Working together on shared challenges

Bernie Folan of SAGE reports on the challenges of communication and workflows for librarians, researchers and publishers

In November 2010 SAGE, along with the Research Information Network (RIN), convened a group of social-science researchers, libraries, and publishers. We wanted to identify where there were shared challenges in communication and where workflows could be improved. Since then, we have delivered a survey to test how representative the views presented were, and then held further feedback sessions at the Charleston 2011 and the UKSG 2012 conferences.

The study revealed many shared challenges across the parties. In a nutshell, here’s how one survey respondent puts it:

‘The three big issues for us are probably common ones: constraints on content we can purchase (budget cuts and more cuts), promoting awareness of what we have (we still have a lot of great content despite budget issues), and how to access it: providing training (too few librarians for the magnitude of the task).’

Training and transparency

The respondents identified that improving the adoption of search and browse skills training as a critical issue. Librarians are keen to combat a reliance on narrow discovery methods and misunderstanding of search tools, notably by more experienced researchers who supervise doctoral students. Our feedback suggests this requires the involvement of academic departments, perhaps with a role for institutional advocates to support this training.

Additionally, librarians wanted greater prominence for their institutional brand on publisher platforms. The student who claims all their content comes ‘from Google’ fails to notice that the library is paying for access to the quality resources they are using. This is an increasing problem because librarians make access as easy as possible for their patrons while inadvertently making their role in providing resources less prominent.

Participants also wanted greater transparency on overlap between widely-used services and gateways across their institution. This relies not only on communication between librarians and publishers but, for institutions where there is devolved budget management, also across departments so that there can be improved systems to purchase cross-disciplinary material. To facilitate this, it was felt there should be higher attendance of librarians at departmental subject meetings or similar settings.

There was a need to better explain the mechanics of content purchasing and its challenges to researchers and senior financial managers. Publishers have a role to play in supporting this process by working with librarians to identify what usage analysis is required. Institutions require more local data reporting beyond usage statistics, for example author numbers or the usage and citation of local research.

The need for a single robust academic ID and profile site was raised several times. It is essential, although challenging, for authors to demonstrate the impact of their research beyond academia. While there are several initiatives currently tackling this issue, there is as yet no one solution that can be tied into the academic appraisal process and help to showcase institutional output. To differing degrees, and dependent on discipline, researchers are contributing beyond journal articles and book chapters. As researchers use a wider variety of alternative research resources, such as blogs, Twitter and Listservs, how to capture these contributions also becomes important.

Access to research was a further challenge voiced. While funding for open access (OA) in the sciences has become fairly established, there are few institutional mechanisms for funding OA in the humanities and social sciences. Participants in our discussions felt there should be increased lobbying of research councils and other bodies required to make funding available for OA, and to ensure that access to it is transparent.

Improved education about OA funding is also needed at senior levels to ensure facilities are in place. This should answer such questions as: what does it mean? how does it work? and what does it mean for researchers? Many users are unsure and confuse "open" with "free". There was a strong feeling among participants in our research that getting "big names" to publish in newer OA outlets was essential to see growth of OA in the humanities and social sciences.

The library role

The library has an evolving role in providing teaching material alongside research content, according to the survey. Materials should be available within the institutional network, rather than an outside link preferably. E-books were seen as expensive with DRM remaining a barrier to widespread use. There was a wide variance in the sophistication of reading list support tools and practices in use with many challenges identified in compiling reading lists. Greater communication with academic departments as identified earlier, plus wider use of systems to standardise methods would help here. There was also a sense that IT departments were often in institutional silos. Could they work together to find solutions to challenges, such as creating and sharing open-source programming solutions?

From all the views we heard, it is clear that librarians, researchers and publishers need to talk more and work together to support each other’s goals. This conclusion was echoed in SAGE’s recent whitepaper on discoverability, which found that the development of more sophisticated discovery and visibility strategies depends very much on heightened cross-sector collaborations. Exploring opportunities for publishers, vendors and libraries to work together will be important for the future of research.

Bernie Folan is head of journals marketing at SAGE Publications