Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Review of "Dynamic research support for academic libraries"

Helen Young reviews the Facet publication, "Dynamic research support for academic libraries" edited by Starr Hoffman

Starr Hoffman sets out some clear aims in her preface to ‘Dynamic research support for academic libraries’. The book intends to:

The book aims to achieve this by having a helpful, practical overarching introduction and then division into three separate parts, each with its own introduction; two by Hoffman and one by Jackie Carter. The parts cover ‘Training and infrastructure’, ‘Data services and data literacy’ and ‘Research as a conversation’, thus playing to Hoffman’s strengths. The chapters provided by authors from a wide range of institutions in the USA, Mexico and Europe are short, clear and precise. The topics covered are wide-ranging, including library space, staff skills, data services, digital humanities, open access, information literacy for students and metadata; some of which would not be expected in a traditional ‘research support’ book.

Part 1 Training and infrastructure

Part 1 examines three different aspects of library infrastructure, upon which successful research support has to be founded: space, systems and staff. Alberto Santiago Martinez’s chapter on the renovation and expansion of the Colmex library in Mexico City reminds us of the challenges librarians face when working with university administrations which have differing views about what a library could or should be; as well as the importance of balancing digital and traditional print resource needs, and collaborative and independent study space. It also highlights the need for new skills within the workforce to meet the research needs of its users. Fatima Diez-Platas’ chapter discusses the collaborative project that developed the Biblioteca Digital Ovidiana in Spain, which opened up a variety of historical, illustrated works of Ovid to an international audience through its digital platform and rich metadata. Richard Freeman’s chapter follows the theme of digital scholarship with a description of the University of Florida Smathers Libraries’ Digital Humanities Library Group’s Librarian Project which aimed to establish a community of practice and ensure that the librarians were viewed as, and felt themselves to be, partners to faculty in this area. The group developed and gained funding for its own digitization project to enable those involved to develop relevant skills for curating a digital collection of the Brothers Grimm, notably the two deliverables of enhancing ‘German Popular Stories’ and creating an online exhibit of the Brothers Grimm Tales. Freeman shares the group’s experiences, providing a helpful summary of what worked well and what they would do differently next time.

Part 2 Data services and data literacy

Jackie Carter introduces the section on data with reflections on the situation in the UK and developments at the University of Manchester, particularly in relation to the undergraduate population, which is a refreshing view, as the need for support for the research of this group is often overlooked when discussing ‘research support’. Heather Coates’ chapter continues the discussion with a helpfully detailed examination of how she and her colleagues developed data literacy instruction classes at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) for graduate students. Whilst challenges regarding attendance remain, the systematic way that the classes were developed provide strong foundations for the future. Ashley Jester maps data services on to the research lifecycle (planning-collecting-analysing-sharing) through her case study of the Columbia University Libraries, in particular the Digital Social Science Center with its necessarily broad definition of data and support for researchers at all levels within the institution. The breadth and depth of support offered by the team is enviable for institutions with a smaller staff base, including support for statistical analysis, data collection, sharing and improving visibility. Karen Munro’s chapter keeps us within the context of the USA with an exploration of how the University of Oregan’s architecture library staff support geographical information systems (GIS) to meet the needs of its users, with her literature review indicating how GIS is relevant to a wide-range of subject areas beyond traditional geographical ones and the chapter considering why academic libraries should develop at least a basic level of support for these tools.

Part 3 Research as a conversation

Hoffman introduces the final part of the book with reference to Burke’s description of research as a conversation as a way to link chapters on open access, MOOC and metadata together. Dominic Tate examines the rapid evolution of open access in the UK through his case study of the University of Edinburgh and how that institution has implemented and communicated funding body and college policy changes, with a firm emphasis on a positive message. Mariann Lokse and colleagues from UiT The Arctic University of Norway move the focus back to the early years of researchers with their chapter discussing an information literacy MOOC for students beginning their studies at university. It is a very helpful consideration of how best to develop an effective online learning tutorial, acknowledging the challenges including time, skills and need for honest user evaluation which needs to be acted upon. Hannah Tarver and Mark Phillips from the University of North Texas finish the book with a chapter on the often overlooked, but increasingly important, area of name authority control and how they are taking responsibility for this at a local level.


Hoffman has edited a useful collection of short case studies from a variety of countries and types of institutions which does indeed inspire and encourage different ways of supporting research. The collection appreciates that one size does not fit all and Hoffman sets the scene very effectively for the book and two of the parts, as does Carter for her section. It is unfortunate that despite a strong introduction and the wide variety of chapters, the book seems to fizzle out at the end: there is no conclusion to round it all off and link the chapters back together. The book also makes bold claims about its authors being from across the world; they are, but it would have been a stronger claim if there had also been chapters from Asia and Australasia, where so much dynamic research support also takes place. However, these are quibbles with publicity rather than the content.

So, does the book achieve the objectives it sets out in the preface? On the whole, yes, it does this as effectively as it can in 147 pages. There are inevitably aspects of research support that are not covered, and the chapter on MOOCs, whilst informative, does slightly stretch the definition of research support, perhaps needing to be linked back to the bigger picture more carefully, but on the other hand the inclusion of this and other references to undergraduates does make you appreciate how broad the definition of library research support can be. Hoffman’s collection does indeed indicate the need of dynamic research support in academic libraries.