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.

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About Peter Cruickshank
Lecturer in the School of Computing and a member of the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. Interested in information systems, learning, politics, society, security and where they intersect. My attempts at rounding out my character include food, cinema, running, history and, together with my lovely wife, bringing up a cat and a couple of kids.

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