Request for input: the missing narrative of libraries in research software engineering


Last week I received an email from a friend inviting me to submit a video to a panel 'Missing narratives around diversity and inclusion in Research Software Engineering' hosted as part of SeptembRSE 2021, the goals of which are:

  1. help create inclusive communities in RSE by centring on intersectional voices
  2. increase awareness of power imbalances that negatively impact multiple marginalised groups in research
  3. provide a call-to-action for diversity and inclusion

Obviously I'm always flattered to be asked my opinion, but I wasn't sure what a straight, cisgender, middle-class white man could offer to an event on diversity, so I had a chat with one of the organisers. We agreed that issues of race, gender, sexuality, disability and many more would be well covered by other speakers, and that I would focus on another narrative also frequently missing in discussions of Research Software Engineering (RSE): librarians.

Librarians are a diverse bunch, but we generally have some or more of the following skills, highly valuable to RSE: information management, metadata, digital preservation, teaching/training, communicating across disciplinary boundaries.

Now, I have my own views on this, but this is not my narrative alone, so I would be very grateful for your perspective, dear reader.

Some things that I've thought of so far:

  • Librarianship is still perceived as a feminine profession, with all the expectations of quiet uncomplaining service that go along with that; this was neatly captured by the wonderful Fobazi Ettarh (@Fobettarh) in the concept of Vocational Awe (see also Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves – In the Library with the Lead Pipe)
  • Because of that, we're often used only to provide transactional services, but that makes very limited use of our professional knowledge and experience: we're much more effective as collaborators
  • Librarianship itself is subject to many of the privileges and oppressions you might expect: while more gender-balanced (for example) than many professions, there are way too few librarians of colour, and it gets maler and whiter the closer you get to senior leadership
  • Some university libraries have gone down the route of employing RSEs themselves. I know that St Andrews did at one point but I'm not sure if that's still the case
  • The British Library certainly does employ RSEs, as well as collaborating with RSEs in the Alan Turing Institute, for projects like Living With Machines (though we're hardly typical in having active research projects within the Library compared with most academic libraries)
  • Some (many) dedicated RSE groups are actually really good at collaborating with library colleagues: I was always treated as a peer and collaborator by the RSE team at Sheffield, for example

Please let me know what other perspectives on this I'm missing, I don't want this to just be based on my own biased view. You can chime in via the usual methods: the comments below, via Twitter or Mastodon, via Matrix or by email if you know it. I'll put the video somewhere public when it's done, and try to credit anyone who contributes either in the video or in a followup post.


You can respond to this post, "Request for input: the missing narrative of libraries in research software engineering", by: liking, boosting or replying to a tweet or toot that mentions it; or sending a webmention from your own site to

Comments & reactions haven't loaded yet. You might have JavaScript disabled but that's cool 😎.


Powered by Cactus Comments 🌵