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Partnering to support grant-funded research: learn the jargon and look for needs

By Nina Exner, North Carolina A&T State University | July 17, 2017

Research Funding Process

Grants get a lot of attention. On many campuses supporting the push for funding is of strategic importance. Libraries can support the funded research enterprise in many ways (see Exner, 2016 for some ideas) when we take the time to understand research funding and how our library skills fit faculty needs.


Librarian-led grant support initiatives can build when we:


  • Learn the language of funded research
  • Align grant-seekers’ needs with librarians’ skills
  • Engage sponsored research professionals with specific offers of support



Learn the language of funded research


To bring our best, we need to understand sponsored research (or sponsored programs) professions such as research administration and research development. By attending Office of Research workshops, we can build our understanding of the vocabulary of grant funding. We need to listen for more than the content of the workshop; we need to listen for how they talk about grant funding. Working with sponsored research is like any other outreach in that the best liaisons learn the specialized concepts and jargon of our partners. By learning the vocabulary, we are able to speak to faculty and sponsored research about funding in a way that resonates with them.


We can also listen for opportunities. Imagine being at an Office of Research workshop where they discuss sharing learning objects as a research output from a science education grant. A librarian could bring up Open Educational Resource preservation in open access repositories, combining their needs with our know-how.



Align grant seekers’ needs with librarians’ skills


This combination is quite natural as the grants context overlaps a lot with the library context. Grant data management is a great example of how description, preservation and data skills combine to support grants. And data management is high profile in current US grant support. But many other areas also connect with grant support. Scholarly communication, classification and metadata, interdisciplinary search skills and preservation expertise all have value in supporting the funded research enterprise. By combining knowledge of the funded research enterprise with librarian expertise, we can confidently reach out to research professionals with offers of assistance.



Engage sponsored research professionals with specific offers of support


Once we understand the terms and opportunities, it is time to approach the Office of Research and departmental research administrators in our subject departments with offers to partner on research projects. This works best when we pitch specific services to our partners. Avoid open ended “How can I help?” questions, because non-librarians do not understand the skills we can bring. 


Instead, start with an offer to train researchers on developing data management plans or building strong publication track records. Whether or not they agree, follow up by asking what some key challenges and needs are for their faculty. Listen to those needs; there may be areas where the library team can help!


Another avenue of approach is to investigate funders relevant to our campuses. We can search for videos or presentations about their application, peer review or merit review processes. With this understanding, we can design programs to apply library expertise to improving faculty grant applications. For example, if the funder wants grant proposals that prove they have a good research approach, we start by searching for information on how they define the research approach. That information helps us to structure a program on literature reviews for finding articles that prove the research approach. Then we can go to the Office of Research with a lesson plan like, “Strategies for Literature to Support the Grant Research Approach Section.” The Sponsored Research team will be better able to understand how the library’s services fit with their needs! Moreover, it gives us a better idea of what our faculty need to successfully get funding. 



It takes time


Grant support initiatives can build when we learn the language of funded research; align grant-seekers’ needs with librarians’ skills; and engage sponsored research professionals with specific offers of support.


It takes time to understand how the research infrastructure works. But the benefits are worth the time. Connecting the library more closely to funded research makes it even clearer how we academic librarians support the whole university community.




Exner, N. (2016). Tips from the experts: Building faculty relationships through grant support. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship 83(n.p.). doi:10.5062/F4NV9G7Z

Editor’s Note: For further exploration of the topic, view Nina’s Library Connect webinar presentation on “Supporting faculty in their pursuit of funded research” and visit Mendeley Funding for information on funders and opportunities.