Additional reviews of the DREaM project launch conference

A couple of non-blogger delegates at the DREaM project launch conference have provided reviews of the day. These are presented on this page. The first review is by Ray Harper, and the second by Shreeti Rajyaguru. You can read more about Ray and Shreeti, as well as the other sponsored conference delegates, here. (Links to other reviews of the conference can be found on the main reviews page.)

Review by Ray Harper

The DREaM project launch conference was held at the British Library (London) on 19th July 2011. I am grateful to Glen Recruitment, Sue Hill Recruitment and TFPL whose support for the event gave me the opportunity to attend as a sponsored delegate. The conference was attended by 86 delegates, and consisted of an update on the DREaM project, two keynote papers, a one-minute madness session, and four parallel breakout sessions.

In her opening address, Professor Hazel Hall outlined the DREaM project, in particularly its focus on developing research methods, and building up practitioner knowledge of different approaches to research. The DREaM project will involve two conferences (this one and a concluding conference in July 2012), and three workshops in between the conferences to consider research methods which are not traditionally covered in library and information research. As conceptual background to this, she highlighted the concept of a ‘cadre’ (i.e. individuals working as a group), and how collaborative working can act as a backbone to support change. In particular, she focused on the value of collaboration across sectors within the library and information profession, and communication across different disciplines outside library and information research.

In his keynote paper, Professor Blaise Cronin (Indiana University) gave a lucid and detailed account of the library and information research landscape, which I can barely do justice to here (though I will try!) He outlined key criticisms of library and information research area, particularly its weak experimental design and a lack of meta-analysis. In particular he drew attention to the ‘theoretical bricolage’ in the field, which refers to a failure to fully accumulate a corpus of research evidence. An example of this is the prevalence of ‘cookie cutter’ research studies, which carry out research in a formulaic way to investigate topics whose basic parameters never change – he gave the example of studies investigating the ‘Information needs of_____’. There is also a common criticism that library and information research is too introspective and self-absorbed, not always engaging in dialogue with other disciplines.

He went on to discuss key areas where the field has strength and potential to improve, drawing attention to the development of evidence-based librarianship, which attempts to integrate a scientific element back into library ‘science’. He then referred to various studies around the issue of ‘value’, including Don King’s 1970s research, and research showing that the British Library generates 4.4 times the value of the investment it receives.

He also highlighted a number of citation studies which showed that library and information research is being increasingly cited in other disciplines as varied as computer science, business management and health research. An added dimension is that PhD students in library and information science are increasingly being supervised by academics whose PhD is from outside the field. He explained that Indiana University is deliberately recruiting academics from outside library and information science, and called for more universities in the UK to take risks in recruiting researchers from outside the area. In this light, he drew attention to the i-Schools concept, taken up by many universities in the USA, and increasingly in the UK (one notable example is the University of Sheffield’s i-School).

He expanded on the issue of inter-disciplinary research by discussing evidence which indicates that library and information science research is increasingly a collaborative activity. More and more research papers and publications are being written by multiple authors, with single authors much less common. Further evidence indicates that highly-cited papers tend to be written by more than one researcher. The growing significance of co-authored research certainly made me reconsider my own ideas of research as being carried out by individual authors.

The afternoon consisted of four breakout sessions followed by the closing keynote. I attended the session on ‘Raising your research dissemination ambitions’ facilitated by Dr Philip Hills (editor of International Journal of Information Management). This was a really useful and practical session on writing up research, submitting to peer reviewed journals and considering alternative dissemination routes.

As small groups, we listed the variety of possible ways in which research could be disseminated. These included; journal papers, conference papers, mainstream media, social networks, departmental seminars in universities, submissions to the government, institutional repositories, email lists, internal briefing papers, private circulate to experts, reports for funding bodies, blogs, Slideshare, poster sessions, public lectures and toolkits. When we considered how we had actually disseminated research, the list was far shorter, perhaps demonstrating that researchers should be more open to different means of sharing research.

We then discussed various problems we had in submitting papers to peer-reviewed journals. A difficult issue which some researchers found was that they had received conflicting feedback comments from different reviewers, making it difficult to make appropriate changes to a paper. The discussion also revealed a feeling that the peer review process involves bias towards well-established researchers, or even resistance to unknown researchers.

The session was neatly concluded with a debate over how communication of research in journal papers could be improved. Dr Hills made the useful suggestion of contacting a journal editor two months after submitting a paper to see what stage of review the paper was at. Readability is obviously important – writers should ensure that the abstract, title and references are clear and distinctive, because these are elements that the editor immediately judges an article on. Another useful suggestion was for researchers to share an early version of their paper via a social network site, and consider sharing detailed research statistics via a website.

The closing keynote by Dr Dylan Evans (University College Cork) presented a fascinating overview of the speaker’s shift across a variety of disciplines. Dr Evans had originally studied for a degree in Linguistics and Spanish, before gaining a Masters in Psycho-analysis, then going onto study a PhD in Philosophy. In contrast to this background, he currently works as an academic in a medical school!

Dr Evans suggested that most academic researchers tend to stick with their own discipline, and look down on researchers who go across disciplines. In fact, there is a lot to be gained from inter-disciplinary working, particularly as this kind of collaboration can support cross-fertilisation of ideas and produce original research. Dr Evans argued that most disciplines are not yet at a ‘mature’ stage in their development, with increasing specialisation in certain areas meaning that disciplines can become territorial and anti-competitive. The drawbacks of highly specialised research fields were illustrated through the example of a medical professional who is unable to treat a particular illness as ‘its not my organ’.

In contrast to this specialised approach, Dr Evans gave the example of a collaborative project between robotics engineering and cardiovascular research, which involved creating bespoke 3D models of a human heart. He did mention that there was a risk of moving between disciplines too much, but argued that sometimes it is worth taking risks to progress in a research career. This was a very thought-provoking paper, particularly as it made me consider whether the traditional boundaries between disciplines can be a barrier to useful and worthwhile research.

In summary, I found the DREaM project launch conference to be a stimulating and worthwhile experience. It was useful to engage with the some of the theoretical issues with library and information research (particularly in Professor Cronin’s paper), but equally valuable to learn practical strategies in which I can better disseminate my own research. The mix of the theoretical and practical elements made the conference a real privilege to attend; I hope that the DREaM project carries this forward successfully over the next year.

Review by Shreeti Rajyaguru

The opening conference presentation by Professor Hazel Hall introduced the aim of the conference, i.e. to consider collaboration as a means of building research networks. It is hoped that this, in turn, will raise quality standards of research. Hall used the word “cadre” to describe professional revolutionaries – “committed individuals coming together to form a backbone for political change”. It is the members of the cadre who will work together to meet the aims of the DREaM project.

Professor Blaise Cronin made a scintillating presentation on the evolution of collaboration. Research that considers “the information needs of …” in various contexts is not a strong foundation for the field. In addition, we as information scientists need to make our research useful to other disciplines. Cronin’s research shows that since the late 1990s, more PhD students have supervisors from different backgrounds (than information science). This has had the effect of extending the reach of research in the domain. For example computer science has taken more interest to information science, in areas such as indexing. This shows that collaboration enhances learning and leads to more creative approaches to research. Cronin also dwelled on the knowledge that people tend to work more closely with those physically nearby. This highlighted that if you would like to work across discipline boundaries you need to surround yourself with people who work outside your immediate area of interest. He suggested practitioners and researchers should both actively collaborate. This provoked me to consider how I can join forces with others in my own work.

The one minute madness session was the perfect way to get a quick insight into various research projects. In contrast, the longer breakout sessions went into detail on specific themes. Dr Philip Hills led a discussion on publishing research: the means of doing so, and the associated challenges and opportunities. I participated in this session and was struck by the communication gap between authors and publishers with respect to the understanding of publishing processes. Other breakout sessions discussed novel research methods, collaboration across disciplines and cultivating networks. From the breakout plenary session it was clear that all breakouts generated much debate. This was especially interesting to a new professional like myself.

Dr Dylan Evan was the closing keynote speaker. He relayed his experiences of collaboration techniques by telling the story of his career to date. Evans declared he was living proof of someone that has worked across a diverse range of disciplines and enjoyed learning at every point. His presentation was an entertaining and inspiring call for delegates to step out of their comfort zone and “flirt” with others. This may be a risk that is daunting for many, but the potential rewards to be reaped can be great. This message is applicable to almost every part of our lives.

The conference prompted me to consider how collaboration should be engendered. How should practitioners take the lead? How can we encourage students to learn to collaborate when they are best-placed to do, when they can mix across disciplines on campus? For me the DREaM project launch conference was the perfect catalyst for me to consider seriously the theme of collaboration.

I’d like to thank the sponsors whose support gave me the opportunity of a sponsored place at the conference. These were Glen Recruitment, Sue Hill Recruitment and TFPL. I’d also like to extend my thanks to Professor Hazel Hall, Jenny Gebel, Professor Charles Oppenheim and other organisers of this event.

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