How can librarians and research managers work together?

Sarah Slowe is the Head of the Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC) at the University of Kent. The office was established last year and reports to the Assistant Director of Library Collections (Information Services) with a dotted line to Director of Research Services. Both, alongside an Internal Board, set the direction of the OSC. In this blog, Sarah discusses how research managers and librarians can most effectively work together to help make an impact.

I’ve been attending a number of conferences this spring, meeting a few people, talking to those involved in research services and libraries. Throughout these conferences and networking opportunities, a version of this scenario keeps playing out:

Delegate: Hi there, Sarah. What do you do?

Me: I’m the Head of the Office for Scholarly Communication at the University of Kent (Canterbury, Kent, UK, enter relevant reference here).

Delegate: Oh, so you work in The Library/Research Services. (Interesting side note at this point… those I meet at conferences nearly always assume I work in the area that the main conference is aimed at.)

Me: Well, yes and no – I work with both the Assistant Director (Library Collections) in Information Services and the Director of Research Services. I also have an internal advisory board with the 3 Associate Deans for Research that is chaired by the Dean for…

Delegate: Huh? You work with both?

From this point on, the conversation diverges – reactions vary from mild surprise and interest, via “How do you prioritise work given by each?” to “Don’t you end up like a bone being fought over by two dogs?” or “You’re not a librarian?” (I’m definitely not a qualified librarian).

Here’s the thing… the library, and information services more widely, and research services… and all the other departments I work with… we’re all on the same team. We’re all here to support the amazing, interesting, engaging and committed researchers that work at Kent.

Take, for example, the data management plan. They are required by the funder for many applications. Someone at an event recently remarked, “funding officers don’t care about data management plans”. I disagree – funding officers care about funding applications. All of it. They want them to be as good as they can be, but they do not need to be experts in research data management because we have an amazing research support librarian who is up to date on all the best practice, requirements and standards of research data management. They do not need to know how to write a data management plan. They need to know who can help.

At this level, most people can see the synthesis, but then move on to ideological questions. The most common of which is “How do you support open access with conflicting needs?” At first, this question was so out of the blue that I didn’t really understand – how is there a conflict? Open scholarship, from REF article compliance to fully open research methods, data, outputs and review is a good thing. The challenge is to engage well, and with the least administrative burden possible.

So, how do I work with both Information Services and Research Services? Really, it is easy. Different perspectives on an issue is useful for a richer understanding. Different working styles and practices engage different researchers – researchers are individuals, with individual needs and preferences, so it is great to have research support that offers a range of approaches. Varied knowledge and experience enhances the questions that are asked, which leads to a more comprehensive and effective answer.

I talk. A lot. Although I listen far, far more. Does it create more work? I don’t think so; I just think it evolves it. It may well mean it takes longer to change something, but when it does, it (hopefully) works for more stakeholders when it is made, and many key people are already engaged.

I really can’t overstate how valuable the different skills, approaches and priorities of the dual reporting lines have been over the first year of the OSC. I have learned far more from both of them than I would have learned from each individually. I suspect if you asked them to list the top three activities I should do today, you’d get six items, but if you asked them for the top OSC priorities over the next year, they would overlap fairly comprehensively. If I was micromanaged, if on a day to day basis it was crucial that I achieved the top three activities for each, this would cause a level of conflict but (thankfully) that is not how we work – by focussing on the medium to long term aims, we have a united direction.

Of course there are challenges – what to develop first with limited resources? Where do responsibilities lie? Time, resources and personnel are limited. There are differences in how the departments work that are a result of their core business and how they solve challenges many of us at Kent face.

So in answer to the question raised in many interesting conference conversations… yes, I work for both. Yes it works. It is not always easy. But (so far) it is always worth it.

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