New Issue Brief on Scholars as Collectors
Today we publish an Ithaka S+R issue brief that is aimed at reframing how academic research support is conceptualized to better address scholars’ needs. Research support services in university settings are currently focused on aiding scholars as they work on specific research tasks or content, which is largely diffuse and often insufficiently funded. We contend that research support services would be more effective if designed to holistically reflect how scholars work. Looking to scholarly practices in a diverse array of fields, this approach hinges on recognizing that what unifies scholars as researchers is that they ARE collectors who amass and manage a diverse array of content over the course of their careers and they need support in the process of undertaking those activities.
The opportunity to get a more holistic perspective on scholars’ research support needs while working within an academic institution is incredibly rare because of the degree to which the modern academy remains organized along strict disciplinary silos. Part of the inspiration for this brief came from Oya reflecting on just that: during her time as an Associate University Librarian at Cornell she had the opportunity to create several new research support service offerings predicated on functional needs as opposed to disciplinary needs. As she conceptualized and oversaw services such as the Digital Consulting and Production Services and Grants Program for Digital Collections, she observed again and again that although such collections vary widely by discipline and take many forms, the common denominator was the similarity of challenges scholars face in their daily practices, especially in identifying and engaging supporting services and expertise.
Conducting research on the academy but not strictly within its confines also affords opportunities to find new possibilities for conceptualizing research support needs. Another inspiration for this brief comes from Ithaka S+R’s ongoing Research Support Services program where each study in the program is organized around a particular field and the research is conducted collaboratively with librarians at a cohort of participating institutions. While the studies have consistently highlighted how divergences exist in what kinds of content scholars collect and how they describe that content, what has been striking to observe as the research in this program unfolds over time is the degree to which collecting activities challenge traditionally held disciplinary boundaries. This issue brief therefore also represents a culmination point after conducting studies on ten very diverse fields.
Blending our related experiences and insights, our brief outlines the holistic nature of scholarly collecting activities and the strategic rationale for why universities should realign their research support services around these activities accordingly. We define the scholar’s collection, outline current collecting challenges and needs, survey the current landscape for supporting scholarly collecting, and consider what’s next for academic institutions in this space. The brief also highlights what’s at stake for academic institutions if they do not take a more proactive strategic approach to supporting and leveraging scholars’ collections. Establishing a new central organizing principle to scholarly support, such as through the framework of scholar as a collector, is essential at a time when universities continue to grapple with how to dynamically respond to and support the evolving research landscape.