Week 11 – Issues based reflection – research support services

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    • #2396
      Sarah Ross

      IFN614 WEEK 11


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      When I first thought about this topic I rather naively thought “why would researchers need support?” as they are already geniuses.  Reading further made me realise that just as libraries evolve to meet the needs of patrons, the changing research landscape in Australia means more sophisticated support is needed to meet the needs of researchers.

      Mamtora, in the context of Charles Darwin University, looks at the beginnings of the idea of the need for a “research support librarian” and then explores how this new role developed (and is developing).  The need for research support was identified in the mid 2000s when the Australian Government linked federal funding for universities to the quality of research.  It was interesting to note that the first request for funding to the university for the new role was knocked back.

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      Keller  found that what actually needs supporting seems to vary from discipline to discipline but identifies five particular research support services:

      • Institutional repositories
      • Open access
      • Bibliometrics and enhancement of research impact
      • Support for research students
      • Research data management

      These five areas all require different skills and as Antony Brewerton  states (from the point of view of a researcher), librarians need to be re-skilled. (I wondered if perhaps researchers need to be re-skilled as well.)

      New positions and new skills all require funding.  Funding for research is a controversial topic and the arts and humanities are particularly vulnerable to government cuts (for example,  while not strictly ‘funding’, the abolition of the Queensland Literary Awards made by former Queensland premier Campbell Newman on the grounds of “wasting taxpayers’ money”).  Even science is not immune and the CSIRO has “cut into the bone” to implement successive government funding cuts and further cuts will risk its ability to carry out ground-breaking research.

      Politicians’ attitudes and pronouncements seem to indicate a lack of knowledge of what research can produce – for example, Jamie Briggs as quoted by Martin Davies.  This in turn can lead to policy which then translates directly into university policy as it is the only way to get funds from government (Mamtora).  Hence the huge emphasis on research for both funding and also rankings both domestic and worldwide which demonstrate to funding bodies the ‘worth’ of the university.  A university is now a business.

      A survey done in the UK indicates that university rankings were considered second in the list of five desirable attributes when picking a university so it is obviously important to students but “there is much more to a university than their research assessment”.  As this survey points out, the ‘status’ of a university can be important for future employment prospects but if you do not complete your undergraduate degree because you hate the ‘culture’ of the university it does not do you much good.

      I found I ended up thinking that research is vital for the future in all disciplines and therefore research support is needed and needs funding to support that research.  However I was left with one thought:  if you “rationalise” your library funding for undergraduates’ services (Keller) are you not undermining the skills that future researchers may need?

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    • #2473
      Katherine Lee

      Great reflection Sarah 🙂

      I liked your point that librarians need different skills depending on the discipline they support. Librarians are constantly updating their skills to keep up with changes in the research landscape. However, you imply that while librarians make an effort to gain new skills, academics do not. I was interested in your comment that perhaps instead of librarians, researchers need to be reskilled. Do you think that  it is the role of the librarian to help researchers to gain new skills, or should academics take more responsibility for learning new technologies?

      • #2482
        Sarah Ross

        Thanks – I suppose I was just thinking in a rather rambling fashion that you would need research support if you have a lot of research (and some of the smaller unis are developing the areas they can excel in).  It ended up then with the idea of distribution of library resources and perhaps it was a false economy if a uni devoted so much more to HDR than undergrad in that more focussed support for HDR could be delivered later on.

        The emphasis on research may have obscured the teaching and thought development role of unis but research is the cash cow now?



    • #2479
      Jennifer Cotton

      Funding for research is an interesting topic isn’t? It seems as though many organisations who fund research are asking “How will this benefit me?” instead of “How will this benefit science/arts/whatever the discipline is?” It is funny how you mentioned Newman. He did axe the literacy awards and the got what he deserved when Queensland University Press(?) refused to publish his book. At his book signing the other day hardly anyone was there to meet him. Ultimately, he missed judged what the public wanted and suffered.

      Allocating funding is a tricky business at universities. Research students need support, but to attract the best future researchers you need to invest in undergraduate programs. To get the support you need revenue, which is brought in by research students. I think if a student isn’t happy with a university, they can leave. So if a university experiences a major drop in undergraduate numbers then they will know something isn’t right and will need to make adjustments accordingly. Things have a way of working out.


      • #2483
        Sarah Ross

        Thanks for your comments – I think you encapsulated the circular nature of funding re. research v. research support v. undergrad really well and as you say, if undergrad numbers (and abilities) drop the answer will need to be found.

        I couldn’t help but relate prizes as being a form of funding (future funding at least) and always think of the Turner prize in the UK which always causes controversy with the ‘general public’ and perhaps that taints politicians’ views towards arts funding?

        Cheers, Sarah Ross


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