Elsevier recently released “Research Futures 2.0,” the result of a deep exploration of today’s research ecosystem, where transformative changes have been accelerated by COVID-19. The report was built on two waves of surveys and three scenarios that capture insights from more than 2,000 researchers from a range of disciplines and geographies.
In light of the major transitions identified in the report, what do librarians know to support their research colleagues (and their own research!)? Here are five key trends to be aware of, and act on, now and going forward.
1. Preprints, open science take center stage. Given the frenetic pace of pandemic-related research, it’s not surprising that the value of preprints increased significantly in the past year; more than 2/3 of survey respondents now consider preprints a valued source of communication. Among the benefits cited are: earlier and easier accessibility to research and more timely, up-to-date communication of information.
Preprints are closely tied to open science. Fifty-four percent of respondents said they planned to publish open access articles—five percentage points higher than in 2019 (first report). Reasons cited for the increase in open science: increased outlets for sharing data, more productivity, and data sharing encouraged (and, at times, required) by more institutions and funding sources.
What does this mean for librarians? In an article on best-practice tips that librarians can share with researchers, Jay Bhatt, Librarian for Engineering and Biomedical Engineering at Drexel University in Philadelphia, says librarians and universities need to increase their awareness of preprints because they can boost partnership opportunities and interdisciplinary areas of research. Thus, preprints also are helping to fuel the next key trend that emerged from the new report: collaboration.
2. Collaboration mushrooms. Sixty-three percent of survey respondents said they are collaborating more on their research than previously, with the biggest rise in computer science. Respondents noted that international collaboration is now easier and increasingly prevalent, whereas multi-disciplinary research and expertise are necessities, if not prerequisites, for new projects. Like data sharing, collaboration is increasingly valued and, in some cases, required by funders.
Collaboration is also helping to foster an emerging emphasis on societal impact. Fifty-four percent of respondents anticipate a greater emphasis on this aspect of research going forward, with the expectation higher among women (62%) than men (52%).
In a Library Connect article, Multiprofessional Education and Library Services Manager, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals, NHS Trust, UK, Potenza Atiogbe shares tips on ways to support researcher networking and training to boost and improve collaboration.
How to optimize researcher education, collaboration
As the research “future” increasingly becomes the research “now,” librarians can help faculty, staff and students achieve success in the new reality. Mendeley Advisor Potenza Atiogbe shares three key strategies:
Establish research groups to drive productivity. Using Mendeley, she worked with a pediatric gastroenterologist to set up international groups who are investigating diagnoses that affect different areas of the gastrointestinal system. The groups add to the literature and also find ways to enable better patient care.
Support collaboration projects from A-Z. Atiogbe also uses Mendeley for nuts-and-bolts support such as de-duplicating results from literature searches and referencing.
Build knowledge through journal clubs. Mendeley enables doctors-in-training to present a paper for discussion and receive feedback during a journal club meeting, even from club members who can’t attend a particular meeting.
3. AI/tech gain ground. Not everyone is using AI for their research (just over half of respondents said they do not), but those who do are using it more than ever. Among those who use AI, 66% use it to analyze research results—mostly chemists and material scientists (16%), followed medicine and allied health (15%).
The report identifies the use of technology, in particular, research information systems, is increasing overall, with seminars/webinars increasing most (46%), followed by research for articles outside one’s field (40%), research inside one’s field (32%) and, not surprisingly, for preprints (30%).
Librarians who are knowledgeable about the technologies currently available at their institution, as well as more broadly, will be able to point researchers to the most helpful resources for their projects. Jeremy Atkinson, a library and information services consultant in the UK, gathered and analyzed case studies, and shared insights into how successful academic libraries (and librarians!) thrive in a technology-rich environment.
He concludes, "The case studies underline the need for academic library technology and change projects to consider ‘softer’ issues and emphasize users and their needs with effective advocacy, consultation, engagement and collaboration. The projects should have good project management and governance arrangements, fully examine cultural change issues and the impact on library staff and users, think about the skills and attributes required, and consider ethics and values, marketing and evaluation."
4. Funding shifts. Over the next two to three years, funding from university/research institutions is expected to drop, while funding from corporate/industry sources is expected to increase. The report shows that whereas 18% of respondents think their university/research institution funding will increase, 41% think their corporate/commercial industrial funding will increase (just 15% think it will decrease).
Further, more than half of respondents agree or strongly agree that there are more funding requirements now than in prior years—specifically, the bureaucratic burden of writing proposals is increasing and it’s more difficult to get funding for work outside of infectious diseases.
Librarians will need to be able to quickly point researchers to the most likely funders of their projects. The University of Minnesota Libraries developed a “Researcher Checklist” that brings together various resources to help researchers advance their careers and research. It’s a strategy that many librarians can consider implementing.
Elsevier’s new research report provides insights into the current and projected future of the research ecosystem. It pinpoints key trends with implications for researchers and for those, like librarians, who support them, and who often do their own research, as well. The report is the result of compiling and analyzing responses from a representative sample of more than 2,000 researchers to two online surveys aimed at gauging the impact of changes that occurred over the past two years (2020 and 2021).
A key message of the report is the need for everyone to work together to maximize research opportunities and outcomes: “All of us who work in the world of research share responsibility for creating a new environment in which research can flourish. None of us can do it alone, particularly now.”
For a quick overview of the findings and methodology, read “The future of research revealed” on Elsevier Connect.
5. Work-life in the balance. More than half (54%) of survey respondents agree that maintaining a good work-life balance during the pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but particularly for women (62%) and those ages 36-55 (58%), while less so for those over 56 (46%). Librarians who are also researchers are likely to have been hard hit as well, as the pandemic’s impact is affecting their job, their own work, and their ability to support other researchers.
A recent article in the Journal of Academic Librarianship describes an in-house academic librarian support network developed at the University of South Florida Libraries to help librarians address the challenges of doing and publishing their own research. Such networks may also make it easier to maintain a work/life balance while remaining productive.
One aspect of the support network was the hosting of a writing group discussion, and how writing partners can aid in the research and publication process. During the discussion, one librarian noted: “A writing partner is more than writing support, they are professional support. They are someone with which to talk about the whole picture and not feel judged. Even when other responsibilities get in the way of real progress on a research project, having regular meeting [sic] with a writing partner encourages even small movement towards goals and keeps the project foremost in the mind.”
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