What’s All This About Evidence? C-EBLIP Journal Club, June 9, 2014

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

On June 9 over lunch, the C-EBLIP Journal Club met for the first time with 9 librarians in attendance. The plan is to meet every 6 weeks or so, and dates have been set until May 2015 to get us going. The club will run around rotating convenors, with the convenor’s role being to choose an article to discuss, book the meeting space, send out meeting announcements and reminder emails, lead the journal club discussion, and write up a discussion summary for the blog. I convened the first meeting and here’s how it went.

Koufogiannakis, D. (2012). Academic librarians’ conception and use of evidence sources in practice. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 7(4): 5-24. https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/EBLIP/article/view/18072

1. Brief summary of article

This is a qualitative study using grounded theory methodology that addresses these research questions: What forms of evidence do academic librarians use when making professional decisions? Why do they use these types of evidence? How do academic librarians incorporate research into their professional decision making? Koufogiannakis recruited 19 academic librarian participants using purposeful sampling (in other words, she looked for a particular population – librarians who “had some interest in exploring the use of evidence in relation to their professional decision-making” (p. 8)). These librarians kept a private blog diary for a month, noting questions or problems related to their professional practice and how they came to resolve those issues. She followed up with semi-structured phone interviews which enabled her to clarify and get a deeper analysis of specific aspects participants noted in their diaries. The results of this study include two variations of evidence: hard and soft, and the librarians in the study used both kinds to inform decision-making. They often didn’t think of the soft types of evidence as real evidence, but were using them in conjunction with the harder forms of evidence such as the research literature to inform their practice. The piece concludes with the idea that EBLIP needs to expand to include a wide variety of evidence types to “bring the EBLIP model closer to one that has truly considered the needs of librarians” (p. 21).

2. Discussion Summary
In retrospect, it is a difficult process to fully participate in a journal club discussion and to take notes for some kind of discussion summary after the fact. The following discussion points are highly contextual. The journal club discussion was informal and conversational, allowing us to take different roads.

• The discussion began with general impressions of the article and these impressions included praise for the clarity of the writing and an appreciation for the articulation and demonstration of material that at first glance seemed obvious but upon deeper reading revealed itself to be thought-provoking and meaningful.
• There was some discussion about the sample of librarians who participated in the study – how was that sample generated, were the librarians similar to the researcher, what would be the implications of that?
• The article takes a broad view of what is considered evidence. A comment was made that we are still so uncertain and that the article highlights an ongoing struggle. Other people may not accept the soft evidence. As librarians we can evaluate sources and all have the potential to have something to offer. Where it can get complex for us (as librarians) is the fact that we serve other research communities. We sometimes inherit those value systems through that work.
• There was a comment about the reflective nature of the research and someone commented that the humanities are doing the same kind of introspective things.
• The discussion moved to evidence based practice in health/medicine. In many models of EBP, the focus seems to be only on the research and not the other two aspects (professional knowledge/expertise; user/client/patient preference).
• Why aren’t librarians going to their associations for information/evidence, i.e. ACRL – tools, checklists, etc.?
• Is soft evidence used in the absence of hard evidence? After this question arose, there was a discussion around the designations of the terms “hard” and “soft.” Is the designation imposing some kind of bias? These are not neutral terms. Why have we as a culture or a society determined a hierarchy for these terms? What other terms might have been used to classify these two types of evidence? We couldn’t come up with anything that wasn’t hierarchical to some extent, and we put that down to the idea that we are organizers by nature.
• If the definition of evidence is expanding, does it not just dilute everything? i.e. describing our situation versus prescribing a direction
• Tacit knowledge: gut reactions help to pose the questions which ideally we go on to explore. The impetus to “prove it” helps to solidify thoughts. We often don’t believe our own knowledge is good or that it’s appropriate proof.
• We need to get away from the idea that right and wrong are forever. Need a new standard that allows for new knowledge and flexibility.

This was a great article with which to kick off the C-EBLIP Journal Club. Not only did we discuss the particulars of the research reported in the article, it also acted as a catalyst that sparked a professional discussion that we may well not have had without it about how we practice as librarians and what it means to practice in a evidence-based way.

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.

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