Access to Research Information Using Integrated Technologies

By Krause, Susan M. | SRA Journal, Spring 1994 | Go to article overview

Access to Research Information Using Integrated Technologies


Krause, Susan M., SRA Journal


Setting

The model was designed for Baylor College of Medicine, a private, free standing medical school with research expenditures exceeding $160 million per year. Over 1,200 Baylor College of Medicine full-time faculty are located throughout the Texas Medical Center, the largest academic medical center in the world. Research administrative services are provided by the Office of Research's staff of 14 full-time equivalents (FTEs), which includes a support staff of 4. After a six-month trial, the Office of Research found that this model had saved the time equivalent of 1.5 FTEs; administrative support had increased 38%. This personnel savings has allowed the OfFice of Research to engage in more personalized services and activities in the area of locating sources of research funding.

Challenges

We identified five challenges that prompted the development of this model:

1. Around-the-clock access 2. A variety of access methods 3. Ease of access 4. Characteristics of the research environment 5. Synthesis of information

In a perfect world, an Office of Research (OOR) would be open 24 hours a day, staffed sufficiently to provide personalized service for each researcher. Obviously, the financial challenges of today's environment do not allow institutions this luxury; hence, the first challenge in our list.

The second challenge for research administrators is to provide a variety of means of accessing information (voice mail, E-mail, fax, etc.). For example, institutions may have a wide-band-area computer information network, which provides access to some or all of the information a researcher might need. However, access may not be readily available to an individual department or researcher due to budget constraints or technology in-compatibilities. Computer network subscribers may even have access limitations. For example, not all subscribers access their information network from their homes and laboratories in addition to their offices.

The third challenge is accessibility. While most of the information may be available through either the institution's local network, the Internet, or on paper, the information is not organized in a manner specifically designed to aid retrieval. Access may often require assistance from an Office of Research employee, thus adding a barrier and unnecessary time to the process of getting to the information.

The general nature of the research environment provides the fourth challenge. Many researchers have some or all of the following characteristics:

* Independent/autonomous/multifocused

* Too much to do and not enough time in which to do it

* Driven by deadlines; usually respond at the last minute, due to other demands on their time

* Often very limited in or totally lacking support staff

* Focused on specific interests, which require detailed information screening and filtering

* In need of prompt, 24-hour access to information

* Operating from multiple locations within the institution

The fifth challenge is the ability to synthesize diverse information from many sources and different media into a concise and usable format for faculty. Appendix A lists examples of information required by faculty. Most, but not all, of the information is available electronically, but retrieval is difficult due to inconsistency of format, search engines, software, and so on, among sources.

To provide quality service to researchers, information services must take these characteristics into account.

Integrating Technologies for Information Distribution

The following model, integrating cellular phones, voice mail, fax publishing and distribution, Gopher, and E-mail, was devised to allow researchers to retrieve research information around the clock via the access method that meets their preferences and the avenues available to them.

* E-mail is probably the most familiar component of the model and uses the personal computer (PC) as an access tool. …

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