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Monday, 19 August 2019


By William Dansoh with input from Rose Kuhn and Faith Magwaza

This piece is an extract from the literature review of a study which focused on the perspectives of key stakeholders (postgraduate students, librarians and academics) on the provision of library research support (LRS) to postgraduate students (PGS) in a tertiary institution (Dansoh, 2017).  It is a brief overview of some measures taken by some Australian academic libraries to enhance the support they provide to researchers. Four topics are briefly covered, namely, the five main research support services, the creation of new positions responsible for research, the training of research librarians and librarians writing and publishing academic papers.
The Australian libraries were selected as an example of best practice.  The educational contexts of the provision of LRS in Australia and South Africa have similarities and differences yet South African librarians are not far behind their counterparts in other countries when it comes to research support. The intention of this piece is to identify and adapt where possible some of the research support practices used in Australian libraries.  Reference is made to what UKZN library is doing to support research. 
Keller (2015) focused on changes in Australian university libraries in relation to supporting researchers.  Specifically, the study examined how existing library services, the job descriptions and key performance areas of subject or liaison librarians had been modified to accommodate the emerging trend of the academic library providing explicit support to researchers (Keller, 2015). Five main academic library services which support research were identified as:
  •  Institutional repositories,
  • Open access,
  • Bibliometrics and enhancement of research impact,
  • Support for research students (the focus of this study), and
  • Research data management (Keller, 2015, p.73).

Institutional Repositories
A well-developed network of institutional repositories exists in Australia.  The Institutional Repositories receive central support from the state and, consequently, have common standards and policies.  The publications in Institutional Repositories comprise a mixture of full text journal articles and open access journals.
The library collects and inputs the data.  The centralised nature of the Institutional Repositories enables the optimal capture of publications in an institution. Institutional Repositories are an essential part of research assessment in Australia. Research librarians are responsible for Institutional Repositories in most universities (Richardson et al., 2012; Keller, 2015). At UKZN the institutional repository (ResearchSpace) is managed by the library and whilst containing mainly masters and PhD theses, shows a growing collection of articles.

Open Access
Open access is part of Institutional Repositories in Australia. There is green and gold open access. Green open access is supported by Australian research councils and involves “self-deposit” in a repository while Gold open access involves publishing in an open access journal which requires payment from the author to cover the cost of processing the article (Keller, 2015). Some Australian universities and academic departments provide funds for gold open access with the objective of making their research output more visible and raising its impact factor (Keller, 2015). As part of research support provision, Australian universities provide workshops to researchers on publication strategies (Keller, 2015, Richardson et al., 2012). One of the strategic objectives of the University of KwaZulu-Natal is ‘impactful research’. The DVC Research in his opening statements at the International Open Access Week 2019: Designing Equitable Foundations for Open Access at UKZN, highlighted the importance of impactful research and its relevancy to industry, private sector, government and society at large.

Prof D. Ramjugernath (left) delivering opening remark and Prof. J. Smit (presenter) at the International Open Access Week 2018.

The support for Open Access at UKZN is growing though in little pockets. So far UKZN library has held a number of OA advocacy campaigns.
UKZN Library Open Access Strategy Team

 There is a growing trend in publishing in Gold Open Access by the Schools of Engineering, Health Sciences and some Humanities authors. About 37 + UKZN authors publish on Gold Open Access. ResearchSpace is a UKZN Institutional Repository (http://researchspace.ukzn.ac.za/) and publishes Masters and Doctoral theses and articles. Open Access Journals (OJS) (https://journals.ukzn.ac.za/) is another joint initiative by the Library and UKZN Journal Managers and editors/authors from Humanities, Health Sciences and Social Sciences. UKZN OpenJournals indexes journals that subscribe to the Open Access philosophy.

From left to right: Mr V Mbonye, Prof. B Mubangizi, Prof. J. Smit and Mrs Faith Magwaza.

Bibliometrics and enhancement of research impact
Researchers in Australia are encouraged to acquire a good understanding of bibliometrics as it is an important component of performance evaluation.  Research-support librarians consider themselves as ‘specialists and advisors’ in bibliometrics which has been given the umbrella name of Research Impact (Keller, 2015).  Librarians adopt a comprehensive approach rather than simply explaining the h-index in isolation by including all the stages in the research cycle and explaining the research impact of each stage.  Most Australian libraries provide full support for each phase of the research cycle to researchers.  There has been an increase in demand for research impact services in Australian libraries and this constitutes a challenge to research support librarians because the required skills are not taught in library schools. Librarians learn on the job with occasional assistance from vendors who give presentations (Keller, 2015). UKZN library provides a number of tools that facilitate identification of research impact such as the databases Scopus and ScienceDirect and related tools such as SciVal but more needs to be done in terms of developing librarian expertise in this area.

Support for research students
Many Australian academic libraries have put in place programmes and services specifically aimed at supporting higher degree research (Masters and Doctoral) students since universities are rewarded for successfully completed degrees, as is the case in other universities. Some of these services are post-graduate orientation seminars or workshops in research training. For example, individual consultations with students, research seminar series,  advanced training in information literacy and tailor-made alert services for research students (Keller, 2015, Richardson et al., 2012). Liaison librarians at the Australian Catholic University personalize research support for research students by sending  an e-mail to each higher degree research student at the beginning of their studies and  offering to meet with them individually (Keller, 2015).  UKZN library undertakes targeted outreach to postgraduates in the form of one-on-one support; regular general and subject specific training courses in information searching and retrieval and tools such as Endnote, and offers support via Libguides and limited alert services. The main libraries also provide very popular postgraduate research commons that are open 24/7.
Research data management
Most Australian libraries are involved in research data management.  The standards and policies relating to research are centralised due to centralised funding.  Research-data management in Australia was driven by the ‘Seeding the Commons’ project which was funded by the Australian National Data Service.  According to Keller (2015) this project required librarians to conduct structured interviews with researchers in the various academic departments.   Benefits of the interactions with researchers were, “building a central registry of research collections” and developing “a better understanding of the research life cycle” (Keller, 2015, p.79).There is a great variation in the levels at which Australian libraries are involved in data management (Richardson et al., 2012).  Some libraries advise researchers on how to map, manage and preserve research data.  Data-management advice is also given to Masters and Doctoral students (Richardson et al., 2012).  This is an area where UKZN libraries have just started to venture. UKZN will be using Figshare as a repository where users can make all of their research outputs available in a citable, shareable and discoverable manner.

Focus of liaison librarians on research support and the creation of research teams
In order to be more effective, research librarians in Australia moved away from working autonomously as individuals and, instead, work in teams. This ensures consistent levels of services and optimal use of “shared systems and tools” (Keller, 2015, p. 80). In addition to addressing subject-related queries from researchers, research librarians in Australia are expected to possess a thorough understanding of research impact, establish and maintain contacts with researchers, be active participants in university committees which are responsible for research and contribute towards the building and maintenance of institutional repositories and data collections (Keller, 2015). UKZN library is constantly looking at ways of improving research support in terms of direct and indirect communication with researchers using different media as well as inclusion in various university fora.

Definition of new positions responsible for research
An examination of the organisational charts of Australian universities by Keller (2015) revealed three positions which are linked to library-research support apart from liaison or subject librarians: institutional repository manager, research data management specialist and research support co-ordinators. The first two positions are self-explanatory so only the third position is briefly explained.  Research-support co-ordinators are responsible for communication between academic departments and librarians who are responsible for research support, the professional development of research librarians and the “strategic advancement of research-supporting services” (Keller, 2015, p.80).  The position of research-support co-ordinator cannot be found in all Australian universities and it is also not certain whether this position will be permanent or will no longer be required when library research support becomes a well-established component of the academic library (Keller, 2015).
Training research librarians
The transition from liaison and subject librarians into research support positions cannot happen on its own.  It must be accompanied by appropriate training and institutional support infrastructure and mechanisms which should all emanate from a broad institutional “ research support framework” (Zhao, 2014). The transition experiences and the challenges faced by a liaison librarian in Australia who became a data librarian were documented together with  the lessons for the development of new skills for research librarians which were identified (Brown et al., 2015).   Some of the implications for best practice that were highlighted are the following:

  • The need for formal training to be supplemented with “informal training, mentoring and support networks”;
  • The need to scope library roles “which support research to determine the skills and expertise required within a team, faculty and the institution”; and
  • The need to acknowledge that librarians may need to possess an “in-depth knowledge of the research process in specific disciplines” in order to work as a full partner in the research projects (Brown et al., 2015).
Even though the recommendations made by Brown et al., (2015) were made within the context of training as a data librarian, they are applicable to librarians who require training in any of the five main library-research support services mentioned earlier in this chapter.

Research librarians conducting original research and publishing
An academic activity that would enable research librarians to acquire a comprehensive understanding of the research process is conducting original research and publishing. Research and publishing by librarians in this context should be part of the professional development process in the provision of library research support. However, conducting original research and publishing is not usually taught in Library schools and so librarians do need support to develop these skills.  Here are some methods that are used to support librarians to write and publish academic papers in Australia and North America

  •  Informal & formal mentoring,
  • External training,
  • Peer mentoring,
  • Group training. (Berg et al., 2013, Sassen and Wahl, 2014).
Conducting original research and publishing promotes a deeper understanding of the research process and better equips the research librarian to perform her or his functions.  It also promotes evidence based librarianship. Finally, one may ask - why bother about Library Research Support? – One justification among many others is that knowledge production through research is one of the core functions of our parent institution.  This is therefore an opportunity to be an integral part of the research cycle and knowledge production process and at the same time, develop professionally.
There are many possible lessons that can be learnt from the Australian model of providing library research support, two of which are the formation of “research teams” by librarians rather than working as individuals and secondly, the provision of a series of library-led postgraduate research seminars but with seminar content informed by expressed postgraduate students’ research information needs.  Finally, a parting reflection from a retired librarian who has walked the paths of both librarian and a postgraduate research student.   Postgraduate students, especially doctoral students, work under a lot of stress, writer’s block, that chapter which would not come together in a coherent form, looming submission deadlines… to mention a few the stressors.  Librarians can go the extra mile to provide research support to “stressed” postgraduate students. I recently met a senior academic at UKZN who completed his doctoral studies some 10 years ago and he said “William, I still remember how you helped me in the library when I was a frustrated student”.  Going the extra mile to support the researcher is remembered long after the service is rendered and that can be rewarding.
BERG, S. A., JACOBS, H. M. & CORNWALL, D. 2013. Academic librarians and research: a study of Canadian library administrators perspectives. College and Research Libraries, 74, 560 - 572.
BROWN, A., WOLSKI, M. & RICHARDSON, J. 2015. Developing new skills for research support librarians. The Australian Library Journal, 64, 224 - 234.
DANSOH, W. A. 2017. The provision of library research support tp postgraduate students: perspectives of key stakeholders in a tertiary institution: a case study Doctor of Philosophy, School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa.
KELLER, A. 2015. Research support in Australian university libraries : an outsider view. Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 46, 73 - 85.
RICHARDSON, J., NOLAN-BROWN, T. & LORIA, P. 2012. Library research support in Queensland : a survey. Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 43, 258 -277.
SASSEN, C. & WAHL, D. 2014. Fostering research publication in academic libraries. College and Research Libraries, 75, 458 - 491.
ZHAO, L. 2014. Riding the wave of open access : providing library research support for scholarly publishing literacy. Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 45, 3 - 18.