Revising a manuscript: Thoughts on how to organize your response to peer reviewer and editor comments

Lorie Kloda
Editor-in-Chief, Evidence Based Library & Information Practice
Associate University Librarian, Planning & Community Relations, Concordia University

Rebekah (Becky) Willson
Associate Editor (Research Articles), Evidence Based Library & Information Practice
Lecturer, Department of Computer & Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom

Lisl Zach
Associate Editor (Research Articles), Evidence Based Library & Information Practice
Managing Partner, Informatics Insights, LLC, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Red Pen

CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (Some rights reserved by cellar_door_films)

The process of revising and resubmitting a manuscript for further review can be a long and sometimes challenging process. As editors for the journal Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, we see a range of responses to requests for revisions or to revise and resubmit manuscripts. Based on our experience, there are things that you as an author can do to help both yourself and your reviewers to ensure a smooth process and to increase the likelihood of having your revised manuscript accepted for publication.

The first is to read the editor’s and reviewers’ comments and suggestions carefully. These comments are aimed at improving your manuscript. Not all of the editor’s and reviewers’ comments may be applicable or relevant to your work, and therefore you may have good reasons for disagreeing with their suggestions. Not all of the changes suggested have to be made, but all of the editor’s and reviewers’ comments do have to be addressed.

One challenging thing for editors and reviewers is the number of submissions we see. The time lag between when a manuscript is originally submitted and the time when it is revised and resubmitted can be many months. To help the editors and reviewers see whether you have addressed the comments made about your manuscript and revised it accordingly, you need to identify the changes you have made (or not made) and explain why.

One way to do this is to submit a revised version of the article with the changes clearly highlighted. Using Word’s Track Changes feature can be a useful tool to do this. By scanning through a manuscript with Track Changes, it is very clear what changes have been made. However, it must also be clear why you have made the changes that you did, how you approached those changes, and why you decided not to make the changes suggested. To keep track of your revisions – which are based on the input of at least two separate reviewers and the editor – a separate document that includes a table can be very useful. (See Rebekah Willson’s template for an example of how to organize this information.)

This table should consist of:

  1. The first column should contain the reviewers’ comments. Take each comment that requires a response (either a revision or an explanation) and paste it into a separate box.
  2. The second column should contain any revisions that you have made. With a brief description of what you’ve done, copy and paste the changes you’ve made to the manuscript as a result of the reviewers’ comments. Include page numbers (and, if helpful, table or figure numbers, paragraphs, or section names), so that it is easy to flip between the revised manuscript and the table of revisions. If the changes are too long to fit into the table, just provide the description and page numbers.
  3. The third column should explain your actions. If you have made revisions, explain how your changes have addressed the reviewer’s comments. If you have not made revisions, explain why you have made that decision.

Filling out the table once the revisions have been made can be very challenging. If you start by going through the editor’s and reviewers’ comments and putting them into the first column of the table, this will help you to identify the work that must be done. Then working between the table and your revised manuscript you can proceed in a step-by-step manner to complete your changes.

When working on a manuscript with multiple authors, a helpful strategy is to create the table and add all the editor’s and reviewers’ comments and suggestions, and then add another column to assign each of these to an author to address. Following this, a meeting to reach consensus on the changes to make and to assign the work can streamline the revision process and ensure the manuscript is resubmitted in a timely fashion.

See another example of how a PhD student organizes her manuscript revisions.

What questions do you have about the peer review and revisions process?

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.

5 Reasons You Should Attend EBLIP9

by Stacy Stanislaw, Drexel University

EBLIP9 is only a month away, and we’re working hard to finalize the last-minute details to ensure this year’s conference is the best ever. If you’re still not sure if this conference is right for you, then check out these 5 reasons why we’re excited for the meeting:

  1. Innovative and instructive workshops, programs and sessions. Is evidence-based practice important to you? Do you want to learn more about applying evidence-based concepts to clinical care, your research, or your own library or other organization? This year’s conference features more than 40 concurrent sessions, pre-conference workshops and other programming events that are all things evidence-based! Check out the full program and descriptions online to see for yourself.
  1. Networking opportunities. One of my favorite parts of attending conferences is the opportunity to meet new people and see old friends, and we know many of you feel the same way. So we’ve built lots of time for informal conversations throughout the conference. Grab a coffee and chat between sessions or tour the Free Library of Philadelphia with other conference goers during the opening night reception. Registration also includes access to the conference dinner at the Crystal Tea Room, one of Philly’s famous event spaces.
  1. Inspiring key note speakers. The 2017 keynote speakers hail from all different backgrounds. Opening keynote speaker Dr. Alison Brettle, a professor in Health Information and Evidence Based Practice at the University of Salford in the UK will kick off the conference, and Drexel’s own Yi Deng, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Informatics & Computing will speak on Tuesday morning. The conference ends with a talk from Pam Ryan, the Director for Service Development & Innovation at Toronto Public Library, on Wednesday.
  1. Poster Madness! What’s a conference without poster sessions? EBLIP9 will have a collection of amazing poster presentations on everything from using assessment to develop a plan for renovating library spaces to discussions on the value of consortia for an ARL library. And of course, we’ll continue the Poster Madness tradition, where presenters have one minute to find unique and interesting ways to promote their posters before the sessions begin.
  1. With Love, Philadelphia xoxo. Philly is an amazing city rich with history, museums, restaurants, shops and more. In between sessions and during your free time, visit the Liberty Bell or check out the renowned Philadelphia Museum of Art (don’t forget to have your photo taken with the Rocky statue, and then take a quick job up the museum steps!). You can also tour Drexel’s campus or visit our neighbor, the University of Pennsylvania, and then head down to the Rosenbach Museum & Library. We’ve got even more suggestions and tourism information on the conference page, and we’re happy to answer questions or help you book arrangements and tours if interested!

Those are just a few reasons to attend the 2017 Evidence-Based Library & Information Practice conference this June. Check out the conference website – – for more details on this year’s program, events and networking opportunities. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for immediate updates on the conference.

And finally, registration is open through May 31! You can register online for the full conference, a one-day pass, or for a pre-conference workshop. Sign up now to ensure your spot at the meeting.

We hope to see you here in Philadelphia!

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.

Are we designing services with an expiration date?

Kristin Lee, Research Data Librarian
Tisch Library, Tufts University

In January of this year, I started a new job as the first Research Data Librarian at the Tisch Library at Tufts University. Librarians at Tisch have been providing research data services to the Schools of Arts & Science and Engineering, so one of my first jobs was to understand the services that have already been offered and where we might expand into new areas. As is the case in many libraries, a cornerstone of the data management services was providing consultations for researchers writing data management plans (DMPs) for grant applications to the US federal funding agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health. ‘Perfect,’ I thought, ‘I can work with this.’

Then came what felt a bit like a data librarian existential crisis – the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy memorandum calling for expanded public access to research data, among other things, had disappeared from the White House website. While this created a good excuse to go through my LibGuides and find all of the links to that memo, it also made me question everything I had been thinking about when it came to the services I was going to offer. So, as I created page after page of notes with titles like “Research Data Services”, “Data Management Services”, “Services for Researchers”, and a lot of other permutations of those few phrases, the rest of the words refused to materialize. How would I convince researchers that managing their data was in their best interest, and if I couldn’t figure out how to do that would I still have a job?

The disappearance of the memo from the White House website has not meant that the US funding agencies have gotten rid of the DMP requirements, so my job is safe and my move from Saskatchewan to Massachusetts was not for nothing – existential crisis averted. But it still made me wonder about the longevity of services designed as a reaction to specific external forces, and to think that it might be okay to plan services that might eventually have an expiration date.

Once I stopped thinking about the service list I was putting together as being written in stone I was able to start drafting some ideas.  I was able to center the researchers (who should have been my main concern in the first place) as the focus of my work instead of relying on the threat of funding agency mandates to make them seek me out.  I could think about what we would be able to do in order to actually help people make the most of their data in both their research and teaching. I reminded myself that data skills are important to students in their academic and personal lives and are transferable whether they continue to study or decide to work outside of higher education. We can give the next generation of researchers the background and tools they need to keep pushing the open science movement forward.

Considering that the shelf life of some of our services is going to be measured in years as opposed to decades, there are clear implications for the way we share our work with each other as practitioner-researchers. If it takes 3 or more years to collect data and a year between having a paper accepted and published in a peer-reviewed journal, how timely will the research be? One of my favorite sessions at the Research Data Access and Preservation Summit ( in Seattle this year was the Institutional Snapshots where we got a very brief picture of what is happening at a variety of institutions. From this session, I was able to identify institutions to reach out to get the gory details about what had worked for them and what hadn’t with respect to research data services.

I know that the services will change over time, so much so that they become unrecognizable in the future, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth offering them now and seeing what works. Finding venues to share what we are doing, not just our successes but also our failures and the things that keep us up at night will help us get through times of uncertainty and change. What started as a “the-sky-is-falling” moment for me has let me get back to why I love being a data librarian in the first place; we can help researchers at all levels get the skills they need to solve the world’s big problems, and we are doing it as a community.

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.

Surviving Conference Season

This week we are going back into the Brain-work archives to revisit tips on surviving and thriving during conference season. Happy spring everyone – let us know in the comments which conferences you are planning to attend this year and what your plans are to maximize your time and resources.

by Carolyn Doi
Education and Music Library, University of Saskatchewan
*originally posted May 3, 2016

It’s that time of year again: conference season. It seems like myself and all of my library colleagues are out there right now, presenting, networking, and gathering ideas to bring back to the workplace. That being said, not every conference experience is a positive one. Here are some of my tips and tricks for making it through your next conference like a pro!

1) Plan for success. Preview the conference schedule beforehand and prioritize the things you absolutely need to attend (committee meetings, chapter sessions, your own presentation (!), etc.) and then the ones you’d really like to see. Pick your scheduling method of choice. A colleague of mine prefers to highlight the heck out of the print schedule, while I’ve found that taking advantage of the conference apps such as Guidebook can be really handy.

Don’t forget to give yourself time to see some of the local sights as well! If there’s an afternoon you can get away from the conference or – even better – if you can book an extra day or two on either end of the conference, you’ll be happy you did. It can be really frustrating to travel across the country to only see the inside of a convention centre. Plus, exploring the city with your fellow conference attendees is a great networking activity.

2) Surf the backchannel. Find the conference hashtag and tap into real-time Twitter/Facebook/Instagram conversations to find out what folks are saying about everything from the conference sessions, venue, and the best place to grab a quick bite to eat. It can be a great way to feel engaged and connected. Just remember, if you’ve got something negative to say on Twitter, be sure you’re ready to have the same conversation in person at the coffee break.

When I’m presenting, I find Twitter provides a quick and easy way to see how my presentation went over with the audience and gives me an opportunity to answer questions or send out links following the allotted presentation time. It’s always good to include the presenter in the conversation as well with an @ mention and use the conference hashtag, so those following from afar can also tap into what’s going on. There’s a lot to consider about the merits, drawbacks, and etiquette of conference tweeting. Check out Ryan Cordell’s article and suggested tweeting principles for more ideas.

3) Making networking meaningful. Small talk can be intimidating, but it’s certainly not impossible. Fallon Bleich’s article Small Talk at Conferences: How to Survive It offers some good tips.

As much as it can be tempting to talk to the people you already know, try to also work in some conversations with people you’ve never met, or someone you’ve always wanted to chat with. When in doubt, ask them what they’re working on at the moment. You might learn something new or even find someone new to collaborate with! I’ve had some great collaborative research projects come out of a simple conversation at a conference reception.

4) Presenting like a Pro. So much has already been written about how to give a good presentation. But as a rule of thumb, whether you’re using PowerPoint, Prezi, Google Slides, or Reveal, make sure your presentation slides aren’t more interesting than you are as a speaker. Selinda Berg discussed this in a previous C-EBLIP blog post where she argued for “PowerPoint as a companion…not as a standalone document to be read.” I couldn’t agree more. At the end of the day, you don’t want to be outdone by your own conference slides!

5) Mindful reflection. Take time before the conference to set an intention for your experience there. Is there a particular problem you want to solve, certain people you need to have a face-to-face conversation with or vendors that you need to approach? Conferences can go by quickly. Make sure you’ve identified your goals in advance so they become a priority while you’re there. I like to use a free note taking system such as Evernote to write everything down. Once I get home, I reread my notes and reflect on my experience. How can I apply what I learned in my own practice or research? Who do I need to follow up with?

Everyone has their own approach to traveling, presenting, and networking at professional events. These are some of the things that have worked for me and helped to make the whole experience more beneficial and enjoyable overall. Whatever your approach, I encourage you to sit back and enjoy the ride. Happy conference season, everyone!

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.

Information Privilege and the Undergraduate Student

by DeDe Dawson Science Library, University of Saskatchewan

Privilege seems to be one of those things that you don’t realize you have until you no longer have it. This is not the case for some types of privilege of course. Someone’s race or gender will, in most cases, not change during their lifetime so privileges associated with these traits may be difficult for many to recognize. But someone’s ability to access information is likely to change.

One of the most frequently asked reference questions at an academic library is actually from recent graduates: “Why can’t I access e-resources anymore?” Libraries work hard to make access to electronic journals and literature databases as seamless as possible… so much so that undergraduates often don’t realize that they are using articles paid for by the library. Not until they graduate and lose access that is.

A bright and enthusiastic undergraduate student was my guide recently for a tour of the Canadian Light Source on the University of Saskatchewan campus. She explained to our group that scientists don’t pay to use the beamlines since they are conducting academic research, whereas companies pay by the hour. The distinction, according to our guide, is that the company is conducting research for their own profit whereas the academic is going to share his research in scholarly journals that everyone can read! I might have thrown up a little at that moment. But I did not want to hijack the tour by climbing on my open access soapbox right then. Reality will come crashing in once she graduates. Or… she could continue on to grad school, and then maybe on to become a faculty member, at large, rich institutions in the Global North and remain oblivious to the information privilege she currently enjoys.

Luckily, there is a growing awareness of this privilege among academic library users:

My intention in sharing the anecdote of the tour guide is not to shame the student. I was no different as an undergraduate (actually she’s a lot brighter than I was!), and her misunderstanding is understandable. My intention is to highlight the importance of teaching undergraduates about the scholarly communication ecosystem… and all of its warts: including its financial unsustainability and inequity of access. The Information has Value frame of ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education can serve as a guide in this.

For years now I have incorporated such messages in my instruction sessions. I clearly tell students that we are lucky to be at a relatively wealthy university, so we have access to X number of journals, and X number of databases that the library pays for. Students and researchers at smaller institutions or in developing countries are not as lucky. Even members of our own community who are not affiliated with the university are not as lucky (including others on the tour with me that day).

When teaching database-searching I am hyper aware of the irony of it all. Sure, these database-specific skills of controlled vocabulary searching and refining of results lists will help students in completing that upcoming assignment – but what good are these non-translatable skills when they graduate and no longer have access to that expensive resource? Only a small portion of our students will go on to grad school and use that database again.

This is why I now include a brief discussion of Google Scholar in these classes as well: emphasizing that it is also a useful resource – and will likely be the only one they have access to once they graduate.

I am far from the first to recognize this problem: see Char Booth’s excellent blog post On Information Privilege in which she describes an information literacy session she taught:

…I opened by challenging the fallacy that information is free by diagramming the library’s multi-million dollar materials budget against the “open web,” then facilitated a discussion about the implications of a system in which significant areas of knowledge are available to a privileged few (e.g., them). This may seem like a counterintuitive approach, but among my students it was a literally jaw-dropping illustration of a paywall that none of them knew existed. Choice responses (mirrored in other classrooms where I’ve used this approach) included:

“Why in the world does it cost so much?”
“It doesn’t make sense!”
“You mean all libraries have to pay like this?”
“Why can’t we use this stuff after we graduate?”


I feel strongly that we librarians have contributed to this current dysfunctional scholarly publishing system by (well-meaningly) sheltering faculty and students from the costs. This has emboldened publishers to aggressively inflate their subscription fees beyond inflation (and beyond reason) because they know that the end users are blissfully unaware… and because they know that librarians have a strong service ethic and will bend over backward to provide our patrons with the resources they need.

Let’s pull back that curtain now. Undergraduates are our future researchers and our allies in advocating for a more sustainable and equitable system. Even if undergraduates don’t go on to become researchers they will be tax-paying members of society funding that research. They should understand the system that their money funds and demand change.

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.

Looking back, looking around, looking forward

by Margy MacMillan
Mount Royal University Library

Margy MacMillan


Part of my retirement preparation has been to dispose of mountains of paper – articles, reports, illegible notes, etc. Skimming the articles, most on research in information literacy, I noticed a trend. The reason I noticed this trend in the library literature was because of a trend in current SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) work that has made me question a lot of my practices. A major theme in SoTL now is “students-as-partners”:




“Students as partners goes beyond the student voice and involves students as co-creators, co-researchers, co-teachers, co-producers and co-designers in learning and teaching.”

– McMaster Students as Partners Summer Institute

The aspect of the trend I find most interesting is having the students involved in generating the questions. In other words – doing research with students, rather than to students. Interesting thought . . . and certainly easily transferable to other communities, public library settings, etc.

The trend I noticed in the library literature in my piles and files, as you’ve probably guessed, was an almost complete lack of research based on questions generated by library users as co-inquirers.  This may, of course, be more reflective of what I’ve been searching and reading than the actual state of library literature, so I want to be clear, I am more questioning my own work than the field in general.  So:

What kind of questions would the people who use our libraries like to ask?
What kinds of questions would the people who DON’T use our libraries like to ask?

Think about it. And then think about this:

What kind of agency would it grant members of our communities to ask them to develop questions?

Would it change how members of our communities feel about their library?

If I was at the start of my professional career instead of at the end, or if I could time travel back and do it all over, this is how I’d like to approach evidence-based practice.

There is growing evidence of the benefits of a students-as-partners approach for both the students and the other researchers (see below for starting points).  There are also strong parallels to these benefits, especially around diversifying research questions and creating agency, in the more established literatures of participatory research, community-engaged scholarship, and other approaches that are what Helen Kara (2015) describes as transformative methodological frameworks. In Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide, she includes many examples of projects using feminist, decolonized, emancipatory, and participatory methodologies that serve as a rich source of ideas for the kind of work we could be doing more of. A common feature of transformative practice is “a move from oppressive to egalitarian practices, thereby supporting a wider shift from oppressive to egalitarian societies” (p. 39). I highly recommend this book, especially for those of you engaged in the #critlib discussions, as I think it bridges critical library practice and research.

Applying some of the perspectives from critical theory to our research practices as well as to other aspects of our work may seem a daunting task. Researchers risk exposure, the often solitary rewards of spending time with the literature to answer your own questions may be lost in work with others. This may be even more the case in work with people outside of academia or the profession, who may not share the same language, research conventions, or agreed ‘standards’. But wouldn’t the resulting possibilities and perspectives be worth it for libraries? Wouldn’t the greater involvement be worth it for our communities?

sunset on the Cristalino River in Brazil

Some references and starting points….

Bell, A. (2016). Students as co-inquirers in Australian higher education: Opportunities and challenges. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 4(2), 1-10. doi: This is part of a theme issue on students as co-inquirers in SoTL –

Kara, H. (2015). Creative research methods in the social sciences: A practical guide. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

Light, A., Egglestone, P., Wakeford, T., & Rogers, J. (2011). Participant-making: Bridging the gulf between community knowledge and academic research. The Journal Of Community Informatics, 7(3). Retrieved from

Marquis, E., Puri, V., Wan, S., Ahmad, A., Goff, L., Knorr, K., Vassileva, I., & Woo, J. (2016). Navigating the threshold of student–staff partnerships: a case study from an Ontario teaching and learning institute. International Journal for Academic Development, 21(1), 4-15.

Matthews, K. (2017). University of Queensland Institute for Teaching and Learning Students as Partners site –


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.

Choosing the right metric for Facebook advertisements: a (very) small case study

by Joanna Hare, Run Run Shaw Library, City University of Hong Kong

Following on from my previous Brain Work blog post about Facebook Insights, for this post I would like to share my recent experiences of utilising paid Facebook advertising for our library’s Facebook page.

Starting in October 2016 my library has been experimenting with paid Facebook advertising. Using a modest budget we have run two broad categories of advert:

  1. Page Likes: An advert shown to our specified target audience to invite them to like our page.
  2. Boosted Posts: Promote a single post from our Page to help it reach both our existing fans and people who have not ‘Liked’ our Page.

This is the second semester in which we have utilised paid Facebook adverts, which means I have been able to learn from the first semester and make adjustments for the second. For this post, I would like to reflect on choosing the right type of metric to be able to accurately assess the performance of your advert.

In the first semester of experimenting with Facebook advertisements, we boosted a post promoting our citation management workshops (Fig 1). In my previous experience, I had found Photo posts had performed better on Facebook than Link posts, so I used the same strategy in this advert.      

Fig 1: The first advert promoting our citation management workshops, run in November 2016.

Fig 1: The first advert promoting our citation management workshops, run in November 2016.


The results of this post were both encouraging and disappointing. While I was pleased that 54 people ‘reacted’ to the post, only 6 people clicked the link to view the workshop registration page. This indicated to me that people liked the content of the post (perhaps baited by a cute kitten!), but they were not so engaged as to take the extra step to click the link and view the workshop registration page.

To address this, in the second semester I used an advert type specifically designed to direct people to a destination off Facebook. The major difference is the ‘Sign Up’ button at the bottom of the post (Fig 2.), which when clicked directs users to the workshops registration page.   

Fig 2: The second advert promoting our citation management workshops, run in February 2017.

Fig 2: The second advert promoting our citation management workshops, run in February 2017.


The performance of this advert was much more encouraging: while only 6 people ‘reacted’ to the post, 93 people clicked the link to visit the registration page – a number greatly improved from the previous semester. Ordinarily the low number of reactions to a paid advert would be disappointing, but in this case, a high-click through result is preferable to lots of Likes.

In terms of the impact on workshop registrations, we did record a slight increase in the number of registrations and attendees, but certainly not an increase of 93 people, meaning not all of those visitors to the registration page actually registered for or attended the workshop. This could be a reflection of the design of the workshop registration page or the process of registration. This brings us to the next (much larger!) phase in our assessment of our Facebook adverts – to investigate their real-world impact outside of link clicks and post likes.

While Facebook is notoriously secretive of about how their algorithms work, they do provide a huge amount of data to demonstrate how your content is performing – and paid adverts are no different. Ultimately this exercise taught me to pay attention to the metrics used to assess the performance of Facebook adverts, and to choose an advert template that addresses the goal of placing the advert. This whole exercise forms part of a broader strategy in the Library to adopt an evidence-based approach to the use of Facebook to ensure our efforts on social media are worth the time investment. Based on the increased outreach and engagement with our posts thanks to paid advertising, our Library will continue to experiment with Facebook adverts in the coming academic year.

Recommended reading for anyone wanting to explore Facebook advertising for academic libraries:

  • Chan, Christopher, “Your Mileage May Vary: Facebook Advertising Revisited,” College and Research Library News, 77:4 (2016): 190-193, accessed December 21, 2016,
  • Scott W.H. Young, Angela M. Tate, Angela M., Doralyn Rossmann and Mary Anne Hansen, “The Social Media Toll Road: The Promise and Peril of Facebook Advertising” College and Research Library News 75:8 (2014): 427-434, accessed December 21, 2016,   

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.

Library Resources (AND, OR, NOT) Google: C-EBLIP Journal Club, March 20, 2017

By Elizabeth Stregger, Discovery & Access Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

Perruso, C. (2016). Undergraduates’ use of Google vs. library resources: A four-year cohort study. College & Research Libraries, 77(5), 614-630. doi:10.5860/crl.77.5.614

There are so many ways to get to our library content. Students can start their research with the catalogue, discovery layer, research guides, library and archives websites, Google Scholar, and of course, Google. In consultation sessions with librarians and library staff over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about how these tools are perceived and taught in different areas of the University of Saskatchewan Library. I chose this article for the C-EBLIP journal club because it includes the question: does library instruction impact students’ initial choice of search tool?

A whole bunch of “value of libraries / librarianship” questions lurk around this topic, like pesky book reviews retrieved in a low relevancy search. Does library instruction make a difference? Why bother with library discovery systems if students will use Google anyway? Why do students even need libraries if they can write a passable paper using open web resources? One of the journal club members put a stop to these questions with the following zinger: “Is it valuable for kids to go to kindergarten?”

Getting back to the article, we wouldn’t have chosen “Google vs. Library Resources” as the options in the student survey described by the author. Google is a search tool, not a resource. We thought that more appropriate comparisons would include “Google vs. library systems” or “open resources vs. subscribed content.”

The data collection for this longitudinal study began in 2008 when we might have thought differently. So much has changed since then. It is easier to access subscribed resources from Google Scholar or even Google, depending on authentication workarounds. Librarians and archivists put effort into making special collections and other OA resources more discoverable and accessible to all. In a systematic review context, Google searching for grey literature is a recognized expertise. To sum up our conversation: the emphasis is less on what the student is using and more on how they are using it.

These changes in how we think about Google and student searching prompted a discussion of the challenges in conducting longitudinal research in libraries. The survey used in this study was administered a total of eight times over four years. This is a lot of sustained effort for everyone involved. Longitudinal research is subject to significant practical challenges including attrition, which was a factor in this study. It does not have the flexibility to allow for the reframing of survey questions in response to change. These changes become limitations of the research. The discussion section of this paper included many interesting questions and observations.

The discussion section of this paper included many interesting questions and observations. One of the ideas from the discussion section that we found intriguing was the maturation effect. A lot happens in the years that students spend at university. Library instruction and faculty requirements (the two variables in this study) may have a cumulative effect on how students approach research, but there are many other influences in student life. We discussed several of the other influences that might have an impact, such as interactions with peer mentors or student library workers.

In the end, that is what I will take away from our discussion. A student’s experience is made up of lots of interactions with the library, our people, and our systems. We have less control over the variables than we think. And I’ll hang onto that zinger about kindergarten as I continue learning, experimenting, and making things better.

Academic City of Villages

by Dr. Suzana Sukovic, Executive Director, Educational Research and Evidence Based Practice at HETI (Health Education and Training Institute) in Sydney, Australia

Originally posted on, December 16, 2016 . The post refers to a chapter in the book “Transliteracy in complex information environments”, published by Chandos.

Transliteracy in complex information environments (Chandos, 2017)

Transliteracy in complex information environments (Chandos, 2017)

At a time when information spurts from everywhere, numerous voices demand to be heard and traditional authorities are under scrutiny, academia occupies challenging and contested space. Particularly indicative of wider changes in the information and knowledge field are humanistic disciplines. They epitomize academic traditions in which historical resources and dialogues with the past are an essential part of academic work. Scholarship in the humanities can also act as a touchstone for and a commentary on the present.

I would like to propose that the way in which humanists negotiate the fast changing information world is based on the model I call the ‘academic city of villages’. Academics, especially in the developed countries, live in an information metropolis in which information is available in abundance and wide variety. However, academics’ everyday life is defined by norms and traditions of their disciplines which dictate the rules of their academic worlds. ‘City of villages’, a metaphor promoted by town planners of cities such as San Diego, Los Angeles, Dublin and Sydney, is used to present some of the dynamics of living in disciplinary ‘small worlds’ or ‘villages’ within an information metropolis. This proposition is based on my study of roles of electronic texts in the humanities and, later, research into transliteracy.

Small information worlds and a ‘life in the round’

Women who eat dirt for its perceived benefits, prisoners, janitors and retired women are people who live in impoverished information worlds, yet employ complex information practices. This insight arose from the work of Elfreda Chatman who developed an information theory of a ‘small world’ and a ‘life in the round’, showing how groups influence and determine information behaviour. Chatman (2000, p. 3) described the concept of a small world as ‘a world in which everyday happenings occur with some degree of predictability’. ‘A small world is also defined by natural philosophy and everyday knowledge’ (Chatman, 1999, 210). A ‘life in the round’ is a public form of life, ‘a “taken-for-granted,” “business-as-usual” style of being’ (Chatman, 1999, p. 207). Chatman showed that powerful social rules determine conditions and ways in which information is sought, what acceptable information is and what appropriate uses of information are. Individuals usually conform or keep socially unacceptable practices private.

Saying that the information behaviour of academics follow some similar patterns to those of information impoverished groups sounds far-fetched. However, findings emerging from my study of research practices of academics in the humanities show similarities, which are not obvious at face value.

Social types are central to the normative behaviour of a social group. ‘Legitimised others’ in Chatman’s theory are comparable with academic ‘big guns’ who need to be convinced that a piece of research can and should enter academic circle. A historian who studies contemporary religions, such as Jediism, Heathenism and beliefs in extraterrestrial life, many with a strong online presence, described ‘big guns’ in the following way:

… the big guns have grown up in a different kind of scholarship and they’re the ones who edit the journals and who run the big publishing houses. [It is] important that you convince them that you really can do real scholarship… It’s a kind of professional accreditation problem that people who work in really kind of out there fields are stuck with. (Participant 5/2)

Academic peers are ‘insiders’, people who are in command of norms and who judge what is trivial or useless: ‘They are the quintessential frame of reference for observing and controlling not only behavior, but also the information flow into a social world’ (Chatman, 1999, p. 212). When academics in my study talked about ‘students’, ‘young generation’, ‘traditional historians’, ‘big guns’ and ‘people who work in out-there fields’, they described academic social types that play a part in shaping information processes.

Secrecy and self-protective behaviours are part of living in a small world. Self-protective behaviour is apparent in situations when the need for information is recognised as potentially helpful, but is ignored, often because of the desire to ‘appear normal’ (Chatman, 2000, p. 7).  Scholars choose to make their information behaviours, such as the use of online sources, public or keep them private in relation to the norms, worldviews and possible reactions of their peers who have roles of ‘insiders’ and ‘legitimised others’. The dismissive attitude of peers to the use of electronic resources is evident in scholars’ public discourse, summarised in ‘all that crap from the net’ as a conversation topic as described by one of the study participants. This discourse observed in some academic circles is quite likely to make an individual researcher reluctant to ask questions that would reveal the extent of her or his own use, which may be seen as unscholarly or unauthoritative. The majority of study participants talked about an area where information about the use of electronic resources and digital methods was needed, but that information had not been sought. The lack of discussion about uncertainties related to the use of electronic resources and the unexpressed need for training are signs of an impoverished life-world. It does not relate to an absolute amount of information that has been shared, but rather to an undisclosed information need.

Living in a city of villages

Academic disciplines define the norms and practices accepted by a disciplinary community and set boundaries of academic small worlds. However, disciplines do not function as isolated environments. It is increasingly common that scholars work in interdisciplinary fields, and belong to different disciplinary communities, negotiating their different cultures, traditions and expectations. Even if they remain within the boundaries of a single discipline, they live in a dynamic information environment populated by international scholars. This vibrant environment can be seen as an information metropolis. At the same time, academics follow the rules of their immediate disciplinary communities, which form their small worlds.

How do scholars negotiate potentially contradictory demands? They usually have a primary discipline, but they seek information in other disciplines if that is the requirement of their projects. Boundary-crossing usually happens according to the rules of the primary discipline. In some cases, it means following traditional trails of academic authority. For example, a literary scholar in the study worked in a well-defined discipline where she has been a recognised expert. A sense of authority is based on knowing sources very well. However, to satisfy the requirements of a particular project, she had to leave the established information paths and seek information in neighbouring fields. The process happened according to the dominant academic tradition by following the advice of a colleague in the other field. In other words, the researcher does not normally leave her village in search of information, but when she has to do that, it happens according to the rules of following well-established academic expertise.

For other scholars, negotiation of different disciplinary rules and project demands require trade-offs. When a historian decided to write a book aiming to open a challenging dialogue with traditional scholars, he excluded references to all sources that he felt would not be acceptable to these colleagues. However, he introduced a style of writing promoted by interactions with electronic sources, which ‘pushed the edges’ of traditional scholarship.

Academics who visit blogs, tourist web sites and forums about extraterrestrials leave an academic neighbourhood to roam around the city and listen to stories in dark alleys and under bridges. Stories from the underbelly of the city are often socially unacceptable in established disciplinary clubs in university quarters. Scholars who frequent the clubs, but cross the boundaries of academia, often learn from the ‘dark stories’ and consider how to present them according to accepted disciplinary conventions. In non-traditional fields within traditional disciplines, it means more or less successful ‘dressing up’ of research, which Participant 5/2 described as a way of using disciplinary theories and citations to make unconventional research acceptable to the mainstream discipline. In more traditional literary and historical studies, it means taking unaccepted sources into account without referring to them openly.

Scholars who do cross boundaries against the rules of their discipline, would do so because information is perceived as critical or there is a perception that a ‘life in the round’ is no longer functioning. Rapid changes in academia, inconsistent systems of promotions and evaluation of scholarly work, as well as conflicting expectations, indicate that academic life is functioning with a number of difficulties. Participant 15/1 talked about experimenting ‘without an umpire’ in mind in the environment in which some peers are interested in experimental work with the multiplicity of resources while others do not think that it meets scholarly standards. According to this participant, scholars who work in new fields start within a traditional disciplineand gradually split away when another community takes shape.

In a metropolis, news travels fast and it is impossible to maintain local customs untouched, but that does not negate the existence and influence of small villages. The balance between the preservation of a village life and the interaction with the metropolis — sometimes threatening, sometimes alluring – is in flux even in the most sheltered villages.

It may be that other professional worlds work in a similar way, but more research is needed to establish the evidence. However, an understanding of social processes in academia helps us to enhance our understanding of knowledge processes and wider societal changes. It helps us also to provide information and professional development services tailored with deeper understanding of our clients’ information worlds.


CHATMAN, E. A. 1999. A theory of life in the round. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50, 207-217.

CHATMAN, E. A. 2000. Framing social life in theory and research. The New Review of Information Behaviour Research, 1, 3-17.


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.

When Evidence and Emotion Collide: Rolling Out Controversial Evidence-Based Decisions

by Kathleen Reed, Assessment and Data Librarian, Instructor in the Department of Women’s Studies, and VP of the Faculty Association at Vancouver Island University

Last week’s news of Trent University Library’s Innovation Cluster was the latest in a string of controversial decisions centering on academic libraries that jumped from campus debate into the mainstream media. With so many libraries in the middle of decisions that are likely unpopular (e.g. cutting journals, weeding little-used and aging print collections), I’ve been increasingly thinking about best practices for communicating major evidence-based decisions to campus communities.

Simply having the data to support your decision isn’t enough; rolling out a controversial decision is an art form.  Luckily, I’ve had some really good teachers in the form of colleagues and bosses (shout out to Dana, Jean, Tim, and Bob).  With the disclaimer that I’ve taken no change-management training and am in no way an expert, here’s what I’ve learned in my first six years as a librarian:

Start conversations early and have them often.
Decisions do not go well when they’re dropped on people out of the blue. For example, we know that there’s a crisis in scholarly publishing – the fees and inflation vendors are charging are unsustainable and the CAD/USD conversion rate isn’t in our favour. Faculty need to hear that message now, not in a few years when a major journal package has to be cut.  If you talk to communities early, you’re able to hear concerns that may figure into future decision making, and figure out strategies to meet needs in other ways.

Don’t force an idea if you don’t have to.
One of the things my first boss told me was that sometimes you’ll have a great idea, but conditions just aren’t right for uptake.  Now 6 years into my career, I can see what he meant.  In my first year, cutting a particular database was unthinkable to a particular department, even though there was plenty of evidence that this cut should be made.  Four years later and I was able to get an agreement to cancel from the department with little issue.  Sometimes an issue has to be dealt with, but other times you can wait.  Plant a seed, walk away, and come back to it another time if you can.

Be proactive.
When Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) announced that thousands of journals were being reviewed for potential cost-savings and CBC reported on it, Ryerson University Library & Archives did something outstanding: they published a proactive blog article being upfront with their community. There was no beating around the bush, with the first Q&A being: “Can we anticipate similar activities at Ryerson? Yes we can.”  Ryerson didn’t have to do anything – the controversy wasn’t at their institution.  But they showed excellent leadership in addressing the issue head-on and set a great example for other libraries to follow.

Have a plan
A former boss of mine brought the idea of project charters to our work culture. These documents clearly outline goals, deliverables, in/out of scope areas, rationale, stakeholders responsibilities, scheduling considerations, timelines, risks & mitigation strategies, and sustainability. The most recent project charter around my library is related to the evolution of our print collection, which we’re looking to reduce over the next 5 years (evidence-based, of course – shout out to the COPPUL Shared Print Archive Network (SPAN) Project and GreenGlass. Having a project charter allows all librarians and staff to consider the direction of the project, have their input, and get on board with it. And this last point is key – if employees don’t feel consulted and buy-in, it’ll be especially hard to support that decision externally.

I’ll also highlight the “risks & mitigation strategy” section of project charters. This is where risks are identified.  For example, if the decision you’re undertaking is related to reducing the number of journals or print books, you’re probably going to attract negative media attention and dissatisfaction among print-book lovers. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, so plan for it.

Show due diligence and evidence.
I’ve mentioned above that it’s important to give your community plenty of opportunities to talk to librarians about large decisions and to get assistance for mitigation strategies (if necessary). But it’s also important to keep a record of how you did this. I once had an irate student group demand a meeting about a database that was cut over a year prior. When I laid out the process (multiple meetings and emails) and the evidence (rubric numbers, faculty input) used to make the decision, as well as how the library devised alternatives to accessing the cut database’s content, the students were completely satisfied and even apologized for assuming that the library was in the wrong.

At my library, we use a rubric to assess all our databases. Aside from helping us make decisions, this rubric enables us to “show our work” to faculty. When they see that we look at 28 different categories for every database, they’re more inclined to trust our decision-making than if we showed up with limited evidence and told them we need to cancel a database.

Do some anger aikido (if appropriate)
When our library started a consultation with several faculties on cutting a particular database, some of our faculty were understandably upset. But because of prior conversations about the problems in scholarly communications, instead of turning that anger on librarians it was directed at admin for not funding the library better, and at a parasitic scholarly publishing industry. When the latter came up, it gave librarians an opening to talk about the importance of Open Access, and helped convince some faculty to submit their work to our institutional repository to ensure it would no longer be behind a paywall.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take the blame if it’s legit your fault.  If you messed up, own it and don’t throw your colleagues under the bus. But when librarians are doing the best they can – being proactive, using evidence, starting conversations early – and factors beyond our control are the source of anger, I think it’s acceptable to do a little aikido and redirect the anger toward the source (especially if change can be made there).

People may not like a decision but they will usually respect your position if you’ve shown yourself worthy of respect.
Difficult decisions are easier to respect when they’re argued for by trustworthy, respectful, diligent people who have a track record of working on behalf of the community instead of for personal gain.  Be one of those people. As one of my favourite sayings goes, “We’re all smart in academia. Distinguish yourself by being kind.”

Consider the Spectrum of Allies.
I was first introduced to the Spectrum of Allies in the Next Up social justice leadership program, but it’s applicable to any controversial subject. The idea is that you’re not going to radically shift people from opposing an idea to loving it, so it’s better to think of nudging people from one position to the next.

Applying this concept to the decision to cancel a database might look something like this: active allies are those that will advocate for the decision; passive allies are those who agree with the decision but don’t speak up; neutrals are those who don’t care either way; passive opposition is people who oppose the decision but don’t speak up; and active opposition are the folks who are outspoken critics of the decision.  The point becomes to shift each group one position over.  So you may not be able to convince Professor Y that they should support the decision to cancel the database, but you might convince them to move from active opposition to passive, thereby not running to the press.

Accept that some people will be unreasonable.
Some people are just jerks. There will be nothing you can do to satisfy them, and there’s no point in dumping endless energy into convincing them of a decision.  But you can try to neutralizing their influence. If one particular member of a department is being an unreasonable PITA (Pain In The Ass), make sure you’re talking to their departmental colleagues so that those folks aren’t swayed by the individual’s influence.

Build an evidence-based culture.
If your library becomes known as a department that does assessment well and can provide valid evidence, you’ll garner respect on campus which can only make life easier.

Study the people around you who are good at conflict.
Tap into the wisdom of your diplomatic colleagues.  I’m lucky enough to have one who is United Nations-level good at diplomacy, and so when I found myself in a situation where my natural un-diplomatic impulses were about to take over, I’d ask myself “What would (name) do?”  After several years of this practice, I now cut out the middle step and just act tactfully in the first place most of the time (“fake it ‘til you make it” really does work!) But I’d have never been able to get to this place without watching and learning strategies from my co-worker.

At the end of it all, reflect on how it went and what you can do better next time.
Big decisions, like canceling journals or doing significant weeding, are difficult and hard to make roll out perfectly. It’s important to reflect on what’s gone well in the process and what can be improved upon for next time.

What’s your experience with rolling out controversial decisions?  Is there something that should be added or subtracted from this list?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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.