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What are researchers looking for in corporate and academic library services?

By Oliver Renn, Head of the Chemistry | Biology | Pharmacy Information Center, Dept. of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences, ETH Zürich | Apr 16, 2014

Expectations for library support

This article is based on Oliver Renn’s Library Connect webinar presentation Compare and contrast: The evolution of academic and corporate library services.

Where have all the corporate “libraries” gone?

What expectations do researchers have for library support in a corporate setting? The answer is very simple: There are no expectations. Libraries no longer exist in the corporate space, at least if you consider libraries a place where books and printed material are acquired, catalogued and shelved. 

Where have all these libraries gone? They still exist, but they have new roles, and subsequently, new names — like the library of Novo Nordisk, which was one of the last to change when it was renamed “glia” for global information & analysis.

Figure 1: Expectations for library support


12 core elements of an ideal corporate information center

In industry, the lower part of the information and knowledge mountain is highly outsourced and automated. Companies want to keep the number of full-time equivalents in information services to a minimum.  Therefore, it becomes critical to define and prioritize areas of service. In a recent paper in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery entitled “Blueprint of an Ideal Corporate Information Center,” I and my co-authors outlined the 12 core elements of an ideal corporate information center.(1)

Information Access

1. Information Acquisition & Vendor Relations 

2. Information & Library Services 

3. Community Management 

Information Research

4. Awareness & Training

5. Information Consulting 

6. Information Retrieval & Analysis 

7. News Intelligence 

8. Text Analytics 

9. Knowledge Discovery 

Information Technology

10. IT & Informatics 

11. Technical Information Management 

Knowledge Management

12. Knowledge Management Services

Information Access covers the known library, while Community Management is another term for advertising and marketing services and dealing with the stakeholders and funding bodies.

Information Research includes the function of increasing awareness and training, which I fervently believe is the most important element. Via Information Consulting, information professionals are ideally embedded within research projects as integral parts of the research team. In this manner, they can enhance research via a more expert level of Information Retrieval & Analysis.

News Intelligence (or Competitive Intelligence) is essential. Every company needs to know what their competitors are doing or what is going on in their research area. The corporate information center also needs to provide Text Analytics (Text Mining) platforms and services for both journal, including databases, and web content. Scientists need to find patterns in data, and also mine external and internal data simultaneously using workflow tools and customized taxonomies and ontologies.

With the rise in importance of translational research, sophisticated IT services to link data and information are essential. An information center must have state-of-the-art development capabilities to create custom searches, tools and databases. 

Last but not least, there’s a need for knowledge management services to organize company knowledge and make it accessible via tools like SharePoint and electronic lab notebooks. 

Meanwhile, within academia …

The corporate researcher expects automated transport to the top of the mountain, while within academia researchers are more accustomed to finding their own paths. The academic researcher tends to focus more on the generation of knowledge rather than discovery like researchers in a corporate setting. Therefore, there’s a natural stop at a certain information management level. And, of course, academia also has other mountains to climb such as teaching.

So, how does this translate into services provided by the academic library? I believe that most of the 12 core services are needed also in academia. News Intelligence may not be needed, but benchmarking among universities is gaining importance, along with the need for text mining. 

Library services in academia will also include:

the library as place — for study, relaxation and collaboration

communicating research — including altmetrics and open access publishing support

teaching — educating students on how to retrieve and manage knowledge

Librarian skill sets

From the description of the 12 core elements, it is obvious that librarians need to have not only knowledge of information management, but also the disciplines they support. To talk about workflow solutions to a chemist, you need to be a chemist. To talk to a biologist, you need to be a biologist. Librarians without these backgrounds will want to think about the best ways to become more fluent in the disciplines they support such as attending conferences or taking courses.
And librarians today must have information technology skills. Ideally, all of these elements will combine in one person with a mixed skill set. But this is still not enough. Finally, you need to be able to communicate and make researchers excited about the possibilities of today’s information and knowledge management solutions.


At ETH Zürich we have instituted programs to engage with students and researchers, in addition to regular information literacy instruction. For example, last year we began a series “coffee lectures”: 10-minute talks on tools, databases and services, accompanied by free coffee. To advertise the service, we produced a funny, 50-second video clip that can be found on YouTube.

We publish Infozine, an internal newsletter that introduces users to the many possibilities of today’s information management tools and services in an entertaining style. We also developed a new website, available in a version for mobile devices, where the catalog is no longer the entry point. Instead, we instituted a more intuitive approach where users narrow down to the right database or tool by selecting their research area and their research questions. 
Constantly learning

A library or information center must constantly evaluate and update tools, services, information solutions and databases. At the ETH Zürich Chemistry | Biology | Pharmacy Information Center, we use WordPress blog software as an internal content management system to stay tuned to new developments. We monitor listservs, news groups, and other venues for sharing, and place everything that looks interesting into the mix for future investigation.

Having worked in both industry and academia, I can say that this constant learning and evolution are a part of the LIS professional’s world in both environments. 


1. Oliver Renn, Michael Archer, Carmen Burkhardt, Jeannette Ginestet, Henning, P. Nielsen, Joanna Woodward and the P-D-R Library Affairs & Copyright Group: A blueprint for an ideal corporate information centre. Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, published online 18 May 2012; doi:10.1038/nrd2973-c1. An extended, open-access version is available at P-D-R’s website: