In recent years, Ithaka S+R has expanded our survey research program to have an impact both institutionally as well as nationally. Beginning this winter, we are making a similar expansion and transition for our qualitative projects that study the research practices and support needs of scholars in individual fields of study.  

Over the past four years, Ithaka S+R has made a substantial transition in our survey research program. Our sector-wide surveys of higher education institutions in the US and UK (the latter in partnership with Jisc and RLUK) have had real impact in their respective communities. We redeveloped these questionnaires to serve the needs of individual colleges and universities, allowing them to survey their own faculty members, undergraduates, and graduate/professional students. Using these surveys, over 75 institutions have learned more about the research, teaching, and learning practices and needs of their own campus communities. In many cases, they have adjusted their services portfolio and collections activity accordingly. We are especially proud that, by working in partnership with so many academic libraries on these surveys, we have continuously adapted the questionnaire to address additional areas of interest, which have been fed back into our planning for the fall 2015 cycle of US and UK surveys.

We are now making a similar adaptation for our research support services program. Over the past five years, Ithaka S+R staff have conducted in-depth qualitative analysis of the research practices, and associated support services needs, of academics in several fields: history, chemistry, and art history. Each of these projects, conducted in partnership with the field’s learned society, has been designed to help academic libraries and other providers to adapt their services and strategies to support the field’s changing needs. Each has resulted in a public research report, as well as a variety of presentations and workshops for practitioners.

Recognizing the strong interest that these projects have garnered in the library community and the desire to have even stronger impact, we have updated the methodology for these projects to allow us to conduct them in partnership with academic libraries going forward. Interested libraries are now able to sign up to participate as research sites.

At each research site, the practices and needs of the institution’s scholars will be studied and directly analyzed. Ithaka S+R will train participants in ethnographic methods so that their librarians will be prepared to conduct this data gathering and analysis.

In addition to institutional analysis, we will be working with participants to produce a broad view of the field under study – its practices and needs. This will allow them to compare their own findings with the field’s overall directions, while also resulting in a public report. We will engage deeply through the appropriate scholarly society or societies as we have done previously to ensure that we produce an accurate view of the field that the society in question can support. In this stage of the study, Ithaka S+R staff will aggregate the institutional findings and ultimately release a broad public report. For each field, we expect to continue to generate a richly illustrated description of the field’s practices and needs and to make actionable recommendations for how libraries (and others) can best support their research going forward.

My colleagues and I are very excited about the promise of this new direction, which has been developed in close partnership with librarians and scholarly societies. We hope you will follow our work and perhaps collaborate with us in one or more of the three new projects that are launching soon.