The “Why?” behind the research

by Andrea Miller-Nesbitt
Liaison Librarian, Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences and Engineering, McGill University

Lorie Kloda
Associate University Librarian, Planning & Community Relations, Concordia University

Megan Fitzgibbons
Innovation Librarian, Centre for Education Futures, University of Western Australia

When reading journal articles reporting original research, content usually follows the IMRAD format: introduction, methods, results, analysis, and discussion. Word count, author guidelines, and other conventions usually mean that the researchers’ motivation for conducting the study are often left out. In this post we present our motivations for conducting a research study on librarians’ participation in journal clubs:

Fitzgibbons, M., Kloda, L., & Miller-Nesbitt, A. (pre-print). Exploring the value of academic librarians’ participation in journal clubs. College & Research Libraries. http://crl.acrl.org/content/early/2016/08/22/crl16-965.abstract

Being an evidence-based practitioner can sometimes involve a bit of navel-gazing. Beyond using evidence in our professional work (e.g., for decision-making, evaluating initiatives, etc.), we may likewise ask questions about the outcomes of our own professional development choices.

After three years of facilitating the McGill Library Journal Club, we began to think about ways we could disseminate our experience and lessons learned, and most importantly, how we could determine librarians’ perceived outcomes of participating in a journal club. We felt anecdotally that participating in a journal club is worthwhile, but we wondered: Can we formally investigate the impacts of participation on librarians’ practice and knowledge? What evidence can we find to inform the decisions and approaches of librarians and administrators in supporting or managing a journal club? Is there a connection between journal clubs and evidence-based librarianship? We also wanted to learn more about approaches taken in a variety of journal clubs and how they define success for their group.

The McGill Library Journal Club was initially established in order to help foster evidence-based practice by reflecting on the library and information studies literature and using those reflections to inform practice. The journal club also provides a professional development opportunity for all those interested. Although the McGill Library Journal Club has experienced many of the same challenges as other journal clubs, it is still going strong after 6 years thanks to a core group of motivated facilitators. (For more information about the journal club’s activities, see the McGill Library Journal Club wiki.)

In order to answer these questions, we first had to agree on a definition of a journal club. After some reading and deliberation, we framed participation in a journal club as an informal learning activity: learning that occurs outside classrooms or training sessions, but still involves some coordination and structure. In this context, our research question was: “What do librarians perceive as the value of participating in a journal club?” We focused on academic librarians who participate in journal clubs to manage the scope of the study, but a similar approach could be taken in other library and information organizations as well.

Because we were interested in gaining insight into individuals’ experiences, we considered several methods, and ultimately selected an in-depth qualitative method, the hermeneutic dialectic process (Guba & Lincoln, 1989). This is a method that we have seen used in the social sciences for the purpose of evaluation and reconciling diverse perspectives. At the time we were coming up with our research question, one of the authors (Lorie) was an assessment librarian, and interested in qualitative methods. She brought Guba and Lincoln’s writing to the team for discussion. It seemed both appropriate for answering our research question and also flexible to enable us to be able to really capture study participants’ experiences – not just what we expected to hear. We believe that this is the first use of this method in LIS research, so an additional motivation for the study was to apply the approach in the field.

As per the method, we conducted semi-structured in-depth interviews with each participant. After the first interview, central themes, concepts, ideas, values, concerns and issues that arose in the discussion were written into an initial “construction” which captured the experiences and perceptions expressed by the interviewee. Then in the second interview, the participant was asked to react to some of the points brought up by the first interviewee, as expressed in the construction. The construction was added to after each interview, incorporating the perspectives of each successive interviewee and used to inform the subsequent interviews. At the end, all participants were given the opportunity to comment on the final construction and let us know whether their perspectives were accurately represented.

Ultimately, we believe that the findings of our published study are of interest to librarians who aim to create and sustain a journal club. In particular, it could offer insight as they form goals for their group and justify the activity, including seeking support and recognition for their group.

More details about the impacts of academic librarians’ participation in journal clubs are of course presented in the article. In addition, in collaboration with the C-EBLIP Research Network, we hope to compile additional resources about journal club practices in librarianship and open communication channels in the future. Watch this space, and please get in touch if you have any ideas about promoting journal clubs for academic librarians.

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.

One thought on “The “Why?” behind the research

  1. Thank you for this post! My experience attending the McGill Library Journal Club l (even if only a couple times) was formative for me. It provided an introduction to the LIS research literature as well as frameworks for how to evaluate it. This experience was definitely on my mind when suggesting a journal club be integrated into our C-EBLIP activities at the U of S.

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