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Librarians connect in South Africa to support research goals

As the research landscape changes and new tools become available, Elsevier’s Library Connect events help librarians take on new roles

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The Library Connect panel (left to right): Nomoya Mahlangu, Director of Client Services, University of Johannesburg; Sunette Steynberg, Research Librarian, University of Pretoria Department of Library Services; Maryna Van Den Heever, Manager, Research Support Services: University of the Witwatersrand Libraries; and Erika Rood, Manager of Information Services, NWU Biblioteekdienste). Lower left: Members of the Elsevier Africa team, from left to right: Wim Meester, Mohamed Sayed, Karen Metcalf, Lucia Schoombe and Mohamed Amir.

The role of the librarian has for centuries been pivotal to the management of information and the advancement of human knowledge. Since the explosion of big data in the digital age, librarians have not only had to keep up with the expansion of online materials and electronic libraries, but have had to innovate and configure new ways to manage these repositories and make the most of them.

This was the central theme of a recent Elsevier Library Connect Tour in Cape Town and Pretoria, South Africa. The purpose of the event was to bring together librarians, researchers and experts on Elsevier’s products to discover the key challenges librarians face upon engaging with research information management responsibilities and how best to address them.

These challenges are mostly centered on supporting universities’ research goals; they range from advising researchers on the best journals to publish in, to how an institute can increase its chances of climbing prestigious university rankings.

Traditionally, research offices would handle these queries. Yet as the pace of modern research quickens and more data on research performance becomes available, South African librarians are increasingly getting involved in the field and providing their own solutions.

“Many librarians now work within an organizational structure that is changing,” said Karen Metcalf, Account Manager for Elsevier Africa. “They are now beginning to advise researchers where to publish using metrics and Impact Factor scores and generally working with the research office to manage and improve researchers’ profiles.”

The reason librarians are being called upon to handle these matters comes down to the experience they have with research information management tools. For example, librarians use Scopus to help researchers navigate their subject area. That’s what Ruarri Rogan, Sales Enablement Manager at Elsevier, discussed during one of his talks at the event:

Sometimes librarians will have a researcher who is going on a trip to Germany from a university in Johannesburg, and that person will say to them, ‘Can you collect for me very quickly the top researchers in physics at this university?’ A traditionally trained librarian would not do that. Now they are being asked to, and Scopus is a tool that enables them to do it quickly.

It is not just by providing administrative assistance that librarians are supporting researchers. Due to recent changes made by the national research foundation of South Africa, good research management has become fundamental to obtaining research grants. To do so, librarians use tools such as Pure and SciVal to demonstrate a university’s research output and performance, which in turn influences how much a university will invest in its various research groups and departments.

Similarly, Elsevier tools are being used to determine university rankings: both the QS and Times Higher Education rankings draw upon data pulled from the Scopus database and use SciVal for research metrics analysis. Understanding how research performance is recorded and measured by these tools is of utmost importance to librarians, who are now able to provide insight as to how their university can increase its overall score.

The purpose of the tour was not only for librarians to learn more about Elsevier tools and resources, but also for Elsevier representatives to learn from librarians themselves. “It's very important to have this face-to-face opportunity to network together,” said Lucia Schoombe, Customer Consultant for Research Intelligence, Africa, at Elsevier and a former librarian. “It is about creating the space for dialogue without the commercial setup so that librarians can speak freely, and we can learn from them.”

Naturally, the event also provided an opportunity for South African librarians to engage with each other on the emerging expectations of their work. A devaluation of the South African Rand, national VAT increase and series of protests in recent months have undoubtedly impacted library coordination and budget and compromised the amount of resources dedicated to new responsibilities in supporting research goals.

For Wim Meester, Head of Product Management for Consultant Strategy at Elsevier, here lies the importance of the event at bringing together librarians from across the country:

Librarians who are connecting probably know each other quite well but might not talk to each other every day. In these kinds of meetings, you bring together librarians from different universities, and I think that is useful for them as a communicative practice. Even if sometimes we do not have the answers, librarians and their colleagues might, and maybe during a coffee break you might find something useful that you wouldn't have otherwise.

Looking to the future, Elsevier aims to be as supportive as possible to librarians in South Africa who are exploring the unfamiliar terrain of research performance. The Elsevier Africa team, whose members were introduced at the beginning of the event, plan to work closely with the librarians and continue to communicate about how Elsevier tools can play a key role in simplifying day-to-day responsibilities.

Library Connect

Library Connect is a global program from Elsevier for academic, medical, corporate and government librarians. The program includes a free newsletter and other resources, such as webinars, live regional events, and interactive forums including Facebook and Twitter. There are more than 50,000 subscribers in 175 countries to Library Connect webinars and the newsletter. Published 10 times a year in electronic format, the Library Connect Newsletter covers library and information science best practices, issues, technology and trends. You can subscribe online with your email address.

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