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.

C-EBLIP Fall Activities: A day with Jessie Loyer

by Virginia Wilson
Director, Centre of Evidence Based Library and Information Practice

So, the 4th C-EBLIP Fall Symposium: Librarians as Researchers has been cancelled. The response to the call for submissions was less robust than we had hoped. October seems to have become second conference season with other conferences in Canada happening at or around the same time as ours. And to be honest, as C-EBLIP Director, I’ve got some personal and professional things going on that have left me with limited time to really focus on the symposium. I’ve been so proud to be involved in hosting our past symposia (symposiums?). I believe they made a big difference at a particular time in Canadian librarianship, offering a new space to share ideas and our research, and an enhanced focus on librarians as researchers. I don’t imagine we’ll try again, as things change and people move on (but I’m not going to say never). I am keeping reference to the past Fall Symposiums on the C-EBLIP website including the three programs. Who knows? Some collaborations may still be created by having that information to reference.

However, even though there is no Fall Symposium to attend, we are extremely happy to have Jessie Loyer, the announced symposium keynote speaker and workshop presenter, join us at the U of S on October 17, 2018. Jessie is the liaison librarian for Indigenous Studies and Anthropology at Mount Royal University in Calgary. Jessie Loyer is Cree-Métis and a member of Michel First Nation. She is a liaison librarian at Mount Royal University in Calgary, a guest on Treaty 7 and Blackfoot territory. Her research looks at Indigenous perspectives on information literacy, supporting language revitalization, and creating ongoing research relationships using a nêhiyaw minâ otipêmisiw concept of kinship.

She will be delivering a workshop the morning of October 17 entitled “Where Do You Work? Rooting Responsibility in Land.” Here’s a description provided by Jessie:

Through a series of guided questions and discussions, this workshop helps participants reflect on the implications of their presence on Indigenous land. There is a tendency to position Indigenous communities as only historical, only rural, only poor, and only reservation communities – while these communities are certainly still part of the conversation, they are not the only Indigenous communities libraries should consider. Librarians will be identifying the territories on which they live, work and play, local relationships and resources, and how often and at what level Indigenous folks are engaged in planning and decision-making at their libraries.

The workshop will run from 9:30 am to 12:00 noon in the Murray Library on the U of S campus. Space is limited so if you are interested in attending this free workshop, you’ll need to register using our online registration form.

On the afternoon of October 17, Jessie will be giving a talk open to everyone entitled “On Research and Positionality: Silence, Ownership, and Power”:

Heightened awareness of Indigenous issues has led to an increase in Indigenous research done at universities, research grants available in this area, and in CRCs with a focus on Indigenous content. But what does “Indigenous research” actually mean? And what benefit does research have to Indigenous communities? This talk will consider who owns Indigenous research, with an emphasis on intellectual property, the politics of refusal, the First Nations Principles of OCAP (ownership, control, access, and possession), and the ways that researchers might reflect on their own positionality.

The talk will be held at the College of Law in Room 64 on the U of S campus at 2:00 pm. Everyone is invited to attend with no registration required.

I hope you can join us for a day of learning, insight, and collegiality as we welcome Jessie Loyer to the University Library, U of S campus.

Survey Results and Year 5 of Brain-Work

by Virginia Wilson
Director, Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice
University of Saskatchewan

On May 15, 2018, Brain-Work featured a post entitled Future of Brain-Work. After 4 years of publishing the blog, we (the Brain-Work advisory committee*) wanted to know what our readers thought and whether or not we should make some substantial changes. Readers were encouraged to take the short Brain-Work survey and many thanks to everyone who did!

From the stark first question (Should the Brain-Work blog continue to publish?) to the open-ended “Is there anything else we need to know?” you provided us with useful and thoughtful responses that have assisted the blog advisory group in moving forward with Brain-Work. Here’s an overview of what the survey told us:

Should the Brain-Work blog continue to publish? Overwhelmingly, yes, which is a very gratifying response. 91% of respondents said yes, 4.3% said no, and 4.3% said yes, but maybe the format should change.
Brain-work currently publishes every Tuesday. How frequently do you want to read posts on the blog? 47% of respondents said weekly, 15% said every other week, 19% said monthly, and 19% weren’t fussy.
The scope of the blog is broad: research, EBLIP, and librarianship. What specific topic(s) are most interesting to you? After a quick qualitative analysis of the responses, a majority of the respondents read the blog for research: practical takes, research in practice, integrating research work in with library work. The next most popular answer was all – all the topics represented by Brain-Work. Responses were a rather maddening mix of variety and research focus, leaving it difficult to decide if we should take the plunge and become a specifically librarians-as-researchers focused blog. As one participant noted, “There are so many librarian blogs about librarianship as practice. The research angle is unique to Brain-Work.”
• Based on the answers to the question “What kinds of blog posts do you prefer to read?” Brain-Work readers like short, timely articles containing practical, how-to information. Many respondents expressed an interest in research summaries as well.
• The idea of peer-reviewing the blog posts came up so without thinking too much about what that would look like, we asked our readers. 57% said no, Brain-Work does not need to publish peer-reviewed blog posts. 26% said yes, and 17% declined to answer that question. That’s somewhat of a relief, to be honest!

At the end of the survey, we asked if there was anything else we should know. Many of you said lovely things and commended the blog authors for all the work they put into their posts. The diversity of perspectives was also appreciated. And finally, our buggy comments function came to the fore. Believe me, it’s as frustrating for us as it is for you. Sometimes the comment form works and sometimes it doesn’t and the commenter receives a “you are forbidden to comment” error message. Hardly friendly and welcoming! This is a known issue that has no solution that we can find. Our workaround is to have commenters email their comments to me and I will post them on their behalf, providing I’m not forbidden to comment, too, on that particular day. Another way to interact with the blog posts is to comment on Twitter. Both @CEBLIP and @VirginiaPrimary promote the blog posts when they are published and a conversation on Twitter would be welcome.

Because the editor’s assignment has changed (my assignment – I’m the new liaison librarian for the College of Agriculture and Bioresources and the School of Environment and Sustainability at the U of S), we’ve scaled publishing back to every second week. The focus will remain the same (EBLIP, research, or librarianship). The comment function continues to be spotty, but we are contemplating a change of platforms. That won’t happen until next year now.

So, thank you, dear Readers, for weighing in on Brain-Work. Without the readers and the authors, this blog would not be heading into its 5th year of publication. Thank you for your continued support and hopefully your continued enjoyment.

*The Brain-Work advisory committee consists of DeDe Dawson, Shannon Lucky, and Virginia Wilson.

(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.)

Study Leave Anxiety

by Nicole Eva
University of Lethbridge

Is study leave anxiety a thing? I put off applying for mine last year at the last minute, telling a colleague to go ahead and submit her application instead of competing with her (we only have space for one to go every year). I had doubts about the quality of my research idea (having to do with librarianship and motherhood) and decided it wasn’t enough to carry me through for the full year. So this year it was my turn to apply, and as the only applicant I didn’t have anyone else to defer my spot to – if I didn’t apply, no librarians would be on study leave next year, and while that might be wonderful in terms of workload issues (those remaining absorb the person on leave’s duties for the year) I fear repercussions of us not continually taking advantage of this benefit.

Leona Jacobs, a retired colleague from the University of Lethbridge, noted that many librarians are reluctant to take advantage of their study leaves; in her research presented at CLA 2007, If it is negotiated, will it be used? An investigation into the use of sabbatical leave provisions by librarians, Leona reported that in 14 years, only six librarians at the U of L had taken leaves; five of these were educational. She turned her own anxiety about ‘what to do’ into the research project itself; brilliant! And also good to know that I wasn’t alone, though her research suggested that ‘my’ generation of more recently-minted librarians were more likely to take advantage of study leave benefits. Perhaps I am in the minority after all. Certainly when I got this job, the potential for a year’s leave was a huge incentive. I had fantasies of moving to Europe for a good part of it, with no actual idea of what the research would be but certain I’d come up with something by the time I was eligible. In the meantime I got married and had a child, so the prospect of relocating for a leave became much more logistically difficult. My enthusiasm for the leave took a nosedive, especially with no ‘great ideas’ on the horizon.

Regardless, I did apply this round, with a different project than I had in mind last year. This time, it’s to analyze two years’ worth of two-year-old qualitative data collected from student journal reflections on info lit labs, determining whether or not the students crossed the ‘threshold’ of understanding regarding the various ACRL Frames. I will use it as an opportunity to learn NVivo and the art of qualitative research, and to finally get to the analysis of these reflections which have been sitting gathering dust on my filing cabinet. However, even as I was filling in the submission application (at the very last minute!), I was once again filled with doubt. Do I care enough about this to last me the year? Is it enough work to fill the duration of the leave? I’m so used to doing research ‘off the side of my desk’, I have no idea what a full-time research load might look like. Or feel like. Will I be so sick of this project after two months that I will dread the remaining ten? What about missing my normal daily work? I also have serious FOMO – what kind of changes will occur in the library during my absence, both good and bad, that I may miss out having a say in?

I also have circled back to the librarianship and motherhood idea; I presented a brief summary of the state of the literature at CAPAL18 and was met with enthusiastic responses on the need for more research in the area. [In brief: much exists on academics and parenthood; very little exists on academic (or any kind of) librarians and parenthood, and even the stats are hard to come by]. So now I wish I’d submitted my application to do a full study on this, and at the very least try to edit a compilation of articles written on the topic (realizing full well that it’s much more work than I might anticipate, as reported by Maha Kumaran & Tasha Maddison in their presentation, Contracts, Contributors and Conflicts: Working with Publishers and Chapter Contributors at the C-EBLIP 2015 Fall Symposium.

So here I am. Info lit-related proposal submitted and accepted; leave to start July 1, 2019. I am simultaneously happy and terrified. Can I decide at the last minute (well, at least before our 2019/2020 assignment of duties are finalized) to not go? Will I enjoy it so much I never want to come back to my regular job? Will I be bored silly by my topic? Will I wish I’d done the motherhood topic instead? If I do decide to at least try an edited volume around motherhood and librarianship, will I get any submissions? (yes, that’s a hint – let me know if you’re interested!). Can I possibly do both in a year (without working even more than I normally do)?

Someone tell me I won’t regret this, please! (likewise, if you did regret your leave – I’d like to hear about that as well!)

Sincerely,
Anxiety-ridden librarian.

(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 and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Getting to grips with NVivo

by Chris Chan
Head of Information Services at Hong Kong Baptist University Library

Despite having worked in academic libraries for almost ten years, and taken two graduate degrees that included research methods courses, I must confess that my level of comfort with research data collection and analysis is not terribly high. My lack of confidence manifests itself particularly in the use of specialised data analysis software packages.

Studies that make use of such tools (e.g. NVivo and ATLAS.ti) are becoming increasingly common. Woods, Paulus, Atkins, and Macklin (2016, p. 602) used the Scopus database to confirm that the number of published articles that made use of one or the other of these qualitative data analysis software titles has grown significantly in recent years. I have found this to also be reflected at my institution, where our library has received an increasing number of enquiries about NVivo in particular. Apart from this contextual need to become more fluent in these data analysis software packages, as a social sciences subject librarians I personally feel a strong professional desire to deepen my understanding in this area.

As every instruction librarian knows, teaching or learning specialist skills in a vacuum is difficult. If there is no practical application for what is being learned, staying motivated will be a challenge. I was therefore fortunate to have a recent opportunity to gain practical experience with using NVivo as part of an action research project in partnership with a faculty member. This grew from an invitation by the faculty member to collaboratively co-teach a postgraduate research methods course. We adopted an embedded librarian approach. In addition to leading a traditional instruction session, I also attended several of their regular classes and was active in the course’s learning management site.

The depth of this collaboration between librarian and course instructor was new to both myself and the faculty, and this level of partnership is certainly uncommon at our university. We were thus naturally keen on assessing how effective this approach was in enhancing student learning. We were inspired by the action research undertaken by Insua, Lantz, and Armstrong (2018) in which the researchers asked students to reflect upon their research process via structured research journals, which were subsequently coded and analysed using NVivo. The authors reported that these “qualitative data yielded valuable insights into the research process from the student’s point-of-view”. In asking our own students to complete a similar task, we intended to also analyse the results to gain insights into their development of information literacy abilities and dispositions.

Apart from the obvious benefit that this enterprise would have on my teaching practice, the idea appealed to me in that it represented an authentic need to learn how to use NVivo. Prior to embarking on this project, I knew very little about NVivo beyond the name and the fact that it was used for the analysis of qualitative data. In response to feedback from our library’s users, I had been involved in making the software itself available on library PCs and laptops. However, my own practical experience with NVivo was zero. My first step was therefore to access a beginner’s introduction through an institutional subscription to Lynda.com. This was great for learning basic concepts and terminology and required less than ninety minutes.

After learning the ropes, my first step was to import the student journals into NVivo. We had asked them to submit their journals using Google Sites. Getting this content into NVivo was surprisingly easy to do using the NCapture browser extension. With one click, the entire content of a web page can be saved as a .ncvx file. These can then be uploaded in a batch to NVivo for organization and coding.

Once all of the data was imported, I experimented with coding a small proportion (10%) of the journal entries. I then sought feedback on the coding structure from the faculty. Once this was incorporated, I began coding in earnest. This was a time-consuming and labour intensive process. I completely agree with Carolyn Doi, who in her earlier post on Brain-Work about Nvivo states that “coding is made easier with NVivo, but the software doesn’t do all the work for you.” I found maintaining focus and attention during coding to be a challenge, and I had to split the work between multiple different sessions.

The effort did pay off, as once the coding was done I was able to start playing around with some of the analysis and exploration features of the software. Some are very intuitive, such as the treemap pictured in Figure 1 below that allows you to visualize your coding hierarchies. This allows you to see at a glance some of the more prominent themes based on coding frequency. Some of the other features (such as the various different queries) are more opaque, and I will need to dedicate more effort to understanding the purpose of these and whether they will be useful to the analysis for this project.


Figure 1 – Treemap produced using NVivo 12 Mac (click on image for clearer version)

So far my experience with NVivo has been good, but I clearly have a long way to go before I become a proficient user of this software package. My motivation remains high, as apart from using NVivo in research projects, I would like to be able to answer patron enquiries about the software and possibly even run workshops on its use.

References

Insua, G. M., Lantz, C., & Armstrong, A. (2018). In their own words: Using first-year student research journals to guide information literacy instruction. Portal: Libraries and The Academy, 18(1), 141–161. https://doi.org/10.1353/pla.2018.0007

Woods, M., Paulus, T., Atkins, D. P., & Macklin, R. (2016). Advancing qualitative research using qualitative data analysis software (QDAS)? Reviewing potential versus practice in published studies using ATLAS.ti and NVivo, 1994–2013. Social Science Computer Review, 34(5), 597–617. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894439315596311

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.