Researchers from different disciplines have different behaviors and needs during the life cycle of their research. Understanding the behavior and needs related to a suite of research-related activities can help librarians develop a deeper knowledge about the subject fields in which their users are involved. It is important for subject librarians and information specialists to understand the research life cycle within the disciplines.
In this study, we aim to understand the research practices and needs of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) scholars. The research questions driving this project are “What are the research supports needed by CEE researchers during the whole research lifecycle?” and “What can academic libraries do to improve services to meet these needs?”
We used qualitative research methods with a grounded theory guided approach to address the problem. We recruited representative CEE researchers in our institution aiming to balance gender and years of experience in our sample. We ultimately interviewed nine out of 27 possible researchers. Recruited researchers participated in a 60-minute interview. The semi-structured interview protocol was designed by Ithaka S+R, a research institution with which we collaborated for this study. After transcribing the interviews, we conducted two rounds of analysis. First, each team member coded all interviews and generated open codes. Next, we discussed our codes and collated them into a set of four themes. Each team member then coded each interview for one of the four themes. After the two rounds of coding, we summarized the results and provided recommendations accordingly.
We identified four key themes regarding researchers’ practices and needs: collaboration and interactions, data-related practices, published information practices, and scholarly communication. From these key themes, we found many interesting facts and unique patterns. For example, most CEE researchers do not tend to share data unless required by journals or funding agencies. Occasionally they share raw data with other researchers upon one-on-one requests.
The study shows that collaboration is significantly important due to CEE’s interdisciplinary nature. The researchers work with colleagues, students, partners from industry, government and academia in all parts of their research cycle. The researchers use new technology and services to discover and access information for their research, and process this information with methodologies they develop. The outcomes of their research are mostly published in scholarly journals; other venues include conference proceedings and patents. Managing information throughout their research cycle can be challenging, especially when researchers are dealing with “big data”; however, most researchers are aware of the services available and are actively seeking better methods. With the results, we recommend our library focus on the following key points to address the needs of CEE researchers: 1) discover and develop tools to assist all types of activities through the research life cycle; 2) adopt new technologies to support innovative practices such as citation management; 3) improve the university data repository to meet increasing needs related to data practices and publishing; 4) provide sufficient educational and marketing material to increase awareness of the services provided by the library.
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