Creating Communities with Research Cafes – how libraries can connect the university

Katherine Stephan is the Research Support Librarian at Liverpool John Moores University.  Prior to working in academic libraries, Katherine worked for public libraries in Norwich, Bristol and South Gloucestershire.  In this piece, she discusses how the library can play a central role in promoting research and developing communities within and outside the university.

For many people, the library is often only used to seek out information, the discovery part of the research lifecycle.  Colleagues inside and outside of the university are often surprised by the many and varied ways in which the university library is involved in the research eco-system.   It is not as often that people see the library as a partner in the presentation of one’s work, other than being a repository of books/journals, digital or otherwise.  Many university events in support of research are much larger affairs, with external speakers or specific to a single department.  In the Research Support team within Library Services at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) we wanted to expand the opportunities for researchers to speak about their work, to engage with more people outside their own department and began running research cafes.

Drawing inspiration from Café Scientifique-sharing research in an accessible way for the public- we began running faculty-based research cafes, 90-minute lunchtime events where three speakers, a combination of doctoral students, researchers and lecturers come together to share their work.  Each speaker is allocated around 15 minutes, with time for questions.  We hold these on Wednesday afternoons when there is no teaching taking place and provide a packed lunch and hot drinks to encourage people to find time within their busy schedules to join us.  This academic year, we held six faculty-based research cafés in buildings set across the three LJMU campuses, a systematic review café and a cross-faculty Autumn Research Extravaganza at the Everyman Theatre Bistro.  For the faculty cafes we average around twenty-five people and for our larger event, around seventy people.

These events are not just about numbers of attendees, nor are the benefits mutually exclusive to those that take part.  Giving researchers a platform to speak about their work allows them to think about presenting to different audiences, without the ‘pressure’ of a conference or only their peers.  In addition, they can connect with colleagues within their own faculty, department, support staff and members of the public they may not have otherwise interacted with.  For library staff, it also allows us to advocate for the services that we provide and meet more people within the university.

In addition to all of these benefits, our research support team is better able to link with the academic and research community to the mutual benefit of the library, research departments and the university as a whole.  We are slowly building a network of research expertise that we can call upon and recommend when opportunities arise.

With research cafes we have been able to link with the academic and research community and they have become a starting point on which to base other events.  Organising them has also given us the confidence to put on other events and offer up library support for those people that want to promote research and scholarship, too.  For example, in March 2017 we hosted an event for an arts-based research project within our Public Health Institute on the theme of homelessness and austerity.  On the back of our work with research cafes and other research events we were a part of, we have been asked for help in organising a Drone Research Engagement Day, which will take place in September.

For the Research Support Team at LJMU it is a privilege to provide opportunities to help those involved with research promote their work. We are delighted that the wider university and our community are interested in learning about and sharing groundbreaking work.  To this end, we believe that this model of library and research engagement is achievable at other institutions and we hope that there are many more opportunities to help build community and engagement, via research.

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