Researchers need context and connection – OUP white paper

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Researchers need context and connection throughout the research journey even as users move away from traditional perceptions of ‘reference’ material.

That is the conclusion of a white paper published this week by Oxford University Press, which finds that recognition of ‘reference’ as a distinct category of resources is declining. However, researchers’ need for contextual information throughout the research journey remains significant.

'As we began to speak with researchers and librarians it became more and more apparent that reference works still have a vital place in the research process. We must now look at how these resources can be more easily discovered within the research journey,' said Patricia Hudson, associate director of institutional marketing at Oxford University Press.

Through a review of existing literature, interviews with librarians and library users, and a survey of over 150 librarians, the paper notes that the focus of reference publishing has shifted from simply providing facts to contextualising information by situating particular topics within their broader fields of study and making clear their connection to related areas of inquiry.

The study additionally found that scholarly topic overviews remain important due to a growing focus on an interdisciplinary research approach and the increasingly specialised focus of research publications. Librarians and researchers alike noted that it can be a struggle to find these resources, which bridge the gap between general introductory works and specialist research publications, and highlighted the importance of discoverability in the success of any such resource.

Researchers at all levels tend to begin a research journey with an open web search on search engines such as Google or Wikipedia and regarded such a search as both the easiest and the quickest means by which to enter into a new topic area. These ubiquitous search engines now vie for position with what might traditionally have been regarded as the ‘reference’ space.

Librarians and faculty agree that students do not necessarily recognise overviews of scholarship as ‘reference’ content, or even know where to seek such resources. In fact, the declining recognition of ‘reference’ as a category means that in-depth resources are sometimes neglected by users who would benefit from them.

Damon Zucca, publisher of reference and online at Oxford University Press, said: 'Serious research faces significant challenges due to the staggering proliferation of information and misinformation online. This is a problem that scholarly reference publishers should be uniquely equipped to address, but with the dramatic changes in how reference is produced, disseminated, and consumed, it is difficult to form a clear view of the actual role reference plays in today’s research.

'OUP has undertaken considerable research into this topic in recent years, and we are pleased to have an opportunity to share what we are learning about the modern research journey and about how both reference publishers and libraries can help support research and learning in the current environment.'