Insights from a recent RLP discussion on Bibliometrics and Research Impact (BRI) services

The following post is part of a series  related to the provision of bibliometrics and research impact services at OCLC Research Library Partnership institutions.

The OCLC Research Library Partnership recently hosted a discussion on the topic of Bibliometric and Research Impact (BRI) service development, attended by 41 participants from 29 institutions. This was a follow-up from an RLP webinar hosted in June 2022 where library professionals from three RLP institutions shared about the status of BRI efforts at their institutions. Thanks to our webinar presenters, who also graciously helped to serve as content experts for the discussion:

  • Mei Ling Lo, Science Research Librarian, Rutgers University – New Brunswick Libraries 
  • Matthew R. Marsteller, Associate Dean for Faculty, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries 
  • William Mischo, Interim Head, Grainger Engineering Library Information Center, Berthold Family Professor Emeritus in Information Access & Discovery, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

We intentionally structured this discussion informally, with no set agenda, in order to gauge interest and identify areas of potential further investigation. This was an opportunity for our RLP partners to come together, see the faces and names of community members with similar interests, and to learn from each other. It was a fascinating discussion, with a few key themes emerging:

Libraries are well situated to support research analytics on campus 

At the beginning of the discussion, we used a couple of online icebreaker polls to learn more about the participants. The majority of participants (65%) reported that their library currently provides BRI services for researchers, but only slightly more than half (52%) reported that their library provides services to support academic and research units.

BRI seems to be an area where libraries have much to offer. Indeed, Beth Namachchivaya from Waterloo offered an insightful description of this landscape, where the library is situated at the nexus of two existing institutional practices:

  • Institutional culture around rankings and research impact, and
  • Existing library supports to help scholars manage their research identities and portfolios.

This puts the library in a “sweet spot” for supporting BRI because while not every librarian engages at the institutional or unit level, most have an opportunity to work with individual scholars or teams to help them manage their scholarly identity, reputation, and research portfolio.

Libraries often struggle to communicate their value proposition

I think most folks in our discussion understood that the library has much to offer in this landscape, but this may not be common knowledge across campus. Indeed, I heard comments that reflected two different lived experiences in RLP libraries:

  • A few reported strong relationships and even a “pro-library” sentiment among other campus units. This has led to shared positions, liaison roles, greater library engagement on campus committees, and an appreciation for the potentialities of research analytics.
  • Others described how it was hard for others on campus—including researchers—to recognize that the library offers services beyond books. One participant operating at a particularly decentralized university colorfully described their situation where campus units with a recognized interest in research analytics were actively trying to avoid any new responsibilities in this area (playing “hot potato“) while the library was concurrently trying to assert a role, but with little progress.  

How can these experiences be so different? I speculate that while each specific institution is unique, with its own distinct challenges and culture, it comes down to relationships at the individual level—what we call “social interoperability.” One of our participants described their successes as the result of repeated advocacy by the library dean, but that once other units begin to recognize the benefits of partnering with the library, these collaborations have ”spread like wildfire.”  

We informally polled our participants, to learn what units their libraries are partnering with. The office of research and academic affairs units were the most common collaborators, but with numbers at 24% and 28% of respondents, respectively, there seems to be room for growth.

Participants from Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Waterloo described how they’ve developed strong relationships with the Office of Research. These relationships have payoffs for both units. Using tools like Dimensions, Elements, Pure, Scopus, and many others, the library can provide improved tracking and reporting on things like the value of internal grants or identifying potential faculty for external award nominations–insights that are highly valued by other campus stakeholders. In return, the library has often secured a seat at the table for campus-wide decision making. For instance, one institution described how their library BRI activities have led to a role serving on a new Faculty Information System (FIS) implementation committee, where the library can help identify synergies with the existing Pure RIM system.

Taking the pulse on other issues

A couple of other items surfaced that merit future discussion:

  • Information ethics and the responsible use of research metrics. For instance, Journal Impact Factor (JIF) is still often used as a proxy for understanding the quality of an individual research article or to assess an individual’s contributions. This is a misuse of the JIF, as described in statements like the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and the 2015 Metric Tide report in the UK. I see libraries as having much to offer in raising awareness of the bluntness of metrics like the JIF and h-index, such as this library-facilitated presentation on metrics for the Ethics and Survival Skills course offered by the University of California San Diego Research Ethics program.
  • Wide gaps in services for humanists. In general, research metrics have been designed for STEM fields, and the different scholarly publishing practices in the humanities create an array of challenges:
    • Humanities publications (either as monographs, book chapters, or journal articles) are usually not indexed in sources like Scopus;
    • ORCID awareness is low, in part because book publishers often don’t request them;
    • Book chapters may not have an assigned DOI, meaning no opportunities for Altmetrics or additional indexing and discovery opportunities.

There is also general discomfort with using the term metrics among humanists—so much so that one institution reports replacing the word “metrics” with “counts of things” when working with humanists.

What’s next?

The Research Library Partnership will be offering at least a couple more webinars on the topic of BRI later this year, in collaboration with librarians at Virginia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania. We will also be developing more small group discussions, most likely on the topics discussed above. Contact me if you’re interested in presenting to the RLP about efforts at your institution or co-leading a discussion on a topic of interest to you!