Transforming research library services

The Association of Research Libraries has published the latest report in its Transforming Research Libraries series.

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New Roles for New Times: research services to graduate students explores the new challenges facing higher education in the US and how services are being developed to reflect this new landscape.  The research library has a key role to play in supporting new ways of learning, teaching, collaboration and research. 

Challenges identified in the report

  • The growth of interdisciplinary studies and global academic programmes means students may be more 'disconnected'
  • Institutional expectations of students skills levels are unrealistic
  • Range of research and technical skills required by students has expanded, for example: 
    • Bibliographic management
    • Technical literacy
    • Use of discovery and delivery tools
    • Analytical and methodological skills
    • Data mining and visualisation capability
  • Increasingly diverse academic populations including:
    • Those with family obligations and/or full time jobs
    • Those who have been out of academia for many years
    • International students unfamiliar with US culture
  • Research-intensive users making demands on physical space and services
    • New working styles (e.g. multi-device) means more space per individual is required


The report focuses on four areas of opportunity: 

  • Segmented services
  • New use of space
  • Partnerships
  • New organisational structures

Segmented services

Libraries need to design services for multiple audiences at different stages of the research/educational lifecycle. Many respondents reported how they segmented their audiences (e.g. 'reader and learner'; 'researcher'; 'returner to academia' in order to help them target their services appropriately. 

Libraries have a key role in helping students with new 'digital scholarship' skills. In particular there are opportunities for libraries to address broad issues that apply across disciplines, such as dissertation writing.  They can provide informal networking and learning opportunities by creating communities of practice for example.  They should also make sure that library initiatives (such as institutional repositories) are communicated in a way that resonates with students.    

Most frequently research participants mentioned providing training in bibliographic management software (Endnote etc.).  Others mentioned providing support with softer skills including writing.  Other libraries are creating 'co-branded' services that take advantage of librarians' skills as well as those of technologists, statisticians, geographic data specialists, and media production personnel across the university.

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