Research library services on the BRI continuum: The University of Waterloo story

The following  guest post is by Beth Sandore Namachchivaya, University Librarian at the University of Waterloo. It is part of a series related to the provision of bibliometrics and research impact services at OCLC Research Library Partnership institutions.

Guest blogger Beth Sandore Namachchivaya, University of Waterloo

In her August 3, 2022 blog post on the recent OCLC RLP Bibliometrics and Research Impact (BRI) discussion, Rebecca Bryant observes that academic libraries provide BRI services on a continuum, supporting either the institution, individual scholars, or both. Regardless of whether or not the library sits at the institution-level table, we heard in that discussion that many of us develop and provide scholarly impact and related services along the continuum of library-based scholarly communications programs.

At the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, the BRI program and related library services were developed with a dual focus to support institution-level as well as individual metrics and analysis. The Library is a partner in Waterloo’s BRI analysis, services, governance, and ongoing development.

BRI beginnings at Waterloo: developing community and best practices on a continuum

Waterloo’s approach to building a BRI program started informally, with a librarian and colleague in the School of Optometry developing a faculty workshop on “understanding your academic footprint,” prior to 2010. Word spread through the Library’s instruction committee, and additional interested librarians adapted the workshop for use in other disciplines on campus. In parallel, Waterloo’s focus on Canadian research impact and rankings intensified, prompting Waterloo’s office of institutional analysis and planning to invite the Library to join the “bibliometric action group.” This working group was tasked with recommending a tool to enable the University to measure its research impact relative to the top Canadian research universities (U15), based on a set of agreed upon metrics.

Not long after the bibliometric action group made its recommendations, the Provost appointed a working group representing the faculties, the office of research, academic affairs, and the library to examine the use of bibliometrics and research measures and to make recommendations for their application in the University of Waterloo community. The group’s work culminated in a White Paper on Bibliometrics[i]. The aim of the White Paper was to facilitate the Waterloo community’s shared understanding of how to apply bibliometrics appropriately and responsibly to analyze research impact, at the individual and the institutional levels. It provides a high-level review and recommends best practices for individual scholars and academic units in their application of BRI tools and analysis. The White Paper was vetted institution-wide and endorsed by the University Senate in 2016.


While this work was progressing, in early 2015 the University supported the appointment of a Bibliometrics and Research Impact Librarian (BRIL), situated in the Library. Although the initial focus of this role was on developing robust BRI services at the institution level, the library-based service approach was a strong component of this role from the beginning. Working with other librarians, the BRI Librarian has developed library-based services along the continuum from the individual scholar to institution-level analysis. In addition to providing individual consultations, instruction, workshops, and research guides, Laura Bredahl, who stepped into the BRI role in 2020, collaborates with colleagues in the office of research, institutional analysis and planning, and a number of research institutes and groups to perform bibliometric analysis at the institution level.

Some examples of University-level contributions of this role include:

  • Providing evidence of research impacts, leadership, and research areas of excellence in governmental funding applications
  • Validating citation data related to institutional rankings and government research funding agreements
  • Identifying areas of research strength and emerging areas of importance
  • Supporting strategic planning and the University’s progress toward achieving strategic objectives.

Further, the BRI Librarian develops research guides and provides custom training and support for individual faculty and staff, and for groups who are using bibliometric assessment and benchmarking tools (e.g., InCites and SciVal) and citation-tracking databases (e.g., Scopus and Web of Science) to which the University subscribes. She works in collaboration with librarians and staff across the institution to provide BRI and related services, as well as instruction and consultations.

In addition to library-based BRI services, the BRI Librarian coordinates a community of practice comprised of professionals in the faculties who are engaged in building tools and services for focused BRI analysis of data for faculties and research groups, such as building a PowerBI dashboard of BRI impact data for use in a particular faculty or research institute.


BRI work can be intensive, deadline-driven, and the outputs highly scrutinized, both internally and externally. For these reasons, and more, an accessible governance model is essential—one that supports clear and effective communication among stakeholders, and opportunities for iterative discussion. The working group that developed the White Paper formed the basis of Waterloo’s governance structure for BRI and related services. 

The original group has morphed into a permanent Bibliometrics Working Group that meets during the academic year and is comprised of faculty and staff affiliated with all six faculties, the library, the office of research, the office of institutional analysis and planning, information systems and technology (IT), and several research centers and institutes. This group works under the direction of a steering group comprised of the Associate Provost, Institutional Analysis and Planning, the University Librarian, and the Vice President, Research. Representation across the disciplines promotes healthy discussion and allows for the program to integrate new and emerging perspectives and information.

BRI and related services in the research and scholarship portfolio

The way in which BRI developed has also influenced campus conversations about related services, such as helping researchers to manage their scholarly identity as well as their research outputs. The University’s experience developing an institution-wide BRI program provided an excellent framework for developing a response to a recent mandate from Canadian federal funding agencies that requires each institution to develop a research data management (RDM) policy and identify an institutional road map for implementation. Furthermore, it has motivated Waterloo to develop a holistic view of the continuum of researcher-focused services. The RDM planning is being spearheaded by a working group appointed by the office of research, consisting of representatives from the faculty, office of research, library, and IT, and it builds upon the significant activities by Canadian research libraries in developing national and networked RDM services as well as efforts to encourage widespread ORCID adoption.

Moving forward and sharing

In 2019-2020, the library wrote a practice brief that describes the BRI service model at the University, as part of its participation in the ARL’s Research Library Impact Framework initiative.[ii] The practice brief used the case study approach featuring the University of Waterloo’s BRI program to address the question of how research libraries can support their campus community in accessing needed bibliometric data for institutional-level purposes. The brief is publicly available.

Updating BRI best practices and guidelines

Further, in early 2022 the BRI Working Group initiated a project to review and update the 2016 White Paper, with several areas of focus, including:

  • Developing more effective support for BRI analysis in the arts, humanities, qualitative social sciences
  • Considering how to incorporate into bibliometric analysis the perspectives of alternative metrics; equity, diversity and inclusion; and collaboration and interdisciplinarity
  • Updating practical guidance on the responsible use of metrics
  • Examining the impact that COVID has had on research and related outcomes.
BRI for global sustainability

On Earth Day, April 22, 2022, the University of Waterloo published its report on the institution’s progress toward meeting the United Nations’ seventeen sustainable development goals (UNSDGs).[iii] In collaboration with the University’s Sustainability Office, the Library and other units brought together information about University-supported research, learning, community engagement, and entrepreneurship that supports each of the SDGs. Laura Bredahl, Waterloo’s BRI Librarian, performed the intensive bibliometric analysis required to identify and categorize Waterloo researchers’ recent publications that relate to each of the seventeen SDGs. This is just one example of the numerous opportunities for institution-level partnership in which the Library is engaged through the BRI program and Laura’s expertise. 

Why place BRI in the Library?

Photo by Josh Eckstein on Unsplash

It may not be immediately obvious why Waterloo chose to situate this role in the Library, especially with the BRI Librarian devoting a substantial amount of her effort to institution-level activities. The rationale for where the role is placed can vary depending on the institutional context, particularly in universities where the focus on research metrics has developed outside library programs and practice. With the increasing emphasis on institutional rankings, bibliometrics can be viewed as a highly specialized and discrete activity that is aligned solely with an organization’s institutional research and analysis function. 

The University of Waterloo’s initial decision to situate the BRI Librarian in the Library was guided by the spirit in which the original Working Group developed the White Paper, focusing on research impact analysis done by individual scholars as well as at the institutional level. That initial choice of direction sends a strong signal that BRI is embedded in user-focused programs and services. Placing the position in the Library ensured that the BRI Librarian is accessible to the user community, and that her practice is integrated into the Library’s research programs and services, in addition to being a collaborator with other units that support institutional research. The library is in a uniquely valuable position to help scholars understand the strengths and limitations of the underlying bibliographic data used in analysis, as well as which methods are appropriate.

The library is in a uniquely valuable position to help scholars understand the strengths and limitations of the underlying bibliographic data used in analysis, as well as which methods are appropriate.

Beth Namachchivaya, University of Waterloo
What’s next?

The University of Waterloo Library will continue to collaborate closely with other campus partners as the BRI service offering matures. Through Laura’s leadership of a campus-wide community of practice, Waterloo’s capacity for data-driven decision making continues to increase, as well as the value proposition of the library itself among all campus stakeholders. The social capital that grew out of the BRI program has paved the way at Waterloo for planning the future of institution-level research services, a scenario in which the Library contribute uniquely valued expertise in collaboration with other units, to provide effective and cohesive research services. This clearly demonstrates the value that the Library can bring to emerging critical needs at the University level. 

(With thanks for their review and comments to Alison Hitchens, AUL, Collections, Technology, and Scholarly Communications, and Laura Bredahl, BRI Librarian, University of Waterloo Library.)

[i] University of Waterloo Working Group on Bibliometrics, Lauren Byl, Jana Carson, Annamaria Feltracco, Susie Gooch, Shannon Gordon, Tim Kenyon, Bruce Muirhead, Daniela Seskar-Hencic, Kathy MacDonald, M. Tamer Özsu, Peter Stirling (2016). White Paper: Measuring Research Outputs Through Bibliometrics. UWSpace.

[ii] Shannon Gordon, Alison Hitchens (2020). Library Impact Practice Brief: Supporting Bibliometric Data Needs at Academic Institutions. UWSpace.

[iii] Sustainable development goals at the University of Waterloo: Making a contribution to a better world. (April 2022).