MIT Libraries' Personal Content Management Team: How Our Unit Expanded to Support Users of Common Campus Tool Sets: Despite the Attempt to Rein in the Tools Included in the Team's Support Portfolio, Questions and Challenges of the Scope and Level of Tool Support Would Continue to Test the Group

By Cohn, Peter; Malinowski, Christine | Computers in Libraries, April 2017 | Go to article overview

MIT Libraries' Personal Content Management Team: How Our Unit Expanded to Support Users of Common Campus Tool Sets: Despite the Attempt to Rein in the Tools Included in the Team's Support Portfolio, Questions and Challenges of the Scope and Level of Tool Support Would Continue to Test the Group


Cohn, Peter, Malinowski, Christine, Computers in Libraries


Many academic libraries provide support in the use of citation management tools (e.g., Zotero, Mendeley, and EndNote), and the MIT Libraries is no exception. However, with researchers' increased adoption of digital scholarship approaches, the landscape of tools for which the community expects support is changing. Demands for collaborative writing, collective article annotation and sharing, and digital file organization require a new level of support.

The MIT Libraries is transforming our process for investigating and supporting tools, keeping up with emerging user needs and workflows, and adjusting our scope within the constraints of current resources. Here, we reflect on the evolution of the MIT Libraries' personal content management (PCM) team--the group responsible for supporting the community in this area--from its initial charge with citation management tools to its current iteration: grappling with a broadening scope and increasing spectrum of available tools.

The MIT Environment

The MIT Libraries supports teaching, learning, research, and innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a coeducational, privately endowed university that's organized into five schools (architecture and planning; engineering; humanities, arts, and social sciences; management; and science). There are approximately 1,000 faculty members and more than 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

Within the MIT Libraries, assistance is provided through a variety of structures. Subject liaisons work with discipline-specific communities to support their research needs and collaborate with other domain experts--such as the PCM team and those in data management services--to meet cross-disciplinary needs. The PCM team is situated within the data and specialized services department and includes subject liaisons and others with expertise in diverse areas such as geographic information systems, user experience (UX), and data management.

Initial Ad Hoc Support

The MIT Libraries' support of citation tools began when the field of available and adopted tools was narrower. EndNote, Reference Manager, and ProCite were the main tools in the field, and EndNote was the predominant tool in use at MIT. The libraries seemed to be a natural fit for instruction and support in this area. Citation management is a key component of the research process, and these tools work with the research databases the libraries support.

In the beginning, our support model was fairly loose. There were a few staff members who knew how to use EndNote, and we simply began to offer classes during MIT's January independent activities period--a time when members of the MIT community offer a wide range of workshops. Our EndNote workshops were very well-attended. As the libraries expanded their workshop offerings to other times of the year, EndNote was included in this extended instruction portfolio.

Unlike more recently developed tools, EndNote was fairly complex to master. We provided one-on-one troubleshooting assistance, specifically around issues of connectivity to library databases. Users had no formal path for submitting help requests regarding EndNote. If they had questions, they found their way to one of the library experts--either by going to them directly after making contact in classes or by referral from liaison librarians. For more complex support, we referred users directly to EndNote technical support.

Even as we supported EndNote, we hoped for other tools that would be a good fit for the MIT community. While EndNote had a growing userbase at MIT, there was a desire for a more web-based, sitewide solution that was not cost-prohibitive. In 2005, RefWorks, a web-based product, launched. That same year, MIT Libraries purchased a campuswide subscription to RefWorks, ramping up our work in this area. The libraries not only took on publicizing the availability of this tool, but library staffers were trained to help support its use, and, subsequently, a small group of citation management experts was cultivated. …

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