‘Impact’, the Library and Managing Research Excellence in UK Higher Education

Presenting a guest post from Steve Giannoni, Director of Sales (Academic & Govt) UK & Ireland, EBSCO Information Services, on his thoughts on the library’s role with the research office.


Having spent almost 10 years of my EBSCO-life working predominantly with Academic Libraries, last week I found myself at a conference attended by over 700 delegates with only 3 people containing the word ‘Librarian’ or ‘Library’ in their job title. I was at my inaugural, and the 25th anniversary, ARMA conference which amongst other things, brings together those responsible for managing and administering the research output of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the UK.

It’s been a long time since I have been exposed to a world beyond library-centric discourse, where topics such as discovery, eBooks, journals, databases and other end-user primed services acquired by information professionals, consumed by students, researchers and academics were set aside in favour of discussions about ‘research output’, ‘quantitative metrics’, ‘grant-funding compliance’ and the ‘REF’ (Research Excellence Framework).

Although the conference was attended by directors, managers and administrators of the research office, the overwhelming agreement from the dozens of people I met with at the event, was that Libraries and Library professionals absolutely have a part to play in the support of research and the data-wrangling necessary to help the research office evidence what attention, engagement and impact the research output of the institution has on the outside world.

Libraries have an inherent expertise in curating data in this digital information age and I believe this competence contributes to the reason why we see more and more ‘research support’ librarian roles coming to the fore. Libraries are increasingly being recognised as important campus partners, aiding the institution’s operational response to the requirements of national assessment processes, not least for example (in the UK), in preparation for the next REF (perhaps in 2020?).

Under the shadow of OA policies which internally and externally mandate newly accepted articles be deposited in the Institutional Repository, the Library increasingly sees its efforts being cross pollinated with the research offices’ need to manage (compliantly) the published output in order to meet funder’s requirements. In Library circles, discussions about the relationship between OA publishing and research impact are set to increase and I expect Libraries to be more involved in the research office’s activities as they attempt to showcase their competencies and enhance their presence within the institution. Fledging OA University Press initiatives in the UK and North America are drawing on library knowledge and experience to take them forward – further evidence of a changing role.

Back at the ARMA Conference, there were many parallel sessions spanning the 2-day event which focused on impact, metrics and research funding. A common theme emerged in that as competition grows in the pursuit of grants and funding, there appears to be an ever increasing interest in applying organisations to look beyond Citation metrics as a measure of the past success of an institution’s research output. Has the research world suddenly moved away from Citations as a means of impact measurement and replaced the ‘Gold-Standard’ with a newer, hipper alternative?

Well, no. This is where PlumX comes in. Referred to as more of an ‘All-metrics’ rather than Alt-metrics tool, PlumX provides both Citation metrics alongside other quantitative ways of tracking the output of a researcher, a department an institution or alternatively, research that has been produced as a direct result of funding from an external source, such as a research council.  It’s no wonder that the funders of research are themselves investing in PlumX, so that they can track, measure and analyse the various ways in which the research they are funding is being interacted with. An example of this is Autism Speaks who in July 2014, began using PlumX for this very reason.

PlumX can be used as supporting evidence within a narrative (e.g. case studies) when applying for future research grants now that social, economic and political engagement with researcher’s outputs can be interpreted in ways not before possible when looking at Citations alone.

I for one am excited about the direction research assessment and the measurement of research outputs in the UK are taking and I expect as OA takes hold in 2016, we’ll be seeing more and more reference to All-metrics, rather than conversations surrounding Alt-metrics (as alternatives to Citations) as has been the case in previous years.