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How Research Libraries Are Supporting Research during Remote Operations

Woman looking on her phone, with images and text depicting research.
image © iStock.com/metamorworks

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many campuses closing temporarily. These closings have heavily affected access to research labs and materials. In order to ensure the continuation of vital research, libraries including Penn State University Libraries, George A. Smathers Libraries of the University of Florida, and The Ohio State University Libraries are sharing a wide range of information and skills to help research continue during the pandemic.

Penn State started an online Research Data Skills seminar series on April 23, 2020. The seminar series was an opportunity for researchers and library users to improve and gain new skills in the areas of data management, analysis, visualization, and sharing. The series was scheduled through June 4, 2020, with two seminars each week. The first seminar was titled, “How to Create a Data Management Plan for Your Dissertation or Thesis.”

Additionally, Penn State University Libraries created a template for graduate students to use as they work on their dissertations and theses. Other seminars focused on how to wrangle data, how to write “readme” files, and how to find a place to publish your data. The libraries also hosted a panel explaining the work of data curators, to improve the understanding of that work among graduate students, researchers, and curators.

The seminars were mostly attended by graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty. Most sessions had over 100 people registered with 60–90 people in attendance, including many repeat attendees. In total, Penn State Libraries had over 1,400 registrations across the series and almost 700 attendees.

After attending the “How to Prepare Date for Publication” session, one attendee stated, “I liked how this workshop brought in aspects from the previous workshops together into a single presentation. It helped to provide me with a perspective on how all the different aspects of data management, metadata, and meta-analysis and readme files come together.”

Penn State University Libraries will continue to offer the seminar series and are also providing the presentation slides to registrants. In addition to the seminar series, they are providing one-to-one virtual consultations in the different areas and helping researchers build connections.

“We feel that it is vital to offer series such as this one to provide graduate students as well as the larger Penn State research community an opportunity to gain additional guidance and training—and to really enhance what they receive through their mentors and coursework. We have been very excited to see the level of interest in particular webinars and the series as a whole! Additionally, we have been happily surprised by the number of one-to-one consultations or email requests that have resulted from attendance at these webinars. We plan to continue to offer these sorts of seminars and trainings for the foreseeable future as well as update our website to provide researchers with easy access to information and materials presented during these sessions,” said Briana Ezray, research data librarian for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at Penn State University Libraries.

Researchers at the University of Florida are facing a similar challenge because graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and lab technicians haven’t been able to be in their labs.  The George A. Smathers Libraries was approached first by the University of Florida Office of Research. People needed research courses and learning opportunities. The COVID-19 pandemic presented the perfect time to gain new skills that some researchers didn’t have time to get before.

As a result of this pressing need, George A. Smathers Libraries offered sessions that covered a range of topics. Some of the sessions included “Introduction to Tableau” and “Introduction to Data Management,” with 45–50 people per class session. They also covered literature reviews starting at the introductory level spanning to a six-part series on systematic reviews. Other popular sessions covered how to measure research impact and a medical terminology class. In addition, members of the Smathers Libraries’ Academic Research Consulting & Services (ARCS) team partnered with UF Research to offer a 22-session Summer Seminar Series on responsible conduct of research themes as part of a new certificate program. On average, 265 people attended each of these classes.

“It’s been really amazing that all of these different areas on campus have seen that we’re offering this robust list of courses and they’ve been advertising it. We’re hoping that this is filling the need as well as showing people some of the skills and expertise we have to offer. The biggest issue is that they can’t be in their labs. Now, many are working on previously known needs like data management or visualization. We’re getting exposure and people are learning that we have this expertise they haven’t tapped us for before. We’ll continue to offer sessions online, record them, and make them available to people,” said Melissa L. Rethlefsen, associate dean, George A. Smathers Libraries.

The Ohio State University Libraries has also continued to provide access to research materials through distance learning and online teaching with a focus on including the wider community. As news spread about the COVID-19 outbreak and the campus quickly began the transition to online learning, Danny Dotson, associate professor and head of the Geology Library, focused on how he could more quickly and efficiently connect students and instructors with the resources they needed to continue learning and working. He realized instructors from the Mathematics and Statistics Learning Center, who would typically work face-to-face tutoring students, would now have the additional hurdle of trying to guide students to resources.

To help, Dotson is working with instructors to improve the discoverability of open-access and library-held resources that can be used by students needing additional assistance. Realizing the catch-all guide he built could be improved, he has started building course-level mathematics and statistics guides that could be directly linked to courses in Carmen, the university’s online learning platform. Like so many, Dotson has also turned his efforts into helping throughout the community.

He connected with Can’t Stop Columbus, a state-wide volunteer movement, to create resources for the community, after recognizing one of the organizers as someone he’d worked with on other projects. Using his skills as a researcher and librarian, he has located and shared open-source materials with information on how to fix older personal protective equipment, how to clean and sanitize face masks, and specifications to construct new ones.  He has also pulled together free learning resources for parents who are now helping their children navigate online learning. “I can’t do 3D printing, I can’t sew, but I can find information,” Dotson said.

For the last two decades, research libraries have been at the forefront of access to digital materials. Consequently, the infrastructure of many research libraries has been prepared for unconventional circumstances that call for digital learning, distance, and research. More and more institutions are recognizing the much-needed expertise that research libraries offer. The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a light on the necessity of research libraries and their value to the continuation of research and to research institutions.

 

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