The agile library: developing services for researchers

The University of Westminster adopted an 'agile' methodology and worked collaboratively with an external technology partner to develop researcher services.

To stay relevant in a rapidly changing environment, libraries need to be ready to develop and deploy new services quickly. We need to respond swiftly to changing needs, and we need to make sure that the services we develop really meet the needs of our users.

Over the last year, the University of Westminster has developed a Virtual Research Environment (VRE) to support our research community. We adopted approaches from the Agile methodology, commonly used in software development, to help ensure the success of this innovative project, in particular:

  • Short, iterative development cycles
  • Regular releases of usable software
  • Working collaboratively with users
  • Evolving solutions as requirements became better defined 

We worked collaboratively with our researchers, and our external technology partner, ONEIS, to identify and develop solutions to solve 'pain points' throughout the research lifecycle.

Doctoral Researchers

We’ve developed an extensive suite of functionality to support PhD candidates throughout their research lifecycle, providing visibility for supervisors, faculty and the Graduate School on the progress of each PhD candidate.

Research ethics

As part of the VRE we implemented online ethics applications and streamlined the review and approval of applications. All researchers need to consider the ethical implications of their work, and the University has a legal and moral duty to consider applications for ethics approval. The overhead of managing ethics approval applications was considerable for both researchers and the University ethics committees. By reducing the administrative hassle of completing an ethics application, we’ve lowered the barrier to more researchers formally reviewing the ethical implications of their research, and in turn have helped encourage a better approach to research.

Research outputs

We are streamlining how we handle the outputs from a research project: papers, presentations, data or whatever type of output is produced in each discipline. Researchers have a single interface for submitting details of outputs. The University benefits from good quality metadata and insightful reporting. 

The VRE provides us with a very flexible platform upon which we can quickly develop new functionality to help our researchers as new requirements emerge. By working collaboratively with users, we increased the chance of creating the right solution, and our users developed an early sense of ownership and engagement with the project which helped ensure a successful deployment.

Traditionally, many Library and Information Services may have deployed new services in one big bang, delaying until all the elements of the new service were ready. A more agile, flexible, and responsive approach is particularly useful for services in new areas where requirements are emerging and evolving. It may at first seem more risky, but it enables you to test and tweak your approach as you go along. Ultimately, this gives you a much better chance of delivering a service that really meets the needs of your users.

Suzanne Enright is Director of Information Services, University of Westminster. Jennifer Summers is MD of ONEIS. Suzanne and Jennifer spoke at Internet Librarian International 2014 on Driving change with technology partners.