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Penn Libraries News

Supporting the Environmental Innovations Initiative with Database Searching Strategies

With the help of library staff, this University initiative is now able to track how faculty research aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Manuel de la Cruz Gutierrez stands in front of a projected image featuring a colorful grid of the UN sustainability goals. Each goal is represented by a colored square with the name of a goal and an illustrative icon. Legible goals include: an orange square that says “Gender Equality,” a pink square that says “Reduce Inequalities,” and a yellow square that says “Sustainability and Communities.”

Recognizing the enormous challenges the earth currently faces and will face in the future, in 2020 the University of Pennsylvania launched the Environmental Innovations Initiative (EII). The initiative’s mission is to leverage Penn’s scholarship to meaningfully address the considerable environmental challenges humanity is confronting by facilitating innovative research, helping to recruit and retain exceptional faculty members, and developing educational programs. The initiative includes an Internal Advisory Committee, a cross section of Penn leaders who advise in the planning and execution of the strategic direction – among them, Brigitte Weinsteiger, the Penn Libraries’ Gershwind & Bennett Family Senior Associate Vice Provost for Collections and Scholarly Communications. It was through this connection that I became involved in supporting the initiative. 

When Barbara Cavanaugh, former Associate University Librarian for Research Services & Director of Science and Business Libraries, told me about the initiative, I was immediately interested in exploring how I could become involved. Looking at the initiative’s Data-Informed Programs page, I noticed that EII staff were putting together a faculty database tracking how Penn’s faculty member’s research aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 goals provide a framework for tackling climate change and improving health and well-being, with specific and detailed definitions of global sustainability priorities. Up until that point, the EII team had been employing students to curate this faculty database through a process that was thorough but very time consuming. I wondered whether the Penn Libraries could help them make this effort more automated and complement some of the work they had already accomplished. With Weinsteinger’s help, I got the chance to communicate with Melissa Brown Goodall, EII’s Senior Director. She liked the idea of working with the Libraries and added that her unit had already been considering connecting with us about this and other data-related topics. She, in turn, connected me with Ximena Trujillo, EII’s Research Coordinator, to discuss how the Penn Libraries could support the faculty database. Out of this discussion, Jessica Atkins, an intern I supervise on an unrelated joint project with Penn Medicine that deals with the impact faculty publications have on scholarship, healthcare policy, and beyond, also joined the team.  

After some initial conversations, Trujillo and Atkins defined the scope of the initial project: use a database of publications called Dimensions Analytics to understand the extent to which the research of Penn faculty lines up with the United Nations SDGs. Licensed by Penn Medicine, this database allows users to search for publications by Penn authors and map those publications to particular SDGs. In addition, we can use Altmetric Explorer, a sister product to Dimensions, to find out how much online attention these publications receive. This product is also licensed by Penn Medicine, and accessible only to Penn Medicine users. (Those who are not affiliated with Penn Medicine can access a free version with less robust search capabilities.) We thought the potential for Altmetric to tell Trujillo’s team how frequently papers published at Penn are mentioned online, in the news, in patents, or in policy documents could potentially be beneficial in the future of EII’s work. All in all, we were able to provide Trujillo listings with all the Penn faculty members that had published research relevant to each of the 17 SDGs: how many articles each faculty had published, and how many times those articles had each been cited by others. This data has now been incorporated in the current EII Faculty Database webpage

In the future, we hope to continue working with EII on updates to the data we provided and other work they are interested in pursuing. We see potential in helping them refine their datasets by adding specific keywords for search functionality to be added to their webpage. Also, EII staff are interested in expanding the categories on their database to include concepts that are not directly reflected in the SDGs, like mining, deforestation, and agriculture, among others. Finally, we are also starting a collaboration to prepare reports on climate research at Penn for several stakeholders. 

All in all, it has been a great experience partnering with the EII Staff. Penn has much to offer to the world in advancing sustainable practices through its people’s research, teaching, and clinical endeavors. Helping to link EII staff with resources to contribute to their mission in something so important for the future of us all has been deeply meaningful to me. 



July 7, 2023