Musings on Mandatory Copyright Training

by Gina Brander, Saskatchewan Polytechnic Library

The ongoing Access Copyright lawsuit against York University and anticipated amendments to the Copyright Act have made many institutions increasingly vigilant about copyright compliance. Some have responded by urging or requiring faculty to submit course materials for copyright review. Others have ramped up copyright training and education among faculty and staff.

With these approaches in mind, how can we ensure that faculty use, or even know about, the copyright services and training available to them? Instructors select materials and design their courses with varying levels of autonomy depending on their school, department and/or program. As a result, messaging isn’t always effectively communicated from the top down to everyone who needs to hear it, such as non-faculty and part-time instructors (Zerkee, 2017). And while mandatory copyright reviews of course materials ensure compliance, not all institutions have the resources to perform these reviews.

Mandatory copyright training is an alternative approach that has been cautiously explored. A recent survey of Canadian universities found that only 13.6% of respondents’ institutions required instructors to undertake copyright training or education (Zerkee, 2017). Canadian colleges and polytechnics appear to be following a similar track. A number of Ontario colleges in partnership with Heads of Libraries and Learning Resources (HLLR) collaboratively developed a copyright education online learning module, the first of which launched in 2013 (Copyright Literacy Ontario Colleges, n.d.). Yet few of the participating colleges have made these modules required training (Buckley, Muller, Peters, & Shannon, n.d.).

It would seem that mandatory copyright training is the exception rather than the rule in Canadian post-secondary institutions. There are many reasons for this—lack of resources, other institutional priorities, difficulties enforcing non-legislated materials, service culture, etc. For copyright offices firmly planted in the library, enforced education of any kind may feel counterintuitive.

Yet still I must ask—what is the best way to ensure that faculty and staff are equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to make informed, deliberate copyright choices? Perhaps some institutions will find more success and buy-in by promoting rather than enforcing copyright training. Even so, making basic training a requirement of employment is a surefire way for an institution to send the unequivocal message (both outwardly and inwardly) that copyright compliance is everyone’s responsibility. And that’s an important message.

References
Buckley, P., Muller, J., Peters, J., & Shannon, M. (n.d.). Copyright literacy in Ontario colleges [PowerPoint presentation]. Retrieved from https://copyrightliteracy.wordpress.com/about/

Copyright Literacy Ontario Colleges. (n.d.). Implementing. Retrieved from https://copyrightliteracy.wordpress.com/implementing/

Zerkee, J. (2017). Approaches to copyright education for faculty in Canada. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 11(2). 1-28. https://doi.org/10.21083/partnership.v11i2.3794

An Early Valentine for Journal Editors

by Selinda Berg
Leddy Library, University of Windsor

Currently, as a member of CAPAL’s Research and Scholarship Committee, I am working as one member of an editorial team building a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Academic Libriarianship on research and scholarship in Academic Libraries. While I have so enjoyed learning about the array of scholarly interests related to the topic, the most significant learning that I have achieved is about the incredible and relentless work of being a journal editor. I have a long list of respected colleagues who have taken on this role. However my foray into editorship brought to me a new and profound admiration for editors.

The work that journal editors do was captured in Lori Kloda’s CEBLIP blog post from May 2016. I have since learned that the list is modest in its description of the work of the editor. I have long recognized that there was a lot of work behind the scenes for journal publications. However, the amount of invisible labour involved in editorial work truly is astounding. And perhaps even harder to capture is the work and effort to be balanced, sensitive, and patient. Soliciting reviewers, tracking down reviews, mediating conflicting reviews, considering papers for rejection, balancing the voice of the author and one’s own voice are only a few of the tasks that editors must consciously and carefully engage in. Editors recognize that the works submitted to them are those of their respected colleagues who have made a personal and professional investment in their writings, and in turn treat them as such.

This post is intended to be a cheer for journal editors in our profession. They are supporting, encouraging, and facilitating research in our field. They are investing their time and efforts towards building our scholarly platforms. As such, with this valentine to the journal editors, I endeavor to be a better author and a better peer reviewer.

A Valentine for the journal editors…
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I have a better understanding,
Of all that you do.
So I promise to do better,
And proofread to the letter,
I will keep to the deadlines,
And read more closely the guidelines.
You read my articles with care,
And made them the best I could possibly share.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Research in teams & groups…when it works!

by Jaclyn McLean
Electronic Resources Librarian
University of Saskatchewan

Collaborations can be hard. Successful collaborations are rare (IMHO). I’ve been on teams of different shapes and sizes, and for different purposes since I became a librarian a decade(!) ago. Since I joined the USask Library five years ago, I’ve been lucky to have both the time and the opportunity to do some formalized learning about leadership and team development. I can look specifically to the Library Leadership Development Program (LLDP) and two posts from this blog as a turning point in the way I work in, and set expectations for, collaborative teams.

I could do a bunch of further research into the topic (and I have, see below for some sources I’ve consulted), but I thought I’d rather share my experiences:

  • Take time to plan early in the project: What are everyone’s expectation of timelines, deliverables? What are your goals from the project? If you want to publish an article, is there an outlet in mind? Who will be lead author? Are there roles each member will play on the team (aka note taker for meetings, booking meeting times/places, etc.)?
  • Talk about how you like to work: What makes you nutty? How do you measure success? How about others on the team? Where are your common values, and where are the potential conflicts? Identifying them early makes it easier to talk about them later—remember how I can think clearer if we meet in the mornings? remember how I like to take detailed notes?—rather than having to bring up these preferences in the heat of the moment.
  • Communicate: Talk to each other often and keep good notes. Keep track of decisions about methodology or changes along the way and check in with each other throughout the project to build trust with your collaborators.
  • Admit when you’re going to miss a deadline: do this before the deadline comes. Be understanding when another team member needs some flexibility on timelines too. We’re all busy, and shit happens.
  • It doesn’t have to be all business, all the time: being able to talk about other projects, or things in your life outside the research team not only lets your team members know when you will have reduced bandwidth (e.g., your cat is sick, or you’re going on vacation), but also builds relationships. Working on a team can’t be all about the working—it’s got to be about the team too.

I’ve always been a “get down to business” kind of person when it comes to work. It’s taken some hard lessons for me to remember to prioritize the more social elements of teamwork. They used to seem like a waste of time, time that could be spent getting the work done! I have now learned that making the time to build a foundation with your team and talking about how you want to work before you start doing the work is invaluable.

My apologies to anyone who was on a team with me before I realized this—I probably cut you off, or stifled your ideas, or rushed ahead with the task at hand without considering what you needed from the collaboration. Let’s be honest, I probably still do that sometimes. But I’m getting better 😊.

Further reading:
(if you only have time for one):

Shneiderman, B. (2016). The advantages of doing research in teams (essay) | Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2016/04/06/advantages-doing-research-teams-essay [Accessed 21 Dec. 2018].

Dunn, B. (2018). Leading a productive research group | University of Oxford. [online] Ox.ac.uk. Available at: https://www.ox.ac.uk/research/support-researchers/principal-investigators/principal-investigations-blog-pis/leading-productive-research-group?wssl=1 [Accessed 21 Dec. 2018].

Lee, T., & Mitchell, T. (2011). Working in Research Teams: Lessons from Personal Experiences. Management And Organization Review, 7(03), 461-469. doi: 10.1111/j.1740-8784.2011.00224.x

McEwan, D., Ruissen, G., Eys, M., Zumbo, B., & Beauchamp, M. (2017). The Effectiveness of Teamwork Training on Teamwork Behaviors and Team Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Interventions. PLOS ONE, 12(1), e0169604. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169604

Other excellently informed posts on the topic from this blog:

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2017/08/22/research-groups-and-the-gift-of-spaciousness/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2016/10/18/considering-collaborations/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2016/07/05/a-book-editing-collaboration/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2015/09/01/co-authoring2/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2015/06/09/collaborating-for-research-experiences-and-lessons-learnt/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2015/04/21/co-authoring-shared-work-%E2%89%A0-less-work/

https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2014/08/19/to-boldly-go-the-research-collaboration/

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Happy Holidays from C-EBLIP!

by Virginia Wilson, Director
Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP)

It’s hard to believe that another year has gone by, and so quickly! 2018 saw the first ever C-EBLIP Writing Retreat, where a bunch of writing, researching librarians headed to the Temple Gardens Hotel & Spa in Moose Jaw for 5 days of writing and floating. We also enjoyed having Jessie Loyer from Mount Royal University in Calgary visit us this fall in Saskatoon for a great workshop and a talk entitled On Research and Positionality: Silence, Ownership, and Power. We all learned very much about Indigenous perspectives of research.
Häppy Holidays!
Image by Peter Thoeny (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Brain-Work will be taking a holiday break and returning with new posts in the New Year. On behalf of everyone involved with C-EBLIP at the University of Saskatchewan Library, I wish you a very happy holiday season and all the best in 2019.

Reading About Writing

by Shannon Lucky
IT Librarian, University of Saskatchewan Library

I have been sick for two weeks. Home on the couch, too much TV, never enough tea kind of sick. It has been the kind of terrible cold that makes you unsuitable for human contact and too foggy to do any real focused work but I had so much downtime that I started itching to do something productive (but not too difficult). I decided to try to catch up on all of my unread listserv emails, blog posts in my RSS reader, and articles I had dumped into a “to read” folder that I never have time to open. There was a lot to cover so I decided to do a quick triage, group articles by theme, and tackle the most interesting stuff first.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t get through everything. I did wander down an interesting rabbit hole of articles about writing and procrastination – my research Achilles heel. Maybe there is something about having uninterrupted hours of free time (and a low-grade fever) that made all these articles feel very profound and personally relevant, but it was wonderful to have several days to let curiosity and serendipity lead me in many directions reading about how to write more, how to write better, and how to make writing less painful. In the past I have tried many different productivity methods to get more writing done, but this break to read broadly about it and reflect on my own writing practice (or lack thereof) motivated me to make a real change. It reminded me of meeting my trainer at the gym for the first time. She asked me what my fitness goals were and I, clearly not understanding what a normal fitness goal is, said that I wanted to become the kind of person who likes to run. Now I want to do the same thing with writing.

The first thing I should probably do is learn to keep better notes that refer back to my sources, but so much of the advice I read was repeated again and again in the books and articles that I read. Here are a few of the tips that stuck with me and that I am dedicated to trying out:

  1. Read a lot. In quantity, but also different subjects, mediums, and genres. You never know when a newspaper article or novel will make some connecting or spark some new thought. This can work for both the content of your research, but also how you write about it. I have started saving examples of writing that I love and make a point of re-reading it when I get stuck or am feeling frustrated. I have a folder on my computer full of articles, excerpts from books, bios, poems, and comments. Many are not related directly to my scholarly work but the writing style can teach me something about communicating effectively or connecting with a reader.
  2. Write a lot. This one sounds obvious, and it is. To get more writing done, I need to write more. Writing everyday is best, but it is most important to write frequently and consistently. Writing more, especially if the writing is bad. Practice is the only way to get better and the more writing I produce the more raw material I will have to fish the promising bits out of the stuff I never want anyone to read.
  3. Schedule time to write and defend it uncompromisingly. This is one that I have read before and have tried to follow but have mostly failed at. I have a recurring meeting in my calendar during the first hour of my work days for “writing”. This usually translates into returning emails or catching up on something I didn’t get to finish the day before. It is time to find a way to get this time back by treating it as a non-negotiable appointment. I would never skip a meeting with a colleague or a student so I need to start treating this time the same way.
  4. Editing is critical. It is necessary to give yourself some breathing room between writing and editing. Getting over the idea that my writing must be good out of the gate is going to be a process for me. I copied out a few choice sections from Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” about the importance of the “shitty first draft” and her three step editing process: the first draft is the downdraft (just get something down), the second is the updraft (fix it up), and the third is the dental draft where you check every tooth. My key takeaway – leave time for at least three drafts! You cannot do that the night before the deadline.
  5. Writing is research. The process of writing is formative, it is a way of thinking so I need to give it time and attention. There is nothing to gain from rushing through the process to get to the finished product. Barry White (the other Barry White) wrote a great book about thesis writing called Mapping Your Thesis that has great advice about scholarly writing in general. His argument, both encouraging a bit depressing, is that writing creates insight because thinking and writing are inseparable processes. Writing and revising is a recursive process. Recursive processes are not compressible, there are not shortcuts, and writing will always be a struggle.

Now that I am finally back on my feet and feeling human again I am dedicated to taking a new approach to my research and writing. If you have other advice I would love to hear about it in the comments section. If you are interested in checking out some of the writing that inspired this post the following is an incomplete list of my writing advice sources:

(Editor’s note: Brain-Work is hosted by the University of Saskatchewan and there is a problem with the comments that cannot be resolved. If you try to comment on this or any blog post and you get a “forbidden to comment” error message, please send your comment to virginia.wilson@usask.ca and I will post the comment on your behalf and alert the author. We apologize for this annoying problem.)

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Mentors and Mentoring

by Marjorie Mitchell
Research Librarian, UBC Okanagan Library

I’ve been thinking about mentors and mentorship in the field of librarianship, broadly, including research mentors. A quick search on a popular search engine for “Canadian librarian mentoring program” brings back about 27,500,000 results, which shows clearly I’m not the only one thinking about mentors and mentoring programs. A quick skim of the titles confirms what I had suspected: there are many nuances to different types of mentoring, and mentoring can happen at many different times in a person’s career.

I don’t know whether I can add anything particularly wise, or insightful to the scholarly conversation occurring around librarian mentorship, but I can definitely articulate some questions and musings.

The peer-reviewed literature covers a wide range of topics from library leaders as mentors, to mentorship as a leadership development tool, to peer-mentoring as a method to increase retention within the profession. Anyone seeking to either modify an existing mentorship program or to develop a mentoring program where none exists does not need to go it alone. Why aren’t there more programs to “mentor the mentors” akin to “train the trainer” programs and workshops? I have seen written guidelines, but haven’t participated in any program to help me, as a mentor, develop.

I observed that, often, library literature speaks about library leaders as mentors. This is something I am wrestling with, not only from my own experience, but also on a more pragmatic level. When I entered the profession roughly 15 years ago, I was not offered formal “mentoring.” Instead, I did have a number of meetings with one of my directors who critiqued different aspects of my work. I strongly suspect this director thought they were mentoring me, but I didn’t feel like I was growing into my profession. I felt like I was being evaluated and found wanting, and my experience was not unique (Harrington & Marshall, 2014). I found the informal conversations with my work colleagues far more useful and far less intimidating. In addition to this, I’m curious as to why we think our library leaders have the time, expertise, or capacity to mentor. They already have a plate full of commitments in their role as leaders. Managers, however, should be provided with supports to allow them to mentor more junior managers. Again, I don’t think managers should be mentoring those they supervise because of the implicit and explicit evaluative role they play.

Personally, I believe there is a very fine line between mentors and friends. Perhaps this is a distinction that fades over time. I think all formal mentoring programs should have times by which the relationship, as a formal, mentoring relationship, ends. However, informal mentoring can and does continue after a program ends, in some cases. I think as long as the relationship doesn’t devolve into one of manipulation and abuse, there isn’t anything I can identify as unethical in the migration of a mentoring relationship into a friendship.

I am turning the idea over in my mind that we shouldn’t be looking for or working with mentors from within our own organizations. I am wondering whether there isn’t a place for cross-institutional agreements to allow, and recognize, mentors from one institution mentoring people from another institution. I participate in a mentoring program organized by my provincial library association, BCLA, which has allowed me to share my experiences with both new librarians, and library workers new to BC.

When it comes to research mentorship, or mentoring people who are growing their research agenda, often the expertise doesn’t exist within an individual’s organization. The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) Librarians’ Research Institute is an amazing immersive experience for librarians wanting to expand their research and build their research confidence. BC is also home to a one-day program called ReAL, Research in Academic Libraries, that is helping librarians create links and find mentorship wherever they are in their research skill development.

Perhaps, there is no one mentor model, but a patchwork of models that people need to tap as they make their way from student, to rookie, to mid-career, to nearing retirement.

When I am offering suggestions, I almost always end with a statement that releases people from any obligation to use my suggestions or follow my advice. I explicitly state that while I may sound prescriptive, at the end of the day, if I sparked a new idea that was completely outside the realm of what I said, then I’m happy to have served that role for them. This also holds true for all that I’ve written here.

Reference

Harrington, M. R., & Marshall, E. (2014). Analyses of Mentoring Expectations, Activities, and Support in Canadian Academic Libraries. College & Research Libraries, 75(6), 763-790. doi:10.5860/crl.75.6.763

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Converting ‘Any questions?’ into social media collateral

by Joanna Hare
Duke Kunshan University Library

Previously on this blog I have written about my love of Poll Everywhere. It is a fantastic tool for capturing student attention and sustaining engagement throughout a library workshop. For this post, I will share how we used Poll Everywhere at our recent Duke Kunshan University Library orientation sessions to capture student questions and convert these questions into social media collateral.

August 2018 was a very exciting time for Duke Kunshan University (DKU) – it was the month in which we welcomed the inaugural class of undergraduate students onto the campus and in to classrooms. During the intensive university-wide orientation program, the Library had a one hour session with students – just one hour, with over 250 students, on the second-last day of a two week orientation program for the very first undergraduate students at this start-up university – a daunting task! It was clear we needed to make the Library session easy to follow and engaging.

We quickly decided to use Poll Everywhere to make the session interactive and capture each student’s attention. Rather than use Poll Everywhere as a way of testing their knowledge, we decided to use it as a means to ‘surprise’ students with information about the library. For example, instead of simply telling them how many books we have, we asked students to guess the number, and they were – dare I say – amazed at the size of our collection. Similarly, rather than just listing what types of online resources we have access to, we gave specific examples of a variety of resource types, and asked students to guess which resources they could access via the Library, as shown in the following screenshot:

Usually at the end of any session we would allow time for questions. However, in this context where we wanted to maximise our time with the students, we elected to ask students to submit their questions via Poll Everywhere. In the last section students were asked to ‘Please share any comments or questions you have about DKU Library’. We would then collect and review the questions and ask students to follow us on WeChat where we would be sharing the answers to their questions over the coming days.

We received 99 responses to the question. We did a quick and dirty analysis to identify some common themes and came up with the following general categories of questions/comments:
1. Using eBooks
2. Borrowing policies
3. Borrowing DVDs
4. Updating the collection
5. Study space and availability
6. Getting access to things students can’t find/we don’t have

We could certainly do a much more detailed analysis of the data we collected, but the goal was not to conduct “serious research”, just to get a general picture of what students wanted to know about and use this information to create timely and useful WeChat posts, such as this one:


WeChat is particularly well-suited to creating groups of articles for this purpose, but this could also be replicated using a blog or perhaps LibGuides.

One challenge we encountered was that we were surprised at the number of questions we received, meaning we had our work cut out for us to quickly create the WeChat posts. This will be easier in future as we will be able to reuse some of the content from this semester, anticipate what will be asked in future sessions, and also adjust our teaching to make sure we don’t overlook information that may seem unimportant to us but is of interest to our students.

Overall this was a simple but effective way of combining our goals of gathering student questions and feedback and creating social media content that was immediately relevant to their needs. We were pleasantly surprised at the number of questions we received – far more than we could have answered at the end of the orientation session. We will continue to use this method in future sessions.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

What I’ve Favourited on Twitter Lately pt. 4

By Virginia Wilson, Director
Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP)

I do a lot of liking or ♥-ing on Twitter. Sometimes it’s to acknowledge a tweet or a reply. Often it’s so I can go back and look at whatever is in the tweet in greater detail later. Do I do this? Not as often as I would like. So, I’m going to do it now in front of everyone.

I’m currently working in the Agriculture Building on the U of S campus as liaison librarian for the College of Agriculture and Bioresources and the School of Environment and Sustainability. So, I’ve upped my game in terms of following Ag stuff on Twitter. I’ve favourited a couple of tweets from the Livestock & Forage Centre of Excellence @LFCE_usask. This state of the art research facility had its grand opening on October 9.

@myleejoseph tweeted a link to an article entitled Using ORCID, DOI, and Other Open Identifiers in Research Evaluation. A timely topic and an interesting read.

@ithinkwellHugh suggests that if you want to blog about your research, you don’t need to create your own blog (who has the time??) but you can contribute to someone else’s blog. Hugh Kearns writes a lot about supporting doctoral students and their research which I find pertains a lot to librarians and our research. Follow him! (you can contact me to get your research out there via Brain-Work any time!)

If you’ve wanted to know more about research data management (RDM) @NewRevAcadLib posted a link to a new literature review on librarians and RDM. This paper has been posted in its accepted version and I hope it’s not behind the T&F paywall.

@AprilHathcock posted two pictures from the 3rd National Joint Conference of Librarians of Color. The pictures are the two pages of a selected bibliography shared during a session pertaining to Indigenous research methodologies.

@katelangrell announced that the 2019 ABC Copyright Conference will be held at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Save the date: May 30-31.

The Call for Papers/Posters is out for the 10th International Evidence Based Library and Information conference (@ConfEblip) #EBLIP10 Who doesn’t want to go to Glasgow, Scotland in June of 2019??!! You have till November 30 to get your submissions in.

That’s my selection of faves for now. I find Twitter so useful for keeping up professionally and for pushing out information to my liaison areas.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Plain Language in Research Writing, or, How I learned to chill out and love contractions

by Ruby (Lavallee) Warren
User Experience Librarian, University of Manitoba Libraries

When I came to academic writing, I was terrified. As a first generation student and (I’ll be honest) a pretty extreme example of a high school slacker, I had a deep conviction that I didn’t belong in a University at all. To try and “prove” that I was worthwhile to academia, I tried to bend my writing in imitation of the journal articles I struggled through, in imitation of the ideas of my professors, even in imitation of the practices of other students if I was sufficiently intimidated by them. I tried to make myself sound important and knowledgeable in the way I wrote. The stuffier and more impenetrable my language was, as far as I could tell, the better I was doing at “fitting in”.

Of course, I was really just learning how to write poorly and look pretentious. In my third year, one of my professors gave us all an invitation to come and talk with him about our first essays and basically told me as much (sincere thank you to Joshua Schuster at Western University!). It took me years to relax enough to understand the advice he gave me on writing over the course of his class, but eventually I accepted that I didn’t need to write mazes to make people listen to my ideas. Writing mazes, in fact, accomplished the opposite feat; almost no one will reach understanding while fighting through writing that’s actively obscuring your meaning. Now I try and live by three rules when I write up my research for an audience:

Use the Two-Dollar Word Instead of the Ten

Writing is a lot like cooking. Sometimes you need a very, very specific ingredient of high value – a truffle oil, for example – to get the flavour you’re going for and make the occasion special. But most of the time you just want regular ingredients, in the cheapest and easiest way you can get them, to combine so you can make something nourishing and tasty.

Research writing, in particular, is an everyday-meal writing situation. Whether it’s a report for your institution or a paper for an academic journal, no reader comes to research writing looking to be dazzled by your ingredients. If there’s a way to say something with two different words, go for the most common option. Nobody has ever been impressed by a writer utilizing prodigiously assorted terminology (ugh, see?). And if absolutely only the truffle oil of words will do, make certain that its surroundings are simple and the meaning of the term is clear to your intended reader. Absolutely no one wants to eat (or read) something entirely made of truffle oils.

Simplify, and Make Reading Easy

To quote Serena Golden (of the Washington Post Express), “language isn’t a fence to keep the riffraff out”. Make your sentences easy to read – keep your phrasing as direct and simple as possible, and change up your sentence length to make your paragraphs feel more like speech and less like someone barking in your face. People complain about the “passive voice”1 , but the passive voice serves a purpose – as far as I’m concerned, the real crime in academic writing is writing that wastes time. Every word and clause you write should create meaning or readability. If it doesn’t, throw it out.

Straightforward writing may come easily to you. My misconceptions and brainwashing about needing to sound smart in academic writing took up a pretty strong residence in my brain, so often I find I have to write my paragraph, stare at it for a while, and read it out loud a few times before I can try out replacement sentences that are easier to understand. If you struggle, keep at it. When you’re stuck, I find it also helps to have someone less familiar with your specific field take a look and tell you when it’s becoming harder to read.

Be Human

While you should tailor your tone to your audience, you don’t have to obliterate any presence of personality from your writing. Say “I” or “we” instead of “the researchers” – a phrase that makes you sound like you’re having an out of body experience. Use contractions. View the piece of research writing as a conversation you’re looking to have with someone, and shape it accordingly. When speaking you have a style for your coworkers, a style for your boss, a style for strangers you’re secretly afraid know way more than you do – use them! Practice adapting yourself to writing and find out where your voice is for each level of formality.

(Admittedly, I have bit of trouble with this last rule. I lean toward the colloquial and slang-y, which is really only appropriate for research dissemination in blog posts and presentations, and I tend to over-compensate for it when I need to be formal. Further, it’s difficult to find your own voice while also trying to write in a way that other people can easily digest. And if you have stuffy editors or reviewers or collaborators, there are times that not a whole lot of your humanity comes across on the final page. But it’s worth trying. I think.)

You might not ever come to enjoy your own writing, but if you follow those three rules, you can at least be confident most people will be able to understand it. As long as people can understand your ideas, you can actually be part of the conversation – regardless of how confident you feel in your own style or credentials. And I guess that’s a good Rule Four for me to add in the future: If they Get It, It’s Good Enough.
______________
1Check http://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/revising/passive-voice/ for help with the passive voice if you aren’t sure when it’s appropriate.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Research about Research: A Plan for Research

by Megan Kennedy
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library
University of Saskatchewan

I have an idea to do some research about research. More specifically, I want to look into the research preparedness of newly graduated librarians working in an academic setting. Being that I am a librarian fairly new to the profession, I find myself thinking about this more and more and I have one big question that keeps coming to mind, “why wasn’t I better prepared”? I knew a lot of about research but not really how to do it.

My current research plan is to survey Canadian library schools’ curricular course offerings looking for mentions of “research”. I will look at the course descriptions and most recent syllabi (where available) for all courses available at the eight MLIS graduate schools in Canada and look for references to “research” and for research-focused courses. I will also look for courses focused on academic librarianship and analyze the course descriptions and syllabi for references to research.

Research is a funny thing and requires a lot of learning; you can learn methods, learn to search for and evaluate information, learn to write for other professionals, learn to collaborate with peers near and far, learn where to publish for the most impact, learn how to take criticism and accept rejection, and so much more. What I find most interesting about research, at least research for academic librarians, is that a great deal of this learning seems to take place outside of the formal MLIS program.

Research is a hugely important part of an academic librarian’s career and yet new librarians can often find themselves struggling to get things going. There are several reasons for this1 but you could see how the excess of learning throws them for a loop. Learning how to work effectively in academia is a whole thing in and of itself, and research can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. So what is the solution? That I do not know, but I am looking into it.

We learn so much in our short time at library school but research – the nitty gritty of actually doing it – seems like it is often missed in the formal curriculum. The findings of this survey aim to highlight some of the gaps in the current curricula of Canadian library schools and suggest ways in which these gaps can exacerbate feelings of impostor syndrome for newly graduated academic librarians entering the workplace. As well, awareness of some of the gaps can help professional organizations and institutions provide valuable continuing education opportunities for new career librarians. In loftier aims, it is my hope that this research might eventually help to augment the current MLIS curricula to offer courses specific to academic research.

1Maybe one the biggest issues is that new career academic librarians are often hired into term positions that do not require, nor make time for, research as part of their duties – but that is a whole other rant for another time.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.