Library roles: supporting research through new methods of scholarly communication

Starr Hoffman explores how academic librarians can enrich scholarly conversations.

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Research is like a conversation...

It’s a back-and-forth process as current researchers read past research, make new conclusions, synthesise, and then discuss these ideas with others. Being able to discover both past and current research is a key part of this process.

Traditional methods of research dissemination (poster, paper, article, book) slow this conversation, slowing progress. New models can help provide feedback earlier, spark new ideas, and create richer conversations. In academic libraries, our role is to support rich research. Researchers don't want their research to sit on a dusty shelf, they want it to be consumed by others, to contribute to the scholarly conversation. I’ll explore a few ways that academic libraries can support this process and suggest decision-making strategies for your institution.

Open Access

Many libraries already educate their faculty about the importance of publishing in Open Access (OA) journals. This makes research more broadly available, increasing its impact. Libraries can also encourage faculty to retain rights to traditionally-published work with an Author Addendum. The SPARC addendum can be created online and submitted with a manuscript. Other library roles include helping develop new OA journals, reviewing content for them, or hosting research on an institutional repository (IR), described next.

Institutional repositories

Institutional repositories house institutionally-created research, making it freely accessible to institution members. Library roles include defining IR goals and scope, and encouraging submission to the repository. Existing librarian-faculty relationships (subject liaisons) can be key to getting faculty participation. Librarians can also help faculty use tools to identify traditionally-published works that are eligible for repository submission. Libraries can also promote the IR as a discovery resource. The research conversation won’t progress simply by filling up a repository—the content should be digested and used to produce new research. This touches on discovery.


There are several methods for merging searches across library resources (catalogue, databases, IR, digital collections). Research Discovery Systems pull metadata into a single index, while federated search pushes a single search to multiple resources. Additionally, it’s important to optimise IRs and digital collections so that their contents appear in Google and Google Scholar searches. Sharing metadata makes IR and digital collection content more discoverable outside the institution, thus furthering the research conversation.  


As research dissemination evolves, traditional bibliometrics don’t accurately portray research impact. Altmetrics track not only journal impact and citation numbers, but how research is discussed, downloaded, and bookmarked online. Altmetrics also include non-traditional outputs like blogs or twitter feeds. Libraries could provide altmetric consultations; this could be important for tenure-seeking faculty and those in emerging or non-traditional fields. 

Scholarly social networks

Academic social networks include scholarly sites like and Mendeley, in-house networks, and institutional presence on Facebook and similar applications. Subject or liaison librarians may use their social network presence to connect with faculty, departments, and groups. Libraries can also link IR content to their institution's social network presence. Finally, librarians may use these networks as a collaborative research space for their own scholarship.  

Digital collections

Digital collections include those digitized from unique tangible materials and preserved born-digital items. Existing collections should be promoted as potential primary research material and discovery should be enhanced through catalog records and metadata sharing. Libraries can also help identify material at risk of disappearing (faculty blogs, project websites, data) and help preserve them.

Data curation

Data curation is part of preserving born-digital data. Considerations include access, grant requirements, preservation, privacy, type, format, size, scope, and supporting software. Library roles can be technologically involved (data archiving, metadata creation) or educationally-focused (data literacy instruction, promoting institutional services, data management strategy consultations).

Criteria & Conclusion

I've given you a tour through the landscape of scholarly communication, provided some ideas for potential new services or library roles. But you can't and shouldn't implement them all! Being strategic means targeting your institution’s services to those that best fit its needs.

Here are some key questions:

  • Does this service support the mission, vision, and strategic plan of the library? Of its parent organisation?
  • Is it meaningful?
  • What may you have to cut or reduce in order to add this new service?
  • How can you best leverage your existing expertise and resources?
  • What existing scholarly communication services can you support or build from? 

These are just some of many potential supports. Your own experience provides valuable insight about areas in which you could create valuable new services. I encourage you to brainstorm the possibilities and implement selected services that best support your institution's part of the research conversation. 

Starr Hoffman is Journalism & Digital Resources Librarian, Columbia University // Adjunct Faculty, Pratt Institute (SILS).

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