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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: June 2018

Introduction: a vision for supporting research


What is ‘research support?’

The traditional model of a public services librarian sitting at a desk, answering student questions, no longer adequately captures the experience of many academic librarians. Some still sit at reference desks, but those desks have changed, often incorporating a variety of services such as circulation and technological support. Librarians themselves may be on call nearby while students or paraprofessionals sit at the desk, answering directional and transactional questions. Librarians may find that reference questions swiftly transform into impromptu sessions on information literacy, or tutorials on interpreting quantitative statistics, or methods of sharing research.

In addition to these reference-desk-adjacent inquiries, librarian support for student and faculty work is expanding to include areas such as the digital humanities and data management, which have traditionally been performed by specialists in areas outside the reference and instruction realm. Academic libraries are realizing the power of existing liaison or subject librarian relationships with faculty, and many are mining those relationships to offer discipline-specific support for open access publishing, data use and management, and other services.

Research support isn't something limited to large-scale research libraries. Academic libraries of all sizes, missions and locations – including small liberal arts and community colleges – are shifting to broader forms of research support. After all, ‘research’ is not something specific to one discipline; it is the pursuit or creation of new knowledge. This idea can also be expressed as ‘inquiry,’ research as an exploration and process of asking questions (Pagowsky, 2014). Guided inquiry is a learning technique in which students are taught to ask themselves questions such as: ‘What do I want to learn?’, ‘How do I learn it?’, ‘What did I learn?’ and ‘How will I use what I learned?’ (Kuhlthau, Maniotes and Caspari, 2007).

Likewise, Kenneth Burke's (1974) metaphor of ‘research as a conversation’ is one that can be applied equally to all disciplines. Burke (1974) describes the research process as being like walking into a room where a conversation has been going on for a while. After listening to the conversation for a while, you join in with your own point of view. Some people agree with you and provide further evidence, while others counter your argument. Nicole Pagowsky (2014) describes this process as ‘examining the connections and ongoing narratives between different scholarly pieces’

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