by Pam Ryan
Director, Collections & Technology at Edmonton Public Library
firstname.lastname@example.org / Twitter: @pamryan
As a former academic librarian, I’m often asked what the biggest differences are between public and academic libraries and librarianship. My short answer is usually something about having only worked for one (each excellent and probably non-standard) example of each so it’s difficult to know if the differences I’ve experienced are more organizational or sectoral. However, an increasingly concerning difference is the relationship that public librarians have with the research and evidence base of our profession.
Low public librarian participation in research and publication is not a new phenomenon nor is the small overall percentage of LIS research articles about public library practice. Research in 2005 showed that over a four year period just 3% of article authors in North American LIS journals were employed in public libraries. Even in Public Library Quarterly, only 14% of the authors were public librarians. An earlier study in 2001 showed that only 7% of LIS research articles were public library orientedi.
The recommendations in the 2014 Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel report on Canada’s libraries call for increased sharing of research and statistics to support evidence-based practice in public libraries. The recommendations specifically include a call to action for public libraries to make their work visible by posting evidence-based studies on library websites for the benefit of the entire library community, in addition to continuing to share statistical data freely with CULC and other organizationsii.
These recommendations follow from the fact that public libraries are increasingly called upon to show their value and prove their impact yet we are not actively in charge of telling our own story by sharing our organization practice findings or enlisting our librarians to share their work outside of internal operational functions. We need to heed this call to action both as organizations and as individual professionals. I am keenly aware of all of the good program evaluation and assessment work that goes on in public libraries to inform services and innovation yet it is too frequently not taken the step further, to openly available publication, to build our evidence-base, inform our collective practice, and be available to tell our stories.
Of particular note in this call to action is to openly and freely post this work of our public libraries and librarians. A very distinct and frustrating difference between academic and public librarianship is access to the literature behind paywalls. I am well-aware of how frequently I beg sharing of PDF articles of academic colleagues and also, embarrassingly, how less frequently I dip into the literature because access to it isn’t as seamless as it was when I was an academic librarian. Open Access publishing options for our own literature needs a much higher profile than it currently has and is something our entire sector needs to work on.
Where to start? As examples, Edmonton Public Library (EPL) recognizes that research and its dissemination are integral to being innovative. EPL provides two recent librarian graduates from the University of Alberta’s School of Library and Information Studies with one year research internships. These new professional librarians conduct research that is invaluable to EPL’s future planning. Recent assignments on digital public spaces and open data; digital discovery and access; 21st century library spaces; and analyzing the nature and types of questions received at service desks have also included the expectation of openly sharing internal reportsiii via the EPL website, as well as publication in Open Access forumsiv v vi vii. Librarians working on innovative projects are also encouraged to share their practice and findings openlyviii ix. Providing the encouragement, support, time, and expectation that sharing need be an integrated part of public librarian practice is something all libraries can foster. We need to collectively take responsibility for changing public library culture and take ownership of telling our own stories and sharing our evidence.
iRyan, Pam. 2012. EBLIP and Public Libraries. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice. Vol 7:1. https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/EBLIP/article/view/16557/13672
iiDemers, Patricia (chair), Guylaine Beaudry, Pamela Bjornson, Michael Carroll, Carol Couture, Charlotte Gray, Judith Hare, Ernie Ingles, Eric Ketelaar, Gerald McMaster, Ken Roberts. (2014). Expert Panel Report on The Future Now: Canada’s Libraries, Archives, and Public Memory. Royal Society of Canada, Ottawa, ON. Pg. 120. https://rsc-src.ca/sites/default/files/pdf/L%26A_Report_EN_FINAL_Web.pdf
iiiPublications. Edmonton Public Library. http://www.epl.ca/about-epl/news/publications
ivArnason, Holly Kristin and Louise Reimer. 2012. Analyzing Public Library Service Interactions to Improve Public Library Customer Service and Technology Systems. EBLIP and Public Libraries. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice. Vol 7:1. https://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/EBLIP/article/view/11654
vWortman, Beth. 2012. What Are They Doing and What Do They Want: The Library Spaces Customer Survey at Edmonton Public Library. Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research. Vol 7:2. https://journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/perj/article/view/1967/2633#.Vh1gAU3lu70
viDaSilva, Allison. 2014. Enriching Discovery Layers: A Product Comparison of Content Enrichment Services Syndetic Solutions and Content Café 2. Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research. Vol 9:2. https://journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/perj/article/view/2816#.Vh1p4U3lu70
viiCarruthers, Alex. 2014. Open Data Day Hackathon 2014 at Edmonton Public Library. Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research. Vol 9:2. https://journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/perj/article/view/3121#.Vh1f3U3lu70
viiiHaug, Carla. 2014. Here’s How We Did It: The Story of the EPL Makerspace. Felicter. Vol 60:1. http://www.cla.ca/feliciter/2014/1/mobile/
ixCarruthers, Alex. 2015. Edmonton Public Library’s First Digital Public Space. The Library as Incubator Project. January 20, 2015: http://www.libraryasincubatorproject.org/?p=15914
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.