Reflections on Research

by Margy MacMillan
Mount Royal University Library

With apologies to Shakespeare: Some are born to research, some achieve research, and others have research thrust upon them . . . and it sometimes feel as though all three are true, often all at once. Whether research is something you have to do, love to do, or just plain do as a part of solving problems, reflecting on what aspects of the tasks YOU find most appealing might reveal some useful patterns.

How do I know this? I did the research! With me as a subject. Yes, it was as uncomfortable as it sounds, at least at first. Then it was… fun, and ultimately very helpful.
When I said I could talk about the What and the Why of research at the C-EBLIP Fall Symposium, I thought it would be easy. What could be simpler than expounding on the motivations for research and the questions that might arise? Teaching an elephant needlepoint. Does the Why lead to the What or vice versa – or do What and Why, the question to be investigated and the reason for the investigation have to occur at the same time? I started thinking in moebius loops where the What and Why become one another simultaneously.

Moebius photo

I searched for answers within. Why had I done research? Were there patterns in the questions? This research required a sunny day, a comfortable chair, and a beverage and was repeated until saturation was achieved. To keep track of reflections I developed a chart.

chart_blank

In filling out my chart, I realized I had NEVER looked at the whole pattern of my research experience. (Have you?) Using mixed methods, noting frequencies, and identifying themes emerging from the discourse, I was quite relieved to find there were patterns, although not always the patterns I thought I’d find. I also discovered connections between what I had thought were a series of random acts of research, and a path that led naturally to where I am now, at the intersection of EBLIP and SoTL – more about that in another post.

chart_filledin

It turns out, getting angry with the literature, borrowing from or intruding upon other disciplines and having a practical outcome have consistently been important to me. Some ‘ideal research conditions’ have changed over time – collaboration was not a key factor at the beginning of my library work but has become something I now seek out. As Dr. Vicki Williamson noted about library staffing in her presentation, research sometimes requires Buying, Building, Borrowing, Balancing and Blending.

In subsequent reflection on this reflection, my conditions for memorable research were not strict either/or conditions but points on continua. It’s not that I don’t like theory, it’s just that while I appreciate those who do, I’m drawn more to applied projects. This kind of realization means that while I may not always be able to control the What or the Why, by paying attention to the How, I can work toward more memorable, even enjoyable research experiences.

A comment in the session by Jo Ann Murphy at USask sparked yet more reflection. She talked about research we do on a regular basis – the kind of research that ends when the problem is solved, and not when the presentation is over. This ‘unsung’ research also requires refining questions, developing methods and analyzing results, we just don’t write about it much, and we should. It’s something we need to MAKE time for (thanks Denise Koufogiannakis!) individually so we can spend less time collectively answering the same questions.

On a final note, what a treat to be on the beautiful UofS campus in a room full of engaged, fascinating library folk, listening to an amazing range of presentations. I’m still processing what I heard, and hoping to network with more than a few of you for ideas/ tips/ tools and theories for my next projects.

The presentation is here. I invite you to chart your profile and comment on the common factors in YOUR memorable research experiences below. Hmmm, sounds like an interesting study…

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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