10 May 2016

Dynamic Research Support for Academic Libraries - edited by Starr Hoffman (Review)

Edited books can sometimes be a challenge for a reader, but with Dynamic Research Support for Academic Libraries Starr Hoffman has done an admirable job in pulling together the individual chapters into a coherent and cogent collection. An interesting strategy presented by Hoffman herself in the introduction is the idea that we should “do less, but deeper” – a somewhat antithetical solution to the common “doing more with less” predicament. This concept in many ways underpins the book, which includes detailed case studies of what are for the most part significant or substantial projects - all no doubt requiring considerable planning, resourcing, time and/or effort. Hoffman’s philosophy that libraries should primarily focus on those key activities and services where they can add most value to their institutions and users, and not necessarily try to be all things to all people, is both an intuitive and pragmatic one that many will easily buy in to (however, I imagine in some cases the process of identifying the areas that may need to be cut back on can be quite a challenging task, particularly where staff may need to be redeployed, but that’s outside the scope of this book and review). Importantly, Hoffman also emphasises that every library, institution and context is different, and no one solution fits all.

Hoffman has assembled an impressive collection of authors with an international outlook and feel, which presents the reader with a variety of different contexts, environments and experiences from smaller libraries to larger institutions. The book curates a series of case studies from these various institutions divided across three core themes: training and infrastructure; data services and data literacy; and research as a conversation, offering something for everyone from planning spaces and systems in order to support our users better, to GIS, information literacy and open access. For the most part, the case studies are very well-detailed but sometimes quite specific, so the content may appeal most to those who are currently planning to undertake a reasonably similar project, or those looking for ideas for possible new services or initiatives at a more strategic level. On occasion I found that some chapters do assume a certain level of familiarity with research services and support in academic libraries, and so it may be a better fit for those with some degree of experience in the area rather than those who are just starting off. This is understandable however, given the limited canvas and word-count within which the authors have to operate, and a number of chapters do indeed provide significant background and introductory information on the topic to help orient the reader, for instance the chapter on supporting GIS in non-traditional disciplines which I found particularly interesting, thorough and practical.

I feel that Dynamic Research Support is not so much a handbook or reference tool that one might consult frequently in day to day practice, but rather it provides the reader with tangible inspiration and ideas, shaped by a clear vision of what dynamic and innovative research services can look like in practice. Hoffman’s collection showcases how we can add long-term value for our users by focusing on going “deeper” and delivering comprehensive specialist services which tap into a very real need. Whilst such projects may require significant investment (particularly in terms of staff time, which is a recurring motif), the examples in Dynamic Research Support provide evidence that the return will often far exceed the cost.

Dynamic Research Support for Academic Libraries is published by Facet Publishing, March 2016, £49.95, 176pp.


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