Academic Movers Q&A: Susan Ivey, Making Research Accessible

Susan Ivey was named one of Library Journal’s 2023 Movers & Shakers for her work making data resources more accessible for researchers at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. We recently reached out to learn more about what that role requires from her and what benefits it provides the university’s researchers.

Susan Ivey head shotSusan Ivey was named one of Library Journal’s 2023 Movers & Shakers for her work making data resources more accessible for researchers at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. We recently reached out to learn more about what that role requires from her and what benefits it provides the university’s researchers.

LJ: How did you come to be the director of the Research Facilitation Service (RFS) at NC State?

Susan Ivey: My first position at North Carolina State was in 2018, a new position that was co-funded between the libraries and research computing, a research data and infrastructure librarian position. We created the Research Facilitation Service in 2020. We had been getting asked more questions, and researchers had growing needs. Their data was getting bigger, they needed more storage. We were charged by our CIO, director of libraries, and our vice chancellor for research. They said, why not? Why don’t we pause, take a look at what we’re providing centrally, and then try to figure out where there are gaps or where we can start to make changes.

We found one of the biggest gaps was that while there was available support and services throughout campus, it was scattered, and hard to catalog what was happening from a researcher perspective. It was also very hard to know who to contact. We were created to be a place for researchers who didn’t already know where to go.

What is the RFS?

Our service is a joint service between the libraries and IT with support from our Office of Research. Our staff is split almost evenly now between the libraries in our research computing unit and IT. The really valuable part of that is combining what you might think of as a traditional library’s data, research, knowledge, expertise, and support with the people who are maintaining the systems that researchers use to conduct their research.

When we get questions of a technical nature—where can I store my data, what’s the level of sensitivity of my data, where can I compute my data, how do I put all these systems together—we have somebody in the room saying, “Let’s talk about how you’re managing that data, how you’re organizing it, the long term, when you need to publish your data, if you have to meet requirements, or if you want to be using best practices for data.

How does the library fit into this service model?

It’s another way for libraries to get the word out and get in front of researchers. We already do a really good job of that in general. We have great customer service. Librarians are helpful, we’re responsive, we want to link people to the things they need. And that’s exactly what RFS is doing, trying to link people to the computing and data infrastructure they need to conduct their research. The users are a mix from our campus—anybody that’s conducting research here, whether faculty or post-docs or graduate students. We do have undergraduates who conduct research, and we have instructional faculty who are teaching research methods in the classroom who need the technology as well.

What was it like to try to get something like this off the ground just as the pandemic arrived?

I think about that a lot. We were charged to build this service in February [2020], right before March, when everything started to shut down. We had only begun planning, and we had a very short time frame from the administration. They wanted us to work quickly because the strategic plan was being written, and they wanted to insert some of the language [into the strategic plan]. Everyone was pivoting. I don’t want to say it was a good time to do this, but people’s routines were already broken, and maybe it made it easier to think outside the box. It still blows my mind that [the RSF committee members] went above and beyond their daily jobs at that time to join a committee to create something new. Everybody was so willing and able to engage. If it happened any other year, I don’t know what the outcome would have been.

What kind of reaction has the RFS gotten so far?

We’ve gotten great responses from those we’ve been able to help. One of the biggest time commitments is building trust with the campus, staff, and administration, and then also doing outreach [to] the researchers, understanding what they’re going to ask us. We didn’t know, once we opened up for business, what they were going to ask. It takes a lot of time to understand what our messaging and communication is, and what we can do for the campus. But overall, everybody we’ve worked with has given us great feedback, even if we don’t have a resource available locally to meet their needs. If they’re asking for a specific tool and we don’t provide that, they’re still glad to have a place to come and say, “This is how my research is being conducted, please advocate on my behalf.” I think being there, being a trusted partner to listen and pass along information to their associate deans of research about ways we should think about growing, is valuable to the researchers.

Are the RFS services available across the entire campus?

There are 12 colleges on campus, and we’re technically operational with three, but I have some stats that we’ve helped seven out of the 12. If people find us and we have the capacity, we’re here to help. One of the long-term goals is to have this up and running in all 12 colleges of the university. We have a lot of support from our administration. The initial funding we got for positions for the RFS from the administration shows that they’re invested as well. What we say now on our website is that we’ll continue expanding through 2025. That’s what we always envisioned, and we’ll go faster once we get more and more used to it. We just rolled out to the ag and life sciences college, which is one of the biggest. It’s going how we thought it would, and through 2025 we’ll hopefully be at almost all, if not all, the colleges. After that, I’ll focus on keeping up with emerging technologies and getting the campus prepared for those.

Any advice for other academic librarians interested in developing this kind of research service model with their IT departments?

Number one, I feel like we’re using different language to talk about the same thing sometimes, which can cause confusion. So, take the time to ask, “What are you struggling with?” or, “This is where we’re coming from, where are you coming from?” rather than, “We’re here to tell you what you should be doing.” Just be open, share how the partnership can be valuable for them. My experience is that everyone really wants to support our research community and our students. Come at it from the point of, “We all have the same goal, but you have to figure out how the pieces fit together.”

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