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University of Derby librarians build a culture of research

September 18, 2020

By Linda Willems

Librarians at University of Derby

New research tools and training are helping: “I had used Scopus before I did the certification program, but I'd really only scratched the surface.”

When the UK’s University of Derby gained university status in 1992, its core values of teaching and learning had changed little since its launch as a teacher training college nearly 140 years earlier.

However the past few years have seen that focus shift; increasingly the University is looking to strengthen its research capacity with high-impact, high-quality studies that benefit society. To help it achieve that ambitious goal, it has been investing in students, staff and its research infrastructure. That investment is bearing fruit – there are now approximately 350 postgraduate research students and nearly 300 research-active faculty across the University, and UoD has increased its annual research income by 172 percent over the last decade. Its latest Research Excellence Framework (REF) results were its best ever, with three-quarters of its output judged to be “internationally significant.”

The Research Excellence Framework at a glance

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is the system used to assess the quality of research in UK higher education institutions with the results guiding funding allocation. Each higher education institution’s submission to REF is assessed on three elements: the quality of outputs (e.g., publications, performances and exhibitions), their impact beyond academia, and the environment that supports research. The next REF cycle was scheduled for 2021, but has been delayed due to COVID-19.

Driving change – the Library perspective

The University of Derby Library has played an active and enthusiastic role in building that research capacity, drawing on solutions such as Scopus, an abstract and citation database, and SciVal, a research performance analytics solution. It has also created a new Research Liaison team, established 18 months ago to support students and faculty (often referred to as academic or research staff in the UK).

Emma Butler, manager of the new team, explains: “We had a Repository and Open Access Librarian role since 2016, but with the gradual development of our research intensity, and the growing importance of the REF, it was clear more support was needed. Now there are three of us and we work with researchers across four campuses on each phase of the scholarly communication process, from the initial literature review, right through to the dissemination and tracking of their work. In addition to that day-to-day support, we are tasked with building a culture of research within the institution, and within the Library specifically – it’s really about inspiring others.”

Emma Butler

For Emma and her team members – Repository and Open Access Librarian, Holly Limbert, and Research Support Librarian, Lisa Ferrari – a collaboration with other areas of the University is crucial. They work closely and proactively with the central Research and Knowledge Exchange Office colleagues who focus on impact, the REF researcher development and knowledge exchange, as well as the Chair of the University Professorial Council. Library staff play a key role in offering training and raising awareness of OrCid, Open Access etc., and have worked with academics to develop and implement policies and processes such as the University Responsible Metrics Policy. According to Emma, their roles also dovetail neatly with the Library’s Academic Liaison team, led by Jonathan White.

While the two teams share a common focus on growing the University’s research profile, their roles and responsibilities differ, as Jonathan explains: “The remit of Emma, Holly and Lisa is really campus-wide: they are looking at research across the University, while the seven academic librarians in my team are attached to specific colleges. Largely, my team’s role is to work with teachers, lecturers, professors, etc. to embed information literacy and the use of learning resources into their courses.”

Caroline Ball, the academic librarian in Jonathan’s team associated with the College of Business, Law and Social Sciences, adds: “As Jonathan says, the bulk of the work is really about supporting academics with their teaching, making sure the right resources are available and delivering sessions as part of the curriculum on areas such as e-resources, critical thinking, evaluation, referencing and plagiarism. In many ways, our role is to serve as the library point person for a college’s academics and students."

As such, academic librarians are also a key conduit for academics and students to research resources and services.

Holly Limbert

Encountering challenges along the way

Although the University’s bid to increase its research intensity is yielding strong results, there are still hurdles to overcome.

Emma reveals: “Traditionally, the University of Derby has been seen as a teaching and learning institution, so developing not only the research, but a research environment and culture, has probably been our biggest challenge.”

Contributing to that challenge is the fact that many of the University’s faculty hail from professional, non-academic backgrounds. Caroline explains: “Within the School of Law, a lot of the teaching staff come in as practicing lawyers, practicing barristers. Within policing, we have a lot of ex-police officers and then there are people with business backgrounds. 

Because we are such an applied University, we really value the practical, professional experience they bring. But part of this is that they often don’t have strong backgrounds in academic research and many face a learning curve; for example, one of the problems they may encounter is distinguishing between reputable and predatory journals.”

Caroline Ball

For Holly Limbert, the Repository and Open Access Librarian in Emma’s team, the infrastructure the University has in place to support research from an administrative perspective, brings its own challenges. Holly’s role involves overseeing the University’s repository and its records, and working with the central Research and Knowledge Exchange Office on monitoring compliance with the REF. However, the repository was selected long before the REF policy came into place in 2016. She explains: “The problem we face now is that we need it to do a lot more than it actually can. As a result, we've had to put in place workarounds.”

Holly helps researchers understand the REF open access (OA) policy and the publishing routes available to them. Her role also has a strong advocacy aspect, not only discussing open access on campus, but ensuring the University’s voice is heard in global discussions. COVID-19 has curtailed some of those engagement and outreach activities in the short term, at least.

How Scopus and SciVal are supporting Derby’s research goals

According to Emma, Scopus had long been on the Library’s wish list of resources, so when the University provided an injection of funds for library resources in 2018, she and her colleagues did not hesitate. “We really wanted to get Scopus as a complement to SciVal, which we’ve had since 2016. We also wanted to see where the data in SciVal was coming from.” Not long after the Scopus subscription was activated, Emma signed up for Elsevier’s six-week Scopus Certification Program for Librarians. She explains: “I knew that Scopus is a very powerful, very large database, so I wanted to make sure I fully understood it and could optimize support for our students and researchers. Once I’d completed the course, I recommended that members of my team and Jonathan’s to follow it too. Now there are 12 Scopus certified librarians, and one member of the research support staff. Ideally, we’d like to roll it out even further.”

Jonathan White

What is the Scopus Certification Program for Librarians?

The program provides insights into research sources, collaboration and metrics and helps users leverage that knowledge to expand training and consulting options with their library users. It consists of six online courses — Topical Search, Author Identity, Metrics, APIs, Institutional Insights, and User Outreach — of approximately one hour each. The courses are anchored by short video tutorials and quizzes, and supplemented with exercises and support materials. Participants are largely librarians or information managers at an institution or company with a Scopus subscription. Interested in taking part? Ask your Elsevier account representative.

Caroline notes: “I had used Scopus before I did the certification program, but I'd really only scratched the surface. There were lots of things I didn’t realize you could do; for example, compare journals or individuals, drill down to particular subject and research areas and find out which institutions or individuals are publishing the most, and view your own institutional profile. And those are the things that often interest our academics the most.” Caroline runs inductions for new faculty in her college, introducing them to the Library and its services. “Scopus is certainly something that I talk about as a lot of them are expected to do research. I run through the points I’ve touched on and I also show them how they can track citations for their publications and identify other institutions or individuals for potential collaborations.”

Completing the program has made Caroline more “comfortable and confident” about tackling research-related inquiries. “Previously, if an academic asked me to help them identify a journal to publish in, who is publishing in their area, or the top-rated journal in their field, I would probably have referred them to Emma’s team.”

For Holly, the program’s Author Identity module has proved particularly helpful. “It helps me track publications by our university authors that haven’t been deposited in our repository yet. It’s even helping me develop new connections by highlighting academics I haven’t spoken with before.” She adds: “I also like the fact I can improve my understanding of the research undertaken at Derby; for example, I can create a pie chart showing which fields and which disciplines, we are publishing in the most. I really love the visual representation in Scopus – they can provide new insights.”

The University’s Bibliometrics Working Group has also been drawing on data in SciVal for a dashboard it’s developed to support the University’s REF impact and environment statement. According to Holly: “While citation data alone isn’t something that necessarily demonstrates impact, in some fields, it can be really helpful.”

Jonathan found himself experiencing a series of lightbulb moments during the course: “I kept seeing new ways we can support researchers. And I found the User Outreach module really useful – it contained lots of ideas we have yet to implement.”

For both Holly and Jonathan, their shared knowledge of Scopus opens the door to the Research Liaison and Academic Liaison teams working even more closely together as the University continues down its research path.


Portrait photo of Linda Willems


Linda Willems

Freelance writer and owner

Blue Lime Communications

Read more about Linda Willems