Monday, January 27, 2020

How one Australian academic library is supporting its staff to engage in practitioner research

 Guest Post

 We are all researchers: how one Australian academic library is supporting its staff to engage in practitioner research

Associate Librarian, Flinders University Library

Liz Walkley Hall is Associate Librarian, Collections, College and Research Services at Flinders University Library. She leads teams responsible for research support, physical collections, and data librarians. Liz has written and presented extensively, including national and international conferences and peer reviewed publications, and contributes to the professional as a member of the ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association) Research Advisory Committee.

Ten years ago, the then University Librarian, our then Law Librarian, and myself – then in the role of Open Scholarship Librarian - hatched a plan: to create a support group for practitioner research in our Library. We knew our colleagues were doing innovative and interesting things that we thought  would be relevant to others in our profession. And we knew we were capable of sharing these ideas with the profession. What we lacked was an impetus to do so. As with many –  perhaps all – of us, we were busy with our operational priorities, and really could not see how it would be possible to find the time to write up our existing projects, let alone start anything new.
Enter the Research Working Group. In its original incarnation, it had three complementary goals: to develop research skills (including writing) in library staff; to encourage ongoing analysis of the library’s services and resources; and to engage more widely with the profession through writing and presenting our results. Our then University Librarian understood that support would be needed, and created a small fund to support the group. This was mainly used to ‘buy out’ staff time – this being one of our most precious resources – in order to do their research work. We had an intense 5 years or so, where new and existing projects were supported through the research lifecycle, from iteration of problem statements through to publication or presentation. True to our ethos, we also undertook an evaluation of our group, with results written up and published – see below for publication details.
Then came a number of changes in the Library, including retirement of the University Librarian and Law Librarian (who was also inaugural Chair of our Research Working Group). However, there was still a desire to maintain practitioner research in the Library and we sought to sustain a model for support. I became the new Chair of the group and, together with our subsequent University Librarian, undertook a small evaluation project to understand what support was most valuable in order to take the group forward. Interestingly, our survey found that peer support was most useful and would be key to the group’s future success. This correlated with other findings in the literature (Cirasella and Smale, 2011; Clapton, 2010; Fallon, 2012; Pickton, 2014). Three projects were undertaken under this ‘second iteration’ of our support model.
Further changes were upon us however, in the form of a University-wide restructure that saw significant changes to the Library staff profile. Such a major change made it difficult to focus attention on research, and our support group underwent a time of hiatus. Post-restructure, and with several new staff on board, from Graduate Librarians to our new Director of Library Services, it was apposite to consider how to support practitioner research once again.
To expedite this, we are taking steps to encourage practitioner research to occur organically. These include establishment of a journal reading club initiated by our some of our Graduate Librarians, lunchtime PD sessions designed to inform and share learnings from internal projects as well as feedback from conference attendance, and encouraging peer and mentoring support for new projects. One recent example involves a team approach from across the library: two Graduate Librarians, one College and Research Services Librarian and me as Associate Librarian, engaged in undertaking a systematic scoping review. I provide executive-level project oversight and mentoring,  Leila Mohammadi (College and Research Services Librarian) is contributing methodological guidance and project management in the form of scheduled deliverables, and Maddy Lawrence and Rachael Elliot (our Graduate Librarians) are  undertaking the mechanisms of the review process. Early results were recently presented at a national conference (Research Applications in Information and Library Science) by Maddy and Rachael, giving them important experience in delivering a research presentation. This project has been very much in keeping with the intent of our original Research Working Group’s goals, in that our Graduate Librarians are gaining crucial skills in understanding practitioner research, in the form of learning systematic review methodology, writing up the results and presenting them to a peer audience.
At its outset, the aim of our Research Working Group was clear – to deliver support for practitioner research in the Library. That we have sustained this for ten years, albeit with some pauses, is no accident. We understand that sustaining a culture of research requires ongoing effort at all levels – practitioners, managers, and executive. I believe we all have the appetite to continue and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next ten years of practitioner research brings at Flinders University Library.

Cirasella, J. and Smale, M.A. (2011), “Peers don’t let peers perish: encouraging research and scholarship among junior library faculty”, Collaborative Librarianship, Vol. 3 No. 2, pp. 98-109.
Clapton, J. (2010), “Library and information science practitioners writing for publication: motivations, barriers and supports”, Library and Information Research, Vol. 34 No. 106, pp. 7-21.
Fallon, H. (2012), “Using a blended grouplearning approach to increase librarians’ motivation and skills to publish”, New Review of Academic Librarianship, Vol. 18 No. 1, pp. 7-25.

Selected publications and presentations
Walkley Hall, L. (2017). We are all researchers. Keynote presentation, Research Applications in Information and Library Science Conference. Adelaide: 28-30 November 2017.
Walkley Hall, L. (2016).Using knowledge management in building a culture of research: a case study of an Australian academic library.   In L. Bultrini, J. Sempéré, S. MCCallum, eds.  Knowledge Management in Libraries and Organizations: Theory, Techniques and Case Studies. IFLA Publications, 173. Berlin: De Gruyter Saur.
Hall, E.S. (2014). Changing the workplace culture at Flinders University Library: from pragmatism to professional reflection. In Knowledge Management as a Vital Tool for Change Management. IFLA WLIC 2014 - Libraries, Citizens, Societies: Confluence for Knowledge. Knowledge Management Satellite Meeting, 15 August 2014, Lyon, France. Lyon, France. Aug 2014.
Hall, L.W. and McBain, I. (2014). Practitioner research in an academic library: Evaluating the impact of asupport group. The Australian Library Journal, 63(2), pp.129-143.
McBain, I., Culshaw, H. and Walkley Hall, L. (2013) Establishing a culture of research practice in an academic library:an Australian case study.  Library Management 37 (6/7): 448–461.

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