How libraries can partner with the research office to better support researchers’ journeys
13 November 2023
By Susan Jenkins, Jane Belger
Jane Belger from the University of West England explains how their dedicated team of research support librarians builds relationships to deliver efficiency and comprehensive support for postgraduates and research staff
Early in their careers, researchers have to navigate many new requirements and expectations. It’s often not clear where to go for information, or what skills to develop - alongside their specialization – to contribute meaningfully and build a successful research career.
Jane Belger sees this firsthand. “If they've been through the post-graduate research program, they will have had some training, but sometimes they've come from industry, or another institution, where they might not have received it.”
As Research and Open Access Librarian at the UK’s University of West England (UWE) in Bristol, she’s part of a four-person team of research support librarians, formed over the past decade as the university expanded its research capacity. Together they are a bridge between the library and the university’s research office - known as the Research and Business Innovation office, or RBI - leveraging their expertise to contribute valuable, time-saving insights and skills that empower the growing UWE research community.
About the University of West England
Serving approximately 38,000 undergraduates in the southwest of England, UWE(opens in new tab/window) has long been recognized as a teaching university with world leading research.
In recent years, the growing graduate school has research postgraduates (PhD candidates) focused on four impact areas:
Health and well-being
Sustainability and climate change resilience
Creative Industries and technologies
Research at UWE(opens in new tab/window) has earned recognition as well, with three-fourths of the overall research output ranking as “world-leading” or “internationally excellent” in the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF)(opens in new tab/window) assessment in 2021.
Leveraging library roles as a basis
The increased investment in research activities at the university generated new requirements that called for library expertise. In 2010, the library was selected to manage a new institutional repository, when a cross-department project team identified the need to showcase the university’s research output. This led to new library roles that would later grow into the research support team.
This team became a key partner when the Higher Education Funding Council for England introduced the Research Excellence Framework. The RBI had formed a team to prepare impact assessments for the REF evaluation process and needed data from the institutional repository. The library’s repository team worked to provide the necessary statistics and analysis. As Jane reports, “The relationship really started with the repository team supporting the REF and expanded from there.”
At the same time, the library team’s deep knowledge of open access led to them assuming management of the UKRI block grants, which included advising grant recipients, handling open access mandates and the UKRI’s reporting requirements.
The library staff re-organized not long after, combining roles supporting researchers with liaison, teaching, and advocacy work and roles supporting grant management and repository responsibilities. This brought all of the library’s research support services together in one team, which empowered the library’s partnering capabilities. According to Jane, “The evolution has come about gradually, as we’ve touched various parts of the research office and made more and more connections over time.”
Building relationships through outreach and sharing resources
Jane’s liaison responsibilities provide an important basis for interacting with the RBI. She and her colleagues organize bimonthly catch-up meetings and also have a seat at the table at research committee meetings, which helps them identify potential collaboration partners and places where they can add value.
One key relationship evolved when “the research office and academic staff realized that they had research skills training for postgraduate researchers (PhD students) but not for early-career researchers (post-docs). They wanted to offer a program for them as well.” This led to a closer working relationship with the RBI’s Researcher Skills and Development Manager, who organizes training and resources for research staff.
The library team will suggest topics for training when they see researchers facing hurdles, such as how to select the correct copyright license to comply with funding policies when publishing open access. “We noticed that people were selecting the wrong licenses, because they were faced with this long list of options and didn’t really understand the differences between them. We created a training video about it, and the research office was happy to host it on their system.”
Now the library team regularly shares new training resources that they create with the Researcher Skills and Development Manager to add to the university’s learning platform. By hosting library training resources on a centralized learning platform, researchers also save time by finding more of what they need in one place.
Seizing opportunities to unify messaging and practices
Jane says that proactiveness has been key to leveraging relationships to reach more of the research community. She recently shared a presentation with the RBI on how to build an online academic profile using Scopus(opens in new tab/window), ORCID, and various networking platforms. It happened to dovetail nicely with a module they had just created for early-career researchers on social media communication skills. “She came to me and said, would you mind doing a Q&A session?” They offered a live online session together for the first time, answering researchers’ questions on both topics.
To maintain that level of engagement, the research support team tends to go above and beyond when given the chance – as Jane reports, “if asked to participate in an event with short notice, we always try to say yes even if it’s not convenient.”
The research support team also uses questions they field from researchers to start new conversations with the RBI, which leads to making more resources available and consistent. When the library team began receiving questions about how to preserve research data, one of Jane’s colleagues worked with the RBI’s research governance staff to develop research data management practices – and created a shared training module based on the new guidelines.
While the library team has developed insight into the different concerns of the RBI, the RBI has also learned where the library team is more knowledgeable on certain topics, such as open access. The library now contributes to the accuracy of onboarding materials for new research staff after they discovered that some of the information given to those newcomers was out of date. They also refer researchers to the library for queries like open access where the library has demonstrated its expertise. Jane remarks that, “Like any big organization, sometimes people struggle to find who or where they need to go. When we do welcome events for the postgraduates, we say ‘we might not know the answer. But we’re quite good at finding the answer for you.’”
Staff changes or office restructurings are a common hurdle at large institutions as new people take up the responsibilities of key partners. Jane and her colleagues are proactive in reaching out to new contacts and sharing how they have been working together.
Reflecting on their efforts with the RBI in their annual objectives helps them recognize and acknowledge their successes despite the challenges and consider how to build on what they’ve accomplished. Through their efforts, the library-RBI partnership is integral to the research lifecycle and supports the full research community behind UWE’s research success.
Jane’s advice for partnering with the research office:
Don’t underestimate how much you can help and get involved.
Reach out to contacts in the research office that are involved in areas where you have expertise and explore how you can mutually support each other.
Start small. Include them in your initiatives.
Seize the opportunities to get involved, even if the timing is not convenient. For example, speaking at research committee meetings or introductory sessions.
When student or faculty questions arise, use those as a chance to connect with the research office to coordinate on messaging or organize training.