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.

DREaM event 2: review, resources and thanks

Dr Paul Lynch reviews his notes as the delegates eagerly await the first session of #lis_dream2

Dr Paul Lynch reviews his notes as the delegates eagerly await the first session of #lis_dream2

Two weeks ago we held the first of the three DREaM project workshops at the Craighouse campus of Edinburgh Napier University. We set ourselves a tight deadline to get all the workshop materials online within one week of the event, which we achieved. This blog post now provides an opportunity to reflect on the first workshop, drawing on the feedback from the 23 event evaluation forms completed, tweets by delegates (on site and remote) from the day itself and afterwards, and e-mail correspondence received by the organisers after the event. The participant reviews of the workshop posted since 25th October also give a flavour of the day.

Dr Louise Cooke and Professor Charles Oppenheim

Dr Louise Cooke and Professor Charles Oppenheim

The most popular evaluation form rating for elements of the workshop assessed by the delegates was “excellent”. This rating applied to all the speaker-led sessions by: (1) Professor Hazel Hall (introduction); (2) Dr Paul Lynch (ethnography); (3) Dr Louise Cooke (social network analysis); (4) Professor Andy McKinlay (discourse analysis) and (5) Professor Charles Oppenheim (research ethics and legal issues). The speakers were described as “inspiring” and admired for the “very high level of [their] presentations”. Louise Cooke’s session on social network analysis was the most popular, possibly because Louise was able to demonstrate in practice theoretical aspects of her presentation by using data gathered from the audience. The use of case studies in Charles Oppenheim’s session on ethics and legal issues also appealed because the session approach “made it real” in providing an opportunity to share ideas and experience.

Jo Alcock's unconference half hour flip chart sheet

Jo Alcock's unconference half hour flip chart sheet

The majority vote for the delegate-led unconference half hour session was split between “excellent” and “very good”. This is impressive given that it was only on the day itself that the presenters decided whether or not they would step up to the podium, and they were severely restricted in the amount of time available for them to make their main points, with limited access to “technology” in the form of the flip chart as a visual aid. Perhaps the most interesting (and unintended) outcome of this session was how a question from Michael Stead about public librarians’ engagement with research triggered a debate about the strength of links between LIS research and public library practice in each of the UK home nations. These exchanges are recorded in the video of unconference half hour (27 minutes in), along with the other presentations.

The most popular rating for the workshop location’s convenience, comfort and facilities, and refreshments was also “excellent”, as it was for the event administration (both before and on the day). One delegate admired the “beautiful location, comfortable room [and] delicious refreshments” and another commented on the “wonderful facilities”. The organisers were congratulated for an event that was “well-produced”.

Delegates enjoy the refreshments at Edinburgh Napier Craighouse

Delegates enjoy the refreshments at Edinburgh Napier Craighouse

Given the enthusiasm for the other elements on the form, we were not surprised to see that when asked to rate the workshop as a whole, the vast majority (19 out of the 23 returns) gave this the top rating of “excellent” too. Enthusiastic comments referred to both the usefulness and the enjoyment of the day. For example, evaluation form comments included:

  • I thoroughly enjoyed the day and gained a lot of knowledge about the different research methods at our disposal.
  • A valuable, interesting event. Fabulous for networking and sharing knowledge. Have developed in so many areas. Many thanks.
  • A thoroughly enjoyable event – lots to reflect on during the train ride home.
  • Opened my mind to a range of research options that I had not systematically reviewed before.
Jenny Harbour of Healtcare Improvement Scotland shares experiences with Jo Longhurst of Devon School Library Service

Jenny Harbour of Healtcare Improvement Scotland shares experiences with Jo Longhurst of Devon School Library Service

Our classification of the core DREaM “cadre” members shows that the group comprises a range of participants who occupy roles in a number of sectors: six public librarians/people with policy roles closely associated with public libraries; six academic librarians; five full-time PhD students; three LIS academics; three healthcare librarians; two university researchers; one librarian who works in a government library; one librarian who works for a national library; one librarian who works for a professional body; one consultant; and one academic from another discipline. Five of these people hold PhDs and another six are either already registered for a PhD or about to register for doctoral studies. Particularly appreciated at the first workshop was the opportunity to meet and work with this “very stimulating and diverse” mix of delegates. As one remarked: “I really enjoyed the event… and meeting a variety of people from different library and information sectors”. One delegate said afterwards by e-mail that the workshop “had a very creative dynamic, which I am sure will throw up exciting avenues of research that no-one had anticipated”. This could perhaps lead to the “great things” that one of the speakers believes that the DREaM project has already started to achieve since its launch conference in July 2011.

Essentials for tweeting: the programme, power supply and access to the network

Essentials for tweeting: the programme, power supply and access to the network

We were delighted that a number of remote delegates were able to take advantage of our event amplification and follow the workshop on 25th October by referring to the presentation slides posted online in advance, watching the Twitter hashtag #lis_dream2, and keeping an eye on our CoverItLive site. From the CoverItLive archive it can be seen that 18 people beyond the workshop venue used the workshop hashtag, many of whom interacted directly with on-site participants. It is suspected that many more monitored the event over the course of the day. While some of those unable to attend expressed their regret at missing the workshop, making reference to the “lucky folk” in Edinburgh, the amplification did appear to work well off-site. As one person tweeted “Wish I could be there! But actually am getting a lot out of it from following via slides and Twitter”. Even for the on-site delegates the Twitter back-channel added a further dimension to the day. It is worth reading through the CoverItLive archive to witness the exchanges and see how conversations on topics related to the presentations develop in the Twittersphere alongside the main event. In this case, for example, there are the beginnings of an interesting debate on the value of LinkedIn versus Twitter for professional networking (as well as some more light-hearted references to cats!)

#lis_dream2 delegates discuss ethics and legal issues

#lis_dream2 delegates discuss ethics and legal issues

We now turn our attention to the next DREaM project workshop at the British Library on Monday 30th January 2012. Some comments and suggestions from the first workshop will help with its planning. For example, we will be asking the session speakers if they can provide practical illustrations of the theory that they discuss in their talks, for instance by providing examples of worked data. We will also consider how we can squeeze more time for networking into the programme, perhaps by lengthening the time slot for registrations with tea/coffee at the start of the day, and the lunch break (although the core timings for the day will remain as advertised, i.e. 10:30-16:15). Given that there was some appetite amongst the remote delegates on 25th October to participate in the social network analysis exercise led by Louise Cooke, we will investigate whether the exercise/game elements of the second and third workshops might be designed with the possibility of remote participation in mind. All these ideas will be discussed by the project team, the Advisory Board, and the speakers over the coming weeks. We also welcome other suggestions to help achieve the success of the DREaM project so do get in touch even if you are not involved in the DREaM events: this project is for the whole LIS community.

Bust of John Napier at Craighouse campus, Edinburgh Napier University

Bust of John Napier at Craighouse campus, Edinburgh Napier University

In the meantime, we encourage all with an interest in LIS research to review the DREaM project materials from the first workshop (as well as materials from the launch conference), to join the DREaM online community (where, for example, you can “meet” others interested in LIS research, join in forum discussions – there is already the start of a conversation about ethnographic research in academic libraries to investigate the student experience, comment on the event presentations, and browse through the archive of photos from the past two events), to follow the DREaM participants Twitter list, and to follow the project itself from @LIS_DREaM.

Finally, we would just like to thank everyone for their participation in the DREaM project to date. We recognise that the success of the past two events is built on the contributions of all involved.

DREaM event 2 materials now all online

Over the past few days we have been working hard with our event amplifier Kirsty Pitkin to load up all the material that we generated together at Edinburgh Napier Craighouse campus last Tuesday. We’re pleased to tell you that all the resources are now available online from the main workshop page.

From here you can link through to each of the session presentations on:

DREaM programmes and notepads

  1. Ethnography
  2. Social network analysis
  3. Discourse analysis
  4. Research ethics and legal issues

Each session page includes associated materials such as videos of the presentations, slides and summaries.

We have also uploaded the video of delegate presentations in the unconference half hour.

Thank you to everyone who has reviewed the workshop. All contributions are now available from the workshop 2 reviews page. (The CoverItLive archive of the event also gives a good flavour of the online conversations during the day, as well as participation of remote delegates, 18 of whom addressed the workshop delegates directly over Twitter.)

We will be adding our own review, along with an analysis of the workshop feedback, soon. Watch this space!

Following DREaM event 2 online

Final preparations are now underway to welcome participants and speakers to the first DREaM workshop in Edinburgh tomorrow. However, if you are unable to make it in person you can follow the event online using the range of resources we will be making openly available:

Session resources

When you visit the event programme tomorrow you will find links to individual pages for each of the workshop sessions. These contain the slides and handouts relating the session, so you can follow along with access to all of the relevant materials.

We will be recording each session so we can make the videos and full written session summaries available on these pages shortly after the event. The videos will also be made available at the DREaM online community, along with interviews with participants and photographs from the event.


Our event amplifier, Kirsty Pitkin, will be providing a live commentary via Twitter using the @LIS_DREaM account. Please follow this account for updates throughout the day. If you are outside of the event and would like to ask a question of one of our speakers or the group as a whole, please tweet this to @LIS_DREaM and Kirsty will relay it for you.

We also have an event hashtag: #lis_dream2. We would encourage you to tag any of your own tweets with this so other within the extended event community can see your comments and respond.

Live blog

If you are not a Twitter user, you can follow the conversation and take an active part in the event online without a Twitter account by following our live blog of the event. This does not require any login details.

More information

For more details about the event, please visit the workshop programme page. If you have any questions about the event or how you can follow online, please leave a comment on this post or tweet @LIS_DREaM.

DREaM event 2 speaker insight: Professor Charles Oppenheim

Charles Oppenheim

Professor Charles Oppenheim

In the third in our series of speaker insights ahead of the LIS DREaM2 Workshop in Edinburgh next week, Professor Charles Oppenheim gives us a punchy introduction to the theme of his session, which will examine research ethics and legal issues. He described the mental approached required to undertake ethical research and why LIS researchers need to take heed.

Professor Charles Oppenheim is a co-investigator of the DREaM project. He is also a member of the Legal Advisory Board of the European Commission, and of the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance.

What research issues will you be discussing with the workshop participants in your presentation?

Legal and ethical issues associated with doing research

How have these issues affected your own research?

Although I have little doubt I have made mistakes in my research in the past, I try wherever possible to ensure that any research I do takes into account things like data protection/privacy and freedom of information. I also try to ensure that research methods I use are fair to respondents and are analysed correctly. It’s more to do with a state of mind than anything more specific.

How do you think these issues might be relevant to LIS researchers?

I am aware of too many poorly designed questionnaires, and research methods adopted by others that threaten respondents’ privacy.

Where can people will find more information?

A search on Amazon using the terms “research ethics” provide several useful reference books on that side. There’s no one single source on the legal side though.

To find out more about the workshop, please see the workshop programme.

DREaM event 2 speaker insight: Professor Andy McKinlay

Professor Andy McKinlay

Professor Andy McKinlay

In the second in our series of preview posts ahead of the LIS DREaM2 workshop, Professor Andy McKinlay discusses some of the issues he will be covering in his workshop session An Introduction to Discourse Analysis. He explains what this research technique involves, how he has applied it in his own work and why he feels it will be of benefit to the other LIS researchers attending the workshop.

Professor Andy McKinlay is head of the school of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.

What research techniques will you be discussing with the workshop participants?

I will be exploring with colleagues the ways in which one particular form of qualitative research – discourse analysis – can be employed in LIS research. The essence of discourse analysis is to examine the fine grain details of spoken and written discourse to develop an understanding of how people accomplish social actions in discourse. This includes understanding how people ‘socially construct’ versions of people, actions and events.

How have you applied these techniques in your own research?

Across a number of years I have been interested in understanding how people use discourse to socially construct their own identities and the identities of other people. How, in other words, people use text and talk to create a sense of who they are and also to create a sense of who other people are. One element of my research has focused on how people use discourse in this way to avoid, or deal with, becoming the targets of prejudice.

How do you think these techniques might be relevant to LIS researchers?

First, LIS researchers can use discourse analysis to understand how LIS functions as one of a set of socially-embedded structures and practices: How do LIS professionals view LIS? How do other ‘stakeholders’ such as funders and users understand LIS? How do people make sense of the complex societal relationships that exist between LIS and other aspects of society, e.g. what do they see as the relationship between the library and the community? Are there broader ideologies in society that conditions the way that LIS functions?

Second, LIS involves people: LIS professionals, user groups, and different groups of other relevant people such as related professionals, colleagues within the broader work environment, those involved in regulatory activities, or those involved in funding. In what ways does the LIS professional create an understanding of what these people are like? And how do these people create a sense of what the LIS professional is like? How do these viewpoints interact (or even collide)? What are the social action outcomes of people viewing each other in these ways? These are questions that can be pursued using discourse analysis.

Where can people will find more information?

People might want to pursue these themes by looking at the text I co-wrote with Professor Chris McVittie: McKinlay, A. & McVittie, C. (2008). Social psychology and discourse. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Another useful text is: Tuffin, K. (2005). Understanding critical social psychology. London: Sage.

For full details about the workshop, please see the workshop programme.

DREaM event 2 speaker insight: Dr Louise Cooke

Dr Louise Cooke

Dr Louise Cooke

We are now only a week away from the first LIS DREaM workshop, which will be held in Edinburgh next Tuesday.

In the first of our series of preview posts ahead of the workshop, Dr Louise Cooke gives us a taste of what she intends to cover in her session, in which she will be introducing the participants to social network analysis. She explains why she feels this technique can be of value to LIS researchers and provides a really useful reading list so you can find out more about the issues involved.

Dr Louise Cooke is a Senior Lecturer at Loughborough University, where she teaches the MSc Information and Knowledge Management programme.

What research techniques will you be discussing with the workshop participants?

I will be discussing the potential uses of Social Network Analysis (SNA) in LIS research. SNA is a research technique that focuses on investigating the relationships between entities (e.g. who communicates with whom?), rather than the properties of the entities themselves. We will be doing a practical exercise using UCINET software which will investigate the research links between workshop participants.

How have you applied these techniques in your own research?

I have carried out a relatively simple SNA project, similar to that which we will be undertaking at the DREaM workshop. This analysed research networks between LIS PhD students at Sheffield University and at Loughborough University. I have also supervised MSc students using SNA for their dissertation research. In one case, for example, the student analysed information and knowledge flows in an academic department at Kyambogo University in Uganda. I am also currently supervising a PhD student who plans to use SNA as one element of his research strategy: his overall research project focuses on knowledge management (KM) in organisations.

How do you think these techniques might be relevant to LIS researchers?

SNA is particularly useful in the field of KM. It is increasingly being used by researchers and business consultants to analyse patterns of information and knowledge flow in organisations. In particular, it enables the identification of individuals playing important structural roles in the knowledge network, for example as bottleneck or gatekeeper; peripheral; central connector; boundary spanner etc. It also enables sub-groups, such as cliques, to be identified. Importantly, this enables organisations to make interventions that improve the overall knowledge flow. SNA is also useful to LIS researchers with regard to the exploration of patterns of online communication, for example, within online communities, and is the underpinning theory on which citation analysis is based.

Where can people will find more information?

The most useful (and accessible) text for me has been that by Cross & Parker, The Hidden Power of Social Networks, published by the Harvard Business School in 2004.

A very useful free resource is the introductory handbook written by Robert Hanneman (University of California) and Mark Riddle (University of Northern Colorado) . It is a good starting point if you plan to use UCINET software for SNA.

For an understanding of the potential uses of SNA the paper by Otto and Rousseau would be a good place to start: Otte, E & Rousseau, R (2002) SNA: a powerful strategy, also for the information sciences. Journal of Information Science, 28 (6) 441-453.

Finally, if you are really serious about gaining expertise in the techniques of SNA, I would recommend attending the University of Essex Summer School in Social Science Data Analysis course in SNA – I did this myself, and found it immensely useful.

Dr Cooke will be presenting her session Introduction to social network analysis and will also introduce the workshop 1 game/task. For full details about the workshop, please see the workshop programme.