Emerging Roles for Libraries in Bibliometric and Research Impact Analysis: Lessons Learned from the University of Waterloo

Library support for bibliometrics and research impact (BRI) analysis is a growing area of library investment and service. Not just in the provision of services to researchers, but for the institutions themselves, which increasingly need to quantify research impact for a spectrum of internally and externally motivated purposes, such as strategic decision support, benchmarking, reputation analysis, support for funding requests, and to better understand research performance.

Research libraries are adopting new roles to support bibliometrics and research impact analysis, and the University of Waterloo Library’s efforts have caught my attention for some time, and for two specific reasons:

  1. They are leaders in the area of Bibliometrics and Research Impact in North America
  2. They have exemplified exceptional cross-institutional collaboration—what I might call “social interoperability”–in developing services, staffing, and programs.

Alison Hitchens, Associate University Librarian for Collections, Technology, and Scholarly Communication, and Laura Bredahl, Bibliometrics and Research Impact Librarian, recently shared about their activities in an OCLC Research Library Partnership (RLP) Works in Progress webinar presentation entitled Case study—Supporting bibliometric and research impact analysis at the University of Waterloo. Their efforts also will be described in a forthcoming ARL Library Practice Brief on Supporting Bibliometric Data Needs at Academic Institutions. 

RLP Works in Progress Webinar: Case study—Supporting bibliometric and research impact analysis at the University of Waterloo

The Waterloo BRI story

Like many institutions, the library at Waterloo has been supporting individual researchers with bibliometrics information for reputation management for over a decade. However, around 2012 the university recognized that it needed an institutional understanding of bibliometrics because important external stakeholders like funders, governments, and other accountability organizations were using them to evaluate their organization. Additionally, as the campus developed a new strategic plan emphasizing transformational research, it also needed indicators to help chart progress. As a result, the provost established a working group on bibliometrics that included cross-institutional representation from the office of research, office of institutional analysis, library, and faculties, with the goal to provide guidance to the university on the effective and appropriate use of bibliometrics.

This working group led to a few significant outcomes:

  • First, it led to the realization and recommendation that a campus expert was needed, which led to the creation of a new Bibliometrics and Research Impact Librarian role in 2015. This library professional works at the institutional level, providing expertise, leadership, and support for institutional needs.
  • Secondly, it led to the publication in 2016 of a White Paper on Measuring Research Output through Bibliometrics. This type of white paper is critical for any institution utilizing bibliometrics for decision making, as it requires institutional investment to understand and document the opportunities and limitations of bibliometric analysis. It also offers transparent guidance for how researchers and administrators can use bibliometric analysis responsibly. Another good example of this type of white paper comes from Virginia Tech, developed as a companion to that institution’s strategic planning efforts.

The white paper was followed by the development of a research metrics framework, intended to provide detailed bibliometric indicators related to the work of research institutes supporting key research areas identified in the 2013-2018 strategic plan. And this in turn was followed in 2019 by the development of an internal Bibliometric Assessment Tools Report, offering an extremely detailed review of existing bibliometrics assessment tools, known use cases, and an overview of other prominent bibliometrics tools. The Working Group on Bibliometrics continues its work today, supporting the current strategic plan, particularly by advising on the definitions of research areas and the responsible use of indicators at the institutional level.

So what does a Bibliometrics and Research Impact Librarian do?

Laura described several examples of her work at Waterloo:

  1. Validating university rankings. A variety of rankings, such as CWTS Leiden, Shanghai’s ARWU, MacLeans (Canada), QS, and Times Higher Education, are all closely watched by academic institutions and each has their own ranking methodologies. In general, Laura works to understand and verify the data from the rankings, and her efforts also serve to monitor institutional performance, and to provide local level analysis to better understand the rankings.
  2. Support and training to others. Laura is not the only person on campus conducting bibliometric analysis. For example, the Faculty of Engineering has a dedicated research analyst, and Laura provides consultation and expert guidance on the use of tools like SciVal. Laura has also developed an informal community of practice, open to anyone on campus, which is intended to support knowledge sharing and discussion.
  3. Strategic planning. Laura supports efforts to identify appropriate bibliometrics indicators that can be used to understand progress on the current strategic plan.

Importance to the library

Libraries seem to me to be a natural place for bibliometrics and research impact leadership. Librarians have expertise across the research and scholarly communications life cycle, understand disciplinary differences—and how these impact bibliometrics—and also have extensive knowledge with bibliographic data and tools. 

In general, this type of engagement can also positively impact the library by “raising the profile of the library on campus.” For example, in the webinar Alison commented,

“It was clear to me that being connected to and known by high level administration in the Office of Research really had an impact on building partnerships in other areas such as research data management. It was a lot easier to send an email or pick up the phone and call an AVP of Research because they knew me through the working group on bibliometrics.”

Overall, this type of activity may result in greater stakeholder appreciation for the value proposition of the library, an improved understanding of the scope of library expertise, and more invitations for the library to participate on campus committees and enterprise-wide projects. At Waterloo, for example, this included opportunities for the AUL to join the Office of Research Systems Advisory Group and for the library to contribute to the institutional RIM project. As the new strategic planning effort has launched, and seven working groups were formed to develop background papers, the library was in a position to successfully advocate for a librarian on each committee.

Learn more! Continue the conversation with the OCLC Research Library Partnership

Of course there’s much more to discuss, so we are offering affiliates with the Research Library Partnership an opportunity to continue the conversation through informal small group discussions with Alison and Laura. Please join us on the following dates:

  • Europe and east coast-friendly time: Wednesday, March 3 at 11 am EDT (UTC-5). This will be 3 pm in the UK.
  • ANZ and American west coast-friendly time: Wednesday, March 3 at 6 pm EDT (UTC-5)/3 pm PST (this should be 10 am in Melbourne/Sydney on Thursday the 4th)

We are interested in exploring some of these questions:  

  1. Does your campus have an internal, cross-unit community of practice around BRI? What is the role of your library?
  2. What products/tools are being used at your institution?
  3. How is your RIM/CRIS system also being incorporated into these efforts? 
  4. What’s the status of institutional data governance and data sharing at your institution?

If you send me an email message, I will send you a calendar invitation (which can help to make sure all the time zones align).