25 Apr 2016

Practical Tips for Facilitating Research - Moira J. Bent (Review)

The title of this book emanates directly from Facet Publishing's new Practical Tips series, and in this case the content certainly backs up that claim. Throughout Practical Tips for Facilitating Research Moira J. Bent’s ‘wisdom of crowds’ approach offers insights and experiences that are very much based on real world examples and exemplars, both her own and those of colleagues working in other institutions. As a result, there is not only a real richness and breadth to the advice presented, but an underlying authenticity and credibility to it as well.

During the opening section on landscapes and models, Bent discusses how to understand who your researchers are, their needs, motivations, and workflows - an aspect that is fundamental to helping us facilitate research more effectively. Those who are relatively new to working in the academic environment may find this section particularly helpful to orient themselves in their new role and as a means of getting to grips with the perspective of a typical researcher. However, the recurring and useful “to think about” prompts also provide food for thought and reflection for even the most experienced readers. The references to theory are plentiful and well-researched, and give ‘just enough’ without dwelling on too much detail – it is, after all, a book very much focused on practice.

A similar pattern continues throughout the rest of the text, which covers a range of areas including collections and information literacy, as well as unpacking specific interventions where libraries can actively position themselves, such as RDM and systematic reviews. Suggestions are notably pragmatic, and very much cognisant of the practical realities of many resource-stretched libraries. For instance, in relation to the potential for libraries to become more involved in supplying data for research proposals, Bent suggests: "Before venturing down this route, consider whether you have sufficient resources to continue if the idea takes root. Treating the contribution as a pilot or experiment will ensure that you are able to draw back or even investigate if a percentage of the subsequent grant might devolve to the library in recognition of the work" (2016, p.131). Currency is crucial in a rapidly-changing area such as scholarly communications, and the text is very much up to date with reference to a number of recent developments such as the Leiden Manifesto.

Those who are exploring how to support research more strategically may find the chapter on organisational structures particularly useful. Again using examples from different institutions, Bent showcases some of the varied and different approaches that can all work well, depending on the specific context and objectives, for instance having a specialised research services function versus offering research support through subject or liaison librarians. I was particularly glad to see a section encouraging librarians to become researchers and writers themselves, as this is something that has personally given me a much greater understanding of the research process, and the needs and workflows of researchers.

What is very much apparent throughout the book is Bent’s awareness that a one size fits all approach does not typically work. Underpinned by a flexible rather than prescriptive format, the book prompts readers to consider the options that might work best for researchers in their own organisations, rather than suggesting that they try to transplant or replicate a successful service, model or programme verbatim from another institution. Unlike many books, the structure is deliberately designed to allow readers to dip into specific sections as needed, rather than necessarily having to read it from cover to cover – a real advantage for those time-poor librarians looking for a quick burst of inspiration or advice. Above all however, it’s a book that offers a variety of approaches, insight, and real-world examples that work – exactly what you need whether you are searching for a simple solution to quickly improve services, or ideas to help inform and shape a more fundamental or strategic change.

Practical Tips for Facilitating Research is published by Facet Publishing, March 2016, 299pp, £49.95.

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