Tag Archives: librarians

Changing roles and changing needs for academic librarians

The Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) has joined the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP) Research Network, and as part of this commitment has prepared the following blog which is a literature review of papers published addressing the changing training needs for academic librarians. This work feeds into research currently being carried out by the OSC into the educational background of those working in scholarly communication. The piece concludes with a discussion of this research and potential next steps.

Changing roles

There is no doubt that libraries are experiencing another dramatic change as a result of developments in digital technologies. Twenty years ago in their paper addressing the education of library and information science professionals, Van House and Sutton note that “libraries are only one part of the information industry and for many segments of the society they are not the most important part”.

There is an argument that “as user habits take a digital turn, the library as place and public services in the form of reference, collection development and organisation of library resources for use, all have diminishing value to researchers”. Librarians need to adapt and move beyond these roles to one where they play a greater part in the research process.

To this end scholarly communication is becoming an increasingly established area in many academic libraries. New roles are being created and advertised in order to better support researchers as they face increasing pressure to share their work. Indeed a 2012 analysis into new activities and changing roles for health science librarians identified ‘Scholarly communications librarians’ as a new role for health sciences librarians based on job announcements whilst in their 2015 paper on scholarly communication coaching Todd, Brantley and Duffin argue that: “To successfully address the current needs of a forward-thinking faculty, the academic library needs to place scholarly communication competencies in the toolkit of every librarian who has a role interacting with subject faculty.”

Which skill sets are needed?

Much of the literature is in agreement about the specific skill set librarians need to work in scholarly communication. “Reskilling for Research”identified nine areas of skill which would have increasing importance including knowledge about data management and curation. Familiarity with data is an area mentioned repeatedly and acknowledged as something librarians will be familiar with. Mary Anne Kennan describes the concept as “the librarian with more” – traditional library skills with added knowledge of working with and manipulating data.

Many studies reported that generic skills were just as much, if not more so, in demand than discipline specific skills. A thorough knowledge of advocacy and outreach techniques is needed to spread the scholarly communication message to both library staff and researchers. Raju highlighted presentation skills for similar reasons in his 2014 paper.

The report “University Publishing in a Digital Age” further identified a need for library staff to better understand the publishing process and this is something that we have argued at the OSC in the past.

There is also a need to be cautious when demanding new skills. Bresnahan and Johnson (article pay-walled) caution against trying to become the mythical “unicorn librarian” – an individual who possesses every skill an employer could ever wish for. This is not realistic and is ultimately doomed to fail.

In their 2013 paper Jaguszewski and Williams instead advocate a team approach with members drawn from different backgrounds and able to bring a range of different skills to their roles. This was also the argument put forward by Dr Sarah Pittaway at the recent UKSG Forum where her paper addressed the issue of current library qualifications and their narrow focus

Training deficit

Existing library roles are being adapted to include explicit mention of areas such as Open Access whilst other roles are being created from scratch. This work provides a good fit for library staff but it can be challenging to develop the skills needed. As far back as 2008 it was noted that the curricula of most library schools only covered the basics of digital library management and little seems to have changed since with Van House and Sutton identifying barriers to “the ability of LIS educational programs to respond” to changing needs such as the need to produce well-rounded professionals.

Most people working in this area learn their skills on the job, often from more experienced colleagues. Kennan’s study notes that formal education could help to fill the knowledge gap whilst others look to more hands-on training as this helps to embed knowledge.

The question then becomes should the profession as a whole be doing more to prepare their new recruits for the career path of the 21st century academic librarian? This is something we have been asking ourselves in Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) at Cambridge. Since the OSC was established at the start of 2015 it has made a concerted effort to educate staff at the one hundred plus libraries in Cambridge through both formal training programmes and targeted advocacy. However we are aware that there is still more to be done. We have begun by distributing a survey to investigate the educational background of those who work in scholarly communications. The survey was popular with over five hundred responses and many offers of follow up interviews which means that we have found an area of interest amongst the profession. We will be analysing the results of the survey in the New Year with a view to sharing them more widely and further participating in the scholarly communication process ourselves.

Conclusion

Wherever the skills gaps are there is no doubt that the training needs of academic librarians are changing. The OSC survey will provide insight into whether these needs are currently being met and give evidence for future developments but there is still work to be done. Hopefully this project will be the start of changes to the way academic library staff are trained which will benefit the future of the profession as a whole.

Published 29 November 2016
Written by Claire Sewell and Dr Danny Kingsley

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Are academic librarians getting the training they need?

As part of Open Access Week 2016, the Office of Scholarly Communication is publishing a series of blog posts on open access and open research. In this post Claire Sewell looks at the training of library staff in areas relating to scholarly communication.

The problem

Few people would deny that the world of the academic library is changing. Users are becoming more and more sophisticated in their information gathering techniques and the role of the academic librarian needs to adapt accordingly or risk being left behind. Librarians are changing from the traditional gatekeeper role to one which helps their research community to disseminate the outputs of their work.

This shift offers academic library staff new opportunities to move into research support roles. An increasing number of libraries are establishing scholarly communication departments and advertising for associated roles such as Repository Managers and Data Specialists.  It’s also becoming common to see more traditional academic library roles advertised asking for at least a working knowledge of areas such as Open Access and Research Data Management.

This is an issue that we have been considering in the Office of Scholarly Communication for a while. My role as Research Skills Coordinator involves up-skilling Cambridge library staff in these areas so I’m more aware than most that it is a full time job. But what happens to those who don’t have this type of opportunity through their work? How do they find out about these areas which will be so relevant to their future careers?

For many new professionals studying is their main chance to get a solid grounding in the information world but with the profession undergoing such rapid change is the education received via these degrees suitable for working in 21st century academic libraries? This is a question that has been raised many times in the profession in recent years so it’s time to dig a bit deeper.

Hypothesis

Our hypothesis is simple: there is a systematic lack of education on scholarly communication issues available to those entering the library profession. This is creating a time bomb skills gap in the academic library profession and unless action is taken we may well end up with a workforce not suited to work in the 21st century research library.

In order to test this hypothesis we have designed a survey aimed at those currently working in scholarly communication and associated areas. We hope that asking questions about the educational background of these workers we can work to determine the suitability of the library and information science qualification for these types of role into the future and how problems might be best addressed.

After a process of testing and reworking, our survey was launched to the scholarly communication community on October 11th 2016. In less than 24 hours there were over 300 responses, clearly indicating that the subject had touched a nerve for people working in the sector. (And thank you to those who have taken the time to respond).

Preliminary findings

We were pleased to see that even without prompting from the survey, respondents were picking up on many of the issues we wanted to address. For example, the original focus of the survey was the library and information science qualification and its impact on those working in scholarly communication.

When we piloted the survey with members of our own team we realised how diverse their backgrounds were and so widened the survey to target those who didn’t hold an LIS qualification but worked in this area. This has already given us valuable information about the impact that different educational backgrounds have on scholarly communication departments and has gained positive feedback from survey respondents.

Many of the respondents talk of developing the skills they use daily ‘on the job’. Whilst library and information professionals are heavily involved in lifelong learning and it’s natural for skills to develop as new areas emerge, the formal education new professionals receive also needs to keep pace. If even recent graduates have to develop the majority of skills needed for these roles whilst they work this paints a worrying picture of the education they are undertaking.

The survey responses have also raised the issue of which skills employers are really looking for in library course graduates and how these are provided. Respondents highlighted a range of skills that they needed in their roles – far more than were included in the original survey questions. This opens up discussions about the vastly differing nature of jobs within scholarly communication and how best to develop the skill set needed.

A final issue highlighted in the responses received so far is that a significant number of people working in scholarly communication roles come from outside the library sector. Of course this has benefits as they bring with them very valuable skills but importing knowledge in this way may also be contributing to a widening skills gap for information professionals that needs to be addressed.

Next steps

The first task at the end of the collection period (you have until 5pm BST Monday 31 October) will be to analyse the results and share them with the wider scholarly communication community. There are plans for a blog post, journal article and conference presentations. We will also be sharing the anonymised data via the Cambridge repository.

Following that our next steps depend largely on the responses we receive from the survey. We have begun the process of reaching out to other groups who may be interested in similar issues around professional education to see if we can work together to address some of the problems. None of this will happen overnight but we hope that by taking these initial steps we can work to create academic libraries geared towards serving the researchers of the 21st century.

One thing that the survey has done already is raise a lot of interesting questions which could form the basis of further research. It shows that there is scope to keep exploring this topic and help to make sure that library and information science graduates are well equipped to work in the 21st century academic library.

Published 27 October 2016
Written by Claire Sewell
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It’s time for open access to leave the fringe

The Repository Fringe was held in Edinburgh on 3-4 August. With the theme of “Integrating repositories in the wider context of university, funder and external services”, the event brought together repository managers across the UK to discuss practice and policy. Dr Arthur Smith, Open Access Research Advisor at the University of Cambridge, attended the event and came away with the impression that more needs to be done to embed open access in scholarly processes.

In his keynote speech to Repository Fringe 2015, titled ‘Fulfilling their potential: is it time for institutional repositories to take centre stage?’  David Prosser, Executive Director of Research Libraries UK (RLUK) gave a concise overview of the history surrounding open access and the situation we currently find ourselves in, especially in the UK.

What’s become clear is that ‘we’ is a problematic term for the scholarly communications community. A lack of cohesion and vision between librarians, repository managers and administrators means ‘we’ have failed to engage with researchers to make the case for open access.

I feel this is due to, in part, the fragmented nature of repositories stemming from an institutional need for control. If national (and international) open access subject repositories had been created and exploited perhaps researcher uptake of open access in the UK and around the world would have been faster. For example, arXiv continues to be the one stop shop for physicists to publish their manuscripts precisely because it’s the repository for the entire physics community. That’s where you go if you’ve got a physics paper. To be fair, physics had a culture of sharing research papers that predates the internet.

Repositories are only as good as the content they hold, and without support from the academic community to fill repositories with content, there is a risk of side-lining green open access*. This will in turn increase the pressure to justify the cost of ineffective institutional repositories.

As David correctly identified, scholars will happily take the time to do things they feel are important. But for many researchers open access remains a low priority and something not worth investing their time in. Repositories are only capturing a fraction of their institution’s total publication output. At Cambridge we estimate that only 25-30% of articles are regularly deposited.

Providing value

The value of open access, whether it’s green or gold**, isn’t obvious to the authors producing the content. Yet juxtaposed with this is a report prepared by Nature Publishing Group on 13 August: Perceptions of open access publishing are changing for the better. This examined the changing perceptions of researchers to open access. While many researchers are still unaware of their funders’ open access requirements, the general perception of open access journals in the sciences has changed significantly, from 40% who were concerned about the quality of OA publication in 2014, to just 27% in 2015.

Clearly the trend is towards greater acceptance of open access within the academic community, but actual engagement remains low. If we don’t want to end up in a world of expensive gold open access journals, green repositories must be competitive with slick journal websites. Appearances matter. We need to attract the attention of the academics so that open access repositories are seen as viable places for disseminating research.

The scholarly communications community must find new ways of making open access (particularly green open access) appealing to researchers. One way forward is to augment the reward structure in academic publishing. Until open access is adopted more widely, academics should be rewarded for the effort involved in making their work openly available.

In the UK, failure to comply with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and other funders’ policies could seriously affect future funding outcomes. It is the ever-present threat of funding cuts which drives authors to choose open access options, but this has changed open access into a policy compliance debacle.

Open access as a side effect of policy compliance is not enough; we need real support from academics to propel open access forward.

Measuring openness

As a researcher, the main things I look for when assessing other researchers and their publications are h-index, total and article level citations, and journal prestige (impact factor). I am not aware of any other methods which so simply define an author’s research.

While these types of metrics have their problems, they are nonetheless widely used within the academic community. An annual openness index, which is simply the ratio of open access articles to the total number of publications, would quickly reveal how open an academic’s research publications are. This index could be applied equally to established professors and early career researchers, as unlike the h-index, there is no historical weighting. It only depends on how you’re publishing now.

Developing such a metric would spur on open access from within academic circles by making open access publishing a competition between researchers. Perhaps the openness index could also be linked to university progression and grant reward processes. The more open access your work is, the better it is for you, and as a consequence, the community.

Open access needs to stop being a ‘fringe’ activity and become part of the mainstream. It shouldn’t be an afterthought to the publication process. Whether the solution to academic inaction is better systems or, as I believe, greater engagement and reward, I feel that the scholarly communications and repository community can look forward to many interesting developments over the coming months and years.

However, we must not be distracted from our main goal of engaging with researchers and academics to gather content for the open access repositories we have so lovingly built.

Glossary

*Green open access refers to making a copy of a published work available by placing it in a repository. This can be thought of as ‘secondary’ open access.

**Gold open access is where the research is published either in a fully open access journal – which sometimes incurs an article processing charge, or in a hybrid journal – which imposes an article processing charge to make that particular article available and also charges a subscription for the remainder of the articles in the journal. This can be thought of as ‘born’ open access.

Published 27 August 2015
Written by Dr Arthur Smith
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