Designing and Presenting Research Posters

By Shannon Lucky, Information Technology Librarian, University of Saskatchewan
Bernice Leyeza, Research Assistant, Department of Geography & Planning, University of Saskatchewan

This summer I have been fortunate to have Bernice working as a research assistant, partially funded by an undergraduate student research grant at our institution. Part of the grant program has the RAs participate in a research poster competition at the end of the summer. This sounded like the perfect opportunity to co-write a post about designing and presenting a research poster from our two different perspectives.

I love presenting research posters. I like having real, sometimes lengthy, conversations with people who are interested in my research. I have gotten new perspectives on my work and great suggestions for things to look at, particularly scholarship outside of my academic bubble, from conversations with one or two people in a hall full of posters. This has never happened to me during a standard paper Q&A. Conferences where the posters presentations happen in tandem with refreshments are also a bonus. I have long suspected that the insightful introverts in our communities are a little bolder during cocktail hour than during lecture hall panel discussions.

While presenting a poster might be my favourite part of the process, designing one has been a surprisingly useful scholarly activity. I can easily fill up a word count limit for a paper, but trying to essentialize down what I am really trying to say (conveyed in the right 30 pt. font verbiage) has challenged me to get real about what I am doing – not what I like to think I am doing, or what I want other academics to think I am doing. It is hard to hide behind academic-ese when you have 16 square inches to describe the significance of your project. You also need to actually use that elevator pitch I know I have been coerced into writing at more than one research workshop. This is all to say that it is hard to phone-in a decent poster. You need to know your question, data, and results inside and out; well enough to distill it down to the essential text, speak extemporaneously about it, and probably answer a few questions.

I was lucky to have Bernice as my RA for this project. Not only was she eager to take on the challenge of translating our early results into a poster, she also has design skills that far surpass my own. In planning for the poster we came up with four essential questions that we have done our best to answer from each of our perspectives. We hope that the following advice will be useful for veteran and rookie research poster presenters alike.

  1. What is the poster for and who is my audience?

“My first undergraduate degree required us to master our skills in producing different communication materials. I took a lab class where our weekly assignments were to translate a research article into a poster – good practice for designing your own.” (Bernice)

Whether your poster is for a class or a conference, focus on the most interesting and important information for that audience and what language will speak to them. This is a good time to note any restrictions on dimensions, digital file standards, and any design or content requirements provided by the event organizer. Is this the place to show your creativity, or is it expected that you use a standard template/layout? Look at other examples from researchers in your discipline online or ask colleagues/professors if they can share examples with you. Get an idea of the common practices within your discipline or at the event you will be presenting at.

 

  1. What comes first, the writing or the design?

The quality of your research and ability to communicate its value is first and foremost. You can’t have a successful poster without solid research to communicate. Having said that, there are different approaches to turning your literature review, hypothesis, data, and analysis into a cohesive poster design. Bernice prefers to write up a research article first which helps solidify the important details for the poster. As she transfers the writing into the poster layout she works to make it more concise – good practice for academic writing in general. If the poster is about new (unpublished) research, Shannon prefers to write some quick notes and start laying out the broad ideas on post-its or in the design software. Finessing the writing comes later. Both approaches work well, just make sure to avoid self-plagiarism if you are re-purposing text from your publications and grants to fill out the purpose/methods/relevance sections.

 

  1. What design program should I use?

Unless there is a standard required template, you can use whatever software you like. We recommend using what you are comfortable with so you don’t spend extra hours struggling with the software; there is enough work to do getting your content organised. You can use something as simple as PowerPoint, or as complicated as InDesign, both can give you a professional looking result.

Sometimes universities will have a standard template students and faculty can use. For Bernice’s poster, we wanted it to look like a poster from our institution, but not like all of the other posters in the competition. Instead of using the standard ppt file, Bernice chose to design her own layout in InDesign using the official university colours.

 

  1. How will you make your poster engaging and able to stand out in a hall full of other presenters?

This answer has two approaches: design and presentation.

Design – Use sound design rules for your poster. You can print out 4-6 paragraphs of text in 16 pt. font and call it a day, but taking some extra time to make your poster look approachable (as in, you can read it in less than 30 minutes) and visually appealing will make your research look more approachable and interesting. Using appropriate white space, limiting your colour pallet (and think about accessibility for colour blind readers), and using a legible font in an appropriate size will go a long way to making your poster stand out. A good font size guideline is 85 pt. for the title, 36 pt. for sub headings, 24 pt. for the body, and 18 pt. for captions and references. Using relevant images and diagrams is also a good idea.

Presentation – First and foremost, you want to be presentable. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes that are appropriate for the event. If you feel comfortable you will be more comfortable presenting. Have your elevator pitch memorised, but be ready to have a conversation about your project. Don’t stick to a formal script but if you get nervous you can prepare some talking points and write them down in bullet form. Try to engage with the audience around their interest in your research, not just your favourite ideas. This is a great way to find collaborators or get asked questions that may not come up in a formal conference Q&A. While you are standing by your poster waiting for someone to approach put your phone away, smile, and say hello. Don’t just talk to the people you know or people from your institution, you never know what kind of connections you will make.

This is a great networking opportunity, so make it easy for people to follow-up with you after the event. Include your email address, Twitter handle, or website URL directly on your poster and bring your business cards with you. If you won’t be standing next to your poster for the entire event, pin up a few cards next to your poster for people to take.

A few final tips:

  • If you are travelling to present at a conference, plan ahead to have your poster printed at your destination. Shannon has had good luck using hosting universities’ campus print shops, and Staples is always a quick and nearly universal option. This will save you having to carry on a poster tube or risking damaging or losing your poster en route.
  • Get the most mileage out of your poster. If your institution has an institutional repository, add your poster and some speaking notes to your profile. If you have a personal academic website, link to a pdf version of your poster there. Like any scholarly communication product, this may be useful to another researcher (if not for the subject matter, then certainly for your elegant design).

Research poster can be a little tricky, it may be easier to write about your research first or some people might find it easier to start with the layout. Practising how to write concise material is a useful exercise. If your information is well written, designing and presenting will come naturally. You don’t have to use complicated software to design your poster and can use the resources you have. Again, you are presenting your research and that’s the bulk of your poster. Make sure to follow the design rules of the conference and have your elevator pitch ready.


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 that is (un-)related to librarianship

by Kristin Hoffmann
University of Western Ontario

I have noticed that conversations about librariansi doing research often lead to discussions about whether librarians can or should do research that isn’t related to librarianship or library and information science (LIS). Most often in those discussions, librarians express a desire to do research in any discipline or bemoan the fact that their institution’s policies or practices don’t permit or support them to do research that is un-related to librarianship.

In a recent study that I did with two colleagues, Selinda Berg and Denise Koufogiannakis, we surveyed academic librarians who work at universities across Canada to explore how various factors are related to research productivity. As part of our survey, we asked participants to report their LIS-related research output over the past five years. A handful of participants remarked on the idea of LIS-related research with comments such as:

“What is LIS research? Is it only research that has been published in LIS journals? The research that I do is primarily focused on teaching and learning. I believe that this also informs LIS, but am unclear if it would be considered strictly LIS research?”

“My area of research is not LIS-related, but librarians [at my university] are restricted to ‘work-related’ projects when applying for sabbatical.”

“Peer-reviewed, published research in non-library fields raises the image and acceptance of librarians as faculty and participants in post-secondary activities in my opinion.”

I admit having had a strong personal opinion on the matter: that librarians should do research related to librarianship. It has seemed like common sense to me that we research within our discipline. I also feel that “librarianship” is vast, far beyond the realm of “related to what I do as a librarian,” and so I haven’t perceived this boundary as a restriction.

But I find myself now wanting to be less fixed and more open to considering other ways of looking at this. I am curious to explore the issues around research that is and is not related to librarianship. Questions that interest me include:

What does “research related to librarianship” mean, and how might that meaning differ for librarians who are more or less interested in doing such research?

How does collective agreement languageii affect the kind of research that librarians do or the kind of research that they want to do?

How do subject expertise and other advanced degrees influence librarians’ research interests or confidence to carry out research, either related to librarianship or not?

I hope that this exploration will help me, and others, to better understand what is at the root of various perspectives about research that is or is not related to librarianship, so that we can better support and encourage each other as researchers.
__________________________________
iMy experience is limited to conversations about academic librarians doing research.
iiIn Canada, most academic librarians are members of faculty associations and their responsibilities, including research or scholarly activity, are outlined in collective agreements or similar documents.

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.

“I miss math…”- Strengths & Comfort Zones When Choosing Research Methods

by Laura Newton Miller, on sabbatical from Carleton University

I have the great fortune to be on a one-year sabbatical. I love to learn, and I’ve moved out of my comfort zone by doing more qualitative research. I am interpreting a lot of open-ended comments from many interesting people, and have gone from being overwhelmed to kind of/sort-of comfortable in the mounds of data I’ve collected. I really do appreciate and love the learning.

So, a little story: In late spring, I was helping my 11-year-old son with his homework to find the surface area of triangular prisms. After watching some YouTube videos, we eventually started working through a practice sheet until he finally got the hang of it. While working on some problems myself in order to help him understand, I had a bit of an epiphany: I miss math.

You see, in “real life” I’m an assessment librarian. This started as mainly collections assessment, and eventually broadened to also include service and space.  If anyone ever thought that they would like to become a librarian to avoid math, they best not be working in collections, administration, or assessment. I do math all the time in my job. Does it drive me crazy sometimes? Yep. But I like it- I’ve always been pretty good at it.

For the most part, my research so far this year does not include much math. And that’s ok; It doesn’t work for what I’m trying to do at the moment. I have been stretching out of my comfort zone, treading my way through to learn new skills. I guess this is nothing new- I get out of my comfort zone a lot in my regular job too (ie. I never knew I’d use Excel so much). With learning any new skill, there are overwhelming moments- the “what have I gotten myself into” kinds of moments. They are happening less and less now, but I sometimes find myself comparing this sabbatical to my last one in 2010. At that time, I was just getting used to the idea of doing research at all. One of the things I did was a bibliographic study on graduate biology theses at Carleton University (shameless plug here: http://www.istl.org/11-winter/refereed3.html). There was lot of math involved.  It was a very new process for me and I’m sure I had my doubts at the time, but I also remember saying out loud “I LOVE this”. Not that I’m NOT loving what I’m doing now…I’ve certainly had my “ooh” moments…. I just find it more…difficult maybe?

I love Selinda Berg’s blog post (https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2016/03/22/capacity-not-competencies/) focusing on capacities for research- not just research competencies. I have to keep reminding myself that this is a learning process. I’m definitely growing as a researcher. I remember being part of the Librarians’ Research Institute (2014) (http://www.carl-abrc.ca/strengthening-capacity/workshops-and-training/librarians-research-institute/). Although I can’t find it in my notes (and I still refer to them 🙂 ), I do remember us talking about choosing research methods to answer your questions- understanding the advantages and disadvantages of choosing quantitative, qualitative, or critical/theoretical methods. In the end though, someone said you do have to feel comfortable with your choice of research method. As an example, if you are a complete introvert, you have to ask yourself if you really want to conduct focus groups or interviews. Just how much do you want to get out of your comfort zone?

I’m happy to be out of my comfort zone, but I have also learned that when I’m looking at future ways to answer my research questions, I need to remember my strengths and skills that I do have. I purposely did not say “weaknesses” because those are the opportunities to learn. I do think that librarians can sometimes be a little “judgey” about some methods (ie “not another survey”) and this is not helpful.

Ultimately choose the research method that is right for your research question, and when weighing the pros and cons of each method, remember your strengths and the learning curve that might be involved. Next time (if it makes sense to do so) I know that I won’t necessarily leave math out of the equation (bad pun intended).

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.

An argument for transdisciplinary research for the library and information professions

by Tegan Darnell, Research Librarian, University of Southern Queensland

Put simply, ‘transdisciplinary’ research draws on work from a number of different disciplines to approach a problem or question in a holistic way, but it is distinct from other cross-disciplinary methodologies in that it describes research that attempts to interrogate space across, between, or beyond the disciplines.

Interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, and multidisciplinary research remain inside the framework of disciplinary research. A library study that uses a method such as ethnography is one example of ‘interdisciplinary’ research, for example. A ‘transdisciplinary’ approach is one that attempts to understand the wider world in a way that is not possible within disciplinary research.

Transdisciplinary research is a way of attempting to understand and address the complexities of those ‘wicked’ multi-faceted problems that involve human beings, nature, technology and society. Climate change, artificial intelligence, poverty, and health are all areas where transdisciplinary studies are beneficial.

As LIS professionals, we are working in a field that is at the intersection between people, technology, ethics, information, and learning. Allowing ourselves to abandon the rigid ways of thinking established within disciplines such as education, information science, and perhaps even the term ‘evidence-based librarianship’ would allow LIS professionals to create the intellectual space to challenge our existing assumptions and realities.

Problems with complex social, economic, or ethical aspects such as:
• lack of diversity within the profession,
• scholarly communication and publishing models,
• copyright, intellectual property and piracy,
• technologist vs. humanist approaches to libraries,
• Western-centric approaches to information, knowledge and learning
could be approached with new conceptual, theoretical, and methodological investigations.

So, why is this important to LIS practitioners? Do you ever ask yourself:
• Are we really dealing with the problem here?
• Are we creating value for our community in the long term?
• Why are we paying for these subscriptions anyway?
• What is ‘authoritative’ information (and who says)?
• What about privacy?
• How can we address climate change as an organisation?
• How can I address my own ‘whiteness’ in my day to day professional practice?
• What does our preferred future library even look like?

I do. It is important to me that what I do affects the wider world in a positive way. In a very selfish way, when I go home in the evening I want to be able to tell my children that I do a job that makes the world a better place. If I can’t, I need to change what I’m doing.

Let’s make some connections with others, let’s find some new ways of thinking about solving these problems, because I’m ready, and I want some answers.

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

The right tool for the job: NVivo software for thematic analysis

by Carolyn Doi
Education and Music Library, University of Saskatchewan

This post builds off of an earlier one by research assistant Veronica Kmiech, which outlines the process for searching and identifying literature on the topic of how practitioners in cultural heritage organizations manage local music collections.1 I have worked with Veronica since summer 2016 on this project, which led to a thematic analysis of the literature seeking to better understand the professional practices implemented and challenges faced in managing, preserving and providing access to local music collections in libraries and archives.2

Using NVivo to facilitate the thematic analysis in this project was ultimately extremely helpful in organizing and managing the data. With over fifty sources to analyze in this review, the thought of doing this work manually seemed daunting.

Thematic analysis typically encompasses steps which take the researcher from familiarization of the data, through development of codes and themes, and finally to being able to tie these themes to the broader picture within the literature.3 NVivo becomes particularly useful at the stages of coding and theme development.

During the coding phase, NVivo will help save descriptions, inclusion, and exclusion criteria for each code. These are fairly easy to change as needed, being able to see an overview of the codes you are working with is definitely helpful, and it is easy to create hierarchies within the node sets. Once code labels are identified, coding the dataset involves (a lot!) of highlighting and decisions about which node(s) to assign to that piece of text. Adding new nodes is fairly simple, as there will likely be themes that come up throughout the coding process. Word to the wise: coding is made easier with NVivo, but the software doesn’t do all the work for you. Schedule extra time for this portion of the research.

During the phase of theme development and organization, NVivo made it quite easy to sort nodes into broader themes. In practice, this process took a few revisions in order to fully think through how and why nodes should be sorted and organized. The software has some features that assist with finding significance within the themes including ability to make mind maps, charts, and word frequency queries. After this process, I identified five broad themes were identified within the literature, some with as few as three associated nodes, and some with as many as thirteen (fig. 1).

Figure 1: Themes and node hierarchy

Following the development of this hierarchy, I went back into the literature, to find examples of how each theme was applied and referred to in the literature. When presenting the analysis portion, these examples were helpful in illustrating the underlying narrative.

This example (fig. 2) shows nodes found within the theme which brings together data on the theme of why practitioners choose to collect local music.


Figure 2: Goal and Objective theme

To better illustrate the significance or application of these concepts, I used quotes from the literature as examples. This excerpt works particularly well as an illustration of why heritage organizations might choose to collect local music, why it may present challenges, and why it can be considered unique:

The Louisville Underground Music Archives (LUMA) project was born of the need to document this particular, and important, slice of Louisville’s musical culture. …from a diverse community of bands and musicians, venue and store owners, recording studios and label managers, and fans to maintain the entire story from a broad range of perspectives.4

Pulling quotes such as this one helped me to build a narrative around the themes I’d identified, and serve to provide a gateway into the literature being analyzed.

The process of analyzing the data this way provided me with a rich resource on which to build the literature review, and a unique map of what the literature represents. While NVivo has some flaws and drawbacks (price, switching between operating systems, and working collaboratively were notable obstacles), the benefits outweighed them in the end (quick learning curve, saves the time of the researcher, assists considerably with organization of data and thematic synthesis). I highly recommend NVivo as a tool to keep in your back pocket for future qualitative analysis projects.

1 “Locating the local: A literature review and analysis of local music collections.” https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2017/01/17/lit-review-local-music-collections/
2 Results from this analysis were recently presented during the 2017 annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Music Libraries (CAML) in Toronto, ON in a paper titled Regional music collection practices in libraries: A qualitative systematic review and thematic analysis of the literature.
3 “About Thematic Analysis.” University of Auckland. https://www.psych.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/our-research/research-groups/thematic-analysis/about-thematic-analysis.html
4 Caroline Daniels, Heather Fox, Sarah-Jane Poindexter, and Elizabeth Reilly. Saving All the Freaks on the Life Raft: Blending Documentation Strategy with Community Engagement to Build a Local Music Archives. The American Archivist, Vol. 78, No. 1 (2015): 238–261.

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.

Together at the Seams: Tim Sherratt and metaphors of access, C-EBLIP Journal Club May 11, 2017

By Craig Harkema
University Archives and Special Collections, University of Saskatchewan

Sherratt, T. (2017). Seams and edges: Dreams of aggregation, access & discovery in a broken world. [online] discontents. Available at: http://discontents.com.au/seams-and-edges-dreams-of-aggregation-access-discovery-in-a-broken-world/

As a librarian who has focused on digital initiatives over the course of the past 8 years or so, I’ve followed with great interest the many projects and programs that have emerged out of Australia during this time. I find myself regularly checking in on some of the incredible hackers, artists, culture curators, and innovators from Oz.  Their names – Tim Sherratt  (formerly at the Trove, currently at the University of Canberra), Sarah Kenderdine (University of New South Wales), Paula Bray (DX Lab, New South Wales), Mitchell Whitelaw (Australian National University) and Seb Chan (Australian Centre for the Moving Image), among others – continue to pop out of my mouth when discussing digital cultural collections with my colleagues.  So when asked to select and lead a discussion about an article of my choice for the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP) journal club, I knew I’d likely pick something from one of the above.

As it happens, three years ago I was lucky enough to be in Canberra and stop in to visit the good folks at the Trove.  Near the end of my time there, I had the chance to talk with Sherratt, standing out just a touch in his casual attire, wearing red Converse Chuck Taylors. Mostly we chatted about these sorts of initiatives as platforms for developing tools and about the possibilities for use and reuse of digital content found in places like the Trove, Europeana, DPLA, and, on a much smaller scale, Sask History Online (the project I was leading at the time). Later that week he presented a talk called “Seams and Edges: Dreams of Aggregation, Access, and Discovery in a Broken World” at the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) Conference.  I’ll get back to it in a bit, but I feel this particular talk/blog post is as good a place as any to begin learning what Sherratt’s work is about. I think the Trove itself is a great example of how these large initiatives can support a wide range of research and public interest objectives; objectives we as library people should be most interested in.

Although he has now moved on from the Trove, Sherratt’s influence on the program will undoubtedly be long lasting. As much as anything, he has advanced the concept of the Trove as a platform for building tools and collections through the API. Trove is much more than a search engine that delivers results instantaneously. I’m hopeful this will continue in his absence and in the wake of massive budget cuts from the Australian government. Not surprisingly then, part of the Trove’s mandate is to develop a systems infrastructure and community that encourages and enables folks to reuse content. For Sherratt, the Trove has been just that, a store of valuable, quirky, surprising, and baffling materials that can be pulled apart and woven back together. It’s clear that he has developed a multifaceted and multilevel scholarly practice over the past several years, one that follows from a concerted effort to take a different tack from many of his peers:

A scholarly practice that has room for the angry and the weird alongside the rigorous and detached. That sees in digital technologies not just the chance to crunch huge quantities of data, but the opportunity to tinker with our preconceptions, to be playful and political, to explore emotions as well as evidence, to create bots as well as books ( “#Borderfarce…”, September 2015).

He has long been illustrating how this can be done and, often using the Trove’s API, has developed several new approaches to exploring and interacting with the content.

One example of this is his Eyes on the Past project, an experimental interface built in a weekend – the quick agile development worth noting – using facial recognition software. Like his Faces project, it is meant to reinforce to users that history is made up of stories about real people. The interface allows users to navigate the collections by scanning the faces and/or eyes of the individuals who are featured in the textual content. As he says in “Seams and Edges”:

By focusing on the stylish minimalism of the search box, we discard opportunities for traversing relationships, for fostering serendipity, for seeing the big picture. By creating experimental interfaces, by playing around with our expectations, we can start to think differently — to develop new metaphors for our online experience that are not framed around technological conquest.

The ability to work with content in these ways enables Sherratt and others to develop news ways of engaging with culture and history. Which brings me around to one of the reasons Sherratt’s work is so interesting to me and, as it turns out, to the folks who showed up at the C-EBLIP journal club.  I think as 21st-century librarians and archivists we should consider more carefully the metaphors and jargon used by purveyors of systems and content providers, and indeed those used by ourselves.  As the title of the article suggests, Sherratt hones in on problems associated with the terms “seamlessness” and/or “seamless discovery” – metaphors matter. Pursuing “seamless discovery” in the wake of Google means engaging with questions of politics and power.” So what does it mean, for example, when Ex Libris promotes Primo (their discovery layer) as providing “users with a consistent discovery across devices, quick access to frequent actions, and seamless patron services – all from a single, intuitive web interface.”  More importantly, what are we giving up and what do our users need to know when using a system that promises seamlessness and quick access? As Sherratt suggests, “seams are not simply obstacles to a smooth user experience, they’re reminders that our online services are themselves constructed. There’s nothing natural or inevitable about a list of search results.” Do we consider this every time we perform a search? Do those we help work with these systems? And what role do we play in revealing seams and edges? Or in the development of systems, tools, and approaches that help us become aware of and engage with them?

I’m not sure Sherratt’s work is explicitly a call to action, but for me, his hacker ethos combined with critical approaches to historical research challenge me to consider the standard ways we do our work. The profession would be well served by challenging the status quo more often and by developing our own creative solutions to our own complex problems. By making room for the angry and weird, tinkering with our preconceptions, and developing new metaphors, we have the opportunity to make important changes to the way people interact with the information we help provide and preserve.

 


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.

Reframing Instruction: Get Messy

By Tasha Maddison
Librarian, Saskatchewan Polytechnic

As an instructor, I endeavour to incorporate active learning techniques and rely on the constructivist theory for my pedagogy; yet inevitably I find myself devoting the first 5-10 minutes of any class period to live demonstrations. Before class, I spend a significant amount of time carefully developing search strategies. These perfect search strings are then used to illustrate how databases work or the features and benefits of a particular tool.  I am careful to include points from the students’ upcoming class assignment, along with the advanced search techniques that I feel are appropriate for their level.  Developing and trialing these searches provides me an opportunity to prep as I develop knowledge of my subject area and discover how the tools for that discipline work. Yet this seamless, rehearsed demonstration of search tools fails to acknowledge to students that library research is an interactive process, one that involves many stops and starts, and which may result in unsuccessful searches.  Sure, I always throw in a joke about librarians being magicians, but is this enough?

I recently came across a powerful article that has challenged the way that I think about information literacy instruction and, in particular, demonstration vs. the development of critical thinking skills.  The article suggests that instead of performing a perfectly crafted search, librarians should demonstrate the “messy process of research as exploration” which reveals to the student “some of the key dispositions required of novice (and experienced) researchers: resilience, curiosity, and persistence” (p. 4).  This idea is based upon the new ACRL Framework which reinforces the principles of lifelong learning and reiterates that successful information literacy instruction cannot be accomplished in a single transaction with students.  Burgess’ ‘messy research process’ and the Framework tie together well, but what happens when librarians only have one opportunity to work with a class and feel pressured to ‘cover it all’?

Recently, I had an opportunity to test out this process of exploration.  I had a structured lesson plan with a search example in mind, but I let my students decide what we were going to search for and how we were going to conduct the search.  Together we built a search string with multiple concepts and a variety of potential synonyms.  We decided on a database and which limiters we would apply.  The result: success through failure?  We found nothing.  This failure provided me with a great opportunity to discuss the research process, as well as the necessity of tweaking ideas and concepts to ensure that search results are meaningful and relevant.  I even mentioned Burgess’ theory.  One of my students piped up, “nice save”—and indeed it was!  More, it helped me to communicate that everyone—even advanced searchers—need to process information and adjust our methodology to accomplish a successful search.

When discussing the Framework, Burgess (2015) encourages librarians to “evolv[e] instruction from a point-and-click database demo style to an engaged and interactive IL discussion with students. The instructor occupies the role of coach, animator, or advisor leading the discussion, while encouraging students to become active agents in their own learning” (p, 2).  Librarians can integrate the principles of the Framework into their teaching by fostering open dialogue within their classrooms.  We can create safe environments that allow for questions but also nurture peer learning.  One great example that comes to mind is when a student presents a challenging question to the class.  The instructor can respond with, “that is an interesting situation, has anyone else come across that?” and “how did you resolve that issue?”  Rather than inspiring panic in the library instructor, such questions can instead offer rich opportunities for experiential learning experiences!

Reference

Burgess, C. (2015). Teaching students, not standards: The new ACRL information literacy framework and threshold crossings for instructors. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 10(1), 1-6.  doi:10.21083/partnership.v10i1.3440


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.

Balancing Needs and Resources in Developmental Offerings in an Academic Library

By Jill Crawley-Low
Science Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

The University Library at the University of Saskatchewan is fortunate among academic libraries in having had more than a decade of continual investment in training and development with active support from library leaders. About a decade ago, the Dean of the library recognized that sending people away to workshops did not result in expertise and skills returning to the organization in a sustainable and shareable way. Nor was leaving for external training possible for all employees. It became apparent that a new approach was needed. A variety of offerings delivered in-house and customized for library employees evolved into three different streams. Over time, the organizational culture shifted to one in which engaged employees expected to have access to continuing learning opportunities. Guided by the strategic plan, the library is preparing to review its existing training and development program with the goal of balancing the needs of employees with the resources that are available.

The University Library’s training and development offerings have evolved into three predominantly in-house streams. The first stream includes single-session offerings on a variety of topics. For example, the Learning and Development Committee annually develops a program of single sessions delivered over the course of a year.  Another example is Sustaining Leadership Learning designed to continue leadership learning with one-off sessions that complement the multi-part programs.

The second stream includes multi-part programs with a specific focus delivered over a period of weeks or months. An example is the Library Leadership Development Program, which consists of six components delivered over several months with a focus on leadership for self, team, and organization. The single-session and multi-part programs described above were developed in-house. An example of an externally developed multi-part program is Indigenous Voices, which seeks to share knowledge and experience in Aboriginal education with employees. Indigenous Voices is customized for employees of the University Library. These are just a few examples of the more established training and development opportunities available in the University Library.

The third stream of informal training and development opportunities has recently developed as an unexpected result of a change management initiative with a 3-5 year timeline. Teaching and learning; research support; and collections were identified as priority areas set to position the University Library to respond quickly to changes in the information landscape locally or in the profession. The third stream is evolving because each of the thematic plans includes action items to gather feedback from users and employees and, further, to share those learnings.

For example, the Research Support Plan, which includes activities to position the library as the definitive source of expertise and advocacy for open access on campus. The working group asked library employees for feedback on the usefulness of resources the group is creating on the concept of open access. Currently, the group is sharing knowledge about open access by presenting educational sessions, which all employees are encouraged to attend.

Library employees have become accustomed to easy access to sessions/programs on a variety of topics delivered in-house. The concept of improving oneself and contributing to the goals of the organization is firmly entrenched in the library’s culture. Attendance at training sessions is balanced with maintaining services objectives. Happily, quantitative evidence of the value of this sustained period of access to training and development opportunities appears in employee engagement scores rising from year to year. Anecdotal evidence includes reports from employees who enjoy building relationships at training sessions with colleagues from different work units. Employees who learn together are a tightly knit group, able to show resilience in the face of continual change in the academic sector. Newcomers to the organization take the development opportunities as a given, and expect to be included in the shared leadership/training experience.

With the plethora of training and development opportunities presented in a climate of reduced budgets, it is timely that the University Library is preparing to review its offerings in order to balance programming costs with the obvious developmental benefits. The shift in organizational culture has created ongoing demand for training and developmental opportunities for employees who are engaged in learning about themselves and their colleagues. By placing the review and coordination of programs in the strategic plan, library leaders are acknowledging the importance of training and development for employees and the organization.


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.

New Vistas for Vicki Williamson

By Virginia Wilson
Director, Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice

In 2006, Dr. Vicki Williamson left her Australian home in the middle of summer to become the Dean of the University Library, University of Saskatchewan (U of S). Please note that the middle of an Australian summer is the middle of a Saskatchewan winter. This alone illustrates Vicki’s tenacity, drive, and dedication. It also necessitated the purchase of a long down-filled winter coat and other protective paraphernalia. Vicki developed a working relationship with Saskatchewan weather and from 2006 to 2016, she served two five-year terms as the first ever Dean of the University Library. After an administrative leave, Vicki has retired. One wonders if Vicki kept that coat for the memories when she returned to Australia.

This post is to say a fond farewell, to express gratitude, and to invite you to join me in wishing Vicki all the best. Her career has spanned many years and multiple locations. After Vicki served in several high-level positions in Australia, the University Library was lucky enough to get the benefit of all that experience. With a focus on library transformation, library leadership, and librarians as researchers (to name just a few areas), Vicki’s hard work and dedication has put our University Library on the world map.

Vicki was proactive in her involvement with librarianship at the national and international level. Vicki played active roles in the following organizations:
• The Association of Commonweath Universities (ACU)
• Association of Research Libraries (ARL)
• Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL)
• Centre for Research Libraries
• Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries (COPPUL)
• Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)

Within the University of Saskatchewan, the Library emerged as an entity recognized not only for providing excellent service for faculty, students, and staff, but also as a place where its faculty members conduct research and contribute to the research agenda of the University. One notable achievement (from my personal perspective) was the creation of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP), a type-A centre in the U of S’s centre structure. C-EBLIP is the first of its kind in Canada and its mandate is to support librarians as researchers and to promote evidence based library and information practice (EBLIP). Vicki unflaggingly shepherded the Centre application through University channels culminating in the University Council voting in the affirmative for the creation of C-EBLIP in December 2012. From its grand opening in July 2013 until the present, C-EBLIP has been a concrete feature in the University Library and has supported librarians through grant proposals, tenure and promotion, academic writing, conducting research, the dissemination of research, and many more activities. Were it not for Vicki’s support and dedication, C-EBLIP would not exist.

There are so many more things to highlight about Vicki’s superlative career but it would take more than a blog post to do so. I will end by saying that I miss Vicki’s active presence in the Library and in librarianship. She has been a role model, an inspiration, and a strong leader for many of the librarians she has met. Canadian librarianship is better for Vicki’s time in our country (and now her country, as she obtained Canadian citizenship during her residence here). I wish her all the best in the future and hope that you might do the same in the comments below. Happy Retirement, Vicki!


l-r Dr. Vicki Williamson and author

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.

Grey areas in research

by Christine Neilson, Knowledge Synthesis Librarian
Neil John Maclean Health Sciences Library
Centre for Healthcare Innovation
University of Manitoba

Through the course of my day-to-day duties, I came across an interesting article by Adams et al. about searching for “grey information” for the purposes of evidence synthesis in public health. For anyone who is unfamiliar with evidence synthesis, evidence synthesis is much more than a literature review. It involves identifying and tracking down all relevant evidence, evaluating it, extracting data, contacting authors to request additional data that is not included in a published article (where applicable), and using that larger pool of data to answer the question at hand. A thorough evidence synthesis includes grey literature – literature that is published by an entity that’s main business is something other than publishing – in an attempt to reduce bias. There can be some seriously heavy statistical analysis involved, and the entire process is a heck of a pile of work. Adams et al. took the idea of grey literature, extended it to other information that is difficult to get hold of, and provided a critical reflection of three separate projects where they relied heavily on “grey information”. When I read their article, I was struck by two things.

First, Adams and colleagues were interested in public health programs that came out of practice, rather than formal research. As they point out, “Interventions and evaluations that were primarily conducted as part of, or to inform, practice may be particularly unlikely to be described in peer-reviewed publications or even formally documented in reports available to others in electronic or hard copy. Information on these activities may, instead, be stored in more private or informal spaces such as meeting notes, emails, or even just in people’s memories.” To me, this statement applies as much to librarianship as it does to public health. I can’t imagine how many awesome library programs and practices we could learn from, except for the fact that few of us have heard about them.

The second thing that struck me as I read this article was that even though the authors conceded that their work was “verging” on primary research, they considered these projects to be evidence syntheses instead. But evidence synthesis relies on published information. Rather than ask for additional information to clarify the data they collected from a published source, the authors gathered new information by interviewing key informants, so to me, they were conducting primary research: full stop. The authors seemed to know what an evidence synthesis actually entails – not everyone can say the same – so I wonder: the work they did was a legitimate form of research so why would they label it as evidence synthesis? Are the lines between different forms of research really that blurry? Were they trying to avoid going through the REB process? Or were they concerned their work wouldn’t have the status associated with an evidence synthesis and so they named it to their liking?

I think that sometimes we don’t realize that library research has a lot in common with research in other fields. Like the field of public health, there is so much useful information about our practice that is not widely available or findable. I think we also have our go-to research methods, and opinions about what kinds of publications count… and what don’t. The “how we done it good” articles that simply describe a program or activity have gotten a bit of a bad rap in recent memory. I do agree with those who say that we need more rigorous, research-oriented library publications in general. But simply sharing what was done informs us of what is going on in library practice in a discoverable way. Perhaps we should not be so quick to discourage it.

References

Adams J et al. Searching and synthesising ‘grey literature’ and ‘grey information’ in public health: critical reflections on three case studies. Systematic Reviews. 2016;5(1):164.
Available online at: https://systematicreviewsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13643-016-0337-y


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.