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Library Support for Researchers

This article provides a recap of what the NN/LM MCR has done to help librarians become better informed about methods to support researchers at their institution and discusses current initiatives devoted to supporting e-science (big data, data curation/management, and cyber infrastructure). It also discusses a research question being addressed by the MCR’s Library Support for Researchers Advisory Group. The article ends with a description of resources that can help librarians become more knowledgeable about e-science and provide guidance on starting an e-science program at your library.


For several years the MCR has conducted activities with the intent of helping Network members be better able to support the researchers at their institutions. In 2012, we hosted an in-person workshop providing an introduction to e-science with many Network members in attendance. This was followed later, by a webinar discussion about the librarian’s role in supporting e-science efforts at their academic institution. The webinar resulted in an article, written by Claire Hamasu, Barb Jones, and Betsy Kelly, titled, “Discussing ‘eScience and the Evolution of Library Services,” which was published in the Journal of eScience Librarianship.

In 2013, the Pacific Northwest Region and MidContinental Region co-hosted a full day hybrid symposium called “The Research Lifecycle: partnering for success.” The symposium was attended by both Network members and active clinical/scientific researchers. Attendees from each region met at central locations in their region and through the magic of high definition broadcasting technology, each site was able to see and hear the other people at the remote locations almost like they were in the same room. Because the symposium was recorded, the MCR created a five CE credit hour asynchronous class. The class drew in over forty Network members from all over the country.

Advisory Group

It seems like now is a good time to gather some information from our Network members by asking…

“What are health sciences library Network members doing to effectively support the researchers at their institutions?”

To help answer this question, the MCR has pulled together some great minds for the Library Support for Researchers Advisory Group (thank you Karen Gutzman – Becker Library and Kate Anderson – Zalk Library). So far, the LSRAG has been working on a killer literature search and attempting to develop clear criteria for identifying what constitutes effective support. Efforts are being put towards creating a really good and responsible questionnaire that will be rolled out in 3-4 months, if all goes according to plan. Speaking of plans…while I was talking with our assessment and evaluation guru, Betsy Kelly, about our questionnaire, she asked…

“I know what ‘effectiveness’ means but what does it mean to ‘support researchers?’”

This innocent question had us put on the breaks and back up a bit (beep beep beep). Betsy followed up by pointing out this could mean different things to each person being asked the question. Does it mean…

  • Providing a general collection for the research community?
  • Purchasing a collection for a specific department or lab?
  • Licensing specific online tools used only by certain researchers?
  • Providing librarian FTE for liaison services?
  • Or something else?

So, now we are working on two issues: 1) what does support mean and 2) what is effective library support for researchers?

Effective Practice Resource

The MCR web site has a link to an e-science portal, this is the e-Science Portal for New England Librarians: a librarian’s link to e-Science resources. We use this portal because it is one of the very best sites a librarian can access if he/she wants to become an expert in supporting the researcher. The portal was developed and funded by the NN/LM New England Region. For many years, the folks at NER have been the leading experts in e-science education and awareness for librarians.


The Portal covers all aspects of e-Science and does a great job presenting the subject in a framework useful to librarians. You will find a comprehensive Thesaurus with terms/phrases that match up with a corresponding “see also” list of terms/phrases, offering users a wider scope of e-Science terminology. There are sections covering Data Management (planning, research data cycles, curation, metadata, and repositories) and Data Literacy. The links on the Scholarly Communication pages are a comprehensive resource to help users understand how the concepts of e-Science began, the researchers relationship with data and associated issues, funder’s policies on data, and much more. The Science Resources section is full of primers on life and physical sciences along with engineering.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of talking with Donna Kafel, of the Lamar Soutter Library at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where she is the e-Science Project Coordinator and also manages the portal. I could tell right away that Donna is very passionate about the work she does. She understood immediately what information I needed after I explained that I was writing an article for the Plains to Peaks Post. I told her that I wanted her expert advice on which resources to recommend to readers who would like to embark on an e-science journey, wanting to develop a deeper knowledge of how he/she can support researchers or perhaps even to design a library program. Here are her recommendations for all of you librarians who are going to become your institution’s e-science expert.

Much of what Donna recommends to begin with is found in the Professional Development section. She says the best place to spend your time is on the Competencies page, which is a concise annotated bibliography with a good collection of links to resources on data literacy, management skills, and digital curation. There are other links to specific must-have skills for librarians to acquire as they take on this new role. There are also a few job market reports on what the needs are in this line of work (The 2012 report shows that the top three skill areas are 1) information technology, 2) standards & specifications, and 3) project management). For you entrepreneurial types, there are links to resources that discuss problem areas in data curation and management that have yet to be worked out.

As far as identifying the competencies that have proven to be effective, there isn’t very much out there that Donna could direct me to (not too surprising as this is still a very young field). Donna recommends reading a study she co-authored, titled, “An Assessment of Needed Competencies to Promote the Data Management and Curation Competencies of Health Sciences and Science Librarians in the New England Region” published in the Journal of eScience Librarianship. The authors evaluated and identified twenty technical and non-technical data curation and management competencies health sciences and science technology librarians will need to have to effectively support researchers.

Top Technical Competencies

  1. Ability to use of Web 2.O technologies
  2. Ability to provide data archiving/preservation services

Top Non-Technical Competencies

  1. Ability to promote data sharing, open access, and institutional repositories
  2. Ability to actively advertise library’s data services to researchers;
  3. Ability to conduct a data interview with researchers; and
  4. Ability to understand the research lifecycle in order to consult with researchers on best archival/conservancy options at any point of the cycle

Donna recommends viewing the recording from the 2013 Science Boot Camp, which is about building relationships with researchers and how to engage them. If you are looking for a more informal source for keeping up with the world of e-science, Donna says that her colleague, Sally Gore, has a blog called “A Librarian by Any Other Name” where she shares her observations on the librarian’s role on the research team.


Well, I hope that you have a better idea of what the MCR has been doing to help librarians become better prepared to support researchers at their institutions along with a glimpse of what is yet to come. I also hope that you begin to use or continue to use the great resources at the e-Science Portal for New England Librarians. If you have any other ideas on what you’d like to see the RML do in this area or if you would like to join the advisory group, please contact John Bramble or Rachel Vukas.

-John Bramble, Utah/Technology Coordinator

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