Sunday, 27 April 2014

Should library and information professionals be researchers?

Short answer: yes.

Slightly longer answer: yes, because research will help us learn more to do our jobs better, and improve our services, by basing decisions on evidence. I work in an academic library, and am constantly advising and assisting students to back up their ideas with evidence - so I feel like I should put my money where my mouth is. And as a bonus, conducting research gives me a very useful insight into the needs of the researchers I support as part of my 'day job'.

Doing research also helps demonstrate our value as a profession to the wider community, as Jonathan Eldredge explains in his article about revitalising the profession through Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (EBLIP):

"The EBLIP process enables library and information practitioners to enhance their professional status by displaying a value in serving users and larger society, expertise in the subjects related to decisions made, and critical appraisal of the best evidence available for making these transparent decisions. EBLIP thereby offers our profession an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate our expertise and value to society." (Eldredge 2014)

Why is it so hard?

Short answer: time.

Slightly longer answer: finding the time is a key problem according to Jane Secker. Research is often not seen (or supported) as a 'core' part of our jobs, so it can become just 'one more thing' for busy library and information professionals to do.

How can I get started?

Short answer: if you're in Sydney, go to the ALIA LARK group meetup this Thursday 1 May, to kickstart your library research project.
Slightly longer answer: Jane Secker and Emma Coonan have provided some tips for doing research and fitting it in with the 'day job', as outlined on Emma's blog:

  1. Find your thinking space (hint: this may involve coffee/fresh air). Where’s yours?
  2. Modify your attitude to time – your research may well become your hobby! When’s your best thinking time?
  3. Build a partnership: working with someone else is highly motivating, boosts your confidence, and means you can divide up the work. Who could you buddy up with?
  4. Look out for funding opportunities: keep an eye on networks, JISCmail lists, and other resources and contacts. Where might you start looking?
  5. Find your niche. What do you do that no-one else is doing? What do you love about your research field?
  6. Develop your online identity, for greater recognition and to take part in a wider conversation. What platform(s) will you use to do this?
  7. Present your ideas early: share and develop your existing resources, slides or ideas. You can present your work through so many different channels: blogs, Twitter, Slideshare, Mendeley, JORUM … What platform(s) will you use to do this?
  8. Think about whether you want ‘academic’ publication in addition to the channels you’re already using to publish your ideas (see point 7). If you do: listen to your students’ questions and conversations about how to present their work and where to publish. Learning from them not only helps us offer better support, it will also make us better researchers.
So, what are you waiting for?

Now is a particularly good time for Australian-based LIS people to get started on those research ideas we've been thinking about, with ALIA Information Online's call for proposals now open. What better opportunity to answer a question about our practice and share it with others in the profession?

What do you think about librarians also being researchers? Please share your comments below.

-Amy Croft

ALIA Sydney Co-Convenor

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