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.

Conference taster: meet our speakers and facilitators

In the run-up to Monday’s conference, we have been interviewing speakers and breakout session facilitators to discover more about what they will be covering in their sessions, the key issues to be discussed by the LIS research community at the event, and their hopes for the day as a whole.

Michael JubbMichael Jubb, Opening speaker

“I’m going to say a little about how the Coalition came to be set up, what it is seeking to achieve, and the challenges it faces.

In terms of the LIS research landscape, the big research challenge is to do some rigorous analysis (not advocacy, though we need that as well) on the value of libraries and information services. That means looking hard at the relationships not just between inputs and outputs (the easy bit, though we need to get better at it) but at outcomes, in terms of learning – formal and informal – and research. That’s difficult, but we need to do it.

I’m looking forward to the chance to meet, discuss, and to find the points of intersection of interests and ideas.”

Andrew Dillon, Opening keynote speaker

“I’ll offer a sweeping view of a field that feels threatened yet promises so much, with suggestions to move us all forward!

I consider people – users, consumers, searchers, readers, and creators – to be the most interesting issue on the LIS research landscape. They are always what it is all about, and we should never forget it. I’m most looking forward to sharing ideas with a UK audience as it’s been a long time.”

Anne BriceAnne Brice, Research evidence – breakout session facilitator

“I think research evidence is important because we need to be able to answer the most important questions that our users, practitioners and funders have, and to be sure that we are doing the best we can with the resources we have. It needs to support decision making, expand our understanding and be seen as an essential tool in how we develop and improve our services.

I am looking forward to meeting delegates from all parts of the LIS community, to sharing ideas and solutions, and to having the time to focus on the issues around research evidence without the usual interruptions! Participants at previous workshops have identified a range of barriers to finding and using good quality research evidence, relating to the nature of the evidence base itself, the skills needed to do and use research, or to the working culture or environment. We hope that the breakout sessions will provide an opportunity to hear from lots of different perspectives, and bring different types of knowledge and experience together.”

Michael SteadMichael Stead, Research impact and value – breakout session facilitator

“In my role as a manager in public libraries, the value of research is in its effect on the decision-making process. Good quality research helps me and my colleagues to make the right decisions. In the current economic climate, it’s vitally important that we are as well-informed as we can possibly be: using the right research helps us to do that.

This a great opportunity to find out about the approach taken to research activities across all sectors of the information professions, and I’m confident that there will be a lot of valuable discussion in the breakout sessions. I would personally like to learn more about sources of research funding and how other professionals make research mesh with the day job.”

Val SkeltonVal Skelton, Research impact and value – breakout session facilitator

“I work as co-editor for Business Information Review, which is an international journal for all those who work within organisations helping them achieve maximum value from information – whether externally sourced information or internal knowledge/information/ records. Our aim is to publish articles of practical relevance to our readership. Our contributors include practitioners who work in all sectors. We also publish articles by academics and students, whose research brings insight into the achievements of other organisations and which we believe can stimulate ideas in our readership. For example, our June issue includes an article on creativity, chaos theory and KM, derived from work undertaken for a masters degree. A second article shares the experience of students who participated in a ‘customer driven knowledge factory’, and demonstrates how our readers can engage with internal customers to build knowledge and expertise.

Our readership is constantly focused on how to demonstrate the value and impact of the services they provide to their organisations. Any developments in this area are of critical importance to the journal and to the profession.”

Professor Charles OppenheimCharles Oppenheim, Closing keynote

In the interests of suspense, you will have to wait and see what Charles is going to say in his closing keynote. We feel that we need to keep some surprises for the day! You will be interested to know, however, that aspects of Charles’ presentation will be driven by delegate contributions at the conference on Monday. He did say: “I think the lack of funding and support is the key issue right now; demonstrating value and worth is the key research area that needs to be addressed. The networking opportunities and brainstorming is what interests me the most about this conference.”

You can find out more about all of our speakers, facilitators and session chairs by reading their profiles.

We look forward to hearing delegate views on these themes at the British Library on Monday. For those attending remotely, look out for tweets with the event hashtag #lisrc10, and we’ll watch out for your ideas coming through as you tweet your own contributions to the conference debates.

Coalition conference newsflash 4

The latest news from the LIS Coalition conference planning committee is that Michael Stead, e-Services Team Librarian at Bolton Library and Museum Services, has joined the team of LIS Research Coalition conference facilitators. The faciliators at the afternoon sessions on Monday June 28th thus represent four of the main LIS research stakeholder communities: (1) public libraries – Michael Stead of Bolton Library and Museum Services; (2) the corporate sector – Melanie Goody of TFPL; (3) the health service – Anne Brice of the NHS National Knowledge Service; and (4) research funders – Ailbhe McNabola of the Museum, Library and Archives Council. Our two keynote speakers – Professors Andrew Dillon and Charles Oppenheim – represent academia. David Ball of Bournemouth University and Michael Jubb of the Research Information Network, who will be chairing sessions throughout the day, respectively represent academic libraries and research funders. For further information about the conference please see the the Conference 2010 web page.

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