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.

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DREaM launch conference review, thanks and resources

DREaM project launch delegate folders and data sticks

DREaM project launch conference delegate folders, pens and data sticks

Thanks to everyone for their participation at the DREaM project launch conference last Tuesday 19th July.

We have now had a chance to analyse the conference evaluation forms and – along with feedback received by e-mail and over Twitter over the past few days, as well as conference reviews blogged by delegates – we are pleased to report that it was a successful day.

According to the 46 conference evaluation forms returned, amongst the most popular sessions was Hazel Hall’s introduction, rated by the majority of evaluations as “excellent”. Hazel Hall brought delegates up to date on the progress of the DREaM project with news of the forthcoming workshops, including the full programme for workshop 1 on Tuesday 25th October 2011 in Edinburgh. She also announced the Practitioner Research Excellence Award (details can be found on the Media releases page) to be presented by the LIS Research Coalition at the final DREaM project event on Monday 9th July 2012. She encouraged delegates to take a look at the new online community space that has been set up to encourage electronic networking amongst delegates between events.

Stephanie Kenna and Jenny Gebel at the registration desk

Stephanie Kenna and Jenny Gebel at the registration desk

Blaise Cronin’s opening keynote and Dylan Evans’ closing keynote were also were rated by the majority of evaluations as “excellent”. Delegates appreciated Cronin’s main message to look outside the immediate field for opportunities to develop research ideas, to collaborate, research and to influence. They were able to observe such an approach in action in the career trajectory of Evans, who has taken advantage of a number of links and serendipity to build a varied and interesting, if unconventional, career path.

It seemed entirely appropriate that, further to a request made to Hazel Hall by a student from outside the field of LIS, at the end of the day that delegates were invited to contribute to a research project on interactivity in research meeting design. (If you would like to contribute to this project, please complete the survey).

DREaM delegates chat beside the publishers' stands

DREaM delegates chat beside the publishers' stands

Most evaluations gave the One Minute Madness session “excellent” and “very good” ratings. Chair of the session Stella Wisdom hardly had an opportunity to blow the horn due to the excellent timing of the presenters. It was quite astonishing how much information was conveyed in the 60 second bursts. The impressed audience members tweeted encouraging and supportive comments on the session, for example: “Loving 1 minute madness. So much brilliant work esp on stories & narratives” (@bikerbid); “One minute madness was great – well done to all who took part” (@BLLizLewis). Check out the 15 minute video of the session to witness the high standard of the presentations.

Discussions in breakout session 2

Discussions in breakout session 2

The four breakout sessions were also mostly evaluated as “excellent” or “very good”. Delegate comments on the breakouts revealed how the session content had given them some useful ideas to follow up after the event. For those who attended breakout session 3 these ideas derived from a discussion of work which is well beyond the usual interests of librarians and information scientists. As one delegate tweeted “They are building a palace made of children’s milk teeth. This is not what I thought I would learn about today!” (@samanthahalf). The short time-frame for reporting back on the breakouts meant that there was no real opportunity for discussion in plenary (rated mostly “good”). Although this had been possible amongst groups and with individuals in the breakouts themselves and over tea, from the analysis of the evaluation forms it can be seen that delegates would have liked there to have been more time for discussion of the breakout outcomes. There is also an indication that the opportunity to attend more than one breakout session would have been appreciated by some delegates.

Paul Allchin lent a hand with the delegate packs as a member of the on-site team at the British Library

Paul Allchin lent a hand with the delegate packs as a member of the on-site team at the British Library

The convenience of the British Library Conference Centre (described as “lovely” by one delegate), its facilities and the catering attracted mainly “excellent” ratings, as did conference administration both before and during the event. Hazel Hall, Charles Oppenheim and Jenny Gebel particularly appreciated the positive comments from delegates on the organisation of the event, and would like to highlight here the great help of colleagues in the British Library in the conference preparations. Rossitza Atanassova did a fine job in her liaison role, and recruited a willing team of Paul Allchin, Liz Lewis and Adrian Shindler, who helped Hazel Hall and Jenny Gebel make the delegate packs and load the DREaM USB sticks with all the conference materials on Monday 18th July.

The DREaM project launch conference Twitter wall

The DREaM project launch conference Twitter wall

Although not specifically asked to comment on networking on the conference evaluation form, this theme attracted a large number of unsolicited positive remarks. One delegate commented that the involvement of delegates before the event was “outstanding”. It is thanks to Bethan Ruddock (@bethanar) that a number of delegates in London on the evening of Monday 18th July were able to meet up before the conference itself the next day. Equally the work of our event amplifier Kirsty Pitkin (@eventamplifier) made it possible for the networking to extend beyond the confines of the British Library. Our remote delegates had access to all the presentations as they were delivered, as well as the CoverItLive session where a commentary on the proceedings and tweets were brought together. Delegates also made favourable comments about the interesting mix of researchers and practitioners who had registered, and the value of new contacts to follow up in the future. 68 people tweeted the #lis_dream1 hashtag over the course of the day. The 615 tweets included contributions from delegates at the British Library and a number of remote participants who offered their views on the conference sessions and the comments of on-site delegates. There is a Twapper Keeper for the #lis_dream1 hashtag where all instances #lis_dream1 are recorded.

badges

Badges for the data geeks and data queens at the DREaM launch conference

When asked to rate the overall value of the conference “excellent” was, once more, the most popular response. Delegates offered congratulations to the DREaM project team, remarking how impressed they were with the day and how much they had enjoyed it, not least for the “incredibly insightful” presentations, “excellent speakers”, “interesting topic areas”, all the new ideas “to take away and develop” and the networking opportunities. One delegate said “[It has been a] really useful day. Let us take steps to assure a network of LIS researchers and practitioners for the future as research and practitioners should ideally feed into each other”. While the rest of the UK was focused on James and Rupert Murdoch testifying at the parliamentary committee, Simon Barron tweeted “Forget the Murdochs. The real talking point today is library science research”! (@SimonXIX)

Events such as this only come together with much effort and support from a variety of sources. Everyone involved in the DREaM project is grateful for the support offered by the AHRC as its main source of funding. We are also grateful to the recruitment firms who sponsored places for five new professional delegates. We were pleased that three publishers Ashgate, Facet and Oxford University Press were able to join us on the day and for their contributions to the delegate packs. The “data geek” and “data queen” badges supplied by Leadership Directories were particularly popular with the delegates (and, we expect, their colleagues and children at home too!)

We have almost finished uploading all the resources from the day to the event 1 presentations page, and these will soon also be added to the DREaM online community site. A further announcement will be made once everything is online. If you are interested in delegate reviews of the event, a number are already available, and some are expected shortly. Please see the DREaM launch conference reviews page to read review blog posts, videos of delegate and session leader perspectives on the day, links to archived social media activity, and photographs from the conference.