RiLIES report highlights 6: Lessons from healthcare and medical librarians

Introduction

This is the sixth and final RiLIES1 highlight posting. It is based on the findings discussed in full RiLIES1 report. Here, we look at the LIS community that the RiLIES1 project found to be the most successful in linking research and practice: healthcare and medical librarians.

The broad aim of our first RiLIES project was to investigate the extent to which funded research projects in the domain of library and information science (LIS) influence practice in the UK. It focused particularly on identifying factors that increase or hinder the impact of research findings on those who deliver library and information services.

We highlight the research practice of healthcare/medical librarians as an example, and inspiration, to those working in other sectors.

In response to calls for library and information services to be developed on the basis of sound research evidence, the ideal is that “Research and practice, at least in theory, [should] enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship. Research should inform practice and contribute to the development of theory. Practice should benefit from research findings (particularly where those findings go towards improving the product or service provided by practitioners) and raise more questions for research” (Haddow & Klobas, 2004, pp. 29-30). This is important to both (a) current local service priorities, and (b) the future of the broader library and information services profession. Calls such as this often go unheeded – but this is not an issue that is unique to LIS: it has also been identified in other professions, such as teaching, social work, nursing, and management.

The power of context

The RiLIES1 project confirmed that community profile is a factor when it comes to how LIS research is accessed and consumed by different groups of practitioners. For example, those working in academic and healthcare/medical environments are often more aware than others of routes to access research results, and of the benefits that practitioners can gain through direct participation in research projects.

In particular, when we spoke to healthcare/medical librarians during the RiLIES1 project we learnt of their interests and strengths in evidence based practice. The influence of end-user community values is important here. Healthcare practitioners such as doctors and nurses have a need for evidence based research. They therefore value librarians who can access the research evidence for them. At the same time healthcare/medical librarians work in an environment where evidence based practice is routine.

Winners of the Practitioner Researcher Excellence Award

Award winning clinical librarians
L to R: Dr Ben Goldacre (presenter of the award), Anne Webb (award winner), Dr Alison Brettle (mentor to award winners), Debra Thornton (award winner), Rosalind McNally (award winner), and David Stewart (Director of Health Libraries North West)

Working in such an environment offers a further advantage: it can give healthcare/medical librarians easier access to research funding than is the case in other sectors. A good example is the recent prize-winning work of the North West Clinical Librarian Systematic Review and Evaluation Group acknowledged at the DREaM project concluding conferenceon 9th July 2012. This was employer-funded because a direct link from effective library and information services to improvements in the delivery of health services could be seen.

Other examples of funding sources were identified at our workshop with healthcare and medical librarians in Salford in June 2011. For example:

  • Occasionally those working in healthcare and medical librarianship have access research funds that are not explicitly earmarked for librarians. Research opportunities arise, for example, when health service colleagues need LIS research expertise to strengthen their work.
  • One workshop participant explained how her authority funds Masters study. This then generates research results in dissertation format, which in turn may be presented at conferences.

Workshop participants also mentioned cost-effective ways of staff training as related to research. For example, chartership candidates and project students reverse mentor senior colleagues by passing on news of research project results and developments in good practice.

Access to research: popular sources

Across all sectors the RiLIES1 project found that LIS practitioners frequently access sources other than published LIS research in support of their work. In the context of healthcare/medical librarianship, we confirmed that subject-specific journals are used extensively. For example, the British Medical Journal contains valuable practical case studies on activities conducted by healthcare and medical professionals in the course of their work, including literature searching and critical appraisal. Such work is useful for LIS practitioners to prompt new ideas, for example in the deployment of research methods. Equally, routine work such as the provision of current awareness services for end users increases familiarity amongst healthcare/medical librarians with subject-specific publications.

Other than mailing lists, sources popular with heathcare/medical librarians include:

As with the other LIS practitioners, face-to-face communication and conference attendance is greatly valued by healthcare/medical librarians. The “serendipity of networking with old and new contacts” is particularly appreciated, and works best away from the normal work environment.

Conclusions

Healthcare and medical librarians clearly benefit from working in a professional environment in which research engagement is highly valued. For example, end user expectations of professional practice amongst colleagues aligns well with healthcare/medical librarians’ enthusiasm for evidence based library and information practice, and healthcare/medical librarians are able to identify research support from less-obvious sources.

Librarians in other sectors may draw inspiration from this. For example: academic librarians may do more to promote their research expertise amongst teaching and research staff; school librarians could investigate their eligibility for research funding directed at the teaching profession.

A further lesson from the healthcare/medical librarians encountered during RiLIES study is the value of research mentoring, as illustrated in the prize-winning work of the North West Clinical Librarian Group, supported by academic Dr Alison Brettle.

Reference

Haddow, G. (2010). Communicating research to practice: The role of professional association publicationsLibrary and Information Research, 34(108), 33-44.

The RiLIES report; read the full study

To read further details of the study please see the full RiLIES1 report, freely available to download.

LIS research resources briefing – workshop evaluation

Last week we blogged about the LIS research resources briefing workshop hosted by LIRG at CILIP headquarters in London on 10th July 2012. In this post we present a profile of the participants, their response to the resources that we presented at the briefing, and the main points from the discussion of future research support requirements of the LIS practitioner research community. We also provide links to a number of resources, including blogged reviews of the event.

Participants at the briefing

Participants at the briefing

There were 38 participants at the workshop. The results of our short ice-breaker exercise at the start revealed that the majority (27) classed themselves as practitioners, or as practitioners who conduct research. The other 11 participants comprised a mix of LIS researchers and consultants. There was a good balance of participants from the private, public and third sectors, with the largest number coming from higher education. However, there was no representation from the public library sector or further education. Most (26) said research is relevant or extremely relevant to their job role and 11 are already members of LIRG. Many of the participants knew one another, not least because a third of them had attended the DREaM project concluding conference the previous day.

Most at the session had learnt about it through e-mail distribution lists. This provides further illustration of the finding from both RiLIES projects that mailing lists are an important source of information for the LIS research community, especially for those based in academic institutions.

Alison Brettle contributes to the discussion

Alison Brettle contributes to the discussion

We were pleased that the evaluation forms completed by the participants showed that they found the session to be useful. The speakers were highly rated, as was the programme. In particular, the delegates appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the resources that the RiLIES project team has assembled to support LIS research. Introduced by Peter Cruickshank in his presentation Research into practice: the present situation, these include the links on the LIS Research Coalition web site to:

  1. Collections of empirical research
  2. Tools to help those who conduct their own research projects
  3. Research centres and networks of relevance to LIS research
  4. Sources of research funding

The sample leaflets that we distributed at the workshop were also well received by the participants. These are also available as PDFs for download:

As well as raising awareness amongst librarians of the evidence-base that can be used to support high quality information services delivery, along with online tools that can be used to access relevant sources of information, the session provided a forum for librarians to discuss the long-term research support needs of the library and information science research community. There were opportunities to ask questions, provide feedback and offer suggestions.

Carolynn Rankin and Miggie Pickton prepare their post-its

Carolynn Rankin and Miggie Pickton prepare their post-its

The RiLIES project team was particularly interested in delegate ideas related to the need for a centrally-funded community-maintained directory of LIS research resources, held in a known location, with (crucially) a long-term commitment to maintenance. This was identified as a priority in the results of the RiLIES2 poll. On the basis of work completed to date by summer intern Maja Ilievska (on an LIS Research Linking Prototype), four options were presented for discussion: (1) a community blog; (2) a wiki directory; (3) Google drive; and (4) social bookmarking (using tools such as Delicious, Diigo or even Zotero to identify and group links). A fifth option, presented by Peter Cruickshank in another set of slides proposed the implementation of a community-owned link curation engine such as ALISS. In group discussions the workshop participants identified the strengths and weaknesses of each of the five options. These were recorded on post-its and then gathered together on flip charts.

Comments on the ALISS engine

Comments on the ALISS engine

Two main themes emerged from the discussions. First, it was generally agreed that a key problem with any resource will be its ownership and sustainability. A number of suggestions were made as to which bodies should take a coordination role in the maintenance of any future service. These ranged from professional groups such as LIRG, to major bodies such as publishers and the British Library.  A related issue is the provision of resources for coordination and continuity once project funding ceases. There are a number of examples of short-lived successful tools that have died due to lack of core funding.

The second theme that emerged from discussion was that the issues faced by the LIS practitioner-researcher community in the identification and use of resources to support their research work are not well-understood. This signals that there is a need for community consensus around the problems to be addressed so that those seeking to help with a technical solution do so in full recognition of the fundamental issues.

There was no evidence from the discussions of a strong preference for any of the proposed technical solutions. However, it was clear that any solution would need to address a variety of issues such as:

  • Information overload: this includes issues around quality of contributors, contributions  and findability
  • The clarity of purpose of the tool: including the extent to which the tool should hold content rather than links to existing external content
  • Risks around ownership and continuity of content if “freemium” services such as Mendelay, Zotero or Delicious are used
  • Restricted access imposed by employers, for example due to the legacy of old browsers, or blocking of sites

Several participants mentioned that the planned upgrade to CILIP’s website may provide an opportunity for a new platform to be developed.

We would like to thank everyone who came to the briefing, especially for their constructive and detailed contributions to the discussion. We are particularly pleased that some participants have blogged about the workshop:

RiLIES report highlights 5: Research, CPD and the role of professional bodies

This is the fifth of the RiLIES1 highlights postings based on the full report which is freely available to download. Here, we summarise our findings when to comes to creating a receptive audience for research results.

The broad aim of our first RiLIES project was to investigate the extent to which funded research projects in the domain of library and information science (LIS) influence practice in the UK. It focused particularly on identifying factors that increase or hinder the impact of research findings on those who deliver library and information services.

The weak link between LIS research and LIS practice (and, in particular, changes to practice) has previously been explained with reference to a number of factors. One explanation is that practitioners struggle with the research literature because of the way that it is presented. Another is that practitioners perhaps lack confidence in their own skills in consuming academic research output, even though they are actually well-equipped to use the research literature to help inform their work.

The RiLIES1 project confirmed previous research findings which identified how LIS sector and career stage are factors when it comes to how practitioners access research.  In particular, we found those working in academic and healthcare environments are more aware than others of:

  • the routes available for accessing research results;
  • the benefits that practitioners can gain through direct participation in research projects.

An obvious solution to improving the situation in other sectors is to offer directed training about research. The could be combined with support for practitioner-researchers from academic researchers (as, for instance, Dr Alison Brettle has recently demonstrated). Training needs to be tailored to particular communities. A model that may be useful here is that of self-efficacy, to arm practitioners with both skills and motivations. This model can also ensure that positive experiences are reinforced.

However, RiLIES1 recognised that there are wider issues to be resolved when it comes to the question of practitioner interest and involvement in research. In short, how do you motivate practitioners to engage in activities which many do not see as being obviously relevant to either their roles or their professional development?

The role of employers

“Most research on LIS matters is not difficult to locate. What’s missing is a culture of exploiting research to develop and improve services.”  Experienced consultant

Academic and healthcare librarians feel rewarded for engaging with research

“Engagement with research (participating in projects or using results) is rewarded in the formal career review process at my workplace”

The RiLIES1 project found that practitioners, particularly in the public library sector, reported that engagement with research is simply not rewarded at work (see chart, right). Research is often seen as a distraction from the day-to-day pressures of an environment beset by cost-cutting.

A possible implication of this is that practitioners who do not have time to consult research miss opportunities for significant efficiency savings or service enhancements through exploitation of research results. When this is associated with workplace blocking of important social media routes for keeping in touch with other practitioners, many feel excluded from the wider professional community.

This question is part of a wider debate, and it is clear that for these issues to be addressed there would need to be joint action by the professional bodies and employers.

The role of CILIP and CPD

Unlike the case in many other professions, there has historically been no compulsion for practitioners in library and information services to engage in continuing professional development (CPD), whether or not it includes content related to research engagement. The RiLIES1 report included in its recommendations that CILIP should require on-going CPD to encourage practitioners to engage with research. We are happy to note that there have been recent developments in this area.

The RiLIES1 report also recommended that the LIS research community should:

  • explore ways in which practitioners in sectors that are more receptive to research may share good practice with others;
  • provide training to support practitioners’ interest in research.

Our second project – RiLIES2 – can be seen a step towards meeting these needs.

Conclusion

To date the motivation for LIS practitioners to stay up to date with developments in their field has depended on individual interest rather than a requirement imposed by a professional body or employer. Taking into account that practitioners work within a time-pressured environment where research may appear to be at best a low-priority activity, motivation to follow-up training opportunities related to research engagement is likely to be low.

Any response to this is likely to require a mixture of organisational and personal approaches. For example, those running research projects have a role to play in providing accessible opportunities for face-to-face interaction at all stages in the research life cycle, for example, by creating accessible events based around the research project. Equally employing organisations should sponsor access to conferences.

This requires a joint approach where practitioners (supported by their professional bodies and employers in engagement with research) and research projects (that produce results than are seen to be relevant and useful for practitioners and the organisations that employ them) intersect. The responsibility does not lie with a single set of actors. When all the factors are in alignment, impact is maximised.

To read further details of the study please see the full RiLIES1 report, freely available to download.

CILIP’s Library and Information Research Group is running a free half day event on LIS research resources at CILIP, Ridgmount Street, London on the morning of Tuesday 10th July (the day after the DREaM conference at the British Library on Monday 9th July). The findings of both RiLIES projects will be covered at this event by members of the RiLIES project team. For full details please see the programme and booking information for the Research into practice: LIS research resources briefing.

Updated links pages: share your expertise with the RiLIES team

We are now approaching the final phase of the RiLIES 2 project. Currently we are are preparing some legacy material that we hope the LIS community – including researchers and practitioners – will find useful. The feedback from our recent poll is helping to inform this work. 

We have now posted draft materials online and seek your feedback on the pages which list links to external resources.

Please have a look at this page and the pages that it links to. These point to resources of interest to the UK LIS research community.

Please review the five pages: are there any mistakes, and/or any additional links that we should add? We are particularly interested in finding actively maintained resources to which we can link.

Reminder: If you are interested in attending a free briefing session on the output of the RiLIES projects, please sign up for our event organised in collaboration with LIRG in London on the morning of Tuesday 10th July (the day after the DREaM conference).

Feedback and comments

Please comment directly on the pages or use this this form to give us your feedback. You can use it as many times as you want. Constructive criticism is very welcome! Many thanks

RiLIES report highlights 4: Key lessons from impactful research projects

In a blog post that we published on February 2 2012 we announced that the full report of the Research in Librarianship Impact Evaluation Study (RiLIES1) was available to download, and that we would be blogging highlights of the report over the coming weeks. This is the fourth of the RiLIES1 highlights postings. Here we present lessons from five research projects that the LIS community identified as having a particularly strong impact on practitioners.

The broad aim of our first RiLIES project was to investigate the extent to which funded research projects in the domain of library and information science (LIS) influence practice in the UK. It focused particularly on identifying factors that increase or hinder the impact of research findings on those who deliver library and information services.

The projects used as case studies for understanding how to maximise impact from the perspective of researchers were: (1) Open to all; (2) eValued; (3) Researchers’ use of academic libraries; (4) Evaluating clinical librarian services; (5) School libraries in the UKWe found that they share many characteristics.

Read more of this post

RiLIES2 project poll: findings

This post is an update on our progress with the RiLIES2 project. We highlight the pressing need for a centrally-funded community-maintained directory of LIS research resources, held in a known location, with (crucially) a long-term commitment to maintenance.

Knowledge is required before action. To this end we carried out a survey in April, the purpose of which was to find out which of the existing resources that support librarians and information scientists when they consume and/or conduct research are (a) well used and/or (b) respected. We also asked respondents where they would go to access advice online on how to set up a new research project of their own.

Summary of responses

We are not claiming that the survey is representative: just 87 people responded, and the majority were librarians working in academia and healthcare. However, the data can be treated as a source of new ideas for evaluation, and can be used to feed into project plans. This blog post summarises some of the more interesting findings from the survey related to practitioners’ knowledge of resources, the creation of legacy resources by the project team, and dissemination options for RiLIES2.

More information about the project will be made available between now and its conclusion at the end of July. In the meantime, please contribute your thoughts, knowledge and ideas. It’s not too late to make an impact on our results!

Practitioners’ knowledge of resources

The first main section of the poll listed 19 electronic resources. These were identified in the first RiLIES project completed last year, and through additional desk research undertaken in early 2012. We asked about respondents’ knowledge and experience of the resources listed.

As has been identified elsewhere, mailing lists (particularly operated by JISC) continue to be the main source of information for many who are interested in LIS research. In addition, several blogs and Twitter feeds were cited by poll respondents. Other popular resources included the Library and Information Research journal (LIR), the resources assembled by the Library and Information Research Group (LIRG), and the Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (EBLIP) journal. The resources developed over the course of the DREaM project also merited mention.

A common response, even from experienced researchers, shows that completing the survey was a useful exercise in itself, as illustrated in tweets such as this:

“Just completed the @LIS_RiLIES poll & learnt about new resources to support my research in the process”

We discovered that a number of resources have low visibility to the LIS community. For example, few respondents had heard of KnowledgeHub (a relatively new resource) and/or the BAILER resource links (a resource aimed at a specific sector of LIS researchers). There was an indication that other resources – though known – face a challenge in transforming a potential audience into an active user-base. This finding applies to the DREaM project resources, the Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (EBLIP) journal, and the Library and Information Research journal (LIR).

Another issue is that some of the resources identified have been found to be wanting. A large proportion of respondents reported that they had accessed particular resources, but not found them useful. This applied to two sets of resources which rely on volunteer effort for their maintenance: the web pages of the Library and Information Research Group (LIRG) and BAILER resource links. Long-term commitment to resource curation is a key issue here.

These findings illustrate how often what may understood as lack of access to resources is something different. It is a combination lack of practitioner awareness of existing resources, and a poor match of resources to user expectations, particularly in cases where the resources depend on sustained effort by volunteer committee members to keep them up to date.

Creating legacy resources

The aim of the second group of questions in our poll was to establish priorities for the RiLIES2 project’s suggested outputs. A supplementary aim was to identify any other types of material that could be considered by the project team.

Preferences for legacy resources

As the chart shows, the core proposals for output suggested by the project team generally attracted positive responses. There was little enthusiasm, however, for the production of poster material, although some comments implied that a flyer/leaflet that conveyed the same information may be useful.

Other ideas for RiLIES2 project outputs included:

  • Tip sheets and brief, practical best/good practice guidelines on a broad range of topics: we believe that this will work best so long as content is created in a form that can be kept up to date, long-term commitment by a resource “host” would be required for this.
  • Discussion space for questions and answers related to LIS research: since the LIS community routinely uses mailing-lists to ask questions about research, it would be best to use a JISC LIS-* list for this purpose (at least for the time being, until the conversation moves elsewhere) – a key question is which mailing list should be the focus, or whether a new one should be created.
  • Link lists to resources held outside the UK – obviously their relevance would need to be considered carefully.

A further point made in poll feedback was the need to maintain awareness of the distinct groups in LIS practice and the separate needs of each. For instance, library management is a very different subject area from information retrieval. Similarly, although some information sources are general, different sectors have their own requirements.

Dissemination options

The final group of questions in the poll asked for feedback on means of publicising the RiLIES2 project’s work. Perhaps predictably – given that the majority of respondents were from the academic sector – conventional routes were the most popular. Thus a project report and associated academic papers must remain core to the project’s output. Preference was frequently expressed for papers to be published in open access journals. This may partly reflect a finding from RiLIES1 that many LIS practitioners are not aware that CILIP membership gives access to many journal titles free of charge.

What is to be done?

This survey has generally supported the assumptions that drove us to conduct this follow-up project to RiLIES1. With evidence of a low level of awareness of existing resources that support LIS research, we now intend to focus our efforts in two directions. First, we need to raise awareness of under-used extant materials. Second, we need to set in motion a strategy to address the issue of long-term commitment to resource curation. The Internet is already littered with abandoned or poorly-maintained directories and out-of-date resources. In the current environment the only realistic approach is to coordinate a community response to enhancing existing provision. This requires tools that permit a joint approach to the curation and sharing of resources.

A centrally-funded community-maintained directory of resources in a known location with (crucially) a long-term commitment to maintenance would be the most useful outcome of this project.

(The heading from this last main section of our post comes from a question «Что делать?» Lenin asked this before arguing for the need for a dedicated vanguard to spread his message of revolution. We feel that this same question may also be relevant in our search for improved research-practice linkages. It also ties up nicely with the notion of the DREaM workshop cadre developed in our sister project to RiLIES.)

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank individual practitioners for publicising and taking part in the poll. We are also grateful to Information Today Europe for helping to publicise our study.

RiLIES report highlights 3: the deployment of social media for research impact

In a blog post that we published on February 2 2012 we announced that the full report of the Research in Librarianship Impact Evaluation Study (RiLIES1) was available to download, and that we would be blogging highlights of the report over the coming weeks. This is the third of the RiLIES1 highlights postings. Here we present our findings on the role of social media in enhancing the impact of research projects in practice.

The broad aim of our first RiLIES project was to investigate the extent to which funded research projects in the domain of library and information science (LIS) influence practice in the UK. It focused particularly on identifying factors that increase or hinder the impact of research findings on those who deliver library and information services.

The literature reviewed for the RiLIES1 project had surprisingly little to say about social media. For example, an apparently comprehensive list of possible communication channels drawn up by Haddow and Klobas in 2004 lacked any reference to social media, even though familiar services such as blogs, RSS, and some social networking services (for example, LinkedIn) were already established at the time that this work was published.

In contrast, our own empirical study acknowledges that researchers have many options for engaging practitioners in research projects from the outset, and these can be supported by social media. One of the main purposes of adopting social media during a research project is to promote a collaborative approach to research. Practitioners who are invited to learn about projects as they unfold feel engaged with the process. In addition frustrations related to the timeliness of the “traditional” publication of research results may be addressed. When practitioners are aware of project progress, for example through reading project blog posts, they have quick access to interim results, and may therefore be encouraged to consider these in their practice immediately.

A second main finding of our work was that work-place blocking of important social media routes to research output (such as Twitter) is a significant issue for many practitioners. Such institutional practice limits the extent to which practitioners are able to keep in touch with professional peers, and leads to a feeling of exclusion from the wider community.

These two main findings suggest that (1) the deployment of social media to support dissemination strategies needs to be built into the planning stages of research projects, and (2) a significant change in practice is required in many workplaces so that staff are actually permitted access to important social media services (such as Twitter) when at work. With reference to (2) researchers need to ensure that they use multiple routes to reach practitioners so that those whose access to particular services is limited do not miss out on important project news. Given the paucity of discussion of social media’s role in the dissemination of LIS research, we also suggest that this theme merits further exploration as a research topic in its own right.

Our next RiLIES1 report highlights post will review key lessons from “impactful” research projects.

To read further details of the study please see the full RiLIES1 report, freely available to download.

Reference

Haddow, G., & Klobas, J. E. (2004). Communication of research to practice in library and information science: Closing the gap. Library & Information Science Research, 26(1), 29-43.

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