Library support for bibliometrics and research impact: Insights from an RLP leadership roundtable

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

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Photo by nine koepfer on Unsplash

Bibliometrics and research impact (BRI) support is an emerging service category for many research libraries, with a range of activities and practices. To learn more, the OCLC Research Library Partnership convened roundtable discussions with library leaders from RLP institutions in March 2024, where participants shared about current practices and challenges in the provision of BRI services. Support for BRI is universal, but is highly dependent upon local resources, with a focus on services for researchers.

Overall, 51 individuals from 33 RLP institutions in four countries participated in one of three sessions:

Brandeis UniversityTemple UniversityUniversity of Nevada, Reno
Colorado State UniversityTufts UniversityUniversity of Notre Dame
CUNY Graduate CenterUniversity of CalgaryUniversity of Pennsylvania
George Washington UniversityUniversity of ChicagoUniversity of Pittsburgh
Getty LibraryUniversity of DelawareUniversity of Sydney
London School of Economics and Political ScienceUniversity of DelawareUniversity of Tennessee, Knoxville
Monash UniversityUniversity of Hong KongUniversity of Texas at Austin
Montana State UniversityUniversity of Hong KongUniversity of Toronto
Ohio State UniversityUniversity of ManitobaUniversity of Utah
Stony Brook UniversityUniversity of Maryland, College ParkUniversity of Waterloo
Syracuse UniversityUniversity of MichiganVirginia Tech
Research libraries participating in RLP Leadership Roundtable on BRI

One size does not fit all

Support for researchers and students

All of the institutions represented in the roundtable discussions reported some research impact activities, most frequently through education, training, and advocacy to researchers. This commonly takes the form of LibGuides on the topic. Research impact is frequently addressed in workshop offerings to researchers, in a variety of ways. Some institutions described specific workshop offerings on topics like altmetrics and understanding research impact indicators, while others described how these topics were briefly covered in workshops focused on scholarly identity and researcher profiles, citation management, or scholarly publishing.

Many institutions are also providing individual support and guidance to faculty, researchers, and students. Support for faculty preparing tenure dossiers is particularly common and valued. More than one participant said that while their library provides direct support, they do not advertise or promote these services because they would be unable to scale up if demand increased.

Support for campus units

While most efforts are directed at researchers, a small number of libraries are providing direct support to other campus units and decision support for institutional leaders, which can include:

  • Institutional level analyses of research activity
  • Yearly reporting and KPIs for programs and units
  • Benchmarking and comparative analysis against institutional and disciplinary peers
  • Competitive intelligence analysis in support of grant proposal and academic program development

These types of activities require dedicated staffing.

Managing metadata and infrastructure

Responsibilities can also extend to curating metadata to support reporting needs. A few institutions have assumed responsibility for reviewing and deprecating Scopus Author IDs for affiliated researchers, with implications for local, national, and international reporting and rankings; however, at least one institution described their approach to instead train researchers to manage their own researcher profiles.

Libraries may also play a role in supporting infrastructure that aggregates the institutional scholarly record, primarily through research information management systems (RIMS) that may serve as data sources for faculty annual activity reporting and/or tenure/promotion reports. For example, we learned that at one US institution, the local open access policy requires faculty members to deposit their research outputs into the institutional repository; the library supports and provides metadata enrichment, both to support discovery and faculty activity reporting. Furthermore, several institutions described efforts to not only encourage ORCID adoption by researchers but to also increasingly connect ORCID with campus systems like the campus directory, RIMS, and repository.

Advocacy for responsible metrics

Educating researchers as well as institutional leaders about responsible metrics and bias was mentioned as a priority at a few institutions, which can extend to the development and revision of institutional responsible data statements and position papers. A few participants described efforts to move their institutions towards adoption of the SCOPE Framework for Research Evaluation and/or formal institutional commitment to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA).

Staffing and organization

Several libraries support BRI activities through librarians working in dedicated roles with titles like Research Impact Librarian or Research Information Analyst. However, the majority of institutions described an ad hoc approach that “takes a village of liaisons.” Indeed, even at institutions with a dedicated research impact librarian, there are many other librarians supporting research impact education, training, and analysis as a small component of their jobs. This can provide a way to scale the work as well as meet researchers at the point of need through a trusted liaison, but these liaisons may find it challenging to maintain a level of specialist knowledge in a rapidly changing environment.

We heard from a handful of institutions that have tried to address this challenge by making organizational changes. For example, the library at a private US university has subdivided its liaison librarians into several functional groups within scholarship and research, including research impact. The research impact team, which is comprised of a team leader, three liaison librarians, and a graduate assistant, serves as the locus for research impact work at the library, supporting both researcher and institutional needs, such as tenure dossier preparation, Scopus data cleanup, RIMS administration, and institutional reporting. The hope is that with this configuration, librarians can develop deeper expertise in fewer areas, with clearer path for skills development and career advancement.

While bibliometrics and research impact support is largely an emerging area for most RLP libraries, with few dedicated resources or discrete services, we did hear from a few libraries that have been developing BRI services–and staffing–for several years. These institutions report rapid growth, appreciation for services by users (both researchers and campus units), and the need to continuously assess, strategize, redefine, and scope. In a few cases, the library has assumed the role of campus leader and expert. Two separate Canadian libraries described how the library now plays an important campus leadership role by convening communities of practice around institutional data, comprised of users in the library, campus institutional research/analysis, the research office, and other campus units. At one US institution, the library’s BRI portfolio is supported by 4 FTE librarians plus several graduate assistants! This is certainly the exception rather than the rule, but demonstrates an area of potential growth for research libraries.

Licenses and tools

Participants briefly shared about the products their institution licenses to support BRI activities. Most institutions reported licensing one or both of the Web of Science and Scopus indexes, which are also, of course, of keen value for discovery. Other products include Journal Citation Reports, Altmetric Explorer, Lens, Overton, and OpenAlex. Several institutions reported using RIM systems like Pure, Elements, and VIVO, and/or were implementing a faculty information system like Interfolio, all with implications for metadata curation and interoperability. Furthermore, several institutions license research intelligence products like SciVal, InCites, and Dimensions. Even when another campus unit was the primary user of a product like SciVal, the library usually still manages the license, with the client user covering the costs, with the exception of Academic Analytics, which was usually purchased by a central unit like the Provost’s Office, and only at US institutions. There are also tools in use like DataBricks for ETL processing, as well as VosViewer, PowerBI, and Tableau for supporting data visualizations.

A few institutions describe the challenges of license coordination across campus. Because research institutions are characterized by self-organized independent agents working in a non-linear fashion, it’s not a big surprise to find that individual (non-library) units may license resources without enterprise coordination. This can lead to duplication, and libraries find they may have a role to play in corralling these licenses, particularly since some may be provided by vendors with which the library has preexisting relationships.

Is bibliometrics and research impact support a new service category for libraries?

I think so. After all, no other campus unit has the same expertise with bibliometric metadata. And indeed, there are a few libraries that are demonstrating how the library can take a lead in this space. I’ve blogged about some of these institutions here previously, including Virginia Tech, the University of Waterloo, the University of Pennsylvania, and Syracuse University.

But resources are a huge challenge for the majority of libraries, and many participants described a very reasonable reluctance to invest in advance of demand from both researchers and campus units. And the environment is made even more challenging by the unrelenting churn taking place in leadership roles up and down the ladder, resulting in months or even years of waiting as positions are filled, seats are pulled up to the table, and new strategies are unveiled. But most critically, other needs are simply more urgent. Support for systematic reviews was mentioned as a stronger competing priority by many participants, second only to the urgent need to support research data management activities. There is simply too much to do, and too few resources with which to do all the things.

Understanding the landscape and what’s next

RLP leadership roundtable participants learned a great deal from their peers through this effort, giving their institution a knowledge advantage when they return to think strategically about research support priorities. Many institutions without formalized research impact librarian roles or programs found solidarity with each other as well as possible partners as they contemplate future needs assessment activities.

We will next convene the research support roundtables in June will be discussing the challenges and opportunities of cross-campus collaborations in the provision of research support. I look forward to learning from our partners.