Supporting Individual Researchers by Matt Holland

It’s been a while since I wrote about this topic (Holland 2006). See also a piece on the Clinical Librarians blog.  Now it’s rising up the agenda again as Paramedics and Allied Health Professionals working in Prehospital Care move from taking higher level qualifications (BSc., MSc. and PhD.) to producing and publishing research. It has changed the type of enquiries NWAS LKS receives, the level of support required for individual researchers and the work of the library meeting the needs of a growing research community.

Support for research is something that all health care libraries have to address at some level. It is of course an LQAF criteria, number 5.3i “Library/knowledge service staff support the research activities of the organisation[s] served.”  This piece looks at the difference having active researchers among your users makes to your Library. It’s based on experience from higher education and reflecting / observing ongoing changes in NWAS LKS.

#1 Research Life Cycle – now that’s handy

The research life cycle is a really useful idea. Research described as a series of phases, linked in a cycle. Look this up on Google and you will find many colourful diagrams of differing complexity of the research cycle.  It’s useful for researchers, but also useful for libraries and those planning support for researchers.

To keep it simple, and this is an interpretation that leans towards libraries: 1) Planning; 2) Gathering Evidence; 3) Conducting Research; 4) Publication; 5) Impact & Discovery; 6) Re-use. If you are planning services for researchers its not hard to identify which ones would address each stage. For example: 2) Gathering Evidence = Support for Advanced Searching Skills; Reference Management Software; 4) Publication = Advice on publication, 5) Impact & Discovery = Advice on Metrics and Impact Measures, Using Social Media. It’s not hard either to place researchers in relation to the research cycle to assess roughly what they need and what you have to offer.

#2 It’s personal

The thing about researchers, it’s personal. If you have been through years of programmed education and finally arrived at the point where you can do the piece of research that you choose to do then nothing else matters. This might apply also to those writing final dissertations or theses within degree programmes.  The generalised approach isn’t going to be well received. You need to meet researchers where they are and to refer everything back to the piece of research they are actually doing to make your advice relevant. Despite the web portal you have devised, the guides and advice pages you have written, one of the best things you can offer researchers is time and patience.

#3 Information for researchers

Information about, and for researchers, is a distinctive sub genre. There is a rich seam of information aimed at researchers that you can collate and deliver via a blog, Twitter stream or Yammer group. Topics include: research training, online courses, publication and publications, methodology, metrics, advanced searching, tools for research, resources for research and more. The extra effort can be worth it just to keep you learning and informed as well as your readers / subscribers. Also see the beta version of the NHS Research Information Twitter List.

#4 Tools for research

Researchers do need some tools. Front of the queue is access to Reference Management Software (RMS). Although this is basic stuff for librarians, if you are not a regular user you need to be up to speed on what is available. If you don’t provide access to a commercial product then some investment in learning the freemium products available or networking with host institutions if their research is part of a university programme. Conversations around this usually start with convincing researchers of the long term value of learning to use RMS, what products they have access to and how to get it. Second in the queue are the numerous web based social media and the various web tools to track and collate information. These can take some keeping up with but a great learning opportunity and a useful topic for guides.

#5 A different view of the library

Researchers have a different view of the library as a resource. They focus (in general) only on the topic of their research and they need to be exhaustive in their search of the literature. That has implications for the search tools they use and they type of searches they need to do (or have done for them).   NWAS LKS has tried to accommodate this with a refined view of the Library website for Researchers.  Truth is that researchers, depending on their experience and background, will need to be led into advanced search techniques, search construction, MeSH headings, citation searching, alerts, types of literature, alternate search engines, citation styles and much more.

#6 It’s a journey, not a one stop shop

The length of a research project and the learning curve for individual researchers means you go on a journey with researchers that parallels the research life cycle. Typically, you might spend a lot of time helping researchers to unpack and refine their subject at the beginning of the process, moving on to searching for methodological techniques and finally refreshing and updating the review of the literature at the end. On the way there are individual landmarks, for example poster and conference presentations. It helps to have some way to track researchers over time, though your enquiry tracking system if you have one.

#7 Overview and networking

In any organisation, large or small, researchers tend work in isolation from one another but maybe in the same general area or at a similar research stage. Although there are many channels formal / informal and visible / invisible the Library can be the only part of the organisation to see the full picture. There is a useful role for the library acting as a contact point, putting people in touch with one another and making connections for them. This can make a real impact if you are able to create a critical mass of researchers working at different levels (BSc., MSc. and above) on aspects of the same problem. Often peer to peer support gained from talking with colleagues is the most valued.


Holland, M., 2006. Serving Different Constituencies: Researchers. In: Subject Librarians: Engaging with the Teaching and Learning Environment. Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 131-147. Available from: [Accessed 04 February 2016]

Matt Holland, NWAS LKS, Librarian.


NWAS LKS is supported by HCLU

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