'A need for an intense collaboration'

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Rossana Morriello

Rossana Morriello assesses the ways in which librarians are supporting research in Italy

In line with other countries, in Italy many academic librarians are working inside and outside the library walls to support researchers in all aspects of the research lifecycle.

Involvement of librarians in such activities can follow different organisation models: 

  • Librarians work in research support services or other services supporting research assessment and quality;
  • Research support activities are located in library services where a special office has been created to support research and some librarians are involved specifically in those activities; and
  • Research support activities are located in library services with no changes in the previous organisational structure.

The most specific areas that require librarians’ expertise are management of the Current Research Information System (CRIS) and the institutional repository, support in the assessment procedures, and support in the development of open access.

Most universities, in Italy, use the same D-Space based CRIS, IRIS (Institutional Research Information System https://www.cineca.it/en/content/iris-institutional-research-information-system), developed by the Consortium Cineca (https://www.cineca.it/en/content/about-us), a non-profit organisation providing IT solutions for education and research, now part of the Ministry for Education, University and Research (MIUR http://www.miur.gov.it/). Each university has its own installation of the CRIS but the system has many common features so that universities can work together, and with Cineca, to implement necessary features through sharing and discussion in some national work groups. This allows us to share experiences and find common useful solutions to the many challenges we have to face.

Most of challenges and activities are a consequence of the methods of research assessment lead by the national evaluation agency, ANVUR (http://www.anvur.it/en/).  ANVUR collects data directly from the IRIS system of each university, for the main research assessment exercise, VQR (Valutazione Qualità della Ricerca – Evaluation of Research Quality), as well as other kind of assessment and career development procedures. Therefore quality of data in CRIS and repository is crucial and librarians are primary actors in guaranteeing the quality of what is nothing else than a kind of catalogue. 

The first VQR research assessment exercise, covering the years 2004 to 2010, was lead in 2011 and the results published in 2013. Researchers had to select their three best publications which were evaluated by a panel of experts called GEV (Gruppo di Esperti della Valutazione). There were 14 panels that conducted the evaluation of over 180,000 outputs based either on bibliometric indicators (with minor peer review) for bibliometric sectors or peer review for non bibliometric sectors. A second research assessment exercise was lead in 2015 and closed in 2016 for research outputs covering the years from 2011 to 2014 with mainly the same criteria (but researchers had to choose only two best publications). 

Italian national assessment of research is strongly based on bibliometric (for bibliometric sectors, of course), also for the evaluation of research career advancement ASN (Abilitazione Scientifica Nazionale), in the new framework set in 2012 by a law (DM n. 76, 7 June 2012) which states the kind of indicators to be used. Therefore, academic librarians involved in supporting research are required to understand and manage bibliometrics and database like Scopus and Web of Science and have a deep knowledge of impact factors, h-index, SNIP, and other indices. Currently there is a great debate ongoing in Italy, as much as in other countries, about the effectiveness of this kind of evaluation and its long-term consequences on the development of science.

A point of attention in the evaluation is the 'third mission' of the university. The last VQR assessment increased the importance of the third mission, as a signal of the impact of the university on the society, and particularly of public engagement activities.

Societal impact is becoming more and more important as a measure of return on public investment in universities, but also as an opportunity to increase and improve knowledge transfer and participation of citizens in science. Indicators for evaluating the third mission were still weak in the last VQR but they will certainly become stronger in the next assessment exercise, expected in 2020. ANVUR recently announced they established a partnership with Research England (http://www.anvur.it/news/nasce-la-partnership-tra-anvur-e-research-england-2/) to study and exploit models for the evaluation of the third mission. Research England has recently introduced the Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) for assessment of the third mission, which will presumably be a model for Italian ANVUR.

Libraries and librarians are involved in supporting the third mission of the universities for the evaluation but they can also have an active role in the organisation of public engagement events.

A recent topic that developed rapidly in Italian universities is Agenda 2030. In 2015 the United Nations published the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 goals to be reached in 2030, with 160 targets and 240 indicators (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/). Sustainable development goals (SDGs), defined by the UN as 'a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future', are strongly related to the academic world, as an important commitment of the universities towards society for the achievement of all goals through research, education and third mission.

In Italy, in order to promote and spread the culture of sustainability, the Conference of Rectors of Italian University (CRUI https://www.crui.it/crui-english.html) created in 2015 a network of universities for sustainable development, RUS https://sites.google.com/unive.it/rus/home). RUS is working on mapping the state of the art (for example, mapping publications and research outputs upon SDGs), promoting instruction, and planning actions to support the Agenda 2030. Some universities are also involved in the Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development, ASviS, (http://asvis.it/asvis-italian-alliance-for-sustainable-development), an association that includes different kind of public institutions, foundations and associations. Among them there is the Italian Library Association (AIB) which is working on these topics through a study group (of which I am a member https://www.aib.it/struttura/commissioni-e-gruppi/gruppo-asvis/) to set indicators for culture and libraries and to spread Agenda 2030 principles in all kind of libraries.

Finally, another hot topic for academic librarians supporting research in Italy is, of course, open science. After the Budapest Open Access Initiative and Berlin Declaration, in 2004, most Italian universities signed the Messina Declaration on Open Access. In the same year, a couple of university consortia (now merged into Cineca) launched the portal PLEIADI (Portal for Italian Electronic Scholarly Literature in Institutional Archives http://find.openarchives.it/).

In 2006, the Conference of Rectors of Italian Universities (CRUI) established a Working Group on Open Access as part of the CRUI Library Committee, which released some guidelines. Some non-profit organisations are also working, at national level, on open access, like AISA (Associazione Italiana per la promozione della Scienza Aperta – Italian Association for the promotion of Open Science  http://aisa.sp.unipi.it/about-aisa/) and IOSSG (Italian Open Science Support Group - https://sites.google.com/view/iossg/home), and the Italian Library Association has a study group on open access (https://www.aib.it/struttura/commissioni-e-gruppi/gruppo-studio-open-access-pubblico dominio/).

Despite many initiatives to support and implement open access practices, there is still a lot of work to do to spread the awareness of open access culture. Most obstacles to spreading open access are due to the national research assessment lead by ANVUR, which does not consider open access as a good practice to reward at all. Being strongly based on bibliometric, the Italian evaluation system does not promote open access practices so researchers are not encouraged to publish in open access. Consequently, often they have not enough knowledge of this opportunity and have many prejudices about publishing in open access, especially because some do consider the quality of open access journals lower and fear for copyright infringement.

A strong advocacy campaign is then essential in universities and academic librarians are the most involved professionals in this task. Many universities have released their policy for open access (the list here http://wikimedia.sp.unipi.it/index.php/OA_Italia/Regolamenti_e_Policy_sull%27Open_Access - including my institution, which released it on 1 June) but often this did not bring any significant change. With a lot of effort and advocacy by librarians, policy makers try at least  to foster in researchers the habit to store papers (either in post-print version or pre-print version) in the institutional repositories and so, in the short-time, to achieve green open access, while working to achieve gold open access in the long-time.

A further theme, which is gradually becoming a central issue in universities, and partly involving librarians, is open data and data management. Fewer universities in Italy have a policy for open data but a couple have a specific policy and are working intensively with data, like the University of Milan (https://www.unimi.it/it/ateneo/normative/policy/policy-sulla-gestione-dei-dati-della-ricerca-rdm) and the University of Padua (https://bibliotecadigitale.cab.unipd.it/bd/per_chi_pubblica/rdm). 

For sure, inputs coming from the European Commission and related to European programmes like Horizon 2020 and, even more, the future research and innovation framework programme Horizon Europe will help to spread the awareness and practices of open access and open data that will become more and more relevant in academic research. 

Therefore, the near-future scenario for academic librarians will be a greater and greater involvement in all the research life cycle, from data collection to the final outputs. This means for librarians the necessity to keep pace with fast change, through continuous updating and training, and the need for an intense collaboration between librarians and faculty staff, as well as strict a collaboration with other services of the university, like areas involved in supporting research and evaluation. The complexity of academia is increasing and there is no way to face the many challenges without a collaboration between all components of academic institutions.

Rossana Morriello is a research support librarian at Polytechnic University of Turin, Italy