10 elements to a library research support strategy

There are great opportunities to be had for libraries in the area of research support. A well-considered strategy will help you make that a success.

Based on discussions with academic libraries over 10 years, and research into library research support services across the world, I have brought together my 10 points for how libraries can approach this far-reaching area.

    1. Demonstrate the clear value you will bring to the research community. One short and powerful message (i.e. USP: Unique Selling Point) that relates to the needs of your research community is a must have. This clear mission will be one of the researchers’ key points of departure to change their perceptions of the library as a partner in research support.

    2. Show how the library is transforming into a new partner for research support through collaboration. Make the case for facilitating the optimisation of new research support services by increasingly working together with your researchers, and with existing internal research support services and institutions. Shape new research support services together. As a new more connected and informed partner for research, the library can provide improved services that further facilitate the growth of academic knowledge.

    3. Sharpen up your understanding of your stakeholder and users’ needs and translate them into concrete demand-driven calls to action. Analyse your stakeholders. Who can support or delay your efforts? Discuss, explore and experiment with new ideas and engage with your users whilst developing your strategy. Involve your users at the beginning of your plan, and not merely to verify it. This will ensure that you really know what they want now. As a result, your plan and service offering will be demand-driven rather than supply or product-driven and therefore one that delivers real value to your users.


    1. Reveal and publicise your priorities to your stakeholders, and commit to your research community. Focus and signpost a few key areas where you want to target your resources and staff’s efforts. Make choices and commit to them and convey the extra value you will bring to your researcher that he/she couldn’t get elsewhere.

    2. Develop a roadmap for service development to focus your financial and staff resources. List your ambitions, i.e. goals and objectives and above all what you intend to deliver, ideally using measurable indicators. Making them measureable brings more accountability to your users and management and ups ambition and productivity levels.

    3. Systematically utilise lessons learnt from your previous challenges and errors building them into future solutions. Taking time to reflect on how to improve current processes and services with your team and users is essential. Systematically addressing past lessons learnt together with future risks will save you time and effort in years to come. Build these into your strategy, building new approaches based on a strong foundation.

    4. Get your goals in focus to be seen as an expert in clearly defined areas of need. Don’t cast your net too widely. Concentrate your resources in certain areas to go in deeply to provide excellence in what you do. Use your network to source expertise from outside to provide additional expertise.


  1. Address the areas for up-skilling library staff to address new service delivery challenges. Incorporate plans on how to develop your staff to demonstrate how you will deliver new excellence in new areas of library support. Have a mechanism in place to refocus and up-skill your staff to be able to adapt and react to the changing needs of your users. This can include how you intend to train and up-skill existing staff in new areas and how to resource new expertise elsewhere internally and externally.

  2. Include the conditions to provide a sustainable and strong research support service offer. Delineate the financial and organisational conditions necessary to ensure your plans come to fruition, for example including strategies and methodologies to up-skill staff.

  3. Develop a strategy for remaining relevant in years to come. Build in a plan on how your library intends to adapt and grow with new research, ICT, information and knowledge demands over the next years. You may commit to delivering present-day solutions and/or you may drive new ones in specific areas of expertise.

What are your views or experiences when developing and planning your research support strategy? Please share your thoughts in the field below.

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6 comments on “10 elements to a library research support strategy

  1. I always get an anxious feeling when reading to do lists because my library will never perform well on each and every point … So I would like to compress the list to the most easily achievable ones. For example, (1) a clear mission statement would be our rapid document delivery, but it is so old fashioned, that I hesitate to think of it as an USP. (7) By lending iPads we have become experts in tablet computing and that works not only very well and is well recognized but is also a lot of fun. We also seriously up-skilled our staff during this process (8) with a good point to be relevant in the years to come (10). Oops, we’ve in fact already addressed 4 out of these points 😉
    It’d be great to see real world examples for each of your elements.

  2. Dear Oliver,

    Thank you for starting the discussion! And you are right about taking the pragmatic approach!
    The ten elements I mentioned are a handful of reflections for consideration when designing a library research support strategy. It is by no means meant to be a complete list of requirements. Other libraries will have considered other things, and I invite them to add them here to share with the community.

    I’d very much like to hear about your work with tablets at your library in Muenster, Germany. Do you have a link to share with the community?

    As regards examples from the library world, there are numerous ones. For example, I have a document containing recent mission and vision statements from information players such as Google, Yahoo, Wikimedia, OCLC as well as academic libraries. If anyone is interested in this for example, please let me know: info@proud2know.eu.

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  4. So many of these points strike a chord with me. Regards a powerful message to start with, our Library mission at the University of Warwick is ‘connecting you with information, support and your community’. This is both a powerful mission for the service as a whole and as a filter for different market segments.

    So, when considering research support, we can ask what sources of information are our researchers seeking? How can we promote our unique collections?

    Likewise, what support is important to them? There may be some need with traditional information management, but more likely support will be more valuable around publishing and impact, Open Access, digital profiles and gaining confidence in teaching.

    And how can you connect ‘isolated’ researchers with the rest of their research community: with the community as a whole and/or individual colleagues?

    At Warwick we are fortunate to have the Wolfson Research Exchange, a Library space and service specifically for researchers. We have been able to use this as a focus for relationship-building activities.

    A top tip: use physical spaces as an excuse to have conversations with your community; then use virtual spaces to build on and enhance this dialogue.

    Increasingly, as a profession we are entering into areas of non-traditional library activities so effective team working with other agencies is crucial. Build relationships not only with researchers but other agencies who can support researchers.

    To be successful in all of this, create a crack team of staff who understand (preferably first-hand) what it means to be a researcher. Some of these staff might be from library backgrounds. Remember: many of us have research expertise either from our own studies, day-to-day work or professional projects – build on this. Some of these staff might be from different backgrounds but bring new skills, knowledge and behaviours to the team. There is no one answer nowadays.

    Create a culture of creativity.

    Then stand back and be prepared to be amazed!

    Antony Brewerton
    Head of Academic Services
    University of Warwick Library

  5. Dear Antony,

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience at Warwick! Warwick really is an inspiration for anyone who wants to expand their research support offer. Thanks particularly for the variety of the numerous valuable tips you give us!

    I am wondering how much reflection goes on in our libraries as regards the lessons or tips we’d share with our staff, stakeholders or networks on the great work we’ve done. I think it’d be a great must-have at the end of every project, new policy exercise, service roll-out, review, etc!

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