, and she is spending her sabbatical leave dedicated to work on this project. She says,

“Spending time talking with RIM administrators and stakeholders at other institutions has been so inspiring. I’ll return from my leave in May with a long list of approaches, connections, and features I’d like to incorporate into our RIM services. It’s also become even more clear to me that we need to develop a community of people working in RIM services that reaches beyond the products we use.”

Jan Fransen, University of Minnesota Libraries

This work builds upon the significant body of work on RIM practices already produced by OCLC Research, and we believe this study will be of considerable utility to the university community. It will document rich examples of how RIM practices are developing at US institutions, examining an array of use cases, systems, practices, and workflows. Our hope is that the resulting research report will help guide US research institutions to a more comprehensive and strategic view of RIM practices. Watch for it later this year. 

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