A recently released report, commissioned by the Ex Libris Group, presents findings from a survey of more than 400 researchers and research office leaders from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. What are the challenges facing academic researchers? What do research office leaders perceive as being priorities? What can libraries and research offices do to advance and promote scholarship emerging from their institutions?
Aptly entitled Supporting Academic Research: Understanding the Challenges, the report focuses on the changes in higher education wrought by a global pandemic, and the challenges created in providing support and funding to researchers and in demonstrating the value of research. The survey results also suggest potential opportunities for technological innovation.
Key findings include:
- COVID-19 has affected research funding significantly, with STEM fields seeing an increase in funding, while in the humanities, social sciences, and arts, funding is declining.
- Funding remains a key challenge for researchers. Finding relevant funding opportunities (a task rated difficult or very difficult by 61% of the surveyed researchers) and applying for grants (rated difficult or very difficult by 80% of the researchers) continue to be the most demanding elements of the research life cycle. On a positive note, campus research offices have been supporting researchers’ search for funding more in 2021 than in 2020.
- The showcasing of research and expertise is increasing in importance for research office leaders, who are paying greater attention to the value of exposing scholarship on an institutional research portal. However, researchers maintain profiles across a large number of networks, and only 43% state that they keep their profiles completely up to date.
- Research office members and researchers differ in the way in which they measure research impact. Citation-based metrics are at the top of the list, used by 94% of the surveyed researchers and 68% of research office staff. Measuring social impact has been significantly more important in 2021, according to 57% of research offices, than it was in 2020, according to 43% of research offices. In 2021, measuring social impact has been significantly more important for 28% of researchers.
- The administrative burden on researchers continues to be a major challenge. Seven out of 10 researchers spend at least 30% of their time on administrative tasks. The core expertise of libraries and research offices is still underutilized, though support for a few tasks has increased since 2020.
- Interdisciplinary collaboration is high on researchers’ agendas, with 37% of researchers saying that most or all of their work involves interdisciplinary collaboration. This figure aligns somewhat with research office priorities; 25% of research office leaders stated that promoting interdisciplinary collaboration is a priority.
- Researchers expect more from their library than in 2020. Although 61% of researchers expressed satisfaction with the support they receive from their institution’s library, they expect more assistance than in 2020, especially with data-related services and services such as publication depositing.
- Collaboration between research offices and libraries has risen in 2021. Research office leaders report that their collaboration with the library increased by 6% on average from 2020. Open-access compliance is the main area of collaboration, primarily for UK respondents.
When asked whether researchers maintain profiles on a variety of online portals, 81% of those surveyed indicated that they had a profile on their institutional repository, with ORCID a very close second at 80%. ResearchGate, Google Scholar, and LinkedIn were popular sites with a majority of researchers; personal blogs and Twitter were less visible outlets (see the graph on page 9 of the report). A pull quote reads, “Demonstrating the impact of research is an increasing priority; however, monitoring methods are inconsistent.” Citations remain the leading mechanism of monitoring.
Another graphic, on page 16 of the report, notes that 54% of research office leaders say their library is a main partner within their institution in 2021; this increased from 48% in 2020. On the following page, the pull quote reads, “Researchers expect more from libraries in 2021 than in 2020, but have similar expectations from the Research Office.”
Quoted in the original press release is Ex Libris Corporate Vice President of Learning and Research Solutions Shlomi Kringel, who summarized the report's findings as indicative that “libraries and research offices are playing a key role in supporting researchers in the face of a changing research landscape, growing competition for funding, and increased administrative burdens. This year’s study highlights some of the opportunities for research offices and libraries to effectively use their core expertise and resources in supporting scholarship and advancing research excellence as a whole.”