OCLC Research Year in Review 2021

OCLC Research exists to produce knowledge, evidence, and models that can accelerate and expand library learning, innovation, and collaboration. Here, we offer highlights of our contributions to the field during 2021, with signals of what’s to come in the new year.

Collective Collection

New resource sharing tools and best practices

No single library can hold every item its users may need, so resource sharing networks are essential to expanding access to materials. OCLC Research’s SHARES working group has developed several free tools to help support best practices in resource sharing.

OCLC Interlibrary Loan (ILL) Cost Calculator

If library administrators and funders are to evaluate collection sharing services properly, they need access to current cost information, as well as benchmarks against which to measure their own library’s data. Launched in February 2021, the OCLC Interlibrary Loan Cost Calculator is a free, online tool that has the potential to act as a virtual real-time ILL cost study. Inspired by the outcomes of a SHARES working group and beta tested by SHARES members, the calculator already has more than 90 academic and public libraries registered globally and over 15 data sets uploaded. A recorded webinar gives a guided tour of what the tool does and how institutions and the library community can benefit.

Illustration: Calculator

Interlibrary Loan Best Practices

The proposed Principles and Protocols for Sharing Special Collections through Interlibrary Loan aims to support liberal lending policies that promote access, enrich research, and foster a collaborative environment between lending partner libraries. These resource sharing tools were developed by member institutions of SHARES, an international resource sharing consortium within the OCLC Research Library Partnership program that collaborates to share knowledge, expertise, and ideas as well as materials.

Impact to libraries

The OCLC ILL Cost Calculator is a free online tool to help libraries better understand the costs of sharing collections by enabling them to track relevant data at their institution and compare across peer institutions. The SHARES Principles and Protocols for Sharing Special Collections through Interlibrary Loan seeks to establish common expectations among resource sharing libraries while also allowing flexibility and customization within local workflows.

Data Science

Building a shared entity management infrastructure

OCLC Research has conducted over a decade of linked data research, publishing data to the web, testing workflows, and demonstrating the utility of metadata entities. In 2020, with financial support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, that research culminated in a commitment to build a persistent, shared, and centralized entity management infrastructure for library linked data work.

OCLC Research staff supported the planning, architecture, data identification, extraction, and transformation that took place to make this service a reality. OCLC has also collaborated closely with the library community throughout this initiative in consultation with advisory group member institutions.

When completed, this infrastructure will include easily accessible authoritative descriptions of works and persons, enhanced and managed by OCLC and the library community. Connections to other external vocabularies will place library collections in a broader context across the web.

The infrastructure will fulfill the demand for persistent URIs in OCLC’s linked data and create a “point of need” service for ID creation. It will also link library data to non-library data and local data to shared data in ways that traditional cataloging has never supported. The system will operate at scale and complement several other (transnational, national, regional, and institutional) library linked data initiatives such as the LD4P Grant, Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC), BIBFRAME implementation, IFLA LRM implementations such as the national Bibliographic Transition Program in France, and Wikidata community activities.

Illustration: Linked data

Our Project Partners

Impact to libraries

Support for this new infrastructure will benefit many library stakeholders:

  • Catalogers will pioneer new knowledge work that focuses on materials—abandoning local aggregation—and integrates “authority work” through more efficient “identity management.”
  • Special collections staff will reveal hidden collections, encourage the participation of their communities of practice, and surface materials for community experts to enrich.
  • Library administrators will discontinue legacy workflows, move knowledge work to the cloud, and embed the library in knowledge creation and community engagement.
  • End users will encounter context-enriched data, access language and script versatility, find their communities of practice, and discover new pathways of inquiry.

Libaries as Community Catalysts

Helping archives, libraries, and museums reopen during COVID-19

The REopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) project has distributed science-based information to libraries, archives, and museums on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, prevention and decontamination tactics, and COVID-19 vaccines as well as provided illustrative examples to aid institutions as they strive to mitigate COVID-19 exposure to staff and visitors. OCLC has partnered with The Institute of Museum and Library Services and Battelle to produce resources and research to support operational decision making during the COVID-19 pandemic for libraries, archives, and museums.

In 2021, REALM began exploring additional questions as vaccines have become available, SARS-CoV-2 variants are on the rise, and local guidelines and restrictions change. The project completed eight laboratory tests that studied the lifespan of the virus on materials that are prevalent in libraries, archives, and museums; synthesized emerging COVID-19 research findings; and produced toolkit resources for archives, libraries, and museums to help support institutions’ local decision making.

These resources have included drawing on perspectives from the field to learn from institutional leaders’ real-world experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and how they leveraged their institution’s core strengths and drew upon trusted partners to navigate the crisis. A survey of those who read or used REALM resources found that most determined these resources to be applicable to their institutions and a majority indicated that the COVID-related information provided by REALM was more relevant for institutions like theirs than the available CDC guidance.

Illustration: Librarian in mask helping patron

Impact to libraries

When REALM first began in 2020, little was known about COVID-19 virus transmission, how long the virus survives on various materials, how—or if—materials could be handled to mitigate transmission, and how institutional operations would have to adapt as the pandemic and local guidelines continued to change. Since then, REALM has been producing toolkit resources, sharing perspectives from peers in the field, and synthesizing science-based information specifically relevant to libraries, archives, and museums to help support institutions as we all continue to respond to an ever-shifting pandemic landscape.

Libaries as Community Catalysts

Reimagining bibliographic and archival description workflows

Description, subject analysis, classification, authority control, and cataloging practices are part of a powerful naming and labeling process in bibliographic and archival description. Collections’ metadata include outdated and racist terminology that cause harm and contributes to experiences, memories, and achievements of communities being mischaracterized or overlooked.

To address these harmful practices, OCLC was awarded a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Reimagine Descriptive Workflows by collaborating with a diverse group of experts, practitioners, and community members to determine ways to improve descriptive practices, tools, infrastructure, and workflows in libraries and archives.

Working in consultation with Shift Collective, OCLC hosted a conversation among community stakeholders who discussed how to address the systemic issues of bias and inequity within our current collection description infrastructure. The input from the convening and subsequent conversations with advisory group leaders was synthesized into a community agenda that provides two action pathways:

  • A guiding framework for making necessary, fundamental shifts both in organizational culture and individual mindset to enact transformative and sustainable change in the descriptive process.
  • Recommendations for operational changes that organizations can make to reimagine descriptive practices in their local and global contexts.
Illustration: Reimaging descriptive workflows

Our Project Partners

Impact to libraries

Reimagine Descriptive Workflows takes action against harmful metadata by formulating a community agenda that aims to:

  • Repair descriptive systems that do not fully reflect the communities that institutions serve
  • Align and connect disparate initiatives to optimize their impact
  • Improve the usefulness of library and archive systems for users
  • Identify priority areas and offer guidance to individuals and institutions committed to reparative and inclusive description work

Libaries as Community Catalysts

Improving access to civil legal justice through public libraries

Too many Americans fall into a wide and deep "justice gap" where the system fails to meet their civil legal needs. Common barriers include lack of trust in the legal system, the intimidating complexity of civil law, the high cost of attorneys, and the emotional intensity of personal crisis related to the legal issues. As a trusted community institution, public libraries are well positioned to help patrons with civil legal questions by providing an approachable access point to guide them to the help they need.

Improving Access to Civil Legal Justice Through Public Libraries provides training and resources to library staff to help close the justice gap in their communities by enhancing their reference skills to connect people in need of civil legal help to reliable information, resources, and services. Through OCLC’s partnership with Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and in consultation with law librarians, OCLC’s WebJunction developed:

  • Creating Pathways to Civil Legal Justice, an on-demand course series that helps public library staff strengthen their ability to identify civil legal issues and connect community members to relevant information and resources.
  • Eviction Resources for Libraries, a collection of resources to help library staff respond to specific questions related to eviction and housing insecurity, where timing is critical to prevention.
Illustration: Civil legal justice resoures in libraries

Impact to libraries

Key resources from Improving Access to Civil Legal Justice through Public Libraries to help library staff respond to civil legal questions:

Research Collections & Support

Tools for responsible collection building in archives and special collections

Archives and special collections in research and cultural heritage institutions hold their collections in trust for the public, but many struggle to manage the volume of materials under their care. Accumulations of inaccessible, poorly described collections and inadequately preserved materials can create a breach of the trust institutions hold with collection donors and users.

Developed by the OCLC Research Library Partnership’s (RLP) Collection Building and Operational Impacts Working Group, Total Cost of Stewardship offers a holistic approach to understanding the resources needed to responsibly acquire and steward archives and special collections.

The published collection includes:

  1. An OCLC Research report, Total Cost of Stewardship: Responsible Collection Building in Archives and Special Collections
  2. The Tool Suite, comprising of a set of communication tools, a set of cost estimation tools, and a user manual
  3. An annotated bibliography of related resources
Illustration: Covers of OCLC Total Cost of Stewardship collection

Impact to libraries

The Total Cost of Stewardship framework and tool suite connects collection development decisions with stewardship duties and provides tools to implement responsible collection building practices.

This collection of resources can help institutions make informed, shared collection building decisions; bring together collection management and collection development considerations; and support communication between colleagues in curatorial, administrative, and technical services roles.

Research Collections & Support

Collective curation and library collaboration to support researchers

Research data management (RDM) has an increasingly prominent place in scholarly communication, funder requirements, codes of conduct and strategy at academic institutions, and national and international policies. OCLC Research has responded to these developments with a program of work examining researchers' needs and the role of academic libraries in supporting researchers. OCLC’s latest efforts in this area include studies on collective curation and strategic library collaboration in RDM.

The Secret Life of Data—Collective Curation

The Secret Life of Data project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, studies the creation, management, and reuse of archaeological data. The project aims to improve the quality of information that archaeological excavation teams collect. Recent articles identify opportunities for collective curation during team-based research that focus on discussing, negotiating, and forming consensus about what data and documentation are important, given different research objectives and data practices:

With a primary focus on integrating people rather than technology, the actions that indivuduals take as data move through the life cycle become the focal point for change.

Illustration: Archaeological data

Library Collaboration in Research Data Management

Library Collaboration in RDM is a project that aims to help academic libraries make intentional, strategic choices about collaboration in RDM. It examines what “active, informed decision-making” means in the context of choosing collaboratively sourced RDM capacities. The findings will be published in a two-part research report series forthcoming in 2022.

Impact to libraries

This research on RDM illustrates the interconnectedness of needs and practices throughout the data life cycle and provides recommendations to improve data creation, management, curation, and reuse experiences. These studies and resulting outputs can help inform strategic decision-making in RDM, from individual researchers and research teams’ data planning, management, and curation practices to multi-institutional library planning and acquisition.

Research Collections & Support

Describing research information management in the United States

Research information management (RIM) is a rapidly growing area of investment in US research universities. While RIM practices are mature in Europe—with a community of practice led by euroCRIS—and other locales in support of nationalized reporting requirements, RIM practices at US research universities have taken a different—and characteristically decentralized—course. A complex environment characterized by multiple use cases, stakeholders, and systems has resulted.

To give context for institutional leaders to examine their local practices, the Research Information Management in the United States project published a two-part report that presents a thorough examination of RIM practices, goals, stakeholders, and system components at US research universities.

Part 1—Findings and Recommendations offers a summary of six discrete RIM use cases and proposes a RIM system framework and recommendations for RIM stakeholders. Part 2—Case Studies offers an in-depth narrative of the RIM practices at five US research institutions.

Illustration: Research information management reports

Impact to libraries

This project offers recommendations for university leaders and introduces a unified definition and framework of research information management that embraces the disparate and siloed uses prevalent in the US. These elements are necessary to develop a cross-functional, collaborative, and vendor-agnostic community of RIM practice in the US.

User Research

Understanding students’ online information choices

In today’s digital world, where students are overloaded with information, determining the purpose and quality of online resources is essential. A quick web search retrieves resources in formats ranging from articles and blog posts to sponsored content and videos. In a digital environment, students lose the contextual information that physical formats provide, which can make evaluating the resources more challenging.

The Researching Students’ Information Choices research project has used task-based simulation to discover how students (4th grade through graduate school) identify, choose, and evaluate online resources for a school assignment and the role of format in that evaluation. OCLC research is partnering with the University of Florida and Rutgers University in these efforts.

The project team published “Backgrounds and behaviors: Which students successfully identify online resources in the face of container collapse,” which describes students’ variable ability to identify whether a resource is from a book, magazine, journal, or website, and how this ability is affected by their demographic traits, the resource features they attended to, and their behaviors during the simulation. The results indicate that correct identification of a resource’s “container” requires deep engagement with the resource.

Illustration: College student on laptop with possible information containers

A webinar hosted by WebJunction describes the different genres, containers, and file types studied in the project, highlights the research findings, and offers practical applications for libraries of all types for helping students better understand their own information needs, find relevant content, and evaluate online information.

Impact to libraries

By studying how students identify, choose, and evaluate resources in digital spaces, the Researching Students’ Information Choices team aims to better meet students’ information needs by developing meaningful strategies in teaching information literacy skills necessary to successfully navigate the ever-evolving online information landscape.

User Research

Building a US archival finding aid network

With funding from the US Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), OCLC is working with project lead California Digital Library, the University of Virginia, and statewide/regional aggregators to build the foundation for a National Archival Finding Aid Network that will improve visibility of and access to archival materials stewarded by cultural institutions in the United States. OCLC is leading the qualitative and quantitative research for this two-year research and demonstration project.

The project is conducting work in parallel across multiple focus areas, including:

  • Investigations of user and contributor needs in relation to finding aid aggregations
  • Evaluation of the quality of existing finding aid metadata
  • Technical assessments of potential systems to support network functions, and formulating system requirements for a minimum viable product instantiation of the network
  • Efforts to support community building, sustainability planning, and governance modeling as this work moves from a project to a program, post-2022
Illustration: National finding aid

Impact to libraries

Building a National Archival Finding Aid Network addresses the significant challenges individuals face in locating relevant archival materials across the widespread, complex field of US cultural heritage institutions. Digital aggregations of finding aids (descriptions of archival collections) face funding and sustainability barriers, making much of the stewarded archival content in the United States siloed and invisible from users.

This project aims to provide inclusive and consistent access to finding aids by establishing a foundation for a National Finding Aid Network available to all contributors and researchers.

Library ORGANIZATION

Collective library action toward UN Sustainable Development Goals

In an OCLC Next blog post on the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Global Council Delegate Lorely Ambriz (Head Librarian/Assistant Professor, El Paso Community College) writes, “Libraries are logical partners for local economic and sustainable development initiatives, particularly those that focus on people and quality of life,” because library staff “already play a vital role in establishing these kinds of partnerships to ensure access to information and knowledge, which are vital to ensuring sustainable societies.”

OCLC’s Global Council partnered with OCLC Research to survey libraries worldwide on their current and potential contributions toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Data from 1,722 respondents representing 16 countries in the Americas; 63 countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; and 20 Countries from the Asia Pacific region provided a global insight on libraries and SDGs, which was published in a September 2021 bulletin.

Global Council hosted a series of five webinars to create awareness and dialogue among library leaders around the globe on the SDGs. Nearly 3,300 people registered for the webinars with more than 1,500 individuals attending the live sessions.

Illustration: UN Sustainable Development Goals

Impact to libraries

Libraries can bring unique strengths and collective muscle to global sustainability challenges. The Global Council focused on five goals as areas libraries can impact the most:

  • Quality education (SDG #4)
  • Decent work and economic growth (SDG #8)
  • Reduced inequalities (SDG #10)
  • Peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG #16)
  • Partnerships for the goals (SDG #17)

The outcomes of this research provide insight on how libraries are using the SDGs to impact their communities and how libraries compare regionally in their use and awareness of SDGs to support and inspire strategic planning.

Library ORGANIZATION

New Model Library: Pandemic Effects and Library Directions

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted libraries of all types around the world, requiring library leaders to strategically adapt to rapidly shifting community and institutional needs. In October 2021, Lorcan Dempsey, Vice President, Membership and Research, OCLC presented on the pandemic effects and implications for library collective collections, including accelerating demand to move more library services online.

OCLC Research also produced New Model Library: Pandemic Effects and Library Directions, a briefing based on interviews with 29 academic and public library leaders from 11 countries that captured their experiences during the pandemic and their emerging vision for the future of their libraries. We describe these transformations—how leaders strategically adapted to meet evolving needs and expectations—as movements toward a New Model Library.

This high-level briefing synthesizes findings and recommendations within the context of work experiences, collections experiences, and engagement experiences. And within each of these contexts, it identifies New Model Library transformations occurring through four areas of impact:

  • Agility—Taking quick and innovative action in response to changing circumstances and expectations
  • Collaboration—Working with stakeholders to lead change within libraries, institutions, and communities
  • Virtualization—Expanding online library experiences for staff and the community
  • Space—Finding new ways to engage within the physical library

This collective view provides context and guidance as library leaders and their staff navigate their own transformations toward a New Model Library.

Illustration: New Model Library report

Impact to libraries

The New Model Library findings point to common ground that library leaders and staff can navigate with peers and their community to identify new ideas and directions for their institution. The ideas shared by library leaders in this project can be used as topics for discussion when imagining a new model library and planning for what comes next.

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