How Libraries Can Become Essential Partners in Academic Research

A university’s research output is only beneficial when others can easily find it. This is where libraries can add tremendous value to the research process: By leveraging their expertise in collecting, organizing, and making information easily discoverable, academic libraries can help raise the profile of their institution’s research

A university’s research output is only beneficial when others can easily find it. This is where libraries can add tremendous value to the research process: By leveraging their expertise in collecting, organizing, and making information easily discoverable, academic libraries can help raise the profile of their institution’s research.

Showcasing a university’s research more effectively benefits all stakeholders. For instance, institutional leaders want to understand the return on their investment when they hire research faculty.  Faculty at the university want to know what their colleagues in other departments are working on, so they can find potential partners for interdisciplinary research projects. Students want to know what research projects faculty members are involved in, so they can connect with faculty doing work that aligns with their own academic interests.

However, the institutional repositories that many universities are using to showcase their academic research today aren’t very easy to use.

The University of Georgia’s experience is typical of many universities. Georgia was using an institutional repository (IR) that required faculty to manually upload research assets and fill out several data fields with the corresponding metadata so these items could be found in searches. This created both legal and technological hurdles for researchers, says Deputy University Librarian Jason Battles.

“Faculty would have to know how to upload items, as well as what they were allowed to upload from a copyright perspective,” he explains.

Because of these hurdles, the university’s IR was severely underused.

Library staff worked with faculty who were engaged and motivated to help them upload their research outputs. But these faculty members represented only a small minority of the university’s entire research community, meaning that the entire research community—inside and outside the university—were only seeing a fraction of the university’s research outputs.

What’s more, “it took a lot of legwork for us to convince faculty to upload their research,” Battles says—effort that should have been spent on more strategic work instead. “If we’re going to have an IR,” he resolved, “let’s at least make it a more useful tool.”


A Better Approach

Battles’ search to move beyond the traditional IR led him to Esploro from Ex Libris. The university was already using Ex Libris Alma as its library services platform. Esploro is a cloud-based research information management solution that helps universities scale up scholarly communication and increase visibility of research outputs. It uses intelligent technology to capture research output and data automatically, making it much easier to populate and grow the research repository.

Library staff at the University of Georgia fed Esploro a list of the research faculty at their institution. Using a “smart harvesting” process, the software automatically identified a wide variety of research published by these faculty members in journals, databases, and other external sources; captured the relevant metadata for these sources; and created a record within Esploro for those research assets.

“We already have more research outputs in Esploro than we ever had in our old IR, just through the smart harvesting we’ve done so far,” Battles says.

Researchers still have to augment some of the metadata and submit materials that weren’t captured through the smart harvesting process. However, Esploro gives users a very simple, structured way to upload research and add metadata to ensure these outputs are fully discoverable. “And when faculty can see so much of their material already entered within the system, it’s incentivizing for them to want to make this information complete,” Battles adds.


Demonstrating Leadership

The team finished implementing Esploro just as the fall 2020 semester ended.  This spring, they plan to show faculty how to use the system.  Battles noted Mary Willoughby, digital conversion and curation librarian, as a key player who led and managed the technical work of the implementation of Esploro at UGA. 

 “Esploro changes the conversation,” Battles says. “Faculty no longer have to struggle with the technology when uploading their research. It lowers the bar that restricted their participation before.”

Giving faculty an easier way to showcase their research in one simple-to-use database not only helps faculty, students, and university leaders; it also helps the library demonstrate its value to the research process.

“We hope Esploro will help us build better relationships with faculty and with our Office of Research,” Battles says. “With Esploro, leaders will be able to get a more holistic picture of research outputs. This shows our leadership as a research partner at the University of Georgia, and we hope it will encourage everyone to engage with the library more often in research activities.”

For another university perspective on this issue, join Library Journal for a live webcast scheduled for January 21st with Mark Paris, associate university librarian for scholarly resources and discovery at Brandeis University. During the webcast, Paris will share best practices for creating stronger partnerships between the library and research stakeholders.

To register for this event, click here.

 

WEBINAR NOW AVAILABLE IN ARCHIVE

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