Re-invigorating LIS research – again?

Biddy Fisher

Biddy Fisher

Biddy Fisher OBE, Past President of CILIP, former Chair of CILIP’s Library and Information Research Group – and one of the movers and shakers behind the establishment of the LIS Research Coalition – has contributed a guest blog post on the sustainability of the Coalition’s efforts to involve LIS practitioners in research. Biddy writes:

When recently reading a thought-piece written in 2010 by Michael Stead (now Chair of the Public Libraries Group of CILIP) I was struck by two things. One was Michael’s implicit recognition of the phenomena that research is seemingly only associated with those in universities or with those who study in such institutions. The second was his ‘epiphanic’ (sic) moment about the value of research to our practice.

Michael is typical of the ‘next generation’ of professionals. Naïvely I would have hoped in 2010 (and now in 2012) that the recognition of the value of research in practice would be a given: that the legacy of the British Library Research and Development Department, which had so influenced my generation, had been carried forward by the intervening decades of practitioner-researchers, and was still providing the foundations of knowledge and experience that combine to develop services, as well as the enthusiasm, of later cohorts of new professionals.

I acknowledge that the academic sector continues to make headway, assisted by the vast research output of JISC and the use of comprehensive statistical data sets from SCONUL, as well as the highly sophisticated network opportunities that are still being enjoyed in that sector.

However, it seems that practice-based research is hard to incorporate other than in academic and health/medical libraries. There is a parallel in the way information literacy is also associated primarily with educational organisations. Research, investigation and information literacy are natural activities in educational environments. However, for a profession that undertakes investigations on behalf of others without a blink it is surprising that there is not a much stronger incentive to ‘do’ and publish across all LIS sectors.

There have been many attempts to make research much more part of our practice. Over the last three years, the Library and Information Science Research Coalition has provided a unique role in bringing together information, people, ideas and innovation, and has contributed enormously to making the profession more research-conscious.

There is still a way to go in ensuring that the work is carried on. As with so many things, it is finance-dependent. It also requires a will to ensure the Coalition’s work develops within the profession. I have witnessed real excitement and passion at the events organised by the Coalition, and in particular the Developing Research Excellence and Methods (DREaM) project workshops. CILIP’s Library and Information Group (LIRG) has similar experiences, and research projects discussed at the Welsh Libraries conference show that the audience is enthusiastic. However, somehow it seems too difficult to transfer the commitment of individuals through to employers and corporate LIS bodies. It is a real conundrum for those with the long view, the vision, and the understanding of the need for an evidence base to back up the work of LIS practitioners.

Like many other delegates, Michael Stead did more than just enjoy the 2010 LIS Research Coalition conference. He determined to become a practitioner-researcher, to keep skills relevant, and to use his experience to inform his practice. He has been a strong advocate of the involvement of public librarians in undertaking, reading and using research in their work. His contribution to the DREaM project testifies to Michael’s on-going determination to be involved and to involve others in such activities (editor’s note – see, for example, his contribution to the Unconference Half Hour at the first DREaM workshop in October 2011). We should follow Michael’s lead – as individuals, as employers, as managers, as thinkers and doers – and recognise that we all have responsibilities to research in LIS, and to the Coalition. There is one more challenge: to get far more authors listed on the LIS Research Coalition’s publications web page.

Some of the issues that Biddy raises above will form part of the discussion at next DREaM event: the conference at the British Library on 9th July. Expert speakers and panelists participating include Jo Alcock, Dr Carla Basili, Dr Louise Cooke, Professor Hazel Hall, Annie Mauger, Professor Charles Oppenheim and Professor Carol Tenopir. Best-selling author, broadcaster, medical doctor and academic Dr Ben Goldacre will deliver the closing keynote paper, as well as make the presentation to the winner of the Library and Information Science Practitioner Researcher Excellence Award. Throughout the day there will be time for networking, and an opportunity for delegates to contribute to a one minute madness session just before lunch. The conference fee is just £95 (inclusive, including all refreshments) and a number of travel bursaries are available. To book your place, please go to the DREaM conference registration page.

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One Response to Re-invigorating LIS research – again?

  1. Society has undergone a stepwise (not incremental) change, the situation (technological, economic, social) at the community level that the libraries find themselves in has moved on from the days of the origins of the libraries. The model for libraries of the future will I think maintain its core principles established in the days of their origins, but will be a very different library from these latter days also. The libraries need young staff who know the age we live in and are willing to reflect on the values of the libraries as an institution (bringing libraries out of the C20 and into the C21). Research is needed to understand the core principles of the libraries (established in the past), and to understand the core principles of the technological and social age we live in. The libraries’ most experienced staff are needed to keep the destination in mind and the focus on the end result.

    There was an SOS sent out on Twitter yesterday from Canada:

    Michael Steeleworthy ‏ @steeleworthy
    Hey #Librarians outside of Canada! Do you know that the Cdn Gov’t has tanked our nat’l library and archives?It’s a big professional concern.

    After some brief networking:

    Federal libraries, archives shutting down

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/story/2012/05/02/ottawa-libraries-archives-closing-budget-cuts.html

    I am sure research would reveal a correlation between a nation’s above average achievers (what do they achieve? what difference does it make?) and the availability of library resources – moving towards an understanding of the difference that libraries make to society.

    Libraries are not at fault, I think it is understood that library science is a relatively young science. I am however going to finish along the same lines as my opening sentence, society has undergone a stepwise change, and bang in the middle of the field of the libraries (information and communications technologies, not to mention cultural otherwise). It is plain simple textbook management technique that an organisation switches into R & D mode under these circumstances.

    (Tuppence ha’penny worth as one of your paraprofessional staff :)

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