Conversation starters: innovation through engagement

Over the past year, librarians in the Research Services Department have taken an old-fashioned approach to innovation: one-on-one, face-to-face meetings over coffee with faculty and researchers to ask how the library can best support their work.

Director of Research Services Brianna Marshall first launched this initiative, called the Conversation Project, in winter quarter 2018, basing the idea on a similar project started by Martin Tsang, a University of Miami librarian. Research Services librarians plan to continue the project during next fiscal year, as well.

During the project, Marshall and her team discovered that researchers are often surprised by what the library is doing and the kinds of tools and support it can provide, such as guidance on research data management, scholarly publishing, geospatial resources, and emerging technologies like virtual reality and 3D printing.

So far, the librarians have gathered a wealth of suggestions about how they can improve library outreach, resources, and services. Marshall sees the Conversation Project as a starting point to enable the UCR Library to continue to assess – and evolve – its service-delivery model and content in order to meet researchers’ needs.

At times, contacting researchers who work in unfamiliar disciplines required stepping outside librarians’ comfort zones. “It was important to be able to reach out, remain open to learning about research workflows and needs that were new to us, and reflect as a group about how our conversations went,” Marshall said. “These discussions continue to help us understand a wider variety of researcher perspectives.”

“One takeaway that emerged was that researchers aren’t sure where to go to learn what research resources they have available to them on campus,” Marshall added. “That's a gap that the library can help bridge.”

The unexpected – and perhaps most valuable – outcome was the fortification of relationships between the librarians and the faculty and researchers who participated in the project.

“The proactive and open-ended engagement that the Conversation Project has produced between the librarians and faculty has been both exciting and empowering -- as well as serving as a measure to make sure we continue to support the areas and research that are most vital,” said Ann Frenkel, Deputy University Librarian.

If you would like to participate in the Conversation Project or if you have suggestions for the Research Services department, please contact Brianna Marshall.