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Librarians are engaging in new roles, such as helping to improve the discoverability and raise the impact of their researchers' academic publications

By M. Luisa Álvarez-de-Toledo, Universidad de Oviedo | Dec 01, 2011

Throughout my more than 30-year career as a university librarian, I have witnessed how our activities and learnings have changed. Many of our goals remain the same: to promote reading, knowledge and technical organization of library resources. However, the ways of doing things have changed and some new goals have been introduced. Tasks have increased, becoming more technical and specialized, and it's essential that we incorporate new knowledge to keep up-to-date as we serve the university community.

Three significant points related to these recent changes that I have experienced in my work, especially over the past three years, include:

  • Promotion, evaluation and marketing of our academic publications on the Internet, i.e., academic search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Development and creation of semantic content for Web 3.0
  • Application of social media tools in Web 2.0

Academic SEO

Researchers may think that publishing an academic work is enough and not consider its discoverability and the effect of discoverability on its impact. Librarians understand the problems of scientific information retrieval, as well as the importance of indexes and keywords. We know well the impact measurements of scientific quality, and the requirements that publications must fulfill to appear in the rankings.

We understand the importance of a proper scientific identity on the Internet — signature standardization in scientific papers is essential to avoid name errors in academic databases. The same holds true for having the correct institutional affiliation. Any researcher or scientific institution with different identities in such databases may have trouble when measuring their impact. Researchers' rankings may fall if their publications are split among different profiles.

We train graduate students on the structure of scientific articles. I explain what parts these articles must have, including the characteristics of their titles and abstracts. I stress the importance of keywords, the need for a digital object identifier (DOI), and how to do proper bibliographic citations. These formal guidelines will help them compose successful papers.

The librarian's point of view is often much less specialized and local than the researcher's so we can guide them in the global scientific scene.

In university libraries, we know how assessment tools are applied to each field of research, such as humanities, engineering, science and biomedicine. And there may be regional requirements as well. For example, Spanish agencies for research evaluation have different criteria for each subject area. We can help guide our researchers' scientific publications toward the most suitable titles for them using tools like JCR (Journal Citation Reports) and SJR (Scientific Journal Rankings), or specific local portals like DICE in Spain. In many cases we promote open access, which helps spread scientific information via the Internet, we review metadata, and we explain how to properly use Creative Commons licenses.

Some of us may also work with very sophisticated quality analysis tools, such as SciVal Spotlight and SciVal Strata, and we are able to evaluate scientific trends. In my reports about the quality of our research, I point out which researchers are on top, which ones may get there according to the scientific market trends, and in which areas we are in decline. This information can help redirect funding and research work.

Sometimes I suggest potential collaborators, international institutions and groups that are publishing on issues similar to those of a working group, and which have a better ranking in the market. People or institutions involved are not always known to the researchers; the researchers may be new to the field or their focus may limit their knowledge of other important areas that may be related to their work. The librarian's point of view is often much less specialized and local than the researcher's so we can guide them in the global scientific scene.

On the Internet, academic promotion relies on a good understanding of the academic standards of "quality" as described above. To assist researchers in widening the impact of their work, librarians must be well versed in information diffusion and SEO techniques adapted specifically to academic writing: website structure, accurate titles, descriptions and keywords, h1 and h2 headings for the section titles, promotion through tweets, social networks for scientists and collaborative tools.

Semantic content for Web 3.0

The ability to formally describe and label any document is something essential for any librarian — it is one of the first tasks we carry out. Years ago, we followed cataloging and systematic classifications rules, and then MARC electronic formats for bibliographic databases. Consequently, working with metadata is second nature for librarians with cataloging experience.

The Semantic Web, Web 3.0, seems perfectly designed for our profession: the creation of metadata for scientific articles through DOIs, Open Journal Systems (OJS) development for academic journals, and metadata for open access archives.

Application of social media tools

Academic librarians stay connected to the society they serve and disseminate their resources via the Internet. The social network 2.0 has been a challenge. This is not about devoting many hours of our work to the Internet, but it is necessary to keep up with the tools and resources of social networks, to take part in them strategically, to know how to communicate the essential ideas, and to maintain a consistent and regular presence. For example, we are promoting library applications for mobile phones that deliver news, renewals and notices, and offering mobile access to databases and e-books.

With all these activities, academic librarians, especially those who work with bibliographic information, have a vast world of new applications at their disposal. The exciting results of implementing these applications can significantly benefit their institutions.