Faculty, Student, and Librarian Collaboration Kiwi Style | Peer to Peer Review

During a trip to New Zealand in January 2018, I was invited to visit with several of my counterparts at five different universities there to discuss the changing role of university libraries in the 21st century.

During a trip to New Zealand in January 2018, I was invited to visit with several of my counterparts at five different universities there to discuss the changing role of university libraries in the 21st century. I found that in both the United States and New Zealand, the librarian’s role is viewed as primarily helping students and faculty discover and access materials that support their teaching and research activities and that lack of university administrative support, exasperated by an unclear vision of how the library supports the overall mission of the university, is seen as the most significant barrier limiting further development of the library.

A particular strength of librarians in New Zealand is their ability to work closely on research projects with faculty and graduate students. This collaboration is often initiated early in the process, in the form of a research grant proposal that can include budgetary line items for library materials and services. The principal investigators and the librarian work closely together on the development of the proposal and, once funded, the implementation of the research and the dissemination of results. Librarians assist professors and students in selecting resources, facilitate the purchasing of materials and access to required databases, and provide advice on open access publishing and how to maximize citation impacts. Depending on the depth of research assistance required, librarians are often included as coauthors on conference papers and publications stemming from the research.

Librarians at all five of the New Zealand universities I visited commonly hold orientation sessions for new faculty and graduate students to inform them how they can assist. Once approached by a professor and/or student, librarians encourage regular meetings to first assess their needs and later help them complete their research. This high level of involvement helps elevate the importance of the library to the university as a whole. The university’s reputation benefits greatly from the results of this collaborative work. Hence, university librarians are more apt to be perceived as playing an important role in helping the university achieve its mission. Gaining increased support from university administration because of these endeavors is viewed as an especially important objective at Canterbury University in Christchurch.

Unlike at U.S. public and private universities, where the importance attached to faculty research versus teaching can vary widely, New Zealand universities all devote high importance to research. Teams of professors, students and librarians in New Zealand commonly apply for funding from the government’s Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF), which encourages and rewards excellence in research at New Zealand universities. PBRF funds are competitive and are most apt to be awarded to projects at institutions that consistently demonstrate impactful results. The University of Auckland tops the list of grant recipients in this regard. The amount of PBRF funding an institution receives directly influences the institution’s national and international ranking.

CULTIVATING COLLABORATION

This model of active librarian collaboration in faculty/student research was not always the case. Academic libraries in New Zealand, much like the vast majority of college and university libraries in the U.S. today, until relatively recently were perceived as institutions that primarily provided support for teaching and learning. Their role in supporting faculty/student research was unclear. In an effort to provide clarity and better support for research projects, academic libraries in New Zealand such as Victoria University in Wellington launched formal needs assessments of their faculty and students. Findings indicated there was an opportunity to play a more collaborative role in assisting faculty and students with their research. As a response, these university libraries restructured to better enable this ability and provided the necessary training to library staff. The research skills of subject matter specialist librarians were strengthened. Librarians were encouraged to collaborate with their university’s Information Technology staff to expand their knowledge of digital research. In an effort to improve its data management strategy, the library at Victoria University implemented ORCID (open researcher and contributor identification), a research tool that allows for more consistent identification of authors’ works by librarians.

In the United States, similar models of active librarian collaboration with faculty and students on research projects may be found at some Tier 1 research universities. However, this level of collaboration is rare at the many Tier 2 and 3 colleges and universities in the country, such as my home institution, Central Connecticut State University. These types of institutions tend toward the traditional view of their mission as supporting teaching and learning. Yet faculty and students at these institutions also often engage in noteworthy, rigorous, grant funded research projects. There is certainly justification for libraries at these types of institutions to consider adopting aspects of this “Kiwi model.” As in New Zealand initially, this may require some redefinition of the library’s goals and some restructuring and retraining of staff. But it’s worth it—the outcome will inevitably elevate the importance of the library in helping the university achieve its overall mission and this will hopefully translate into increased administrative support for the library.

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Renata C.  Vickrey currently works as University Archivist, Special Collections and Community Outreach Librarian in the Elihu Burritt Library at Central Connecticut State University. She is responsible for planning and operations of the University Archives, Connecticut Polish American Archives, and GLBTQ Archives, and leads library marketing and outreach activities with campus and the outside community. She holds an M.A. in Ethnography from the University of Wroclaw, Poland and an M.A in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State University.  

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