The library has always been a fundamental partner in the research process. But key changes in the information, technology, economic, and scholarly environments are challenging this relationship and raising critical questions about the value and impact of the library in scholarship and its working relationship with scholars in the social sciences.
Do twentieth-century library skills still matter to social science researchers working in university, corporate, government, and community settings? The work of information selection, acquisition, and synthesis; the support provided for navigation, dissemination, interpretation, and understanding; the tools for use, application, and archiving of information…does the research and scholarly community still need this support in the ways that libraries have provided it over the last fifty years? And do the new roles that libraries are developing, as aggressive consumers, intermediaries and aggregators, publishers and educators, research and development organizations, creative and maker spaces, entrepreneurs, and advocates…do these present a refreshed opportunity for library centrality to social science researchers?
What is provoking new thinking about the role of the twenty-first-century library in research? We are confronting rapidly shifting researcher behaviors and expectations. We are unbundling redundant and inefficient library operations and aging service paradigms. We are putting increased emphasis on the unique and distinctive and special collections, in all formats. We recognize the need to achieve scale and network effects through creative aggregation. Does the research and scholarly community still need this support in the ways that libraries have provided it over the last fifty years?We are building advanced open architecture and open systems to support collaborative work. We are confronting mandates for national and global systemic changes in the way libraries work and the acceleration in collective innovation through applications and social media. We understand the new economic context. We are supporting a much more mobile researcher working in a multidisciplinary and global setting. We are seeking a place in the exploding world of open and online learning. We embrace mutability, constant change, and hybrid approaches to the services that we provide. How do these trends affect the intensity and interdependency of the working relationship between library and social science researcher?
The library is being driven by five fundamental shifts. Primal innovation: creativity as an essential component of our organizational and individual DNA. Radical collaboration: new, drastic, sweeping, and energetic combinations across and outside libraries. Deconstruction: taking apart traditional axioms and norms, removing the incoherence of current concepts and models, and evolving new approaches and styles. Survival: persistence and adaptation that focuses more on the “human” objectives of our researchers—that is, success, productivity, progress, relationships, experiences, and impact. Particularism: deep specialization and rich new responsibilities in the face of rampant shared and open resources. How does the library respond to these revolutionary trends through our shifting geography, our fundamental expertise, and our advocacy and support for the work of the social science researcher?
The library has evolved a complex relationship with the researcher, and a taxonomy on that interdependence can be outlined. Is the library a servant to the researcher, or have we evolved parallel patterns of work, where we are increasingly strangers? Are researchers now customers? Do we speak of our friendship and mutual support out of tradition rather than necessity? How do we build library and researcher as partner and team? That is our fundamental challenge.
What do social science researchers tell us about their expectations? They are interested in personal advancement and recognition. They want to make significant contributions to the research literature and conversations in their fields. They want to work on innovative projects, to collaborate with interesting colleagues, and to advance successful students. They need excellent laboratory, information, and technology support. How does the library respond to these needs?
What do social science researchers tell us about technology and information resources? They want access to more and better content and functionality. They want convenience, based on individual and organizational productivity, and cost controls. They want the latest technology so they can exploit new capabilities and push the borders of their disciplines. They want to participate in and control their information environments through personalization and customization. How does the library respond to these expectations?
Social scientists sustain an urge to share the results of their research. This is the way they communicate with scholars around the world. It is part of the academic culture in which they have been raised. It is the way their ideas and contributions are preserved for future generations. It is a source of prestige, recognition, and remuneration. At all stages of the scholarly communication process, the library has and can continue to play a central role. Researchers recognize the need to make the transition from the scholarly product, the research paper or the monograph, to the scholarly process.Scholarly communication embraces creation, evaluation, distribution, use, and preservation of research information, both the research data and the research product. Researchers are telling us that they need expanded support in critical areas. They are seeking assistance in navigating, analyzing, and synthesizing the literature. They want guidance on working in an open research environment with scholarly exchange that is continuous. They recognize the need to make the transition from the scholarly product, the research paper or the monograph, to the scholarly process. They require more robust expertise databases, subject ontologies, and researcher information systems. They expect more consultation and support with e-data management. They want help with awareness and integration of disparate sources and grey literature. They argue for an informationalist model for library support. How does the library respond to the refreshed requirements?
Researchers remind us that they live in tribal settings, and that it is important for libraries to embrace the discipline diversity. The researcher community sustains a focus on the importance of trust, credibility, and meritocracy in the scholarly process. They recognize that there is a new economics governing research, what is important and what is supported. They see the power of digital and networked to produce wider vertical integration in research, new modes of discourse, expanded readership of research results, and a democratization of the research process more reliant on open and free exchange. How can the library support these shifting research conditions in the social sciences?
The library must be a part of the research and development enterprise. R&D is focused on new knowledge creation, on experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, on the practical application of new theories and laws. R&D creates a laboratory for experimentation, a magnet for new skills and capabilities, a venue for deep collaboration. It helps us to solve information and technology problems, and to ask new research questions. It enables the potential for capitalization and technology transfer, and for expanded government and private funding. R&D creates a culture of credibility and visibility, support for decisionmaking, and a spirit of organizational risk taking. Libraries need to be partnered with social science researchers in the R&D process.
These researcher expectations challenge the library to build new support for the research cyber-infrastructure so essential to scholarship today. They mean aggressive digital library programs: licensed electronic content, the capture and organization of open web content, the conversion of analog resources to digital collections, web-based services, on-demand document delivery, customized literature update services, textual and statistical and spatial data services, and the technology and policy and economic framework that allows researchers to be productive and successful. They mean new thinking and investment in the preservation and archiving of the content and the functionality. Libraries working together in new collaborations can address the requirements for repository, persistence, curation and stewardship. They mean supporting in new ways the digital social sciences—that is, research with extensive reliance on the technology framework and digital archiving of data. Will the library in the eyes of the researcher mean legacy?Will libraries provide the software, hardware, expertise, processes, training, security, standards, policies, and capabilities for the essential needs of big science? Researchers want help with the management of research datasets, assistance with curation and discovery, the ability to extract and apply, the need to distribute and collaborate on a global scale, the potential for visualization and simulation, and permanent storage and availability.
Libraries in this shifting research environment must prepare for more rigorous accountability and assessment, new institutional expectations, and government and funder mandates. Can we put in place reliable and effective measures of researcher satisfaction, market penetration, success, impact, cost effectiveness, and system and service design for usability? Can libraries more effectively match their capabilities with the needs and wants of the researcher, with enhanced market penetration (that is, existing services to existing markets), with market extension (that is, existing products to new markets), with product development (that is, new services for existing markets), and with diversification (that is, new products for new markets)?
All of these trends and issues raise important questions about the role of the information professional in supporting the changing needs of the researcher. They mean that libraries will need professionals with more diverse academic backgrounds with deeper subject expertise. They mean a wider range of professional assignments and credentials. They mean more fluid and maverick organizational environments. What will be impact on library values, outlooks, styles, and cultures? What will be the impact on researcher understanding, recognition, respect, support, and engagement?
Library staffing will be characterized by new composition, characteristics, credentials, careers, character, coherence, culture, chutzpah, compass, and capabilities. The expectations for the new information professional will expand: deep subject and technical expertise, a commitment to rigor, a commitment to research and development, a commitment to assessment and evaluation, communication and marketing skills, political engagement, project development and management skills, an entrepreneurial spirit, a commitment to deep collaboration, resource development skills, a leadership and inspirational capacity, a deep service commitment, and a professional voice.
Will the library in the eyes of the researcher mean legacy? Will the library be something handed down from the past, a heritage? Will the library be an outdated technology that, while still functional, really does not work well with up-to-date systems? Will the library be expendable—that is, something which is still used although no longer the most modern or advanced, but for a bit longer too expensive or difficult to replace? Will the library be fungible—that is, something that has existed and thrived in the past and can now be used and developed in new and different ways?
Will the library in the eyes of the researcher mean innovation? Can the library advance new methods, new ideas, and new products and services? Can the library think differently about market, about value, and about solutions? Will the library change in composition and structure—that is, what we are and what we do? Will the library change in outward form or appearance—that is, how we are viewed and understood? Will the library change in character and condition—that is, how we support the work of the researcher? And more fundamentally, will the library survive, or suffer the fate of terminal extinction, with no descendants and no future, or achieve the goal of phyletic extinction, in which a species evolves into a new and stronger organism?
This paper is based on a presentation given on April 7, 2014 at the German National Library in Frankfurt.