Thought for Food Blog

Transforming Research Library Services

The report New Roles for New Times: research services to graduate students explores the challenges facing higher education in the US and how services are being developed to reflect this new landscape. The research library has a key role to play in supporting new ways of learning, teaching, collaboration and research.

Library | IFIS Publishing

Challenges identified in the report

  • The growth of interdisciplinary studies and global academic programmes means students may be more 'disconnected'
  • Institutional expectations of students skills levels are unrealistic
  • Range of research and technical skills required by students has expanded, for example:
  1. Bibliographic management
  2. Technical literacy
  3. Use of discovery and delivery tools
  4. Analytical and methodological skills
  5. Data mining and visualisation capability
  • Increasingly diverse academic populations including:
  1. Those with family obligations and/or full time jobs
  2. Those who have been out of academia for many years
  3. International students unfamiliar with US culture
  • Research-intensive users making demands on physical space and services, i.e. new working styles (e.g. multi-device) means more space per individual is required


The report focuses on four areas of opportunity:

  • Segmented services
  • New use of space
  • Partnerships
  • New organisational structures

Segmented services

Libraries need to design services for multiple audiences at different stages of the research/educational lifecycle. Many respondents reported how they segmented their audiences (e.g. 'reader and learner'; 'researcher'; 'returner to academia') in order to help them target their services appropriately.

Libraries have a key role in helping students with new 'digital scholarship' skills. In particular there are opportunities for libraries to address broad issues that apply across disciplines, such as dissertation writing. They can, for example, provide informal networking and learning opportunities by creating communities of practice. They should also make sure that library initiatives (such as institutional repositories) are communicated in a way that resonates with students.

Research participants mentioned providing training in bibliographic management software, e.g. Endnote etc. Others mentioned providing support with softer skills including writing. Other libraries are creating 'co-branded' services that take advantage of librarians' skills as well as those of technologists, statisticians, geographic data specialists, and media production personnel across the university.

New use of space

Libraries are redesigning and reimagining physical spaces to meet new user requirements. Key trends influencing space include the increased importance of collaborative and interdisciplinary research and the growth of the 'research commons' or 'scholarly commons' movement. The report cites examples in the UK (Universities of Exeter and Warwick) as well as South Africa and the US.

The library also has the opportunity to overcome student 'isolation' by providing community building opportunities and facilitating informal contact between student groups. Initiatives cited in the report include the University of Guelph which is building a department-neutral 'collaboratory' to help build a community around digital research.


Libraries are leveraging their partnerships with academic and administrative units across campus to enhance the quality and efficacy of graduate-focused services and spaces. This includes developing and maintaining links with international student services, student resource centres and writing centres. Examples of library initiatives gathered in the report include:

  • Co-teaching
  • Embedding librarians in learning programmes
  • Co-hosting workshops and conferences
  • Partnering in deploying new campus wide technologies
  • Providing consultation in, for example, scholarly communication
  • Developing student advisory boards

New organisational structures

Libraries are re-examining organisational structures in order to meet the changing demands of graduate student education. They are almost always doing so without increased budget or headcount. Examples cited in the report include the appointment of Graduate Student Librarians and the redefinition of the role of subject specialist librarians in response to the growth of multidisciplinary courses.

Many interviewees recommended flexibility, experimentation and the value of piloting new structures and initiatives.


Research libraries are evolving their services and spaces to reflect changes at an institutional level and the increasing demands of students for high-value educational outcomes. The report calls for more research to demonstrate the impact of library services on both student academic success and wellbeing. It also highlights the value of libraries sharing their experiences and initiatives with each other.

The full report is available on the ARL website.

(Image Credit: Tamás Mészáros at

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