Day 3, part II: Reinventing the library research support services at Griffith University

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Griffith University campus

In the afternoon of Day 3, Danny and I met with Belinda Weaver and her colleagues from the library research support services at Griffith University. Belinda shared with us an impressive example of how Griffith Library reinvented its research support services to meet the growing demands of supporting digital research in the 21st century. The Library not only had to upskill their staff but also restructure support services and develop new approaches to training and engagement. Below are some selected snapshots of what Belinda and her team did to support data-intensive research.

Mapping out the needs

In order to decide what services should the library provide and how to do it, the team organised two types of consultations:

  1. With research staff and students, who needed research data support
  2. With support staff at the Library, who offered such support

The first one was essential to understand what are the needs of researchers. Research data management support offered by the Library traditionally focused on issues such as back up strategies, IP and licensing. It turned out that what researchers needed most was support with working with data across the entire research lifecycle and taking into account all the complexities of research projects. The newly surfaced issues were, for example, effectively managing access rights and access control, data security, data governance, but also data clean-up and data-driven research methods.

The internal consultation with the library staff helped to collectively agree which services the library should offer, decide on roles and responsibilities within the library staff members (who should deliver these new services), and to identify the knowledge and skill gaps. Doing the process collaboratively helped everyone understand and accept the need to build new capacity and capability to support data-driven research, and also to realise the roles they needed to play in the process.

Breaking down information silos

After establishing the gaps, the team focused on collaboratively creating a new knowledge base. This was again approached from two different angles:

  • By looking at specific topics – the team has identified 60 topics where knowledge needed to be updated and consolidated (e.g. APIs, data encryption)
  • By looking at disciplinary differences and practices (e.g. tools, research methods, data sources)

To ensure that knowledge can be easily shared and exchanged between colleagues and to counteract information silos, the team created templates for both specific knowledge topics, and for mapping out and understanding research disciplines.

Ensuring that such information is easily shareable between team members is essential when it comes to supporting the increasing amount of interdisciplinary research, and also in situations where team members need to switch roles or share tasks and responsibilities.

Skills and awareness

Understanding the needs of researchers and becoming familiar with the knowledge and disciplinary differences in which researchers operate, helped Belinda and her team to adjust the training provided by the Library. It is was particularly interesting for me to learn how the team addresses the ever-growing need for data wrangling skills. This is done through a combination of weekly hacky hours, software carpentry workshops organised once every two months, and yearly Research Bazaar festivals. 

Software Carpentry workshops

Software Carpentry workshops teach researchers basic computational skills. Griffith University Library currently has four certified Software Carpentry instructors, which includes two instructor trainers. In addition, some Library staff act as helpers during these workshops. All these help Griffith University run these workshops on a regular basis. All workshop logistics are managed by Griffith’s eResearch Services unit.

Hacky hours

Weekly hacky hours complement the software carpentry workshops. While Software Carpentry workshops are essential for researchers to learn the basic skills they need to start working with code and data, the content of the carpentry workshops is generic. Therefore, researchers who attend Software Carpentry workshops sometimes struggle in implementing the new learning into their daily practices and workflows. Hacky hours invite researchers to pop over to get help finding solutions to their specific problems, or to get advice on working with their own research data.

ResBaz, or Research Bazaar

ResBaz or Research Bazaar is an impressive, three-day-long festival of digital skills for research. In Brisbane, it is organised jointly by Queensland University of Technology, the University of Queensland, Griffith University, the University of Southern Queensland, and Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation.

The first two days of the festival offer myriad of workshops helping researchers learn how to work with digital skills (in addition to Software Carpentry workshops, researchers can also learn how to work with Jupyter Notebooks, how to program with R, or how to do RNA sequencing etc.). The third day consists of talks on various topics: case studies on the use of digital tools and methods; talks on effective collaboration; or seminars on topics issues pertaining to personal and professional development.

While at TU Delft we do run regular carpentry workshops, and piloted drop-in consultations for code and data (our “Coding Lunch and Data Crunch” sessions), so far we haven’t run any big festivals of the like of ResBaz – definitely something worth considering!

Useful resources

Other blog posts from my trip to Australia:

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