Improving our Understanding of Faculty Work: Two Research Projects

Over the last couple of years, Temple librarians have engaged in two significant research projects with potential for informing our work with faculty. This week’s kickoff for the Libraries/Press Assessment Community of Practice provides an opportunity to discuss these projects with members of the research team, focusing on how assessment research can be turned into strategic “next steps”.

This post excerpts highlights from the summary research reports and I hope, provides a “teaser” for Wednesday’s session, when we’ll focus our attention on methods and implications for the research. That session is scheduled for Wednesday, August 16 at 3:00 in the Paley Lecture Hall. All are welcome to attend!

Religious Studies Scholarship at Temple
In October 2015 Temple University Libraries joined 40 other libraries to explore the research practices of faculty in religious studies. Coordinated by Ithaka S+R, the project sought to understand the resources and services these scholars need to be productive and successful in their research. Here at Temple, we conducted 12 in-depth interviews. Members of the team included Fred Rowland, Justin Hill and Rebecca Lloyd. This “ethnographic” method of listening to faculty, offered us new and different insights into the perceptions of our users. It deepened our understanding of the many challenges scholars face in conducting research and establishing a secure place in the academic world. Some takeaways:

• The Temple University Libraries and academic libraries in general are strong advocates and supporters of open access publishing. However, librarians need to be sensitive to the institutional pressures that faculty face in the areas of tenure, promotion, and merit-based pay increases. The current academic reward system prioritizes selecting a publisher based on prestige and frequently on the speed of publication. In contrast to the sciences and social sciences, concerns about metrics related to citation count or social media impact were less evident in faculty decision-making. Selecting the correct target audience is very important.

• One inference we draw from our interviews is that faculty perceive open access publications as offering no meaningfully defined audience. It is easy to imagine the open web as a vast ocean of undifferentiated content. Traditional publishing serves as a locus of attention, a node on a network, in which a definable audience can be imagined. This is an area where education may come into play. As our outreach efforts foster a greater awareness of the open access institutional structures that promote discoverability and coherent research communities these options may become more attractive.

Faculty Survey
In the Fall of 2016 we also conducted a localized version of the national Ithaka S+R Faculty Survey , deployed to 3,678 faculty members with a response rate of 15% (548 responses). In many ways our survey overlapped with the content areas of the interviews, with questions related to scholarly communication and publication practices and attitudes towards open access in addition to perceptions of student research skills and undergraduate instruction practice. Members of the analysis team included: Fred Rowland, Kristina DeVoe, Rebecca Lloyd, Annie Johnson and Lauri Fennell.

Key Survey Findings
• 80% of faculty strongly agree in the importance of the library as it helps undergraduates develop research, critical analysis and information literacy skills. This figure is 10% higher than other research institutions responding to the national survey. Over half of faculty strongly believe that undergraduate students have poor skills related to locating and evaluating scholarly information, although improving those research skills is very important to the majority (70%).

• The roles librarians play are also highly valued. Less than 12% of faculty believe that “with easy access to academic content online”, the role of librarians at Temple University is less important.

• 90% of faculty respondents strongly agree that it is important the library pays for materials they need for their research and teaching. And while the library’s collections are still of prime importance for faculty research and teaching (89%), 71% are supplementing this with freely available online resources.

• Over 80% prefer the print format of a scholarly monograph for reading in depth. A smaller majority (65%) prefer the digital format for searching. This preference of format is significantly different for journals. Most faculty (70%) are “completely comfortable” with the cancellation of a print journal if the electronic format is available.

• And of interest as we consider our own institutional repository, more Temple faculty say that in the past five years they have shared their research via a preprint (65%) than via a blog post or social media post (50%). In addition, a majority (72%) of faculty support mandatory publicly funded research be made freely available online.

• 46% of Temple faculty respondents have received or are receiving government or other external funding for their research. This is of interest for our library in planning research data management services, when federal funding typically requires a plan for making research data more openly accessible. 83% of faculty report storing their research data on their local computer.

Final Thoughts on Survey
The survey data provides us with a head start in understanding faculty needs, as well as potential “gaps” in their awareness of library services related to open access, data management, as well as our rich multimedia collections. But a survey like this does not provide us with specifics or clear cut future directions. For those insights and ideas, we will continue to rely on our close relationships with faculty and understanding of changing work practice. While the survey provides us with a broad view across all disciplines, the survey method must be mixed with a more in-depth, nuanced, qualitative approach to understanding the research and teaching practices of our users.

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