The Future of Social Science Research

The United States’ National Science Foundation (NSF), which is well known for funding major research in computational and physical sciences, is setting its sights on the role of “the social, behavioral, and economic sciences [to] face extraordinary opportunities to address next-generation research challenges.”  On August 10th, NSF issued a request for white papers that pose “grand challenge questions that are both foundational and transformative”.

As reported at the meeting of the American Sociological Association, a major emphasis in this future funding initiative is to foster and support interdisciplinary projects that link social sciences to other sciences as well as among the social sciences.

This move of the NSF complements the questions raised about social science librarianship in the IFLA Social Science Section’s recent volume on Social Science Libraries.  Interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarirty and a growing emphasis on the need for social knowledge to inform scientific research that ranges from climate change to genetically modified foods have been trends acknowledged by librarians and information professionals for years.

Research initiatives such as this pose challenges to social science libraries to support new directions in research while creating the opportunity to aid organizations such as NSF set new research agendas through work in identifying gaps in knowledge and practice within the disciplines.  I would be interested in reactions from the social science library community on how the social science disciplines (and their allied information/dissemination services) might meet this challenge.  Also, are other nations, foundations, or intergovernmental groups making similar overtures to the social sciences?

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About steve

Steve Witt, Associate Director of the Center for Global Studies, is a librarian with professional and research interests in transdisciplinary knowledge creation and dissemination. He recently edited the volume Social Science Libraries: Interdisciplinary Collection, Services, Networks (2010, Saur). Mr. Witt is an adjunct lecturer in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the International Federation of Library Associations' (IFLA) Professional Committee and member of IFLA's Governing Board.