Skip navigation
Graduate Matters

5 things your library can do for you (during and after the pandemic)

Learning what services and resources your university library provides can save you from research headaches down the road.


Libraries play an integral role in supporting graduate students throughout their programs. However, there is a wide range of library services and resources that are often overlooked and underutilized. With the advent of new technologies, the suite of services and resources that libraries offer has grown significantly. Take the COVID-19 pandemic as an example. Libraries across Canada responded swiftly by offering remote services, developing curbside pick-up for print collections and finding creative solutions for increasing access to materials locked behind closed library doors (see Hathitrust Emergency Temporary Access Service and the list of participating Canadian universities). To ensure that you are not missing out, here are five things your library (and librarians) can do for you that you may not have known were possible:

1. Literature searching & comprehensive reviews

From coursework to thesis research, you will need to conduct literature searches at some point in your graduate program. Searching effectively for relevant publications is more of an art than a science. Make an appointment with your librarian to learn the tips and tricks of how to structure your search in databases. Librarians have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to navigating the intricacies built within each database. This is even more crucial when it comes to knowledge synthesis projects such as systematic reviews or scoping reviews.

2. Guidance on where to publish & predatory publishers

Finding the right home to disseminate your research can be challenging. Is the “prestige” of the journal important or is publishing in an open access journal necessary to fulfill funding agency requirements? Early career scientists should take extra precautions not to fall victim to the growing problem of predatory publishers. According to a consensus definition:

“Predatory journals and publishers are entities that prioritize self-interest at the expense of scholarship and are characterized by false or misleading information, deviation from best editorial and publication practices, a lack of transparency, and/or the use of aggressive and indiscriminate solicitation practices.” (Grudniewicz et al.)

How can you find journal impact factors? Where can you locate open access journals of a particular discipline? How can you make sure a journal is not predatory? Which journals are more likely to publish your work? Librarians can help early career researchers with these types of questions. One sample tool is Elsevier’s JournalFinder. Copy and paste your article title and abstract into the form on the website. It will then return a list of journals that have previously published works that match the keywords in your title and abstract. This is one quick way to identify journals that are more likely to accept your manuscript based on what they’ve previously published. This particular tool is limited to only journals published by Elsevier.

You are not limited to publishing solely in open access journals to meet open access mandates from funding agencies. Many universities have institutional repositories, which are digital archives to store copies of the intellectual output of an institution. Depositing the preprints of your articles into an institutional repository would fulfill open access requirements.

3. Community engagement

Academic libraries have much more to offer than just books, computer stations and study carrels. There are opportunities for community engagement such as providing space for events (e.g., research days or departmental programming), displays (e.g., exhibits to showcase students’ work) and more! If there is space in the library that may support research or social events for your department or faculty, reach out to library staff to discuss the possibilities.

4. Makerspaces/digital scholarship centres

An increasing number of universities are offering dedicated space (better known as makerspaces, innovation labs, or digital scholarship centres) for collaborative work and learning how to use technologies, programming, digital tools/software (e.g., data visualization, geospatial work), 3D printing, and much more. Some universities even provide high performance computers to facilitate your research. More than 20 major postsecondary Canadian institutions have such facilities available.

5. Research data support

Throughout the research life cycle, you are bound to be collecting, storing, analyzing, manipulating, sharing and archiving research data. There are a number of resources and supports available to help you manage your research data. The tri-council recently released its Research Data Management Policy, which raises several important issues that will impact how you conduct research. For instance, some grant applications will require the submission of a data management plan by Spring 2022. A data management plan is like a blueprint of how you will be handling your data from start (e.g., data collection) to finish (e.g., research dissemination and archiving). To create a data management plan (DMP), there is no need to start from scratch! Use the DMP Assistant, a library supported website that offers DMP templates to walk you through the pertinent questions. There are built-in templates within the DMP Assistant for many Canadian institutions. Click here to see the complete list of institutional contacts.

Every academic institution is unique and there could be many other services available at your institution that were not mentioned here. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your library and learn about what is in store for you! Asking a few simple questions may save you hours of headaches down the road!

Janice Kung
Janice Kung is a medical librarian at the John W. Scott Health Sciences Library at the University of Alberta.
Post a comment
University Affairs moderates all comments according to the following guidelines. If approved, comments generally appear within one business day. We may republish particularly insightful remarks in our print edition or elsewhere.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Click to fill out a quick survey