Collaboration and Engagement: A Framework for Library Futures and Vendor Partnerships

Posted: 11-06-2019

This is a guest post from LIBER sponsor EBSCO Information Services; written by Christopher Spalding, VP, Open Source Platforms & Communities, and Tamir Borensztajn, VP of SaaS Strategy

As Danial Hook noted in an interview with Robert Harrington, “An ability to understand, manipulate and interact with data pervades professional life, social life and now research life too.”[i] Engaging with data and ensuring unfettered access to scholarly research lies at the heart of open science and open access. Indeed, ensuring the collection, dissemination and discovery of research has always been central to the mission of the academic library.  Yet many questions remain; how do we best collect and connect research output?  What approaches should we consider when deploying the underlying technical infrastructure? And how can we, in fact, truly support our constituents of researchers across disciplines? 

The questions above may be best understood within the following three categories: data discovery, data population, and data insights.  Data discovery centers on the need to find, showcase and connect related research output and relevant links, such as authors, co-authors and grants, and surface this data from different sources be it, for example, the publisher, subject or data repository or even conference proceedings. Only by finding all relevant research output, after all, can we understand the true reach and impact of the institutions’ scholarly output. 

The second category pertains to data population and enrichment. This process seeks to remove or at a minimum reduce significant workflow pain-points that surround the population of platforms where research output may be leveraged, stored or preserved – such as the institutional repository or preservation system. Today, the institutional repository in particular may represent labor-intensive workflows as librarians seek to manually find works for deposit. In addition, long-term preservation workflows remain disjointed from the repository. And data enrichment – enhancing records with descriptive metadata or identifiers – constitutes either a fragmented or outright manual process. 

Lastly, one must consider the need for robust analytics that may yield a range of benefits.  A graph of connected scholarly data can not only help identify who has produced what and in which disciplines, it may help scholars find collaborators and help identify new candidates in particular areas of research. Moreover, once connected, the data can deliver further administrative efficiencies; feeding underlying data for tenure review processes for example, providing timely information regarding noteworthy research activities or facilitating promotion of impact to attract funders during capital campaigns.

How then can we best address these challenges? A starting point – first and foremost – is to consider much-needed deeper industry collaboration between academic libraries and vendors. As Alice Meadows recently noted in a post,

Research, of course, is built on collaboration, which is itself built on trust. Standing on the shoulders of giants and building on their efforts; working in (often global and/or cross-disciplinary) teams; sharing research results with peers, inviting their feedback, and refining work accordingly — all are central to science and scholarship.[ii]

The quote though was more focused on collaboration of researchers outside of the relationship with vendors. A deeper collaboration amongst all within the scholarly workflow, after all, may yield improved alignment on approaches that inform product development and industry standards. A good example may in fact be gaining a common understanding of what ‘open’ entails and defining mutual needs around the delivery and deployment of the research services outlined in the above categories. In an open world and collaborative world, many of these services can be deployed in an infrastructure comprised of both proprietary and open source solutions with well-documented standards that ensure interoperability between the respective components. 

One noteworthy open project that has attracted quite a bit of attention, and which may serve as a blueprint of sorts for openness, sustainability, and institution / vendor collaboration, is FOLIO. FOLIO, which stands for the Future of Libraries is Open, is a community project that has successfully brought together vendors and libraries to develop an open and modular library services platform in which open source and proprietary applications may co-exist. Today, more than forty universities, vendors and services providers are involved in the project, reflecting the excitement in the approach not just around the development of an open platform but in the approach around openness as a new model for library / vendor collaboration.

It now behooves us to take the FOLIO collaboration model and extend it into initiatives that deliver new and improved research services that address the problem-space described at the outset of this article. These services may be built on top of FOLIO (the platform) but not necessarily. The key is to engage in a conversation that emphasizes ‘open’ as a value and that seeks to reach common ground on common challenges. How does this look in reality? One may think of the establishment of special interest groups, akin to the FOLIO model, to discuss and deliver specifications and standards. These groups, comprised of vendors and libraries, may work off a common charter centered on open and interoperable systems with a common goal of affording libraries maximum choice of interoperable research solutions while provide constituents optimal access to the institution’s research output.  



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