The IFN614 Twitter Chat on research support provided by libraries delivered a healthy debate about the nature of the role that libraries and librarians should have in research, the types of partnerships librarians should have with researchers and the possible drawbacks of academic libraries allocating a significant proportion of their budget to research support.
As a ‘Twitter Chat Champion’ for this chat, I’ve decided to focus on the unresolved issue about the distinction between the role of the research librarian compared to the research assistant. Keller (2015) in her article on research support in Australian libraries, attributes the genuine partnerships that Australian academic libraries have in research to the fact that the value of universities in this country is judged almost exclusively on research performance. Hence, for libraries to add value to the university, they must support, as is the case with QUT Library, “researchers at each stage of the research lifecycle, from the formulation of new ideas, assistance with funding, and the research process itself.” Conversely, research assistants are seen as equally important in the research process in Australian universities as cited by Hutchinson et al (2005) and McDaniel (n.d) who see research assistants being tasked with contributing ideas to the research project, preparing materials for submission to granting agencies and foundations, as well as data collection, coding and analysis as fundamental to improving research outcomes. However, I could not find any literature that gave a clear distinction between the nature of research support given by academic libraries as opposed to research assistants and this lack of clarity was clearly seen as an area for exploration from the number of tweets referring to it as seen below.
Given that many universities are operating on lean budgets, I feel that there needs to be a clear line as to what support RLs and RAs are giving so that there is not a duplication of effort and therefore inefficient use of resources. Hence, I sought the insight of a former RA and current PhD student in linguistics at the University of Queensland (UQ), Jayden Macklin-Cordes.
His responses to a series of interview questions that I posed helps to clarify the RL/RA distinction in the context of UQ linguistics research. To summarise, Jayden sees RLs and RAs bringing entirely different skill sets to projects. The librarians’ value is in their knowledge of how to organise and manage data/databases, sort out the best workflow and also advise on legal aspects around publishing/copyright/community issues. The UQ library also provides access to original materials. Once all that architecture of the project is in place, RAs do the more arduous data entry and analysis tasks for which linguistic training is necessary. Beyond this, the library provides an avenue for publishing the output researchers produce and incorporating that appropriately with the University’s system. He states that preparing for fieldwork and successively returning with hard-drives and notebooks filled to the brim has made him really appreciate how much is involved in the kinds of information management and data organisation/storage/publication tasks that librarians are good at and sees this as an entire field of work beyond which linguists are trained for.
Although he states that digitization of old materials may be one area in which librarian and RA tasks might overlap, he does not see librarians ever making RAs redundant as the tasks which have been passed on to research librarians are those that frustrate RAs and researchers as they take up time, tie up resources and eat research budgets. He affirms that, “for every hour’s worth of work which a librarian can do for us, probably faster and with better results, is an extra hour freed-up so our RA can spend doing more linguistic analysis. The less time we spend mucking around with tasks for which we’re untrained and ill-equipped and the more time we can spend actually doing real linguistics, the better.”
So armed with this insight, it is very reassuring to hear that academic libraries and librarians are not defacto RAs but have their distinct place in research support and offer a skill set that assists RAs and researchers to concentrate on their specific role.
Many thanks to Sharee Cordes for putting me in contact with her son, Jayden, and to Jayden Macklin-Cordes for the comprehensiveness of his responses to my queries.