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Shaping our collective future

The OCLC/ALISE Library & Information Science Research Grant Program: 25+ years of cutting-edge library sciences research

Lynn Silipigni Connaway /

Every year, OCLC Research and the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) collaborate to offer the Library and Information Science Research Grant Program (LISRGP). The goal of the program is to promote independent research that helps librarians integrate new technologies and contributes to a better understanding of the information environment, including user expectations and behaviors. Since the call for proposals for 2014 grants is already out, we wanted to get some background on the program from Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Ph.D., OCLC Senior Research Scientist.

Andy Havens (NextSpace Managing Editor): The first LISRGP grant was awarded back in 1986. What has kept the program alive and successful for so many years?

Lynn Silipigni Connaway: Well, if you look back at the grants awarded in those first few years, you’ll find topics that have had real impact and resonance over the past three decades. Grants in the 80s funded research addressing automatic cataloging, name authorities, perceptions of bibliographic data, cluster-based searching, procedures for linking database references in online resources…the
list goes on.

AH: So this was “blue sky” research that then had real-world applications?

LSC: Oh, yes. If you go back and scan through the subjects of the research over 25+ years, it’s hard not to remember that some of these topics were, at that time, almost science fiction. Today, the topics are very familiar to us.

“We’re really trying to encourage and support research investigating how new technologies are being integrated into areas of library competence.”

AH: To what do you attribute the success of the program?

LSC: I think it’s partly because of our focus. We’re really trying to encourage and support research investigating how new technologies are being integrated into areas of library competence. So that presents opportunities to do some open-ended research, but with tools and services that libraries can actually use, or are already using.

AH: Has the program changed much since the early days?

LSC: From 1985 through 1987, OCLC funded 26 projects and provided OCLC dedicated terminals or OCLC M300 or M310 workstations, with minimal actual dollars for research. The biggest change was that starting in 1999, OCLC and ALISE decided to partner to expand and strengthen OCLC’s program. From 1988 to 2002, a maximum amount of $10,000 per project was available. After the ALISE partnership really got up and running, we’ve been able to fund three research projects annually, up to $15,000 per project.

AH: That’s “the what” of the program. How about “the who?”

LSC: A total of 120 projects have been funded since 1985 and the list of researchers who have received the grant funding really looks like a “who’s who” of library and information science. The names include Nicholas Belkin, Lois Mai Chan, Karen M. Drabenstott, F.W. Lancaster, Liz D. Liddy, Charles McClure, Gerard Salton, Debora Shaw, Ben Shneiderman, Linda Smith, Elaine Svenonius and Arlene Taylor. If you look at the list of researchers and projects funded on the grant’s Web page, I can almost guarantee you’ll find people you know or have heard speak.

AH: And for today’s research rock stars…what’s the process for application?

LSC: Researchers submit grant proposals to a competitive review process, following published guidelines. Projects need to be completed within a 12-month period. Grant recipients also are required to present an overview of their project at the ALISE annual meeting, and to submit a final report to OCLC.

“Results of the research have contributed to the design of user-centered services and to the development of bibliographic formats and standards.”

AH: Are there any conditions on who can apply?

LSC: Full-time academic faculty, or equivalent, in schools of library and information science are eligible. Proposals from faculty located in schools from any country are welcome and collaborative projects are encouraged.

AH: Any tips for people putting together applications?

LSC: We tend to give priority to research proposals related to the OCLC Research work agenda topics: Advancing the Research Mission, Mobilizing Unique Materials, Metadata Management, Infrastructure and Standards Support, System-wide Organization and User Behavior Studies & Synthesis. And many projects utilizing the data available through OCLC, such as the Dewey Decimal Classification, WorldCat MARC records and library holdings data have been funded.

AH: Have the topics changed much over the years?

LSC: While the topical categories have remained fairly stable, the specific questions explored and methodologies used have changed. For example, projects funded in recent years include traditional topics like machine translation, health information behaviors and reference competencies. But the approaches taken recently often involve some aspect of social media or the “social Web” more broadly construed.

AH: What kinds of results can you attribute to the research done?

LSC: That’s been very satisfying for us to see. The results of the research have contributed to the design of user-centered services and to the development of bibliographic formats and standards.

AH: Thanks, Lynn. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

LSC: I’d simply encourage anyone interested to learn more and apply. The deadline is September 15, 2013, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how researchers will continue to address the challenges and opportunities for libraries and archives.

A more detailed description of the grants program, including links to the current call for proposals and a list of all grants awarded, is at OCLC/ALISE Library & Information Science Research Grants.

About the Author

  • Lynn Connaway

    Lynn Connaway

    Lynn is Senior Research Scientist and leads the activities of OCLC Research in studying the behavior of library users to determine their perceptions and information usage habits of a variety of reference services.