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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Winter 2016

Tips from the Experts

Building Faculty Relationships through Grant Support

Nina Exner
Associate Professor/Librarian
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
Greensboro, North Carolina

As mentioned in my previous column, faculty work-lives typically span teaching, research, and service. But the research aspect of faculty lives is often under-supported by library liaisons, relegated only to concerns about purchasing materials for research. In the science and technology fields, there is so much more that librarians can bring to research in order to build their faculty partnerships. A valuable area for these partnerships is science and technology grant support.

Grant applications or proposals can benefit enormously from information support and knowledge management assistance. There are many levels of support that the library can provide, depending on faculty needs and librarians' expertise. Government grants in particular, as one of the foundations of basic research in the U.S. economy, are essential places for science and technology librarians to offer assistance. At both the "pre-award" (preparing the grant proposal to submit and ask for funding) and the "post-award" (after the grant proposal is submitted if the funding is approved) stages, librarians can help their faculty succeed.

The pre-award stage includes two critical areas that librarians can support: literature reviews and post-award planning. The role of the literature in grant proposals is somewhat different than it is in articles. Even more importantly, the structure is different. When a faculty member writes a grant proposal, they must support statements throughout the proposal with literature. There is not one set section for a literature review; instead it works with their logic and planning at all stages. As a result, there is a much broader range of literature needed. Faculty are usually well-versed in their core literature that supports the background, gaps, and promises of their actual project. But in a grant proposal, they may need to address other areas.

Consider the NSF proposal structure. One of the components of an NSF grant proposal is the "broader impacts" of the study being proposed. A faculty member may want to state that their research has the potential to lead to new discoveries and developments with a social or economic impact. If so, they need to find literature that will support the existence of a relevant social need or economic niche. Often that means searching interdisciplinary databases, which may be outside of the researcher's core area of expertise. As another example, they may choose to involve underrepresented students from their field, to help grow the "broader impacts" of the research process among women and minority students; again, the researcher would need to use literature to show that the particular group(s) of students they want to work with are underrepresented. These kinds of interdisciplinary support topics from the literature are great places for librarians to provide additional assistance. The NIH also requires impacts, mostly focused on public health. A bioengineer (for example) is rarely likely to have the public health searching expertise needed to find the relevant support literature. Librarians are great partners for interdisciplinary literature searching. Ask your researchers if you can help with literature for their broader impacts or health impact statements. Or ask if you can work with their research assistants on finding more targeted literature. It may never have occurred to them that these services are available from their library liaison.

If you work with many faculty with research teams or labs, you should also consider the role of knowledge management in the grant-writing process. The use of collaborative tools for citation management, document mark-up, and workflow coordination can be a great asset to research teams. My library offers on-demand training in using citation management software and cloud applications for knowledge management. Researchers can benefit from discussing how to improve their document's privacy as well as how to coordinate their team's reading and citing of the literature with the organization features in many citation management suites (we use EndNote™ but even free tools like Mendeley offer sharing and organizing options).

Post-award compliance is another area that librarians can help grant seekers with. Many of the post-award processes must be discussed in the grant application. Data management plans are a key entry-point for this discussion. Researchers often need advice on metadata, preservation, embargoes, and dissemination roles. While great tools like provide a good structure for presenting the data management plan, librarians can advise on the metadata and repositing parts of the plan.

Another area of post-award planning that librarians can help with is the dissemination plan. Although this is not a separate document like the data management plan, grant seekers should plan to discuss how the findings of their research will be shared (disseminated) to other researchers and to the general public. This means that they need to think about where they might present and publish before actually doing the research. Products like Scopus and Journal Citation Reports can both help with identifying high-impact publication venues and documenting their impact. Even at libraries without these products, free bibliometrics tools like SCImago and Eigenfactor offer excellent alternatives. Advising faculty on journal impacts and helping them to justify their choice of publication venues is another valuable service libraries can offer. Even the choice of a conference can benefit from librarians' insights into the scholarly communication environment and the advantages and disadvantages of niche versus generalist conferences, as well as identifying conferences with robust peer review processes for good researcher feedback.

After a new researcher gets published, some funding agencies also require that they reposit their articles in an open access repository. The NIH uses PubMed Central for this purpose, but other funding agencies are already looking at this model and discussing ways to implement more open access to funded research publications. Helping faculty to reposit and document their publications, including appropriate descriptors and metadata to improve the discoverability of the article, is yet another promising role for librarians. As the open access requirement grows, so will opportunities to help faculty with preserving and disseminating their articles in an impactful way with good metadata.

Once articles are reposited, they often need to be linked back to the researcher's grant profile. Among NIH-funded researchers this is called the biosketch. The biosketch is yet another area that uses metadata and field structures that may be alien to researchers but are familiar to librarians. New guidelines for the NIH biosketch have many research administrators looking for ways to better support their researchers; this is a key time to get involved with supporting the research process with the new biosketch structures.

In my previous column, I discussed the importance of using faculty-centered rather than library-centered terminology. Hopefully this article has given you some insights into the terms and issues that researchers work with. Reach out to your faculty with questions like:

Also, consider talking to your Office of Sponsored Research (or whatever department handles grant submissions and grant training at your organization). Key questions you can ask include:

These are some great conversation-starters with faculty or research support teams. They can build interest, and often lead to that "I didn't know the library did that!" moment that can give you an opportunity for building new relationships. If you feel uncomfortable with the environment of grants and funding, look to the many free presentations and webinars offered by the big funding agencies like the NSF and NIH, to learn more about their interests and processes. Science and technology departments increasingly look at grants as an opportunity to diversify their research. These strategic changes in focus offer a wonderful chance for librarians to build their liaison projects in new and impactful directions.

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