Prospects: a strategy for action
Library and Information Research, Development
and Innovation in the United Kingdom - Proposals for consultation
Library and Information Commission Research Committee, November 1997
- Consultation has provided evidence about the infrastructure - the systems, processes, structures and relationships between organisations - which supports library and information services research.
- The Library and Information Commission's aim is to ensure an effective and efficient infrastructure for research. This strategy puts forward areas in which the Commission will not only act as catalyst and facilitator, but will provide practical encouragement and support to improve the infrastructure.
- We have identified five areas of infrastructure development which are needed in order to meet the challenging agenda of research priorities necessary to achieve the United Kingdom's objectives in relation to the information society.
These areas are:
- Forward planning of research
- Funding research
- Assuring the quality of research activity
- Communicating information about research
- Transferring research into practice
- The Library and Information Commission proposes to take a strategic and proactive role in facilitating development in these five areas. They are all areas for immediate attention and action, and which also have implications for the longer term. We therefore propose a three year Action Plan of consultative, investigative and practical activities. This will be implemented in close collaboration with the British Library Research and Innovation Centre, and will take into account the substantial amount of work already in place in the form of guidelines and practice models. The implementation of this plan will integrate closely with the Commission's strategic level projects within the Research Programme.
- The infrastructure Action Plan will identify and explore models from the research, development and innovation strategies of other disciplines and countries in order to identify work of relevance to the library and information sector
Forward planning of research
- The process of setting programmes and prioritising themes in library and information research is currently one which takes place at the level of individual commissioning and funding organisations and in academic institutions.
- There is a need to ensure that this agenda is set within a United Kingdom-wide national and regional strategic context. The interests of different nations and regions of the United Kingdom need to be represented.
- Wherever possible, existing representative organisations at local, regional and national levels of the library and information service community need to be used.
- The process also needs to ensure that the results from existing research can feed into future programmes. The existing knowledge base of library and information science can inform development of future programmes. The impact-analysis of recent research projects and programmes will further contribute to forward planning.
- In developing forward planning strategies, consultation and collaboration with the library and information community is essential, along with consultation in the wider constituency. The process should include the views of users and potential users of library and information services, users of research, and researchers themselves.
- We will undertake a feasibility study to look at alternative and innovative methods for gathering, evaluating and prioritising research ideas. Its scope will include: information communication technologies (ICTs); environmental scanning; virtual conferencing; "Think tanks"; a national "Observatory" network; and annual Library and Information "Forward Looks". The Commission may wish to advocate a new Technology Foresight Panel for information services and industries.
- In the longer term, we aim to facilitate the introduction of a nationally co-ordinated programme of regular environmental scanning.
- The United Kingdom's overall spending on library and Information research is difficult to establish, because unlike many other disciplines which have substantial resources allocated by central government, library and information services research funding comes in much smaller amounts from a variety of sources.
British Library Research and Innovation Centre funding
- A very important focus of general library and information research funding in the United Kingdom is the British Library Research and Innovation Centre. A team of sixteen staff is funded by the Department of Culture Media and Sport to provide £1.6m of research grants annually. These grants are available to support research across all sectors of library and information services: national, public, higher education and schools, and special.
Academic research funding
- An important contribution is made by library and information studies as an area of academic research. Pursued through universities and colleges in the United Kingdom, post graduate, doctoral and externally-commissioned research activities are assessed periodically by the Funding Councils' Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). Funds are then allocated to the parent universities by a formula derived from the RAE rating. A sum in the order of £1.3 million was allocated by this method as a result of the last RAE in 1996. It is not clear, however, what proportion of this funding devolves to the relevant department and therefore what amount of public money is actually being applied to library and information services research.
- Whilst it is fully recognised and accepted that universities are responsible for their own research programmes, it is nevertheless appropriate that the corpus of research done in universities should be taken account of in this strategy. The content and scale of this research should be identified.
Structural higher education sector funding
- A significant contribution to library and information development in the higher education sector has been made by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) Electronic Libraries Programme (eLIb). A budget of £15 million between 1994 and 1997 has made a significant contribution to the knowledge base of library and information provision in United Kingdom universities. Collaborative projects which benefit other information sectors, particularly public libraries, have increasingly been supported in 1997 programmes. Several JISC activities which started life as projects or initiatives have now evolved into ongoing services which have benefits beyond higher education.
Public libraries research funding
- Public libraries have benefited from resources provided since 1987 under the auspices of the government department now known as the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Some £2.5 million has been available to encourage new enterprises designed to extend or improve the public library service in England. In 1997, the Department has made available annual funding of £3 million, £1 million of which has been contributed by the Woolfson Foundation. Known as the Public Libraries Challenge Fund, it is intended to be used for technological development, improvement of public library buildings and refurbishment of reference sections.
European Commission funding
- Another major source of research funding is the European Union, principally (but not solely) within the Third and Fourth Telematics Framework Programmes for Libraries, under the direction of DGXIII. The United Kingdom has been particularly active in these Frameworks in carrying out co-operative projects with other states. A Fifth Framework is currently under negotiation in which libraries will feature under the broader heading of multi-media and electronic publishing.
Other public funding
- A number of other publicly-funded research programmes, many in collaboration with library research agencies, have contributed to the national picture.
- Many relevant programmes and projects have been strategically led by the Department of Trade and Industry's Technology Foresight exercise and supported by the national Research Councils. The Economic and Social Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council have provided the main focus of relevant work.
- The Department of Trade and Industry has led several major information-related initiatives, where the investment has a potential impact on library and information services, but where the relationship is not fully exploited. One example is the development of Business Links, where considerable investment has been made in the research and development of information services for business.
- Other government departments have supported information research for application in their own sector, and in doing so, have added considerably to the knowledge base available for the wider community of library and information services.
- The Department of Health and the National Health Service's Research and Development Strategy and its emphasis on the transfer of research evidence into service practice, has been a major influence on the research community generally.
Private sector funding
- Information-related research in the private sector is even more diffuse and difficult to account for. There are some sectors, such as the pharmaceuticals and aerospace industries, which have a strong record of investment in research into information provision. In these sectors information has a high economic value, in its own right as competitive intelligence or with the addition of professional know-how, as a marketable commodity. Such in-house research is unlikely to be widely shared with other organisations.
Establishing a sound funding base
- The Commission foresees that in order to fulfil its important strategic role at national level, more investment in library and information-related research will be needed along with the development of funding mechanisms for research which provide additional levels of financial support through multi-sectoral collaboration.
- Consultation has clearly demonstrated to the Commission that one of its first and foremost strategic tasks is a United Kingdom-wide study to identify the amount, the sources, and the recipients of funding for research which directly or indirectly relates to library and information services.
- This will include academic research funding, and will therefore require working in association with the Funding Councils and in close collaboration with the British Association for Information and Library Education and Research (BAILER). The survey will map the contribution made by different types of department to basic and applied research for the library and information sector, and to establish the relationship between public funding for library and information services research and its benefits for practitioners.
- The Library and Information Commission intends to use the evidence to make the case for co-ordinated re-investment at all levels. It is anticipated that with the Government's endorsement, there will be increased incentive for other funding agencies to collaborate in library and information services research programmes.
- The Library and Information Commission will consider, in the light of responses to these proposals, what funding to request from the Government in order to support this ambitious programme of strategic level research and infrastructure development. The Commission will therefore liaise with funding agencies to establish whether additional sums of money are likely to be available for deployment on this programme in the next three years, and in the longer term.
Assuring the quality of research activity
- There is a need for nationally accepted evaluation procedures. We propose to work closely with other organisations involved in research to promote the development of measures to ensure that all library and information research is evaluated using criteria including value for money, quality, relevance and impact on practice. The development of the Library and Information Commission's own research programme provides reason enough for developing a model for evaluation.
- Firstly, we shall commission a review of existing quality systems in library and information research, in preparation for further development. It will cover the evaluation of, for example, commissioning processes, programme and project management, and impact analysis.
- Amongst ideas to be considered, one is the development of methodologies for systematic reviews of existing research. These will be undertaken in each of the thematic areas of the Research Programme, using an index of research developed in the Research Mapping Exercise, and the results will inform future research programme planning.
- Consideration will also be given to the introduction of a system of quality awards for research projects, incorporating the award of a kite-mark or a rating, dependent upon meeting recommended criteria.
- We shall seek to establish permanent quality assurance mechanisms including nationally recognised guidelines. Any such work will be undertaken in collaboration with relevant professional and research bodies. Recommendations will be based on good practice, including the United Kingdom health sector where considerable progress has been made through implementation of the nation-wide Research and Development programme. Particular account will be taken of the substantial amount of work already undertaken by the British Library Research and Innovation Centre, the Joint Information Systems Committee and the European Commission. Occupational standards being developed by the Researchers Lead Body will also be relevant.
- The Commission will actively promote the endorsement of such guidelines by any organisation commissioning, supporting or undertaking research activities relating to libraries and information.
- We propose to set up five national panels, corresponding with the five areas forming the Research Programme, to review progress and impact, needs, and innovative ideas. These panels will be chaired by appropriate experts in each area, designated by the Library and Information Commission Research Committee. Membership will be selected to reflect the wide scope of this strategy, including the concerns of stakeholders outside the library and information services community and policy-making, funding, and consumer viewpoints.
Communicating information about research
- A more effective communication system is required to co-ordinate research activities, to implement the strategy, and to disseminate information about research. The Library and Information Commission will draw up protocols for developing communication about research. Particular emphasis will be given to processes involved in diffusion of the results of research. Consideration will be given to communication methods to facilitate review and evaluation of research. We shall encourage experimentation and innovation.
- It is proposed to determine the feasibility of an Internet World Wide Web "gateway" site for LIS research. The aim is to link existing resources, including those outside the traditional sectoral boundaries of library and information services and to develop any further databases to fill gaps in the information resource. Particular attention will be paid to intellectual property and copyrights, and to the commercial concerns of existing players. There is a need to anticipate the dangers of trying to identify and collect ever-widening data sets, especially as "information" research broadens. Decentralised data collection and mechanisms for creating systematic reviews of research data will also need to be considered.
- Consideration will also be given to the need for central or regional activities to promote library and information-related research to a wider constituency, including the possibility of developing research journalism as a means of increasing current awareness and disseminating findings. Proposals will be sought for contributions to a programme of interactive events (workshops, seminars and road-shows).
Transferring research into practice
- An important aim of the strategy is to ensure that the value of research to the library and information community is recognised. This will help to increase internal and inward investment to the benefit of a wide constituency. Our consultation indicates that substantial development within the profession will need to take place in order to make progress in this direction.
- It is important to recognise that research can only be of value to library and information practitioners if systematic processes are designed to improve and apply knowledge.
- We need to take account of the problems of practitioner and employer perceptions of research. Employers should encourage new practitioners to use the skills they have acquired in higher education: to develop research skills, to put forward ideas freely, and to work innovatively.
- Besides the measures proposed to improve communication of research results to practitioners, we propose to promote a programme of skills development for library and information professionals, in collaboration with key library and information services professional bodies, and academic and private sector education and training bodies. This will dovetail with recent initiatives in the academic and public library sectors.
- We will wish to use all available models, including those from other professional communities, and to take particular account of existing work, jointly supported by the Society of Chief Librarians and the British Library Research and Innovation Centre, on "Developing Research in Public Libraries".
- In its calls for proposals within the programme of strategic research (outlined in Section 4), the Library and Information Commission will include proposals for demonstrator projects, and special attention will be given to monitoring the process of transferring research into practice.
- We shall undertake an initial investigative review of existing activities and likely developments in this area, and draw up further recommendations as to how the Library and Information Commission can best support skills development at a strategic level..
- Collaborative and innovative methods of transferring skills and sharing experience will be encouraged. For example, we shall consider ways of supporting events involving higher education institutions, and collaboration between business schools and information management schools, along with participants from a wide community of information practitioners besides library and information professionals (such as Business Links, competitive intelligence professionals, knowledge managers, and research students).
- Skills areas will include particularly the critical appraisal skills necessary to evaluate the findings of research and identify the opportunities for transfer into professional practice, but will also cover the practical skills of undertaking research in a practitioner environment, including guidance in the establishment of research questions, preparation of proposals for application and tender processes, and training in research methodologies.
Summary of actions proposed for infrastructure development
Forward planning of research
- Feasibility study of methods for gathering, evaluating and prioritising research ideas
- A United Kingdom-wide study to identify the amount, the sources, and the recipients of funding for research which directly or indirectly relates to library and information services
- Development of new funding opportunities as necessary
Assuring the quality of research activity
- A review of existing quality systems in library and information research, in preparation for further development
- Development of methodologies for systematic reviews of existing research.
- Setting up of five national panels, to review progress and impact, needs, and innovative ideas.
Communicating information about research
- Development of protocols for communication about research
- Study of the feasibility of an Internet World Wide Web "gateway" site for library and information services research
Transferring research into practice
- Review of existing activities which encourage transferral of research into practice, and of likely developments in this area, and identification of demonstrator projects
- Programme of skills development for library and information professionals, in collaboration with key library and information services bodies