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Research Networks and the Solo Librarian: Opportunities for Success


Rachel Keiko Stark, MS, AHIP
Health Sciences Librarian
California State University, Sacramento

Jenessa McElfresh, MLIS, AHIP
Systematic Review Service Coordinator, Senior Research & Learning Services Librarian
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center

(Editor’s note: This article is based on the authors' original work published in the Journal of Hospital Librarianship in March 2021 under the title: A Recipe for Success: Personal Research Network Development and Maintenance for Solo Medical Librarians.) 


Building a research portfolio can be a daunting task for both new and experienced solo health sciences librarians. Despite potential obstacles, the benefits of engaging in research are numerous and can lead to both job-related and professional gains for solo librarians, particularly when aided by a supportive network of research collaborators. In this column, the development of a research network is presented as a priority issue for the professional success of the solo librarian while actions are presented to aid the solo librarian in the development of their own network. 

Literature Review

The research on librarian personal research networks and co-author networks is relatively new in libraries, but available data indicates that forming a research network is an effective way to increase research output. Kennedy et al.’s (2017) paper, “The Evolution of the Personal Networks of Novice Librarian Researchers,” and related follow-up paper (2020) indicated that research productivity was correlated with research collaboration network density and that participants with densely connected networks of research colleagues who both know each other and do research had higher productivity.

Solo librarians represent a small but under-researched demographic of health sciences and medical librarianship, with solo librarians, defined as working alone or with a very small staff, found in hospitals, academic medical centers, clinics, corporations, government institutions at both the state and federal level, and many other types of institutions around the world (McLaughlin et al., 2018). One of the biggest challenges recorded in the survey of solo librarians conducted by McLaughlin et al. (2018) was the need to constantly prove one’s worth and provide evidence on what a librarian provides to the institution.                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Collaboration for published journal articles is essential for librarians, as articles with more than one author stand a greater chance of getting published (Bahr and Zemon, 2000). In the fields of chemistry, biology, and social sciences disciplines, as the number of collaborators on a paper increases, so does the research productivity of the authors over the course of their careers, in addition to the prestige of journals in which the collaborators publish (Bahr and Zemon, 2000). Librarians can expect that a similar pattern would emerge for librarian research and the authors encourage the development of research networks as a means of increasing productivity.  

Considerations for Research Network Formation and Sustainability

When building a research network, it is pivotal to start small and form collegial bonds within the group, then build up to more time-intensive publications. Diversity within the group is essential, with librarians from different backgrounds, different institutions, and different experiences all bringing their unique strengths to their collaborative work. Workloads and expectations should be agreed upon from the start of any project, with the understanding that different people can and should be able to take on varying parts of any project. 

Additional Considerations for Building a Research Network: 

  • Leverage the connections you already have - sometimes the best connections come vetted as a friend-of-a-friend.
  • Go to meetings on the local, regional, and national level to meet people and connect with potential collaborators. 
  • Have an idea about broad research topics of interest and prepare to discuss your ambitions with new connections.
  • When working with a group, devote the first meeting about any given research project to agreeing to the goals for the project.
  • Be generous with calendar invitations. Send invitations for future meetings as well as reminders of tasks to keep the project on the group’s radar.
  • While there is undoubtedly benefit in aiming to publish original research in a top-tier, peer-reviewed journal, the initial goal of a research partnership should be more focused. Before committing to a large research project together, test out the team with a smaller venture and then evaluate next steps.


Having a research network allows a solo librarian to draw on the strengths and backgrounds of the network to support ambitions and build on professional competencies and reputations. As institutional pressures increase to produce research that shows the value of libraries and librarian scholars, having a research network is one way to lessen the burden on a solo librarian while ensuring that all members of the group can meet their institution’s needs. There is a noted lack of research on the experiences of solo librarians that future solo librarian authors may address in their future publications and with the support of robust networks of fellow librarian researchers. 

Works Cited

Bahr, A. H., & Zemon, M. (2000). Collaborative authorship in the journal literature: Perspectives for academic librarians who wish to publish. College & Research Libraries, 61(5), 410-419.

Kennedy, M. R., Brancolini, K. R., & Kennedy, D. P. (2020). An exploratory study of accomplished librarian-researchers. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 15(1), 179-217.

Kennedy, M. R. and Brancolini, K. P.. "The Evolution of the Personal Networks of Novice Librarian Researchers." Portal: Libraries and the Academy, vol. 17 no. 1, 2017, p. 71-89. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/pla.2017.0005.

McLaughlin, L., Spencer, A., Zeblisky, K., Liszczynskyj, H., & Laera, E. (2018). Solo census: demographics, duties, needs and challenges. Journal of Hospital Librarianship, 18(2), 127-135.


Recommended Further Reading

Babl, F. E., Dalziel, S. R., & Borland, M. L. (2020). Establishing a research network. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 56(6), 857-863.

Bordons, M., Aparicio, J., González-Albo, B., & Díaz-Faes, A. A. (2015). The relationship between the research performance of scientists and their position in co-authorship networks in three fields. Journal of Informetrics, 9(1), 135-144.

Charing, S., & Gardiner, B. (2017). The push to publish: What is the impetus for Australian academic librarians? Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association, 66(4), 382-392.

Clapton, J. (2010). Library and information science practitioners writing for publication: Motivations, barriers and supports. Library and Information Research, 34(106), 7-21.

Finlay, S. C., Ni, C., Tsou, A., & Sugimoto, C. R. (2013). Publish or practice? An examination of librarians' contributions to research. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 13(4), 403-421.

Fox, D. (2009). The scholarship of Canadian research university librarians. Transformations in Scholarly Communication: A Practice Journal, 1(1).

Li, E. Y., Liao, C. H., & Yen, H. R. (2013). Co-authorship networks and research impact: A social capital perspective. Research Policy, 42(9), 1515-1530.

DCT Featured Article: January 11, 2022

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