WEEK 11: Twitter chat champion

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      Kate McKelliget

      The week 11 Twitter chat was about research support in academic libraries. It is evident that the external pressures placed on universities to deliver globally recognised research is altering the the needs of the academic and, consequently, the academic library. As Richardson et al. write in their 2012 survey, academic libraries are ‘… rethinking the ways in which they engage with the research process within their institution’. It was very worthwhile discussing this current trend with my peers in a twitter chat. This post will discuss what I learnt from this chat.

      The first question of the chat was, ‘Should librarians create more partnerships with researchers and contribute actively to research projects? How?’ I particularly liked the answer given by the guest tweeter, Carmel O’Sullivan who is the director of the University of Southern Queensland’s library. Carmel O’Sullivan suggested that librarians need to being their unique skills to the research partnership and work as ‘colleagues, not identical twins’. Further, she suggested that librarians must have an understanding of the academics’ pressures and then fill the gaps. These tweets can be succinctly summarised by Parker, as quoted in Mamtora’s 2013 article, I think. Parker writes: ‘librarians involved in research liaison require a broad overview of research needs across disciplines and the scope to design new services for researchers…’. This dialogue alerted me to the realisation that, even in the midst of discussing a new and popular topic, the fundamentals of librarianship cannot be forgotten. Within the excitement of learning about the changing emphasis of research in Australia, I failed to realise that the changes occurring in the libraries, such as those that Keller and Richardson et al. discuss, were occurring because the library’s users’ needs were changing. ‘Wait, what?’ you said. Yes, it didn’t occur to me until reflecting on the Twitter chat  that the programs, products and services offered in academic libraries, such as institutional repositories, bibliometrics and research data management (as described in Keller) exist not because it’s the ‘in thing’ to do vis-a-vis current national trends of research output. They are done because they support the researcher. This became particularly apparent when I was rereading Mamtora’s article: not only does it discuss the researcher’s needs  and they skills the librarians need to support them (as does Brewton’s paper) it also highlights how smaller, more geographically isolated universities, such as the Charles Darwin University will offer programs, products and services that are unique to their situation. The shift in my understanding of these programs, products and services is small and subtle, and perhaps some wouldn’t deem it worthwhile discussing but it is a lesson I hope will stay with me for the rest of my career.

      The second question of the Twitter chat was ‘Can you see any possible negative impacts of an increased focus on research support in academic libraries?’ Almost all of my peers replied that other users of the library, particularly undergraduates, would receive less attention. For this reason, I will combine my reflection with the last question of the chat. This is the question I composed: Is it fair that HDR students enjoy ‘privileged treatment’ over undergrads? (Keller 2015:78). To begin with, I was steadfast in my answer: No! I held the opinion of my peers such as @debfuller66 who tweeted ‘we need to help the under grads to allow them to become the researchers of the future’. However, the first response to this question really threw me. @staceySarasvati tweeted ‘Fair? No. Understandable? Yes. But as said before, today’s undergrads are tomorrow’s HDRs.’ As @crowbiteNS pointed out, ‘if all libraries had infinite funding, staff, and time, they could support everyone equally’. Unfortunately, they do not. I learnt a lot from the perspectives of my peers in the twitter chat who reflected upon the complex needs of HDR students that will require more of the libraries time and also those who were not shy to recognise that a lot of the university’s revenue comes from these students. I think that @katiedavis summarised this succinctly in her tweet: ‘libs do need to support all but also need to align w uni priorities & research is big business’. Most importantly, I learnt the importance of compromise.

      The last questions to be addressed is: ‘How important is subject specialisation to effective research support? Are librarians subject experts? Should they be?’  To begin with, I believed that by answer to this question was a simple yes! As many of my peers tweeted, being a subject expert would bring a lot to the table. However, many of my peers also made answers that largely reflected the tweet of Carmel O’Sullivan when she tweeted ‘librarian = info expert, researcher = subject expert’. This caused me to reflect on my own experiences. Over the past two years I completed an honours thesis under the supervision of an academic. At the drop of a hat, my supervisor could list any given number of resources in any media that he thought might help me. In another experience, I once stumbled across a particularly tricky conference paper I discovered in the depths of a database, I went straight to the reference desk the next day to ask them to help me to organise an interlibrary loan. It is interesting that I didn’t expect my supervisor to help with with a problem like this, yet, before this twitter chat, I seemed to be of the opinion that the librarian should be able to do the job of an academic. I now have a new appreciation for the tweet’s of Carmel O’Sullivan that I discussed at the start of this post. It seems that the academic literature agrees with such sentiments. For example, Brewerton’s paper discusses the new skills required of librarians in the face of research support. Becoming a subject expert is not one of them. In fact Keller, Richardson et al. nor Mamtora seem to support this idea.

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