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Understanding the Research Practices and Service Needs of Civil and Environmental Engineering Researchers – a Grounded Theory Approach

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Making an Impact: Building Support with Data and Design

Tagged Division

Engineering Libraries

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Paper Authors


Xiaoju "Julie" Chen Carnegie Mellon University Orcid 16x16

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Xiaoju "Julie" Chen is a Library Liaison at and a courtesy faculty in Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Chen received both her M.S. and Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from CMU. Her research interests are environmental life cycle assessment, uncertainty estimation, and data analysis.

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Jessica Benner Carnegie Mellon University Orcid 16x16

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Sarah Young Carnegie Mellon University Orcid 16x16


Matthew R. Marsteller Carnegie Mellon University Orcid 16x16

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Mr.Marsteller is Principal Librarian, Engineering & Science at Carnegie Mellon University. Prior to this position, he was Head of the Science Libraries at Carnegie Mellon University from 2006 through 2014. He has also served as the Physics and Math Librarian at Carnegie Mellon from 1999 through 2006. Earlier in his career, he served as the Library Team Leader for the National Energy Technology Laboratory Library in Morgantown, West Virginia and as an Assistant Science Librarian at the University of South Carolina. He also served in the United States Navy as a surface ship nuclear propulsion plant operator aboard the USS Mississippi. He is currently a United States representative on the Governing Council and the Executive Committee of the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3) and has served as Chair of the Science & Technology Section of the Association of College & Research Libraries of the American Library Association. He is also a current member of the Library Committee of the American Mathematical Society and the Library Advisory Board of the Science & Technical division of McGraw-Hill Education.

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Background Researchers from different disciplines have different behaviors and needs during the life cycle of their research. Understanding the behavior and needs related to a suite of research-related activities can help librarians develop a deeper knowledge about the subject fields in which their users are involved. It is important for subject librarians and information specialists to understand the research life cycle within the disciplines.

Purpose In this study, we aim to understand the research practices and needs of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) scholars. The research questions driving this project are “What are the research supports needed by CEE researchers during the whole research lifecycle?” and “What can academic libraries do to improve services to meet these needs?”

Method We used qualitative research methods with a grounded theory guided approach to address the problem. We recruited representative CEE researchers in our institution aiming to balance gender and years of experience in our sample. We ultimately interviewed nine out of 27 possible researchers. Recruited researchers participated in a 60-minute interview. The semi-structured interview protocol was designed by Ithaka S+R, a research institution with which we collaborated for this study. After transcribing the interviews, we conducted two rounds of analysis. First, each team member coded all interviews and generated open codes. Next, we discussed our codes and collated them into a set of four themes. Each team member then coded each interview for one of the four themes. After the two rounds of coding, we summarized the results and provided recommendations accordingly.


We identified four key themes regarding researchers’ practices and needs: collaboration and interactions, data-related practices, published information practices, and scholarly communication. From these key themes, we found many interesting facts and unique patterns. For example, most CEE researchers do not tend to share data unless required by journals or funding agencies. Occasionally they share raw data with other researchers upon one-on-one requests.


The study shows that collaboration is significantly important due to CEE’s interdisciplinary nature. The researchers work with colleagues, students, partners from industry, government and academia in all parts of their research cycle. The researchers use new technology and services to discover and access information for their research, and process this information with methodologies they develop. The outcomes of their research are mostly published in scholarly journals; other venues include conference proceedings and patents. Managing information throughout their research cycle can be challenging, especially when researchers are dealing with “big data”; however, most researchers are aware of the services available and are actively seeking better methods. With the results, we recommend our library focus on the following key points to address the needs of CEE researchers: 1) discover and develop tools to assist all types of activities through the research life cycle; 2) adopt new technologies to support innovative practices such as citation management; 3) improve the university data repository to meet increasing needs related to data practices and publishing; 4) provide sufficient educational and marketing material to increase awareness of the services provided by the library.

Chen, X. J., & Benner, J., & Young, S., & Marsteller, M. R. (2019, June), Understanding the Research Practices and Service Needs of Civil and Environmental Engineering Researchers – a Grounded Theory Approach Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33483

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