By Jon Jeffryes
“Most people think of Experts@Minnesota as a website containing useful information about people and their research.” says Jan Fransen, Service Lead for Research Information Management Systems at the University of Minnesota Libraries.
It’s true. Experts@Minnesota showcases the expertise of University of Minnesota researchers. It also facilitates collaborations across disciplines and illustrates the impact of the University’s world-changing research and creative endeavors.
“But,” Fransen adds, “underneath that website is a rich data structure.”
Fransen and a team of librarians use that data to find novel solutions to streamline workflows and better communicate the University’s work to funding agencies, campus departments, and the public.
“People often come to us with an idea of what they want, but they don’t necessarily know about all the resources we have or what’s possible.” Fransen says. “Librarians are trained to ask a lot of questions, helping to match the sources and tools with what you need.”
The Water Council
The Water Council was founded to bring together the wide variety of University of Minnesota research on the topic of water. The Water Council aims to break down disciplinary silos and demonstrate the University’s work to the public.
The Water Council already knew about a lot of work related to water issues happening across campus, but wanted to create a comprehensive inventory.
“They also wanted to uncover work that was happening related to water topics that might have been unknown to members of the council,” explains Emily Goff, consultant tasked with supporting this work for the Water Council.
Goff reached out to Fransen to brainstorm a way to gather this information quickly.The Libraries leveraged Experts@Minnesota’s huge database of publications and collaborations to map a network of water researchers across the University. Then they expanded their search using keywords in Experts@Minnesota, ultimately creating a list of hundreds of researchers publishing on water issues that they could report to the Water Council.
“Jan was not only an expert on Experts@Minnesota but a creative thought partner in how the Libraries could deploy their resources to address the plan to map out water scholarship at the University of Minnesota.” Goff says. “The Libraries staff have a deep understanding of the capabilities of the tools and are creative in using it to find solutions and answer questions.“
Materials Research Science and Engineering Center
The Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) also wanted a reliable way to gather publications that its researchers generated. MRSEC, a National Science Foundation-funded research center, needed the information as a part of its reporting responsibilities, and also as a tool to understand and measure collaborations and progress.
“One of our major outputs to demonstrate how well we’ve been doing is publications,” explains Lisa Wissbaum, Managing Director of MRSEC.
Before teaming with Experts@Minnesota, managing publications was a manual process. MRSEC staff contacted researchers to gather information about published papers funded by the grant. Dealing with almost 2,500 publications since MRSEC started in 1999, Wissbaum had to work diligently to ensure publications were not missed or recorded more than once.
Wissbaum took that manual process to the Experts@Minnesota team to leverage its huge storehouse of data and reporting tools. The Libraries created a workflow and scripts that can automatically generate a list of publications. Now MRSEC staff complete their reports using tools and data provided by the Experts@Minnesota team.
“We’ve made real progress in improving efficiencies and in our ability to analyze the collaborations and work of our faculty,” Wissbaum adds. “The beauty is I don’t have to think about it anymore. I don’t have to think, ‘Was that already reported?’ Because I know immediately if it was.”
University Imaging Centers
The University Imaging Centers (UIC) also wanted to streamline a process to connect publications with grant awards to demonstrate the resulting value of funding core resources.
Alex Cramer, Operations Manager for UIC, needed to identify improved workflows to efficiently measure and demonstrate the impact of UIC instrumentation and expertise on research outputs. Meeting with the Experts@Minnesota team he found creative collaborators open to a variety of solutions.
“In any given month, University of Minnesota researchers who have used the UIC might publish a hundred or more journal articles.” Fransen says, “By automating the process of searching for articles that acknowledge UIC, Experts@Minnesota saves the time of UIC staff, while also helping them promote the kinds of research to which UIC contributes for future clients.”
The partnership had immediate results.
“The automated workflows implemented with Jan have greatly reduced the administrative burden in collecting publication data while providing us tools to identify collaborations and assess UIC impact on U of M research,” Cramer says, adding that publications and grant involvement continue to be key metrics when discussing core funding and future directions.
“We’re excited to continue collaborating with Experts@Minnesota to highlight research and publications being performed at our core.”
‘Illustrating the impact of the University’s research’
No matter the complexity of the request, the Experts@Minnesota team thrives on collaborating with researchers and labs.
“It’s gratifying to contribute in some small way to illustrating the impact of the University’s research for the people of Minnesota, researchers at other institutions, and funding bodies.” Fransen says.
“It doesn’t hurt that I also love finding ways to derive information from the metadata we have, and figuring out how to use the tools we have to save people’s time.”
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