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Transforming the role of academic libraries in multidisciplinary research

$750,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports project to strengthen scholarship by creating a new model for libraries in today’s research
March 30, 2017
The Taylor Family Digital Library at the University of Calgary. Photo by Dave Brown, Libraries and Cultural Resources

The Taylor Family Digital Library at the University of Calgary. Photo by Dave Brown, Libraries and Cultural Resources

The University of Calgary has received US$750,000 (C$1M) from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. With grant funds, the university library will play an enhanced role in faculty research by offering leading-edge technologies, collaboration spaces, and new designs in research services. The vision for this project includes developing a platform for supporting multidisciplinary research, enhancing campus-wide partnerships and a fundamental repositioning of the role of the library.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, based in New York City, previously supported two studies at the University of Calgary: Multidisciplinary Research Infrastructure: The Role of 21st Century Libraries and Media Reformatting and Digital Preservation Planning Project: The EMI Music Canada Archive at the University of Calgary.

There is broad recognition reflected in international research priorities that the societal and environmental challenges of this century require true multidisciplinary research. Such research requires effective teams supported by robust services, expertise and technologies.

“Academic libraries must continue to adapt to the ever-changing needs of scholars, who are conducting research much differently than they did even a few years ago,” explains Tom Hickerson, vice-provost, university librarian and principal investigator for this project.

In the fall of 2015, Hickerson led a planning study to discern the evolving needs of scholars from 15 different disciplines. Building on the findings of this study, the library identified six principal components of a multidisciplinary research platform: analytics and visualization, data curation and sharing, digitization, metadata services, expertise and training, and collaborative spaces.

“The needs of researchers have changed, and libraries must keep pace and facilitate these new approaches,” says Brian Moorman, associate dean (research and infrastructure) in the Faculty of Arts. “This is an exciting opportunity to create a new framework for interaction.”

To instantiate a research platform based directly on researcher needs, 40 per cent of the funding from this project will be devoted to competitive grants made available to University of Calgary scholars. Proposals chosen for funding will enable important multidisciplinary research and, simultaneously, shape the library’s capacity to support such research on an ongoing basis.

Provost Dru Marshall emphasizes the importance of the University of Calgary’s leadership role. “As one of Canada’s top research universities, we know that libraries are vital to the advancement of knowledge. This funding will allow us to demonstrate how academic libraries must evolve to support tomorrow’s researchers.”

Realizing effective support for this research will depend on a campus-wide constellation of expertise and technologies, the hub for which will be Lab NEXT, a newly created collaboration space on the third floor of the Taylor Family Digital Library.

According to Dr. Donald J. Waters, senior program officer at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, “Through rigorous teaching, research, and publication, the academy is responsible for a broad understanding of the human condition that contributes to the flourishing of society and culture. To continue to achieve that understanding, the academy must develop new scholarly infrastructure that incorporates digital content and tools. The University of Calgary promises to use this grant to develop, test, and implement key parts of the necessary infrastructure.”