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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2015

Tips from the Experts

Building Faculty Relationships through Research Support

Nina Exner
Associate Professor/Librarian
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
Greensboro, North Carolina

Faculty work lives are generally considered to be divided into three pillars: teaching, research, and service. Some institutions include other areas of importance, but all have some emphasis on these three areas. In the humanities, comprehensive universities and teaching colleges may downplay research to a level that it has little importance. However, in science and technology fields even teaching colleges expect some research. Research is used as a proxy for up-to-date scientific skills. So in almost all colleges and universities, these three areas are critical to our faculty members' evaluations, tenure, and promotion.

Approaching faculty to build relationships means engaging with faculty around faculty needs rather than around the library's needs. So librarians who want to build relationships need to understand faculty needs. A great deal of work is done with information literacy in library relationship building around faculty teaching roles. And the roles of service tend to focus around common committee interests and campus tasks. But research relationships have only recently gained prominence in librarianship. Scholarly communications offerings, where available, offer a natural area of research relationship-building. But scholarly communication is not always based in liaison departments, so the interface can be an issue.

There are many other, less discussed, offerings that liaisons can use to approach relationship building with science and technology faculty members. The first and perhaps most important issue in opening a discussion about research support is this: do not use library jargon. It is hard to get faculty members interested in scholarly communication, databases, or repositories. Faculty think about research (or research and development, in technology areas) in terms of research products. Libraries like to use "scholarly communication" to broaden the issue, but for sci-tech faculty it is more confusing than inclusive. Bench science, grants, publication, dissemination, and impacts are more engaging concepts in which to frame a research discussion.

Consider a biology or chemistry professor's needs. Publication requires experimentation, and experimentation requires funding. This is a simple process in concept, but it is fraught with challenges for the faculty member. Finding ways to assist your faculty with their challenges is a key way to win their interest and trust. Librarians are immensely helpful in the publication process. But faculty members are busy and do not always understand librarians' offerings. Librarians must, in turn, express these offerings in ways that fit well with faculty perceptions of research needs.

Hopefully now you are wondering how you can approach your faculty about their research. Consider the areas that library work overlaps with faculty research: finding information and disseminating information. These are two areas where we are well-positioned to assist our faculty and build relationships.

Recent library developments in scholarly communications are essential to both of these areas. They especially overlap with the end of the process: disseminating information. Librarians can help faculty to (1) identify publication outlets, (2) determine strategies and formats needed for getting published, (3) archive data and publications after their research, (4) reposit in open access repositories, and (5) support distribution and discoverability of data and publications. Many of these processes benefit from early planning. Discussing those plans also ties in well to pre-research processes that librarians can help with.

Before and during the research process, librarians' search skills are essential in research. This is an area where all librarians can show their expertise and assist their faculty. Some of this is wrapped up in information literacy training. Information literacy for original faculty research is different from the more traditionally taught undergraduate research process (see Exner 2014 for more discussion comparing these models). But many of the concepts overlap, and faculty must start and ground their research in the literature. Training and assistance with literature reviews can help faculty as much as it does students. Searching their own disciplinary literature is often familiar to faculty. But some publishing and most grant-writing need a broad, often interdisciplinary, approach where librarians can offer a great deal of help in locating literature to support the grant.

And in the area of grantsmanship, librarians can also help with finding grants. The grant search databases work on the same principles as literature search databases. The search skills are the same. The big difference is that the content is different, so as searchers we must get used to a different kind of content. But once that hurdle has been passed, we can offer considerable help to researchers in finding grants and navigating the grant search process.

After finding articles, results from literature searches can be managed through writing and publication processes by using citation management tools. Many of the current-generation tools offer team research and knowledge management options that help researchers to communicate and coordinate their work. Being able to output this research in the right format for publication makes the publishing process easier. And this is a bridge from the pre-research stages of search to the post-research stages of publication venues, publication formats, and dissemination strategy. This brings us to a full-circle view of librarians' engagement in the research and publishing cycle. Entering at any stage can provide the starting point for supporting the research lifecycle. This gives many stages to support and build relationships with your faculty.

Figure 1: Points of Librarian Support for Faculty Research

So consider where your faculty members' research takes them. And then, consider what questions you can ask them to identify where you can help. As mentioned earlier, focus it on their needs. Think of some questions like this:

These are just a few of the questions you can ask. The goal is to put as much faculty-centered wording in as possible, intermixing library jargon only when it is paired with faculty research concepts. That way they may get interested! Use any opening to tell them how citation managers can help their team get organized, or how metadata helps Google and other searches find their articles. Those great conversation starters show that you care about them and their research, and want to partner your skills with theirs. Reach out of your usual topics and meet your faculty in their research zone. I think that you will be glad you did.


Exner, N. 2014. Research information literacy: Addressing original researchers' needs. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(5), 460-466. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2014.06.006

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