Shaping an Applied Research Agenda

In late April 2019 a group of librarians, technologists, and OCLC staff gathered in Dublin, Ohio to help shape an applied research agenda that charts a path for engagement with data science and a range of computational methods. The applied research agenda will be released this summer as a free resource. This resource will add to a growing conversation and series of efforts focused on ethically grounded library engagement in these spaces.

Participants at Shaping an Applied Research Agenda came from a diverse set of institutions including, but not limited to, Drexel University, Indiana University, Montana State University, the National Library of Medicine, Yale University, and the Universities of Houston, Illinois, Maryland, and Rhode Island. Participants had a range of motivations for taking part in the event and held in common a desire to generously share expertise and learn from their colleagues.

responses to the question, “what brought you to this event?”

Over the course of one-and-a-half days, participants took part in a series of human-centered design exercises facilitated by OCLC staff. These exercises worked to surface challenges, opportunities, and recommendations.

Identifying challenges

Prior to the event, participants received a list of seventy-four high level challenges that applied research agenda development had surfaced to that point. These challenges were the product of nearly twenty hours of engagement with an advisory group and thirty hours of engagement with a growing landscape group. Challenges to date are diverse, exhibiting shifting focus on technical, social, and organizational issues.

A sampling of pre-event, high level challenges are included below:

  • Investigate what skills, competencies, and organizational support are needed for library staff to critically engage with and advance machine learning, AI, and data science in a library context.
  • Develop resources that foster critical engagement with and ethical use of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and more.
  • Develop means to accommodate uncertain and/or probabilistic data generated via machine learning back into library catalogs.

Sharing challenges ahead of time was meant to help event participants begin thinking about what they might contribute to the applied research agenda. From all accounts this seeding activity appears to have been a success. Event participants iteratively developed six discrete challenges for the applied research agenda.

Iterative development

Like the seventy-four challenges that were shared prior to the event, these six challenges span technical, social, and organizational issues:

  • Applying data science and data analytics in library services and operations
  • Identifying high level computational/data science problems spaces that can be used as use cases
  • Developing strategies for engaging bias
  • Re-skilling librarians and preparing new librarians to serve 21st century library needs
  • Establishing communities of practice connected to professional networks (new or existing)
  • Demonstrating the value proposition

No less than 114 prioritized recommendations (impact x difficulty) for making progress on each challenge were generated by the group.

event participants prioritize recommendations for each challenge

Moving forward, these generous contributions will be integrated into the applied research agenda, which will be published openly as an OCLC Research Report. While the applied research agenda is slated for release this summer, the work is still very much in process. If you would like to learn more about the agenda or contribute your perspective to it please do reach out to me, Thomas Padilla, Practitioner Researcher in Residence.