Post by Amit Gal, Alastair Dunning and Nicole Will

The research organisastion Ithaka S+R recently issued the report “Scholars ARE Collectors: A Proposal for Re-thinking Research Support”. The report takes a user-centred approach when trying to understand what would be a good way to support researchers in the future, and outline possible places to invest.

It makes the case that researchers are, in fact, collectors, and that their (often massive) collections vary widely in form across different disciplines. All of these collections however, are not properly managed – which is quite understandable, as “collecting” requires a different set of skills and tools than “researching”.

From the context of our own research support services at TU Delft, we made some specific points in observation :

1. The report has a great focus on the right point of view – the user’s point of view. If we at TU Delft want to support the researcher better, we must understand her better. That means more than just knowing what she does, it means having an empathetic understanding of why she does it and who she is. Understanding is more than just talking.

2. From an empathetic understanding you get a better appreciation of the challenges. TU Delft’s Informed Researcher Training and Open Science MOOC tries to fill some of the identified skills gap.

3. The report points to four different stakeholders that support scholarly collecting – funders, open data advocacy groups, external tool and service providers, and academic institutions. It might be useful to realize that we, as the TU Delft library, represent two of these stakeholders – we are the academic institution, naturally, but we are also the FAIR data advocacy group. Is it possible that these two sometimes clash? Could one role impede the other, and if so – how should we address it?

3. The journey of understanding our users better, improving our services and creating new, better ones – is a journey we cannot be taking on our own. At the very least, ICT and the researcher groups must be partners here. So we should get better at collaborating with these, and other, parties around us.

4. Some of the language (eg, ‘scholars’, ‘personal collections’) and evidence here is drawn from the humanities and doesn’t feel right in the context of a technical university. The report misses some of the language and developments occurring in a technical university (eg., there is no mention of data science, data stewards etc, and the importance of writing code or running simulations is underplayed)

5. Our instinct is that scientists (as opposed to humanities scholars) have fewer ‘personal collections’ and more ‘group collections’. E.g. A team gets access to data, or a department collects data, or a consortium writes a proposal, or a group writes a paper. While individual roles always play a part, access to these different outputs is managed at a team level.

6. Many of the key points are similar to what we know here at TU Delft, eg about fear of being scooped or the time taken to document data. The metaphor of collection is also important, as it emphasises the emotional ownership scientists feel about their outputs.

7. The conclusions of the final page is definitely worth holding on how do we (and by that I mean not just the library but all the relevant support service) offer the kind of support the researcher needs throughout her workflow (not just the start and end). The goal is not Open Science per se, but getting to Open Science by responding to specific user needs.