Monday, August 7, 2017

Librarians Transitioning to Researchers, Writers, and other Academic Opportunities.

Having the opportunity to work with other librarians from different organisations is a great way to share ideas, gain insights and to reinforce your professional networks.  The Annual CONUL conference is a fantastic event to get together with other Academic Librarians and learn about what kinds of areas they have been involved in. This year we decided to build on the work  we had presented at the Library of Congress Submit of the Book Conference (with Helen Fallon, Maynooth University) in Nov. 2016 and present to colleagues our professional journeys in the research and writing areas.
Post CONUL conference there was follow up requests for all kinds of information and one in particular was a request to pull together highlights of the presentation for the Academic Librarian Blog. As each of us identified in our presentation, Helen Fallon and her support for all library staff moving into the writing space was the one common factor that inspired us and gave us confidence to endeavour into writing for academic publications; submitting our tips to readers of this blog seemed a natural route.

MaryDelaney’s tips & insights

Research to date
My interest in research was sparked initially from my work as a Subject Librarian in Maynooth University when I helped others to do research. In more recent years I spent and continue to spend a significant amount of time building a library service to enhance research practices. Helping someone to find the evidence to build their best argument is a critical skill that libraries and library staff bring to the table, in the complex world of digital and print information. We have a key role to play as curators and consumers of information. My own research initially focused on practice based research (writing about specific library issues such as opening hours for SCONUL FOCUS for example) and this evolved into an interest in exploring more theoretical based research.  This interest was sparked by a curiosity to explore if carrying out doctoral research would help me to empathise more with research students and staff by gaining an insight into the research journey which could further inform the development of library services.  Additionally I was interested in bringing Library & Information Science work outside of the field and situating it into the wider field of Education.
I signed up to undertake part time Doctoral Research with the University of Sheffield. My intention was to carry out research on the topic of “Information Literacy” but in the field of Education. My supervisor was not from a library background. One of his many areas of expertise is literacy. This worked well for me as he was very well placed to help me situate information literacy (IL) into the wider context of literacy, pedagogy and Education. My research focused on the literacy part of information literacy and explores IL as a critical literacy for success in the complex Higher Education information landscape. My thesis is titled “Concept, Ownership and Impact of Information Literacy in a Higher Education setting in Ireland”. The thesis required a different research approach and writing style to what I completed before and in both cases this was related to having a longer more sustained project with a large word count.
Benefits and insights
Having completed the process I am very grateful I had the opportunity to do it. The process gave me a greater understanding of the demands and challenges faced when undertaking research. Furthermore, it gave me an insight into the student experience of finding, using and managing information. The opportunity to bring ideas from Library and Information Science into Education helped me to bring thoughts from one field to another and vice versa while also highlighting areas of commonality. Additionally the opportunity allowed me to meet staff from different Third Level settings in different discipline areas with a common goal of completing doctoral research in the field of Education. This provided a great opportunity to meet colleagues I may not have met otherwise. It is important as library staff that we communicate with our wider audiences and by working with colleagues outside of our libraries we can gain valuable experience and insight into not only the research process but also into the wider Educational environment in which we all operate. 
Advice for others
This is a growth area and we are uniquely positioned to pursue it. My advice to anyone considering undertaking a research project is to go for it. There is a vastly growing community who will help!

Ciara McCaffrey's tips & insights

My research experience
As Deputy Librarian at the University of Limerick,  together with the Library Director and the management group, I  have an overarching remit to continually improve library services in UL.  To do that well we need to generate evidence through assessment and data gathering.  It is through  library assessment that my engagement with research and publishing has developed over the years.
The type of research I've engaged in, as many of us have in our libraries, is practitioner-led research.  Sometimes called action research - action oriented - applied - there are many names for it; it is done in a practical setting,  by practitioners.  There are estimates that between 50-60% of research articles in LIS journals emanate from practising librarians and many high ranking LIS journals welcome practice-based research.  It is also common in other applied fields, such as education, health sciences and business.
I've published in academic journals and been through peer review three times, twice have been in Q1 percentile journals in the Scopus list, another recently submitted to a journal, and I have been a peer reviewer in a Q1 percentile journal on one occasion.  So my experience is modest - enough to speak with some confidence but not enough to have forgotten the feeling of newness.
The type of research projects I've been involved in, worked with others on for some and have published on include:
·         The use and perceptions of LibQUAL+ in Irish academic libraries
·         Exploring & finding solutions to the issue of noise and the provision of quiet space in academic libraries
·         Exploring & finding solutions to the issue of desk reserving - students leaving belongings on desks for long periods - and the constraints that causes in space management
·         I am currently looking at a decade of transformation at UL Library through a longitudinal analysis of survey data from the last 10 years
The research methods I've used include user surveys, mostly LibQUAL+ which is very well tested as a research tool.  I've also used interviews and more recently focus groups and local user surveys.
The purpose of my research is to improve practice in UL Library and to inform practice elsewhere.  It is very evidence-based and applied.  The assessment is closely connected with my work but the publications and more of the deeper research and data analysis I do as more a continuing professional development activity.

Benefits and insights
From a professional perspective, engaging in research has upskilled me in all aspects of scholarly communication.  I think it is really important for all librarians to have a good understanding of the research process, regardless of what area or role you work in.  However if you don't work directly with researchers, concepts like open access, research data management, data visualisation, impact factors, etc. can seem quite abstract.   By engaging in research you get a good understanding of what these mean in a real life sense, why they are important and where the library fits.
This understanding has informed my job - in recruiting new roles, in developing UL library staff skills in scholarly communications, in library-wide planning.  Strategically it has strengthened my understanding of university strategy and national and international educational strategy, which is dominated by the research agenda
From a personal perspective, it is a great CPD activity that fits well into a very busy job and family life.  It is self-motivated so you do it when you have the time and when life is busy you don't.
The greatest benefit - and the reason I keep doing it - has been to see through the eyes of a researcher, in so far as I can, and there are many insights to be gained from this perspective, as both Mary and Jane will echo.  The one I'd like to share with you today is about the language we use in librarianship in relation to scholarly communications, in supporting researchers and particularly in advocacy.
I think we need to speak the same language as researchers and particularly focus on the 'what's in it for me' aspect When I'm wearing my researcher hat, what I want to know is what will make my research better, easier, faster, more organised, and critically, increase its impact.  Essentially how can the library help me to communicate my research more widely

Advice for others
Here are my tips and advice on getting started with practice-based research:
·         Start by writing a non-research based article
·         If conducting primary research, connect it closely to your work
·         Plan your research methods carefully
·         Get advice from an academic colleague or an experienced author
·         Present at a conference before writing it up
·         Look at journals you like for topics, methods and styles – aim high and think about open access.  Here are the ones that I follow and that welcome practice-based research, but there are many others depending on your interests:
·         College & Research Libraries

For most of us who have published, we started with Helen Fallon and the Academic WritingLibrarians blog contains a wealth of advice on getting started.  The LSE Impact Blog is excellent for all issues relating to scholarly publishing, I would recommend that all librarians should follow it, whether you are engaging in research or supporting it.  There is an active international community of librarians who are interested in assessment and measurement, they meet at conferences like Library Assessment in the US and the International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries in the UK and publish in the above journals.  I'd be very happy to connect with anyone who wants to know more about practice-based research and share what knowledge and experience I've gained.
Overall, if you do engage in research and publication, my main advice to you is to continually observe yourself as researcher - see where you struggle, what obstacles and challenges you encounter and always think in the back of your head, where are the opportunities for the library to step in and help navigate the research journey.  Then put your librarian hat back on, turn your learning into action and make those opportunities happen in your library.

Jane Burns tips & insights

My research experience

The experience I have working in research is quite varied. For the CONUL presentation I focussed on my current experience of pursuing a PhD at University College Dublin in the School of Education.

Different Skills & Different Perspectives
Undertaking a PhD has been one of the best and most challenging decisions I have made. I am at the start of year 2 at UCD where I am working part time towards a PhD in Education- my intended area of research is medical humanities.  The experience is challenging primarily because of the amount of time and work involved- there are very few weekends off and my mind never stops thinking about the topic and what must be done.  It can also be a lonely space as much of the work and the thinking is done alone with minimum supervision.
Having library and research skills is a definite advantage in many ways in the PhD process. We understand the mechanics of sourcing, organising and disseminating content.  Having insight into the 360 view of the research process and knowing how to navigate the library and online resources the mechanics is extremely helpful. 
However, undertaking a PhD is a different kind of research experience. Here the researcher is as important an element to the research as the literature, the structures, the methodologies, and any other research activities.
This is where a challenge comes about- as a PhD researcher you must suspend your library perspective- as you move away from the management of information to an integral component of the research process.

Librarians and PhD’s
Why Librarians & PhD’s – seems to be a trend now as more librarians as they progress in their careers to want to undertake their own PhD research. For me this was inspired by librarian colleagues such as Mary Delaneyand John Cullen but also from colleagues from other professions, in particular Education whose passion and interests want to be developed.
What are the career possibilities with a PhD? In the field of Library and Information Studies this is not very clear cut but as we see our profession changing and evolving the possibilities may be there.  Opportunities to get involved in lecturing and other academic work. Teaching and Education are an interest of mine and that is why I am pursuing a PhD in Education.
Librarians tend to be generalists- also identified by the fact we know everything but many of us come from a range of different backgrounds and interests or have developed new ones and the opportunity to do research in these areas is appealing.
Librarian as Researcher- a natural space but one that must be developed. In the same way as it is so infuriating when others outside our profession think they could be librarians because they like books-there are skills as a researcher that need to be developed in order to move into this space.

Developing Critical Skills
Working on a PhD for me has been unlike any other research experience I have had. To be challenged that my primary goal is to create new knowledge is daunting. It takes an incredible amount of isolated time. Being a librarian certainly helps- I am very popular with my classmates but there is a learning curve that has to been undertaken to fully engage in the PhD research process. These are some of the critical skills required and that need constant development.
       Critical Thinking
       Research Methodologies
       Research Software/ Data Analysis
       Project Management & Organization
       Understand and synthesize large quantities of data
       Writing skills at all levels — brief abstract to book-length manuscript
       Analysis & Problem-Solving
       Collaboration and Funding
       Responsibility that you are creating new knowledge

As you can see there is a range of experience and range of perspectives in the writing, research and academic process for Librarians. It is important to keep in mind there are lots of colleagues available to help guide or answer questions. The most valuable resource by far is Helen Fallon from Maynooth University- she is someone who has given these authors and many others the confidence to put pen to paper to endeavour into areas of publishing which has changed the landscape for librarians.

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