Sunday, June 8, 2014

Collaborative Writing by Siobhán Dunne

The Librarian and the Academic: Weaving Data Threads into Research Outputs.

Guest post by Siobhán Dunne Dublin City University (now Trinity College Dublin)
Librarians make natural bedfellows for collaborative research for a number of reasons. From sourcing material for literature reviews to identifying the most appropriate (highest impact factor or open source anyone?) journals to publish in, we have carved out a niche that has seen us play an important contributory role.
Whilst these are valued and recognised contributions, they have, to some extent positioned us as passive curators of knowledge, rather than partners in the creation of knowledge. ‘Of course we contribute original research’ I hear you protest and we do, but we could and should be doing more of it! The recent Librarian as Researcher seminar showcased a number of research initiatives by Irish librarians and illustrated the volume and high standard of original research being carried out by colleagues across so many sectors. 
I began writing about my own professional practice in 2008. That led to a discussion with library colleagues from another institution about pooling our experiences to present to academic colleagues. That dipping of the toe into collaborative writing had me hooked. It was less nerve racking to share my perspectives with academics when I had a partner in crime and I learnt a lot about how another library ‘did business’.
The first major collaborative research I undertook was with an academic colleague. We had formed a natural working relationship and shared a similar pedagogical approach. I was teaching her students as part of a study skills module. For this, the academic had set an assessment that required the students to maintain a reflective journal about their experience of transitioning to university. The journals captured very rich data about their experiences of the library so we decided, with ethical approval, to analyse the data and write up our findings.
We applied a grounded theory approach which required the categorisation of the students’ entries into themes and sub themes. I had never analysed data using this method and learnt hugely from the process. My colleague has since said that I brought insights that she did not have so from that perspective so I think we worked well together. It helped that we could both meet regularly to sit in front of a computer and share editorial decisions. It also helped that we trusted each other. My colleague had a lot more publishing experience under her belt, however I felt comfortable challenging some of her decisions.  There were several iterations of our writing before we took the plunge and decided to submit for review. There were several knock backs as we realised we were perhaps aiming for journals that just weren’t suitable. In the end, we were delighted to get published in the peer reviewed Innovations in Education and Teaching International.
More recently, I was approached by another colleague in DCU who was curious about the development and future of academic e books. She had recently been collaborating with a futurologist in New Zealand and they had been engaged in discussion around this topic. Together we decided it would be interesting to do some local research in the area. Our research comprised of two strands. Firstly, we investigated the current use and perceptions of our university population – both staff and students - towards academic e books. For the second part of our research, we were interested in ascertaining reading behaviours and note taking patterns of users when comparing a print book, an e book accessed via the library catalogue and an academic e book on a dedicated e reader.

Our research contained both quantitative and qualitative elements. We disseminated a campus wide survey to ascertain (a) current use of e books (b) how the authoring of e books differed from print and (c) the future design of e books. This second strand sought to understand users’ reading behaviour of academic e books. Our analysis was carried out through focus groups and questionnaires with a sample group of six postgraduate students. We are currently in the process of writing up that research – now that the semester is over and we can finally take the time to do it justice and it does take time!

I think Dr. John Cullen who gave a keynote address at this seminar hit the nail on the head when he said that the two key components that contribute to becoming a research active, knowledge producing librarian are ‘alignment and contribution’.  Both of the research experiences I have described happened because of a desire to investigate activities that were grounded in everyday practice. Their results are of value to the library and academic community alike.

My top tips: Write about what you know and what you are passionate about. Seek out professional relationships that not only validate but challenge your own practice. By doing so, you are not only developing yourself professionally, you are telling your colleagues that you are a research partner and a co-producer of knowledge.

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