Review of ‘The No-nonsense Guide to Research Support and Scholarly Communication’ by Claire Sewell

SLA Europe are pleased to share the following book review for ‘The No-nonsense Guide to Research Support and Scholarly Communication‘, written by Claire Sewell and published by Facet Publishing. The book has been graciously reviewed by Carol Hollier.

About the book

This accessible and highly practical book provides an introductory guide to the world of research support in the academic library. The guide will be essential reading for academic librarians who have had research support duties added to their role with little or no formal training or those who have taken on a newly created role and are unsure of how best to use their existing skills or develop new ones suitable for a role in research support. The book will also be of interest to public librarians who may be dealing with supporting their own research communities and those who are considering taking on a career in this growing area but are unsure where to turn for guidance including students studying for postgraduate library qualifications and those who have undertaken qualifications in publishing.

Academic libraries have seen huge changes in recent years thanks to the increasing availability of information online but they are now undergoing another shift. As libraries move away from providing access to existing information and towards helping users create new knowledge there is an opportunity for them to develop new services for the research community. To do this successfully libraries need to have a knowledgeable workforce who are equipped to provide the support that researchers need. Information professionals are increasingly being asked to advise their users on issues such as open access and research data management but are often doing so with little or no formal preparation.

About the author

Claire Sewell is the Research Support Librarian for the Physical Sciences at Cambridge University Libraries. She is a qualified CILIP Chartered librarian, Conference Coordinator for the SLA Europe Board and Associate Editor of the New Review of Academic Librarianship. She regularly contributes to the professional press including book reviews, commissioned case studies and opinion pieces and peer reviewed scholarly articles.

About the reviewer

Carol Hollier has worked at IFIS Publishing in the UK since September 2019, where she is Senior Information Literacy and Outreach Manager.  Before joining IFIS, Carol worked as an academic librarian in a range of roles at The Ohio State University (USA), the University of Lincoln (UK), and the University of Nottingham (UK).  Her Masters in Library & Information Science is from Kent State University (USA).  She also holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education from the University of Lincoln and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.


In recent years, research support services in academic libraries have shifted from focusing on helping researchers find information to focusing on supporting researchers as they create and disseminate research outputs.  The No-Nonsense Guide to Research Support and Scholarly Communication is framed by that shift.  It examines what the new research support work looks like, what skills and knowledge are needed to land these jobs, and recommends strategies for acquiring the requisite skills and knowledge.   Throughout, Claire Sewell includes activities, testimonials, and self-assessment tools, making the book a very practical guide.

The book is designed to be dipped into as needed, but is also a cohesive cover to cover read.  Its first half demystifies scholarly communication.  It begins with “scholarly communications 101,” followed by chapters on research data management, open access, research dissemination, and metrics and measuring impact.  These chapters interweave explanatory information with tips for working in specific areas, noting what researchers might resist and opportunities for providing them valuable, and appreciated, support.   While occasionally a little more detail could be helpful (for instance, I was left wondering how, exactly, “librarians can be a crucial link between researchers and opportunities to peer review”), overall Sewell imparts lots of useful advice.  On research metrics, for example, she lays out concrete suggestions for supporting individual researchers and for getting involved in broadly advocating for the responsible use of metrics.

Next a career paths chapter looks at UK research support job roles, and the skills and qualities they require.  More than once Sewell suggests that personal attributes are more important than knowledge for successfully landing research support roles.  Of managerial roles, she writes, “skills required for these roles comprise being able to manage staff, manage projects and think strategically, whereas a knowledge of scholarly communications can be developed in post,” which strikes me as a dangerous assumption—strategic thinking requires a deep understanding of issues involved.  However, the book in itself is an argument against any notion that knowledge of scholarly communication is unimportant, and probably Sewell intends to reassure readers that they, too, can master and stay abreast of scholarly communication issues that might, at first, intimidate.

The final chapter proposes that librarians need not lose research support jobs to researchers because they can be researchers themselves; moreover, engaging in research will actually make them better in these roles.  While this chapter will be extremely helpful for novice researchers, both it and the careers chapter betray a tendency to generalize from the job situation in the UK to dispense advice that is not necessarily applicable to librarians working in the US, and perhaps not in other countries as well.

That said, overall the book provides readers with a solid, balanced overview of scholarly communication, along with resources, listed in the conclusion, for learning more and keeping up to date.  Sewell has produced an excellent resource not only for people working or wanting to work in research support, but for a far wider range of people in academic libraries who will benefit from knowing more about this key area that informs so much of what libraries, and universities, do.


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