In Ithaka S+R’s newest Research Support Services project – highlighted in our capstone report released today – we partnered with teams at 11 academic libraries in the United States and Canada to study the research practices and support needs of civil and environmental engineering scholars. (They join teams at 77 other universities who have participated in similar Ithaka S+R-led projects, including Asian studies and public health.) Using interviews conducted with faculty members at their own institutions, each team wrote a report and made recommendations for improving their libraries’ support offerings. Taken as a whole, these recommendations constitute a call to innovation in the library’s role as a partner in scholarly research.

As the role of academic libraries changes, librarians must rethink both their own organizational structures and their relationships with other campus service providers. North Carolina State University’s team envisions collecting and sharing information about research seminars across campus to encourage inter-departmental collaborations. At the Georgia Institute of Technology, librarians envision marrying their area-specific expertise with the campus writing center’s pedagogical know-how to train graduate students in academic writing. Finally, civil and environmental engineering researchers are increasingly turning to interdisciplinary collaborations to solve real-world problems. The University of Toronto’s team suggested that the library’s liaison model may need to be revised to better reflect these new research models.

One strength of Ithaka S+R’s Research Support Services projects is that they facilitate focused dialogue between librarians and faculty members, allowing libraries to strategically target existing library services toward scholars’ expressed needs. The research team at Carnegie Mellon University found that civil and environmental engineering research is highly collaborative, and recommended pitching specific bibliographic services to faculty members as tools for discovering potential research collaborators. University of Colorado Boulder librarians noted that their “information sessions, consultation services, and written materials” could help assuage scholars’ anxieties around copyright when assessing publishing options. Echoing this observation, Virginia Tech’s report concluded that “even if faculty can be shown the legality of providing access to their articles, if the method to do so is cumbersome or time consuming, it will not happen,” and identified a new software integrating research activity reporting with the institutional repository as a likely solution. And the University of Waterloo team recommended exploring alternatives to bibliometric analysis in order to help faculty evaluate research impact in a way that accounts for “research being heavily used by engineers … in government and industry sectors.”

Local research teams also highlighted the importance of academic libraries embracing – and shaping – the big data revolution. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s report observed that “the generation, usage, management, and sharing of data are part of an integrated scholarly workflow” in civil and environmental engineering, and recommended developing library services that account for this a “holistic view” of the data lifecycle. One way of doing this is through strategic collaborations. The University of Delaware’s librarians hope to work with their campus Data Science Institute to provide workshops and consultation services, helping civil and environmental engineering scholars to institute better data management practices within their laboratory groups. Another method is by cultivating expertise within the library. The University of Wisconsin-Madison team recommends that librarians develop the proficiencies necessary help graduate students learn programs such as Excel, MATLAB, and R. Finally, data can also be leveraged by libraries themselves to improve their research support services to civil and environmental engineering scholars. The team at Iowa State University recommended continued investment in the digital formatting of library resources, including faculty publications, in ways that maximize search engine discoverability.

As the mandate of academic librarianship evolves, the challenge of keeping pace – and indeed, leading the way – is further complicated by the unique organizational structures, funding models, and research profiles of each institution. Ithaka S+R’s capstone report places civil and environmental engineering scholars at the center of a diverse support ecosystem extending throughout and beyond the university, with implications for a wide range of stakeholders. By contrast, the reports highlighted here serve a complimentary, and equally important, function: to offer focused insight and direction for their libraries, tailored to specific institutional contexts. Moreover, these reports can provide inspiration for other librarians interested in better supporting faculty research in applied, interdisciplinary, and STEM fields. By combining big-picture insights with on-the-ground interventions, academic support services can be improved to enable dynamic scholarship in the field of civil and environmental engineering.


Local Reports

Xiaoju Chen, Jessica G. Benner, Sarah Young, and Matthew R. Marsteller, “Understanding the Research Practices and Services Needs of Civil and Environmental Engineering Researchers – A Grounded Theory Approach,”

Lisha Li and Fred Rascoe, “Investigating the Practices and Needs of Civil and Environmental Engineering Scholars at Georgia Tech,”

Erin Thomas and Kris Stacy-Bates, “Library & Administrative Support for Civil & Environmental Engineering Scholars,”

Bertha Chang, Alexander Carroll, and Colin Nickels, “A Study of Research Support Service Needs for Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering Researchers at North Carolina State University,”

Rebecca Kuglitsch, Emily Dommermuth, and Abbey Lewis, “Research Practices of Civil and Environmental Engineering Scholars,”

Tom Melvin, Sabine Lanteri, and Erin Daix, “Ithaka S&R Study: Examining the Research Support Needs of Civil and Environmental Engineering Faculty,”

William H. Mischo, Mary C. Schlembach, Alexandra C. Krogman, Christie A. Wiley, and Carly A. Hafner, “ITHAKA S+R Civil and Environmental Engineering Research Support Services Study: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Report,”

Angela Henshilwood, Michelle Spence, and Mindy Thuna, “Research Support Services for the Field of Civil and Environmental Engineering,”

Siu Yu, Jennifer Haas, and Rachel Figueiredo, “Research Practices of Civil and Environmental Engineering Scholars at the University of Waterloo,”

Dave Bloom, Erin Carrillo, and Todd Michelson-Ambelang, “Assessing the Research Practices of Civil & Environmental Engineering Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: An Ithaka S+R Local Report,”

Whitney Hayes, Virginia Pannabecker, Yi Shen, Erin M. Smith, and Larry Thompson, “Faculty Research Practices in Civil and Environmental Engineering: Insights from a Qualitative Study Designed to Inform Research Support Services,”