v32#3 Biz of Digital — Case Study: Librarians as Interdisciplinary Digital Research Project Partners

by | Jul 15, 2020 | 0 comments

An Overview of Recently Established and Emerging Digital Research Projects and Support Services Led and Implemented by the Rowan University Libraries

by Benjamin Saracco  (Research and Digital Services Librarian and Managing Editor: Cooper Rowan Medical Journal, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, One Cooper Plaza, Camden, NJ  08103;  Phone: 856-342-2522;  Fax: 856-342-9588) 

and Shilpa Rele  (Scholarly Communication & Data Curation Librarian, Rowan University, Keith & Shirley Campbell Library, 201 Mullica Hill Road, Glassboro, NJ  08028;  Phone: 856-256-4970) 

Column Editor: Michelle Flinchbaugh (Digital Scholarship Services Librarian, Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD  21250;  Phone: 410-455-3544) 

Rowan University has seen rapid expansion over the last decade and has grown from a state teachers college to a Carnegie-classified national doctoral research institution.  Rowan University started the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) in 2012 and merged the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM) in 2013 and is one of only three institutions in the nation that grant both M.D. and D.O. medical degrees.  Due to this merger and growth in the University’s research portfolio, Rowan University earned R3 research status in 2017.  One year later, the University was designated as an R2 institution.  At the same time, the University has seen tremendous growth in student enrollment, which reached more than 19,618 in Fall 2019, new faculty hires (176 within the last five years) and expansion of graduate programs.  Sponsored research funding grew significantly as well during this time to $5.6 million in 2010 to $39.5 million in 2018.

With this tremendous increase in enrollment, research, faculty, and additional campuses, the Rowan University Libraries (RUL) has faced a proportional increase in demand for digital research project collaborations and new research support services from the university community.  In 2015, RUL wisely established an institutional repository (IR), called “Rowan Digital Works,” by subscribing to the Bepress Digital Commons platform to provide open access to the increased research, scholarly, and creative outputs at the University.  This repository includes peer-reviewed scholarship, open educational resources, faculty post-prints, graduate student publications, electronic theses and dissertations, conferences, events, and symposia proceedings.  A committee that includes representatives from all three libraries, as well as a representative from the Division of University Research (DUR), guides the activities related to the IR.  This committee has created a place for librarians of different professional backgrounds at the University to stay informed on new scholarly communications-related services available to the faculty and students with whom they interact.  A key goal for the University libraries is for all its librarians, no matter their subject specialty or assigned campus, to have a core competency in the area of providing basic scholarly communications support to their patrons.  This is a trend that has been reported and written about at other academic libraries as well.1

The collaboration with the DUR on the IR committee has been particularly significant as it has informed our decision to make the creation of researcher profiles a requirement for all internal grant funding application opportunities.  Not only has this led to increased faculty engagement with the IR and highlighted scholarly activity on campus, the researcher profiles have proven useful for faculty and the DUR to discover collaborations across departments and disciplines.  An additional example of the value of these researcher profiles is the ability of the medical students at CMSRU to utilize them to identify faculty research mentors for their required capstone projects.  Another fruitful collaboration with the DUR has been the use of the IR’s journal hosting features, such as managing the backend submission workflows to running internal seed funding programs for faculty on both the Glassboro and Camden campuses.  This collaboration has helped the DUR centralize the seed funding application workflows and track applicants and submissions over time in one system. 

The varied use cases of this University resource have grown substantially due to the fact that the University Libraries have actively marketed it to new faculty at events like New Faculty Orientation and University research-related events.  The IR was also highlighted as an important resource in the Middle States Accreditation Report for the campus community.  The addition of new materials and services over the past few years resulted in one million downloads last fall, an achievement that RUL celebrated with the campus community.

RUL also established a Digital Initiatives Working Group with the goal of making strategic decisions to enable the implementation of digital projects in a more systematic and efficient manner and to allow for flexible and collaborative work across departments within the libraries.  One project established by the Digital Initiative Working Group is a strategic digital collections development decision to segregate purely scholarly materials, such as journal articles, datasets, and symposia held in the IR, from digital assets used by digital social science, humanities, and natural science faculty and historians.  The working group identified and implemented a new Islandora-powered digital asset management system to manage and provide open access to digitized content, starting with materials from both our University Archives and Special Collections and faculty projects/collections.  The rationale behind this decision was made for two reasons:  1)  We wanted these materials in a system that would be easily connected to the potential New Jersey/Delaware DPLA Hub being established, and we are ensuring that our work is being informed by DPLA metadata standards to make the metadata shareability and discovery processes easier in the long run.  2)  We found that Islandora has additional capabilities and features that allow for a better user experience and more efficient abilities to organize and manage digital assets on the backend. 

With the increased focus on research, the University Libraries also conducted two surveys to identify research data management and digital scholarship needs at the institution.  We have made significant progress with the evidence of need collected from both surveys and are currently in the process of implementing services, policies, and infrastructure needed to support those needs.  We formed the Research Data Management Working Group, which is comprised of members from the DUR and the Division of Information Resources & Technology (IRT).  We secured approval for implementing ORCID and DMPTool, which we plan to roll out to faculty later this Fall, and we are currently advocating for the Open Science Framework to be implemented as well.  [ORCID provides unique identifiers for researchers and the DMPTool is used to write data management plans for inclusion in grant applications:  orcid.org and dmptool.org.]

We are also in the process of beginning discussions with faculty about open scholarship as it pertains to new metrics for evaluating open research, journal selection, data and tools, and the education and training needed to support and raise awareness of the quality and the value of open scholarship.  These discussions are being conducted in collaboration with the DUR as open scholarship training and discussions are part of DUR’s new strategic plan.

Librarians at Rowan are on the tenure-track, and conducting and collaborating on research and scholarship endeavors is considered a core job responsibility.  With the new research infrastructure and groups mentioned above in place and possibly as a result of outreach that has been conducted across the University about these new services, librarians now have the opportunity to play more significant roles as research-collaborators and add value by contributing their expertise and specialized skill sets to the research lifecycle processes.  Some examples of this increased involvement include: 

Librarians partnering in grant applications that utilize library research infrastructure:  Librarians are partnering with faculty from the School of Earth and Environment’s Geology department to build a digital collection of fossils discovered at the Jean and Ric Edelman Fossil Park of Rowan University.  This digital collection will ensure broader open access to digital images from this collection, which could also be used in K-12 educational efforts and potential collaboration with other fossil archives on grant-funded digital scholarship projects. 

Librarians serving on collaborative research teams for projects that involve digital humanities:  Another digital project involves librarians being included as collaborators on a Rowan faculty member’s grant-funded oral history project that captures water histories in New Jersey.  This project will use Islandora to provide access.

Librarians serving as scholarly publishing partners for University journals:  The library’s IR added a new journal publishing platform in order to host and publish University-run peer-reviewed journals.  The first example is a faculty and student-run medical journal called The Cooper Rowan Medical Journal (https://rdw.rowan.edu/crjcsm/).  This peer-reviewed publishing project is being used as a possible model for other future IR-hosted journals, some of which are currently being developed at the University. 

Librarians assisting research teams with the development of research protocols and systematic review projects:  Librarians at CMSRU have created a pilot service where they partner on research teams containing students, faculty, and medical residents for systematic literature review projects.  Librarians assist with the creation and registration of research protocols and recommend using the IR for research data management and archiving of resulting publications, if appropriate.

In order to further strengthen and expand our digital project and research support services, the RUL plan to raise awareness across campuses via informational sessions and an expanded web presence highlighting our work.  We envision cross-training librarian colleagues on providing these services and advocating for future strategic hires to further engage and support in these endeavors.  Additionally, librarians have conducted advocacy work in the University to bring attention to the importance and value of these projects and how they can support the University’s overall strategic research mission and goals.  In this advocacy work, librarians have communicated with the University’s leadership to highlight how these efforts align with the University’s overall strategic research mission.  We believe these partnerships have demonstrated the library’s essential role in furthering the University research enterprise.  


1.  “Leading Change in the System of Scholarly Communication: A ….”  https://crl.acrl.org/index.php/crl/article/view/16059/17505.  Accessed 28 Feb. 2020.


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