Newsmaker: Kathleen Shearer

December 2, 2013


In August 2013, the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR), the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and two other groups launched a Joint Task Force on Librarians’ Competencies in Support of E-Research and Scholarly Communication. Its first task will be to identify expertise and skill sets that academic librarians will need for expanded roles in e-research, repository management, and scholarly communication. The task force plans to issue a preliminary report in spring 2014. Meanwhile, American Libraries caught up with COAR Executive Director Kathleen Shearer to find out more about the project.

How did this effort to identify new competencies get started?

KATHLEEN SHEARER: This was very much a collaborative project from the beginning that was initiated after discussions between COAR and LIBER (the European Association of European Research Libraries). Both organizations recognized that libraries are rapidly evolving and that innovative services will require a range of new skills and competencies. We then asked ARL and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) to participate, because they have similar requirements and could also bring considerable expertise to the project. Research and scholarly communication are increasingly global and we are all dealing with similar issues. So why not address the challenges together?

Do you plan to start with a survey of existing practices? We are now in the process of documenting the range of new and existing services for research libraries. The next step will be to undertake an analysis of the competencies required to tackle these services successfully. Much work on skills and competencies in different service areas has already been done, so a large portion of our charge will be to review the existing literature.

How many countries will be involved? If we look at all the countries represented through COAR, LIBER, ARL, and CARL, it is about 55 countries. Of course, a much smaller group of us are working directly on the task force.

How can academic librarians currently keep up with the skill sets needed to manage new e-research? This is very difficult. The environment is evolving so quickly that it is hard, if not impossible, for library schools to keep up. Conferences, workshops, and other one-off training opportunities are filling in the gap in terms of training, but even those can lag behind new developments in the field. Right now the onus is on individual librarians to learn on the job and keep up to date through reading and monitoring the environment.

Have any LIS schools created course concentrations in scholarly communication and e-research? There are individual courses at LIS schools that address topics such as digital libraries, digital preservation, data curation, scholarly communication, and open access, as well as a few intensive programs at select universities. Still, these topics have not yet become part of core curriculum for many academic library programs.

Will any aspect of digital preservation be addressed in your toolkit? Absolutely. Digital preservation is a very important service area for research libraries. It requires specialized skills and knowledge.

Will you be looking at Big Data management? Big Data, yes. But perhaps even more importantly for libraries is managing small data, or the so-called “long tail” under which thousands of heterogeneous data sets fall. Managing these disparate datasets comes with its own unique challenges.

Can you recommend any best practices for open-access repositories? In terms of best practice, it really depends on the organizational structure of the institution. What we do know is that, for repositories to be successful, libraries must devote sufficient staffing resources toward advocacy, populating the repository, maintaining the software, and developing end-user services.

How do you plan to promote the competencies to institutions or countries that were not involved in the project? We will be making the results of our work openly available to all. We also aim to produce a variety of resources and tools that can be used and adapted to different organizational models and regional contexts around the world.