Bridging the GAP with R&D departments: Three key challenges libraries face

By: Saskia Hoving, Thu Nov 3 2022
Saskia H

Author: Saskia Hoving

As the library’s users become more reliant on virtual library services, information professionals need to find new ways to actively partner with their key user groups. Libraries and information services in STEM fields especially see that their researchers, scientists and other R&D staff are often involved in advanced technologies. Librarians can play a significant role in these cutting-edge projects, but how do they bridge the gap with R&D departments? A recent white paper describes the three key challenges faced by information professionals when working with R&D groups, along with tips on how to tackle these challenges.

Springer Nature partnered with information industry expert and principal of Bates Information Services, Mary Ellen Bates, who interviewed four information professionals working within STEM fields to learn more about their experiences of working with R&D departments. The findings from those interviews were brought together not only in the SLA session this year, but also in a new white paper, addressing some of the key challenges faced by information professionals when working with R&D groups.

In particular, they discussed how changes in the information landscape due to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools provide an exciting opportunity for information professionals to work with R&D colleagues. In fact, a new role of the library is emerging, where the librarian doesn’t just provide content to researchers and Business Intelligence Managers, but helps them use these technologies to make sense of their data and develop informed strategic decisions.

Facing three key challenges

Demonstrating the value of the library means going beyond searcher expertise to the impact that professionals with an information science background can bring to advanced technology projects. According to four information professionals from the USA, in industries ranging from energy and aerospace to pharmaceuticals, there are three key challenges they have to face:

1. Becoming trusted allies 

Building relationships with leadership is key. The information professionals make sure to be included in R&D staff meetings, and engage decision-makers in their evaluation process to raise their expertise in the information field. One of them described the power of partnering with business intelligence (BI) groups, especially because the library had recently received access to built-in analytics tools through some of their database providers. Since the BI group was not familiar with ways the library contributed to the company’s AI initiatives, the library looked for opportunities to teach the group how to incorporate their data analysis tools into the BI process.

“The built-in analytics are helpful for more high-level analysis of trends, while the additional news analysis tools the library has access to enable us to dive deeper, especially when trying to look at trends over time or more granular concept analytics. The BI groups find these analyses useful for benchmarking, facilitating internal strategy development, facilitating competitor strategy discovery, and exploring external partnering opportunities.”

2. Demonstrating Impact 

Sometimes, librarians bring insight by mining the library’s operational data—identifying patterns of which analytical tools and data sets were acquired for which project and for how long, for example. As well as looking for ways to demonstrate to R&D user groups the value of incorporating the library when negotiating a subscription to an information resource. But, recent developments in AI have led to unrealistic expectations of extracting insights from data. A librarian in the energy industry described a recurring conversation at her company.

“Everybody wants to find the one tool that does everything—they want to just type in a question and have it spit out the solution. We have to explain to our users what they can expect from a machine learning tool. In fact, I think the value of us as super-users of information is that we can help teach others how to use tools in more strategic ways.”

3. Effective marketing to R&D Staff 

In addition to identifying new ways that information professionals can have an impact on the success of advanced technology projects, they are continually trying out new approaches to convey the value of information services to R&D staff. They need to break down the old associations users have of libraries with stacks of print materials, and to be seen as the recognized experts in information searching, analysis and management. Several of the librarians interviewed focus on maintaining a presence wherever their users congregate, either virtually or in person.

“We have a virtual presence on our internal innovation center’s website, linking people to the relevant analytical tools in the library, which has been very effective. And when our organization held hackathons in person, I would bring my laptop and promote us as the R&D Library. Our goal has always been to catch people when they are in the initial stages of their research, so they get us involved in the process early on.”

STEM information professionals can thrive in the new information environment by focusing on their unique skill sets and perspective—understanding user’s information needs and information-seeking behavior, serving as trusted advisors and ambassadors by showing R&D staff the most appropriate information resources, and finding the most impactful way to deliver information services and sources to research staff. Information professionals who anticipate the data and analytical needs of their researchers and scientists, and who actively collaborate in AI and machine learning initiatives will enjoy greater support from their user groups and will make a greater impact within their organization.

The latest developments at Springer Nature

As a publisher, we are an enabler of the growing number of research publications. Every piece of research is valuable, and we want to understand, derive and deliver advanced technologies to help organizations make decisions with a body of evidence. This has culminated in the launch of Nature Research Intelligence, the portfolio of AI-based solutions that summarize research to better enable organizations to make data-driven decisions. You can read more about the launch of Nature Research Intelligence in this blog post.

Interested in learning more? Read the full white paper “STEM information professionals: Bridging the gap with R&D Departments”. 

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Saskia H

Author: Saskia Hoving

In the Dordrecht office, Marketing Manager Saskia Hoving is chief editor of The Link Newsletter and The Link Blog, covering trends & insights for all facilitators of research. Focusing on the evolving role of libraries regarding SDGs, Open Science, and researcher support, she explores academia's intersection with societal progress. With a lifelong passion for sports and recent exploration into "Women's inclusion in today's science", Saskia brings dynamic insights to her work.