What kinds of experts are important to Faculty?

In an earlier post about our recent survey of Stanford faculty, I wrote about the kinds of scholarly materials faculty rated as Important or Very Important to their research. In the same survey, we asked faculty “How important is support from the following kinds of experts for your research?”; followed by a list of 5 different kinds of experts. In general, it is the Humanists and the Social Scientists who are most likely to say support from various kinds of experts is important to their research. The Humanists are most likely to say “Staff with both technical and scholarly expertise” and “Reference or Research Librarians” are important; while Social Scientists are most interested in support from experts in emerging areas of library services–such as programming, GIS and statistical analysis, and metadata support. Specific results summarized below:

  • Overall, 64% of faculty rated “Staff with both technical and scholarly expertise” as Important or Very Important. There were big disciplinary differences, however, with 81% of Humanities & Arts faculty rating the combination of scholarly and technical expertise as Important or Very Important, compared to only 58% of Social Science faculty and 46% of Science & Engineering faculty.
  • “Reference or Research Librarians” are likewise Important or Very Important to a much higher percentage (81%) of Humanities & Arts faculty than to Social Science (56%) or Science & Engineering (35%) faculty.
  • Social Scientists are slightly more likely to say that “Programmers, Database Administrators, or Web Developers” are important to their research, with 55% of Social Science faculty rating such experts as Important or Very Important, compared to 45% of Humanities & Arts faculty and 41% of Science & Engineering faculty.
  • Social Scientists are also more likely, by a rather large margin, to say that “Statistical, GIS, or other kinds of methodology or software specialists” are Important or Very Important. Over half of the Social Science faculty (52%, to be exact) said such experts are important, while only 14% of Humanists and 27% of Science & Engineering faculty said so.
  • “Data managers, archivists, or metadata specialists” are also important to a higher percentage of Social Science faculty (46%), than Humanists (27%) or Science & Engineering faculty (21%).

My big take-aways are that we ought to be hiring or developing humanities and social science librarians with strong scholarly and technical expertise; which for the social scientists ought to include strong statistical and methodological training. Hmm … seems I may have said that before.

Statistical software consulting in Green Library at Stanford.

Statistical software consulting in Green Library at Stanford. Photo by Chris Bourg

3 Responses to “What kinds of experts are important to Faculty?”

  1. 1 Dorothea Salo February 26, 2013 at 9:47 am

    There’s an underlying assumption here that faculty know what they need, and also know the correlation (or lack thereof) between what they need and what we offer. And, um, are willing to humble themselves (in their own eyes) to come get what they need from us.

    I don’t want to say that these assumptions are always wrong, because that’s awfully paternalistic and a gross overgeneralization, but… it’s wrong often enough that I feel I need to ask the question, at least. Some of the stuff coming out of the Ithaka studies (historians and chemists so far) indicates a pretty sharp disconnect between what librarians are (and know and have and offer) and what faculty are prepared to come to librarians for.

    And I’m not ready to say that’s entirely our fault. No few libraries HAVE these people, but find that they are grossly underutilized.


    • 2 Chris Bourg February 26, 2013 at 10:22 am

      while not always true, I tend to believe that faculty know what they need … and that if we ask them what they need, we ought to take their responses seriously. That said, we absolutely have a disconnect between what they need (or think they need), and what they believe “the library” has to offer them. We tried to be careful in the survey, by adding a line in the intro text: “We are interested in the range of resources that are important to you, not just those you find at the Libraries.” But, of course, we got comments indicating that:
      a. There are resources and services faculty need, that we provide, that they don’t know we provide
      b. There are resources and services faculty need, but they don’t expect “the library” to provide. (Sample quotes: “Scholarly expertise is not something I especially look for in the library.” “I find that my own research skills are developed enough and specialized enough that I have not encountered a research librarian who could do anything I can’t already do on my own.” Ouch.)

      I’m not sure I care whose fault it is; but for Stanford Libraries specifically, we are going to try to figure out how to do a better job of getting the word out about the kinds of stuff we do that could support their research. I think a big part of the challenge is that we used to not have to worry about “getting credit”; so we just did our thing and if faculty didn’t know that we worked for the library, or that the GIS workshop their students attended was run by a librarian, who cared? But now that budgets are tight and we need faculty to advocate for the value of “the library”, so they need to know.


  1. 1 More faculty survey results, plus the survey instrument | Feral Librarian Trackback on March 1, 2013 at 9:57 am

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