Subject liaison librarians are working at the crossroads of the practical and emerging needs of researchers, where increasing interdisciplinarity, a focus on data science, and a shifting landscape of scholarly collections are fundamentally changing the liaison’s role. Subject liaisons are seeking to connect with researchers throughout the research life-cycle, rather than just at the beginning when literature reviews are conducted or at the end when a scholarly publication emerges. In STEM disciplines, where research is oftentimes conducted in secure lab facilities, engagement is particularly challenging. In 2016, librarians at [Institution Name] embarked on a project to overcome this difficulty by joining selected research groups and attending regular lab meetings. The goals of this project were: to gain insight into what is happening in the labs; to understand what research looks like on a week-by-week basis; to get to know small groups of graduate students in a deeper way; to learn how these groups use information sources; and in particular, to gain an understanding of how researchers acquire, organize, analyze and present data. This paper will present a thorough description of this model of engagement and provide a preliminary analysis of the data captured, which suggest that embedding into research groups could offer librarians a novel method for providing research support to faculty and information literacy instruction for students.
This pilot project uses ethnographic methods to describe the activities of research groups. This paper will explore the data captured, leading into a discussion of how engineering librarians can impact their user communities through this method of engagement. The early data from this pilot project suggests that this model of outreach presents several benefits, both to faculty and student researchers as well as to engineering librarians. From a primary investigator’s perspective, this service exposes their students to the way information literacy skills typically taught in the classroom can transfer to and be applied in the context of daily research activities. Moreover, a librarian is on-hand during lab meetings to contribute in real time to activities throughout the research lifecycle, such as grant applications, data management planning, and journal prospecting, among others. For student researchers, librarians represent a valuable resource when practicing conference talks or proposal defenses, as a librarian can sharpen a student’s discussion of literature, use of images, as well as the appropriateness of data visualizations. For librarians, working directly with research groups provides direct access to a heretofore unreachable group, which not only facilitates the use of current research support services but also enables the collection of authentic needs assessment data for developing new services.
This paper’s findings will suggest that lab-integrated services present the opportunity to support the research enterprise as well as the teaching mission of universities simultaneously, and will challenge the notion of research support for faculty and information literacy instruction for students as separate and distinct library services. The paper will close with a discussion of the lessons learned from this pilot project and a discussion of the long-term sustainability of this type of program.
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