Upskilling library staff: from zero to heroes

Steven Chang1, Rachel Salby2, Janice Chan3, Julie Toohey4, Susannah Bacon5

1La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia,

2La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia,

3Curtin University, Perth, Australia,

4Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia,

5Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), Canberra, Australia



Information professionals and library staff are taking on an increasingly central role in developing research data management services. This trend means institutions have an imperative to upskill staff and empower them to cultivate expertise in this area. The wider library and research data community have emphasized the need for librarians to develop solid research data management skills, as seen in the 2016 Ithaka S+R Library Survey 2016 [1], European Union’s RECODE: Open Access to Research Data [2], initiatives such as the ALIA Research Data specialization, and other literature.

Key skillsets include supporting researchers and institutions with data discovery, data citation, data storage, data formats, collaboration, research data management plans, DOIs, FAIR principles, copyright and intellectual property, sensitive data,  metadata management, data retention, open access, publishing and sharing data. It is vital that library staff with no prior research data management or research background can gain the knowledge to feel confident supporting and advising researchers on best practice.

A common challenge in upskilling staff comes from overcoming staff resistance and fear of new technology, according to the literature [3, 4, 5]. The experience from University of California, Berkeley, illustrated that, while many libraries have made concerted efforts to train staff in research data management, the success of these programs depends on how closely aligned staff feel with the training [6]. It is therefore important that training programs allow staff to feel comfortable with this new domain of skills and engage staff with hands-on experience that they can relate to their work.

In Australia, a variety of programs have been used, including the 23 Research Data Things developed by the Australian National Data Service (ANDS, now known as Australian Research Data Commons), Library Carpentry workshops, using a variety of mediums including online modules, face-to-face classes, and blended learning. La Trobe University has developed an extensive evidence-based upskilling model that goes beyond single training sessions and incorporates a series of hands-on training, living documentation, encouraging ambassadors and champions, and developing a participatory community of practice. These initiatives have encouraged librarians to become ambassadors, create communities of practice, and involve library voices in events such as ANDS webinars, Research Bazaar (ResBaz) events, and Research Support Community Days. We will discuss the outcomes of these programs for staff knowledge and confidence at this session.


1 hour ‘Birds of a Feather’ session focusing on informal discussion and reflection. The conveners will chair the session, which will also include four brief lightning talks.

Each lightning talk will provide an overview of the ways each institution has trained library staff in research data management and overcome barriers that prevent staff from embracing these new roles. Attendees are encouraged to informally share their own experiences and reflections. The focus will be on collectively sharing reflections on best practice. We also want to hear about a range of outcomes, including poor take-up of programs and key challenges faced. An assigned facilitator will take notes reviewing the main discussion points, and collate these to circulate after the conference is over.

This session is targeted at both library leadership and managers, as well as newcomers to data librarianship, plus any others who are interested in identifying the best approaches to learning and teaching research data management for support personnel.



  1. Wolff-Eisenberg, C. (2017). US Library Survey 2016. New York : Ithaka.
  1. RECODE Project Consortium. (2014).  RECODE: Policy Recommendations for Open Access to Research Data.Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. DOI: 5281/zenodo.50863
  1. Blessinger, K. & Hrycaj, P. (2013). Workplace Culture in Academic Libraries: The Early 21st Century.  Boston: Emerald Publishing.
  1. Matteson, M. & Hines, S. (2017). Emotion in the Library Workplace. Boston: Emerald Publishing.
  1. Edwards, McClean, & Cleave (2016, February 10th), “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” Exploring a state-wide ICT skills training project for Victorian public library staff, VALA2016, Melbourne. Melbourne: VALA.
  1. Wittenberg, J., Sackmann, A. & Jaffe, R. (2018). Situating Expertise in Practice: Domain-Based Data Management Training for Liaison Librarians. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44(3), 323-329.



Rachel Salby is Acting Senior Coordinator, Research Data at La Trobe University Library. She has particular expertise in research data management, project management, and library systems. She is a passionate advocate for improving researcher access to data and information.

Steven Chang is Research Data Outreach Officer at La Trobe University Library. He is interested in open scholarship, systematic review methodology, research data management, and health librarianship. Steven comes from a medical librarian background, and is the former editor of the publication Health Inform.

Janice Chan is Coordinator, Research Services at Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia. Janice’s experience is in repository management and scholarly communications. She is interested in open research, metrics and impact assessment, research data management, library-led publishing, data analysis and visualisation, and innovative practice in library service delivery.

Julie has worked in academic libraries for 23 years and is currently the Health Discipline Librarian at Griffith University, Gold Coast campus.  Julie is passionate about research data management practices and is in the process of publishing her first co-authored journal article. Throughout 2016, Julie co-facilitated the Australian National Data Services 23 Things (research data) Health and Medical Data Community Group webinar series and is a member of the Queensland University Libraries Office of Cooperation (QULOC) Research Support Working Party.

Susannah has worked for ANDS (now ARDC) since 2010 where she has been involved in community building, outreach and training, website content delivery, webinars and all aspects of communications. She was a key person in the delivery of the internationally renowned 23 (research data) Things program that was directed specifically at the librarians community, and is constantly ensuring that it remains relevant and up to date. She holds a Bachelors of Agricultural Science, a Grad Dip in land rehabilitation and a Masters in Social Research.

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