Research Community: It takes a village

by Selinda Berg
Schulich School of Medicine – Windsor Program
Leddy Library, University of Windsor
University Library Researcher in Residence, University of Saskatchewan

At this time of year we often pause to express our gratitude for those things that can go unrecognized throughout our day-to-day routine. Because this post will be shared near the Canadian and American holiday of Thanksgiving, I want to share my gratitude for the research community that I have acquired through my participation in research and my involvement in various research support initiatives. I also want to urge others to make the effort to join and/or build a research community of their own—it is so worth it!

I was recently interviewed about my experience as a researcher, and when asked about what I have gained from research, I unequivocally stated “a sense community within librarianship.” Professional communities are a key part of the identities of librarians: There are communities based on subject specialization, technical specializations, social groups, and each of these communities offer their members a sense of belonging within the profession. It is within the community of librarian-researchers that I found my sense of belonging.

Five years ago, I published an article with Heidi Jacobs (Rethinking Conversations on Research Culture in Canadian Academic Libraries) and it made use of Walker et al.’s concept of Intellectual Communities. Walker et al. describe four qualities necessary for strong “intellectual communities”: shared purpose; diverse and multigenerational community; flexible and forgiving community; and respectful and generous community. I am so very appreciative of the fact that I am a member of an Intellectual Community that possesses those qualities. The members of my community cross geographic, professional, and disciplinary boundaries and my community is made up mentors, mentees, collaborators, and students. Each and every one of these people not only share their knowledge and wisdom with me, but also provides the inspiration, motivation, and perseverance I need to participate in research.

Finding and fostering a research community takes effort, but very small acts can make a big difference:
• Make yourself vulnerable: Research is personal. Sharing our experiences – the bad and the good – can make us feel vulnerable. However, by making ourselves vulnerable we are demonstrating our trust in and respect for others. It helps to demonstrate the safety and security within a community, and will help others to find the strength to make themselves vulnerable.
• Share your work: It is scary to share your research with your colleagues, but this is a part of community-building. Sharing our research with one another helps us to understand and support each other’s endeavours and encourages respect and empathy amongst members.
• Model the kind of community you want to belong to: Safe, strong, and healthy research communities can start by individuals modeling the behavior that they wish to receive from others. We want to belong to a community that possesses the qualities that Walker et al. describes in Intellectual Communities. If you are flexible and forgiving; and respectful and generous to your colleagues (and to yourself), those qualities are likely to be transmitted throughout the community.

We have a lot of work to do in building formalized research communities in Canada, but informal research communities are a great start! Take a first step in building the community of researchers you want!

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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