Six months into the implementation and priorities for future work

Six months have passed since work began in earnest on the implementation of the plans of the LIS Research Coalition. In this time we’ve made progress in meeting the goals related to establishing a structure to facilitate a co-ordinated and strategic approach to LIS research across the UK. For example, the Coalition web site grows steadily as a source of information about LIS research. Equally the Twitter account, @LISResearch, provides regular news feeds on research projects from proposal to publication of results, as well as research opportunities ranging from advertised PhD places to vacancies on high level research-related bodies and committees.

The Coalition has also taken the opportunity to present to external audiences. This has been achieved both at a general
level – as at Online 2009, and in the Coalition response to the consultation on the Research Excellence Framework (REF) – and with reference to concerns of particular user groups, such as the “student experience” focus of the autumn 2009 SCONUL conference. Further conference and meeting contributions are planned for a variety of audiences. We are also looking forward to the LIS Research Coalition’s own conference on Monday 28th June 2010 at the British Library Conference Centre in London. Events – both Coalition and externally organised – are noted on the Coalition web site Events page. We’ve also been busy engaging with the media, attracting coverage of our activities in both the LIS and general press (for example, we’ve had two mentions in Times Higher Education to date). Details of such publishing activity are given on the Media coverage page. It is hoped that these efforts will succeed in the goal of pushing LIS research further up the agenda of the UK LIS community, particularly amongst practitioner colleagues. Longer term it is anticipated that they might result in an improvement in the volume and quality of practitioner research, and the translation of this future research output into practice. Ultimately the research completed should also inform the development of future UK LIS research strategy.

One of the Coalition’s goals is to address current gaps in LIS research activity in the UK. The need to develop a strong evidence base that can be used to demonstrate the value and impact of library and information services has been identified as a priority area. We intend to put resources into addressing this ahead all of other possible research themes. This is on the basis that without easy access to an evidence base that can be used to assess and publicise impact and value, library and information services are rendered vulnerable to cost-cutting exercises. Funders will protect units where contributions to organisational objectives and the bottom line are more clearly artciulated, not least as demonstration of accountability for their own decisions. A second priority is to consider how to provide research methods training opportunities, primarily for the (potentially enlarged) practitioner researcher audience. Currently work is on-going on a funding bid for the provision of a series of events focused on research methods. A further possibile initiative is to run smaller-scale one-off sessions on specific themes of interest to those starting to engage in research activities.

In forthcoming meetings of the Board of Directors of the LIS Research Coalition we will be discussing how we can build on
our initial work to progress it further: there is clearly much more that could be done! The focus of these discussions will be how to ensure that we channel the resources available to the Coalition into activities that deliver real value to the LIS research community in the UK. There will be opportunities for greater participation in the debate on the direction of the Coalition at the LIS Research Coalition conference at the British Library Conference Centre on June 28th 2010. In the meantime members of the UK LIS research community – from established researchers to aspiring new professionals – are invited to respond to the proposals made in this blog posting. Of particular interest would be suggestions on how the work of the Coalition could be developed to meet the needs of practitioner researchers. Responses can be made by leaving comments below, or by e-mailing Hazel Hall directly at hazel.hall@lisresearch.org.

LIS Research Coalition presentation at the SCONUL Autumn Conference

Hazel Hall

Hazel Hall at the podium at the British Library

Hazel Hall was invited to present at the SCONUL Autumn Conference on 17th November 2009 at the British Library. The presentation slides are available from Slideshare.

Hazel’s presentation focused on two aspects of the work of the LIS Research Coalition as relevant to the student experience agenda. These were (1) the Coalition’s mission to promote LIS practitioner research and the translation of research outcomes into practice and (2) the Coalition’s efforts in creating resources to bring together information about LIS research opportunities and results. Hazel’s starting point was the pressing need for an evidence base on which library and information services may draw, not least to prove their worth. She quoted Peter Griffiths, the current President of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), who highlighted in his October 2009 presidential address that “We must prove the value we provide with hard evidence. Start thinking what evidence you offer”. Hazel shares Peter’s view that practitioner research is important, but also recognises a number of challenges that face (potential) practitioner researchers. Hazel referred first to the barriers that LIS practitioner researchers may encounter. These include:

  • Navigating current funding infrastructures, for example due to the number of funding bodies and differing requirements as far as proposal writing and submission are concerned;
  • Negotiating working practices with mentors and partners;
  • Lack of confidence in research skills, especially when this is unfounded;
  • Fitting research work into a demanding job role that includes other competing, and often more obviously pressing, service priorities.

Hazel also pointed out that often individuals carry out work that is, in effect, practitioner research, but fail to recognise it as such.

The focus of the presentation then moved on to barriers associated with the dissemination of practitioner research. Hazel mentioned how research output often becomes trapped within an institution or sector, and thus has limited dissemination channels. This minimises the opportunity for others to take advantage of the research findings, and key messages do not reach the level of strategy development. As a result, individual institutions tend to focus on local research output in their planning activities.

Hazel took the opportunity to suggest a number of research themes related to student experience. She argued that we should look beyond the more “visible” issues related to facilities, such as upgrading library space and extending opening hours. LIS research effort in academic settings should also relate to broader institutional concerns such as student retention and international student fee income. There are also a number of research themes that interest library and information services staff regardless of sector. For example, community engagement, the relationship between library services and learning, and evidence-based practice are worth pursuing. Specifically, Hazel suggested a range of student experience related research questions ripe for consideration:

  • How can library provision be better aligned to broad institutional student experience initiatives?
  • How can we measure the contribution of academic library services to the overall student experience?
  • What are the roles of academic librarians in the learning processes of students?
  • How can we better engage teaching staff with library services?
  • How will scholarly communication develop in the future, and what will be the impact of this on library provision for students?
  • What is the best way to integrate information literacy provision into the curriculum?

Hazel noted that one question that was of particular relevance to her work with the Library and Information Science Research Coalition could be framed as “What is the relationship between awareness of LIS research within the academic community and good practice for the benefit of students?”

Hazel then turned her attention to the second theme of her presentation, i.e. the means by which the LIS Research Coalition is working to bring together information about LIS research opportunities and results. The Coalition has a web presence at http://lisresearch.org, as well as a Twitter feed at @LISResearch. The Twitter feed postings cover a range of topics of relevance to the LIS research community, as Hazel illustrated by displaying some Twitter screen shots. Amongst these she showed a page of alerts that included news of: a research funding opportunity; PhD studentships on offer; an invitation to join in a research-related consultation exercise; two newly published research reports; a link to a web page on a topical debate; a report on an on-going research project; a training event; conference registration opening; the publication of a new journal issue; and a US conference offering funded places. Hazel strongly encouraged audience members to start following @LISResearch, or at least arrange for members of staff in their organisations to take responsibility for keeping up to date with the postings on behalf of others at their home institutions.

Hazel concluded her presentation by reiterating the support that the LIS Research Coalition can offer for practitioner research. First she noted that the agile information provision on LIS research related news through the dedicated Twitter feed saves time of practitioner researchers. Then she spoke about the efforts to raise the profile of practitioner research, making reference to the LIS Research Coalition conference. This will take place on Monday 28th June 2010 at the British Library with the intention of “liberating” of research output that may be trapped within institutions and/or sectors. Hazel explained that in the longer term the Coalition hopes to provide opportunities for research methods training that will extend current UK provision in this area. Hazel’s final point was that she looked forward to the LIS Research Coalition working in partnership with other LIS stakeholders, including SCONUL, in building the evidence base that will contribute to future LIS research strategy, as well as policy development.

SCONUL Autumn Conference 17 November 2009

Stage set for SCONUL conference

The stage is set for presentations at the SCONUL Autumn Conference 2009

Yesterday the LIS Research Coalition participated in the 2009 SCONUL Autumn conference at the British Library’s Conference Centre (which, coincidentally, will be the venue for the LIS Research Coalition’s own conference on Monday 28th June 2010). The delegate list noted 124 individuals, mainly comprising academic library leaders from UK colleges and universities, as well as staff of the SCONUL secretariat and a number of guest speakers.

The conference was opened by Jane Core, the current Chair of SCONUL. The British Library’s Associate Director of Operations and Services Caroline Brazier also welcomed the delegates to the Conference Centre. Thereafter the speakers took their turns at the podium to tackle the conference theme of “The Student Experience”. Each was expertly chaired by a member of the SCONUL Executive Board.

David Sadler, Director of Networks at the Higher Education Academy was first on stage to set the strategic context for the student experience agenda. His presentation took into account a range of government and sector reports and proposals, as relevant to the interests of the academic library community. He pointed to a number of issues that he believes merit attention. These included the untapped expertise of external examiners, and the need for genuine engagement in Web 2.0 for services delivery across the sector. David concluded his presentation by highlighting a number of challenges of specific interest to the SCONUL audience. These included prioritising service delivery; securing funding; making the most of support from external bodies such as the HEA; and fostering further collaborative activity across the academic library community.

Next up was Michelle Verity who spoke of work in her new post of Head of Student Enterprise and Development at York St John University. Michelle’s explanation of the “learning reconsidered” approach as adopted at York St John raised some interesting questions related to the discourse of student experience. The question as to whether or not students are “customers”, and the deployment of the word “services” in academic settings were picked up later in the day in informal discussions and by later guest speakers.

The last session of the morning was presented by two student officers of Queen Mary Students’ Union: (1) President Nasir Tarmann and (2) Anna Hiscocks, Vice President – Education, Welfare and Representation. This was a very positive, upbeat presentation that drew on a small-scale research project completed at Queen Mary’s, as well the presenters’ input to proposed changes in information services provision at their University. This session stimulated further conversation over lunch as to how academic libraries meet the needs of their varied student populations, with much interest in the concept of “library-hopping” as introduced by Nasir.

The session immediately after lunch provided an opportunity for representatives of three organisations to present their perspectives on the student experience agenda. These were: (1) Simon Wright, Chair of the Association of Managers of Student Services in Higher Education; (2) Maureen Skinner, Chair of the Association of University Administrators; and (3) Hazel Hall, Executive Secretary of the Library and Information Science Research Coalition. The first two presentations revealed just how much the work of professional staff in UK universities has grown in recent years as student needs have changed and as some of the work previously undertaken by academic staff in schools has been moved to the centre. All three speakers highlighted shared interests which pointed to the potential for their bodies to develop closer relationships with SCONUL. The discussion that followed the panel members’ presentations focussed on job boundaries, the hybridisation of professional roles in academia, and the question of staff willingness to adapt to new work practices. (The detail of Hazel’s presentation is elaborated in a separate blog posting.)

The last main set of presentations provided case studies that demonstrated how three universities have made changes to their services delivery in response to factors related to the student experience agenda. Tricia King, who is Pro Vice Master for Student Experience and Director of External Relations at Birkbeck, University of London, focused on My Birkbeck, a major change initiative at her institution implemented in a tight timescale for one of the most diverse student populations in the UK (where students range in age from 18 to 100!) In Brendan Casey’s case, the challenges of managing super-convergence emerged as a strong theme with regards to the role of Director of Academic Services at the University of Birmingham. Graham Bulpitt, Director of Information Services at Kingston University, brought this session to a close with an illustrated timeline of developments at his institution that highlighted the changing role of library and information services staff. As well as outlining the type of frontline activities in which the Kingston staff are involved, Graham illustrated the support mechanisms available to them by showing the audience screen-shots from online staff resources.

The final presentation was delivered by Ewart Wooldridge, Chief Executive of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. This widened the debate to the theme of higher education leadership, and gave delegates the opportunity to discuss the opportunities for professional staff to reach the highest levels of management in their institutions, and the means of supporting such ambition.

(There is a Twitter back-channel for this the event, accessible by searching #sconul. As well as commentary on each of the presentations, there is a short debate on the engagement of higher education leaders with microblogging. This was prompted following a question to the audience from Hazel Hall regarding Twitter. A show of hands revealed that a large number of UK academic library leaders are indeed Twitter users.)

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