By Kelly Miller and Kineret Ben-Knaan
What can librarians contribute to interdisciplinary research teams working on complex problems? We suggest that librarians add value in the following three ways:
- finding and accessing information resources across disciplines
- connecting teams to experts and resources, and
- improving collaboration and communication strategies.
Our experience comes from being part of the University of Miami’s Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge initiative, also known as U-LINK, which aims to address the world’s most compelling problems through interdisciplinary inquiry. From 2018-2020, teams of scholars from multiple disciplines have received funding to pursue solutions to global challenges.
Librarians have been embedded in each of the teams. This opportunity has provided librarians with direct knowledge of the needs and demands of interdisciplinary teams. It has also allowed them to deepen their relationships with research faculty members and experiment with new ways to share their expertise and skills for the benefit of all.
Of the three contributions that librarians make to interdisciplinary research teams, the first―finding and accessing information resources across disciplines―is not surprising. The other two―connecting teams to experts and resources, and improving collaboration and communication strategies―show that librarians are serving as connectors and also helping the teams cohere and engage more meaningfully.
Examples of how these three contributions have manifested in individual projects include librarians conducting extensive literature searches, connecting their team to community stakeholders, and identifying and managing project collaboration software for the team.
Our experience and the literature demonstrate that, with their unique skill sets and neutral vantage points, librarians can help teams address some common challenges, including how to:
- manage large teams
- navigate difficulty communicating with team members, and
- find a common language with which to address the proposed problem.
Librarians also found that participation on interdisciplinary research teams was personally rewarding and helped them grow professionally. For instance, James Sobczak, who served as the librarian on a U-LINK team addressing the need for improved coastal resilience in the face of climate change, commented that:
“Not only did U-LINK provide me with a direct opportunity to learn and engage with new science and engineering faculty, but it also allowed me to learn more about research practices and information needs across the wider university. I could then translate this ‘hands-on’ experience with faculty conducting active research into my daily practice as a librarian. Helping to organize, collect, and communicate a variety of research outputs generated by the team provided a testing ground to experiment with new collaboration tools and workflows.”
To get the most value from librarian involvement, we recommend that interdisciplinary researchers:
- include librarians on teams as early as possible in the team-formation process
- involve librarians in all team meetings and interactions, and
- value the librarians’ skills in listening, connection-making and collaboration, as well as their expertise in information and information-seeking behaviors.
What has your experience been with librarians participating in interdisciplinary research teams? Are there additional contributions that librarians can make? Are you aware of any pitfalls to be avoided?
To find out more about U-Link, the University of Miami’s Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge initiative, see: https://ulink.miami.edu/
This blog post is based on a lightning talk presented at the 11th Annual International Science of Team Science Conference, in June 2020, which was a virtual conference. For more on the conference see: Applying human-centered design to virtual conference planning by Kristine Glauber, Ben Miller and Christine Ogilvie Hendren https://i2insights.org/2020/09/15/human-centered-conference-design/.
Biography: Kelly Miller PhD is Associate Dean for Learning and Research Services at University of Miami Libraries in Coral Gables, Florida, USA. Her interests include emerging librarian roles, designing library spaces and services to support learning and research, and the beneficial role that libraries can play in supporting health and well-being.
Biography: Kineret Ben-Knaan MA MIS is Research and Assessment Librarian at University of Miami Libraries in Coral Gables, Florida, USA. Her interests include understanding, predicting, and accommodating user needs, as well as enhancing organizational effectiveness.