Troubleshooting or Trouble? When Research Tools Fail

By Elizabeth Stregger
Mount Allison University Library

Spoiler alert: by the end of this story, a Data and Digital Services Librarian finds joy in coding with paper.

When my research collaborator, Dr. Christiana MacDougall, asked about using RQDA (R package for Qualitative Data Analysis) to analyze our data, I was enthusiastic. Open source software, a different way to use R, and yes, it was listed on some library guides. There were detailed YouTube tutorials. I was confident that it would meet our needs.

Following the installation instructions for Mac OSX (last tested in June 2016) was not immediately successful. I found some helpful advice on GitHub (Kopf, 2014) and installed RQDA on the three computers we use most frequently, all Macs. Our first impression was that the interface was a bit clunky and slow. We could cope with it. After all, we’d said we would use RQDA in our Data Management Plan, and installing it had been quite a lot of work. I thought we were on track.

Then we started coding. The system lagged, making it very hard to select text. Was it bad wifi in the coffee shop? Would it work better with a mouse? Did the file location make a difference? I was determined to find a way for this work, so that I could give other faculty members solid advice in the future.

I installed it on my work desktop computer, a Windows machine. Finally, RQDA worked as expected. At that point, I knew that my best advice for faculty members was to abandon any attempt to use RQDA on a Mac.

I did my coding using RQDA on my work computer. Christiana printed, cut, and manually sorted our data. While I was proud of trying my very best to get a system to work, I gained a lot of appreciation for analog methods. Moving strips of paper around on a wooden table is as satisfying as working on a puzzle or sorting shades of yarn into a fade.

I’m grateful that Christiana was open, curious, and patient with my persistence. In addition to good communication with your research partners, these are my recommendations for working with open source tools:
– Try using the research tools your library is promoting as open source options
– Keep an eye on how long it has been since open source tools have been tested for operating systems
– Balance user experience with your commitment to open source
– Share stories about research tools
– Contribute to open source projects if you have the skills
– Have a backup plan!

Reference

Kopf, S. (2014). Installation information for R with GTK on Windows/Mac OS. Retrieved from https://gist.github.com/sebkopf/9405675

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Did They Learn Anything? Strategies for Evaluating Discussion Posts

By Tasha Maddison, Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Transitioning library instruction into an online platform allows for increased flexibility for content provision, as well as further opportunities for assessment; provided that the learners access and fully engage with the content. Saskatchewan Polytechnic has a new online library module for faculty intended to complement face-to-face information literacy sessions. The course covers the entire research process; from information need, to writing and formatting academic papers. Opportunities to assess the students’ learning are built into each learning outcome through discussion posts and quizzes.

The key to a successful blended learning project is the “purposefully integrated assessment, both formative and summative, into the actual design of the course” (Arora, Evans, Gardener, Gulbrandsen & Riley, 2015, p. 249), thus evaluating student learning by incorporating quizzes and discussions. Their goal was to “create an online community of active and engaged learners”, and through instructor prompts, “students were directed to state what they found valuable in the peers’ response, what questions they had … and also what support they would add to make their peers’ argument stronger” (Arora et al., 2015, p. 239). The researchers noted the assessment activities “layered the learning experience – helped to generate and sustain student interest and enthusiasm for the course material to fashion a vibrant community of active learners in the process of meaning- and knowledge-making” (p. 241). Perhaps their most compelling statement is that the “students saw the online classroom as an active learning space, not just a repository for materials or a place to take quizzes” (p. 248).

Students in our online course were informally evaluated on their responses to three discussion posts. Being present and available to the online audience is vital for both student success and their corresponding engagement with the learning materials. Students are more likely to participate in a conversation if they feel that there is someone reviewing their posts and who is prepared to respond when necessary or appropriate. Discussion posts were scheduled at the mid-way point of each learning outcome so that students could reflect on the information that was just covered, as well as provide a foundation to the materials that were included later in the outcome. A librarian reviewed all content and responded to most of the discussion posts, providing feedback and suggestions. Anecdotally, responses were thoughtful and thorough, demonstrating a high level of comprehension and a strong connection with the content.

Participation in discussion posts allows students to synthesise their thoughts about a particular topic and more importantly, to learn from their peer group. Students can review the sentiments shared by their colleagues and learn from their experiences. According to Arora et al. (2015) discussion posts, help students to develop individual skills such as “critical reading and analysis through close reading and textual analysis” (p. 243) and builds community by “encouraging students to work together on their interpretive skills and in negotiating knowledge” (p. 244). This form of assessment is meaningful to the instructor as well, as they can learn about the student and their understanding of the materials.

This course was piloted in July 2018. Discussions were included in the pilot, but were not formally assessed at the time. The development of a rubric was designed to evaluate the student’s output for the next iteration of the course this spring. A rubric will assist students in determining how they are doing in the course and identify any growth areas.

In order to perfect formative assessment of online library instruction, librarians should include a variety of measurement instruments that fully address student learning. As recognized in the work of Lockhart (2015) “it is very important that the academic programme continually tests and builds the information literacy skills of students” (p. 20), which can be accomplished by developing strong partnerships with instructors so that the librarians can adequately analyse student learning and success.

The module discussed here was developed by Diane Zerr and Tasha Maddison, librarians at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, and is used by students in the Adult Teaching and Learning program.

References
Arora, A., Evans, S., Gardner, C., Gulbrandsen, K., & Riley, J. E. (2015). Strategies for success: Using formative assessment to build skills and community in the blended classroom. In S. Koç, X. Liu & P. Wachira (Eds.), Assessment in online and blended learning environments (pp. 235-251), [EBSCOhost eBook Collection]. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.saskpolytech.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=971840&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Lockhart, J. (2015). Measuring the application of information literacy skills after completion of a certificate in information literacy. South African Journal of Libraries and Information Science, 81(2), 19-25. doi:10.7553/81-2-1567

table of the rubric used in the assessment
Click for larger image

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

When Research isn’t Counted

by Nicole Eva
University of Lethbridge

As the last 6 months of my 2-year reporting period wind down, and as the same time remains until the start of my study leave, I have been reflecting on the research I’ve done in the recent past. It’s been an unusually high period of service for me – for 2016/2017 & 2017/2018 I was chair of our faculty association’s Gender, Equity, and Diversity Committee, during which time I conducted an extensive literature review on the potential biases in Student Evaluations of Teaching (statement can be found here; annotated literature review here), and I searched the literature for examples of faculty perception surveys to lead the creation of such a survey at our institution. This past year I’ve served as past chair on that committee, during which time a few of us have been involved in a deep qualitative analysis of those survey results. I am also chairing the President’s Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion this year, for which we conducted surveys, held campus consultation sessions, and interviewed local experts for their thoughts. It’s been enlightening and valuable work, but there’s a lot of it. And a lot of the analysis is among the most rigorous research I’ve been involved with to date. While it will pay off in great experience for future research I might take on, it won’t be ‘counted’ in the traditional sense in terms of publication output. The survey work of both groups is highly confidential and while reports are being produced, they won’t be published in a peer-reviewed journal. The same goes for the Teaching Evaluations work; while both the statement and the annotated literature review are published in our Institutional Repository, again they aren’t ‘published’ in the traditional sense. I am fortunate that I did produce one other article last year which should be published this year, and some prior work which finally came out in the last couple of years, so it’s not like I have nothing for publications; but still, there has been SO much time, effort, and actual rigorous research done regarding these projects I hate to ignore them as research output.

Another element: I’ve been pulled into writing a grant which supports some of our President’s committee recommendations. But again, while normally grant applications would be counted under Research, in this case it’s more Service (which is of course limited in its value for evaluation purposes, and not at all for promotional purposes). But from my perspective, having limited experience applying for external grants, the experience is invaluable. But that value is quite invisible. I’ve also gained a lot in terms of the people I’ve worked with, relationships developed, and institutional knowledge gained. But again, intangible.

It made me curious: what ‘counts’ as research? If you’re doing research for committee work that results in internal documents, does it still ‘count’? If it’s highly confidential and you can never publish the results because you didn’t clear ethics for that purpose, does it ‘count’?

These are my thoughts as I was faced with writing this blog. What has changed since my last blog post, in terms of actual research effort? Well, quite a bit. And yet it looks like nothing at all.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

[Editor’s note: I encourage reader comments on this issue. Brain-Work is hosted by the University of Saskatchewan and there is a problem with the comments that cannot be resolved. If you try to comment on this or any blog post and you get a “forbidden to comment” error message, please send your comment to virginia.wilson@usask.ca and I will post the comment on your behalf and alert the author. I apologize for this annoying problem.]

Getting Loud in the Archives

by Kristin Lee, Tisch Library, Tufts University

I got to spend last week in the Archives of The Ringling Museum, home of records related to circus and the Ringling Brothers. In addition to escaping chilly Boston for sunny Sarasota, FL, I also got to meet up with an amazing, brilliant group of women who are also doing research in various areas of circus and sideshow. We all met last summer at the Circus Historical Society (CHS) Convention in Baraboo, WI, and decided that a joint trip would be a way to get some research done and save some money.

I went into this trip without a well-defined research question. My interest is in collecting and pulling together data about the circus to create a foundation that other researchers can use for their work. I want the ledgers, routes, and receipts; basically, anything that comes in the form of a table. I have some parameters around my research (Illinois State University’s Milner Library’s Special Collections has contracts and permits for 1914, so that has become a focus), but mostly I just want to turn these facts into data that a computer can do something with. For my early forays into circus I used the resources on the CHS website, so it was nice to see the beautiful, flowing handwriting in the ledgers and the details on the route cards that I didn’t see in the transcribed routes.

The Archives at the Ringling are in the Tibbals Learning Center, which is also the home of circus exhibits and The Howard Bros. Circus, a miniature circus created by Howard Tibbals. When our group arrived at the Archives on our first of three research days we were greeted by the staff there with warm handshakes and enthusiasm. As someone who has a day job assisting researchers it was a little overwhelming to be treated like I was a real researcher in my own right (cue impostor syndrome). Everyone was accommodating and helpful but also, I think more importantly, as excited about our research as we were. Files, journals, and scrapbooks were passed around, read through, and immediately replaced with some new treasure. Requests were revised on the fly and I think we all got something special that we didn’t even know existed. I marvel at my colleagues who work in archives and can find things in their collections that answers questions you didn’t even know you had.

One of the great joys of this trip was being able to share in everyone’s delight as they came across information that they hadn’t previously known and documents that filled in pieces of the puzzles from centuries past that give us a picture of the people who inhabited the early American circus. Everyone helped each other and pointed out materials that we thought might help the others. Squeals of delight and gasps of astonishment were common and everyone (including several of the people who worked at the archives) would gather around to discuss the item in question. When handwriting was unclear (P. T. Barnum had especially terrible penmanship) the letter was passed around to get more opinions. No one shushed us or gave us dirty look, and for all our discussion I think we got some good research done.

I feel like I was especially fortunate to be there and get a better understanding of how my work can help other researchers where my research fits in the broader field. I will probably never write a book, but I will make some cool maps, data visualizations, and tables that will provide access to facts about the circus that will be important building blocks in other projects. Even though I spend my days advocating that research data is a valid research product it has taken me a while to recognize that my own work counts too. There is a lot of work involved in creating clean datasets, and I tend to dismiss that because this is research that I do “for fun”. Working alone I sometimes worry that I am the only one in the world who will care about things like where the Sells-Floto Circus was playing in 1914 but getting the chance to talk circus for a week with other people who are as excited about their areas as I am about mine reminded me that I am definitely not alone and that what I do has value.

I have never been particularly good at solitary pursuits, so this format of research and exploration suited me very well. If you can find a group of people to storm an archive with I highly recommend it.

Thanks to my circus ladies for a great week: Betsy Golden Kellem; Amelia Osterud; Shannon Scott; and Kat Vecchio.

Enormous thanks to all the people at the Ringling Archives for your generosity and patience: Jennifer Lemmer Posey, Tibbals Curator of Circus; Heidi Connor, Archivist; Peggy Williams, Education Outreach Manager at Feld Entertainment.

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.

Musings on Mandatory Copyright Training

by Gina Brander, Saskatchewan Polytechnic Library

The ongoing Access Copyright lawsuit against York University and anticipated amendments to the Copyright Act have made many institutions increasingly vigilant about copyright compliance. Some have responded by urging or requiring faculty to submit course materials for copyright review. Others have ramped up copyright training and education among faculty and staff.

With these approaches in mind, how can we ensure that faculty use, or even know about, the copyright services and training available to them? Instructors select materials and design their courses with varying levels of autonomy depending on their school, department and/or program. As a result, messaging isn’t always effectively communicated from the top down to everyone who needs to hear it, such as non-faculty and part-time instructors (Zerkee, 2017). And while mandatory copyright reviews of course materials ensure compliance, not all institutions have the resources to perform these reviews.

Mandatory copyright training is an alternative approach that has been cautiously explored. A recent survey of Canadian universities found that only 13.6% of respondents’ institutions required instructors to undertake copyright training or education (Zerkee, 2017). Canadian colleges and polytechnics appear to be following a similar track. A number of Ontario colleges in partnership with Heads of Libraries and Learning Resources (HLLR) collaboratively developed a copyright education online learning module, the first of which launched in 2013 (Copyright Literacy Ontario Colleges, n.d.). Yet few of the participating colleges have made these modules required training (Buckley, Muller, Peters, & Shannon, n.d.).

It would seem that mandatory copyright training is the exception rather than the rule in Canadian post-secondary institutions. There are many reasons for this—lack of resources, other institutional priorities, difficulties enforcing non-legislated materials, service culture, etc. For copyright offices firmly planted in the library, enforced education of any kind may feel counterintuitive.

Yet still I must ask—what is the best way to ensure that faculty and staff are equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to make informed, deliberate copyright choices? Perhaps some institutions will find more success and buy-in by promoting rather than enforcing copyright training. Even so, making basic training a requirement of employment is a surefire way for an institution to send the unequivocal message (both outwardly and inwardly) that copyright compliance is everyone’s responsibility. And that’s an important message.

References
Buckley, P., Muller, J., Peters, J., & Shannon, M. (n.d.). Copyright literacy in Ontario colleges [PowerPoint presentation]. Retrieved from https://copyrightliteracy.wordpress.com/about/

Copyright Literacy Ontario Colleges. (n.d.). Implementing. Retrieved from https://copyrightliteracy.wordpress.com/implementing/

Zerkee, J. (2017). Approaches to copyright education for faculty in Canada. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 11(2). 1-28. https://doi.org/10.21083/partnership.v11i2.3794

An Early Valentine for Journal Editors

by Selinda Berg
Leddy Library, University of Windsor

Currently, as a member of CAPAL’s Research and Scholarship Committee, I am working as one member of an editorial team building a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Academic Libriarianship on research and scholarship in Academic Libraries. While I have so enjoyed learning about the array of scholarly interests related to the topic, the most significant learning that I have achieved is about the incredible and relentless work of being a journal editor. I have a long list of respected colleagues who have taken on this role. However my foray into editorship brought to me a new and profound admiration for editors.

The work that journal editors do was captured in Lori Kloda’s CEBLIP blog post from May 2016. I have since learned that the list is modest in its description of the work of the editor. I have long recognized that there was a lot of work behind the scenes for journal publications. However, the amount of invisible labour involved in editorial work truly is astounding. And perhaps even harder to capture is the work and effort to be balanced, sensitive, and patient. Soliciting reviewers, tracking down reviews, mediating conflicting reviews, considering papers for rejection, balancing the voice of the author and one’s own voice are only a few of the tasks that editors must consciously and carefully engage in. Editors recognize that the works submitted to them are those of their respected colleagues who have made a personal and professional investment in their writings, and in turn treat them as such.

This post is intended to be a cheer for journal editors in our profession. They are supporting, encouraging, and facilitating research in our field. They are investing their time and efforts towards building our scholarly platforms. As such, with this valentine to the journal editors, I endeavor to be a better author and a better peer reviewer.

A Valentine for the journal editors…
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I have a better understanding,
Of all that you do.
So I promise to do better,
And proofread to the letter,
I will keep to the deadlines,
And read more closely the guidelines.
You read my articles with care,
And made them the best I could possibly share.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Mentors and Mentoring

by Marjorie Mitchell
Research Librarian, UBC Okanagan Library

I’ve been thinking about mentors and mentorship in the field of librarianship, broadly, including research mentors. A quick search on a popular search engine for “Canadian librarian mentoring program” brings back about 27,500,000 results, which shows clearly I’m not the only one thinking about mentors and mentoring programs. A quick skim of the titles confirms what I had suspected: there are many nuances to different types of mentoring, and mentoring can happen at many different times in a person’s career.

I don’t know whether I can add anything particularly wise, or insightful to the scholarly conversation occurring around librarian mentorship, but I can definitely articulate some questions and musings.

The peer-reviewed literature covers a wide range of topics from library leaders as mentors, to mentorship as a leadership development tool, to peer-mentoring as a method to increase retention within the profession. Anyone seeking to either modify an existing mentorship program or to develop a mentoring program where none exists does not need to go it alone. Why aren’t there more programs to “mentor the mentors” akin to “train the trainer” programs and workshops? I have seen written guidelines, but haven’t participated in any program to help me, as a mentor, develop.

I observed that, often, library literature speaks about library leaders as mentors. This is something I am wrestling with, not only from my own experience, but also on a more pragmatic level. When I entered the profession roughly 15 years ago, I was not offered formal “mentoring.” Instead, I did have a number of meetings with one of my directors who critiqued different aspects of my work. I strongly suspect this director thought they were mentoring me, but I didn’t feel like I was growing into my profession. I felt like I was being evaluated and found wanting, and my experience was not unique (Harrington & Marshall, 2014). I found the informal conversations with my work colleagues far more useful and far less intimidating. In addition to this, I’m curious as to why we think our library leaders have the time, expertise, or capacity to mentor. They already have a plate full of commitments in their role as leaders. Managers, however, should be provided with supports to allow them to mentor more junior managers. Again, I don’t think managers should be mentoring those they supervise because of the implicit and explicit evaluative role they play.

Personally, I believe there is a very fine line between mentors and friends. Perhaps this is a distinction that fades over time. I think all formal mentoring programs should have times by which the relationship, as a formal, mentoring relationship, ends. However, informal mentoring can and does continue after a program ends, in some cases. I think as long as the relationship doesn’t devolve into one of manipulation and abuse, there isn’t anything I can identify as unethical in the migration of a mentoring relationship into a friendship.

I am turning the idea over in my mind that we shouldn’t be looking for or working with mentors from within our own organizations. I am wondering whether there isn’t a place for cross-institutional agreements to allow, and recognize, mentors from one institution mentoring people from another institution. I participate in a mentoring program organized by my provincial library association, BCLA, which has allowed me to share my experiences with both new librarians, and library workers new to BC.

When it comes to research mentorship, or mentoring people who are growing their research agenda, often the expertise doesn’t exist within an individual’s organization. The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) Librarians’ Research Institute is an amazing immersive experience for librarians wanting to expand their research and build their research confidence. BC is also home to a one-day program called ReAL, Research in Academic Libraries, that is helping librarians create links and find mentorship wherever they are in their research skill development.

Perhaps, there is no one mentor model, but a patchwork of models that people need to tap as they make their way from student, to rookie, to mid-career, to nearing retirement.

When I am offering suggestions, I almost always end with a statement that releases people from any obligation to use my suggestions or follow my advice. I explicitly state that while I may sound prescriptive, at the end of the day, if I sparked a new idea that was completely outside the realm of what I said, then I’m happy to have served that role for them. This also holds true for all that I’ve written here.

Reference

Harrington, M. R., & Marshall, E. (2014). Analyses of Mentoring Expectations, Activities, and Support in Canadian Academic Libraries. College & Research Libraries, 75(6), 763-790. doi:10.5860/crl.75.6.763

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.

Converting ‘Any questions?’ into social media collateral

by Joanna Hare
Duke Kunshan University Library

Previously on this blog I have written about my love of Poll Everywhere. It is a fantastic tool for capturing student attention and sustaining engagement throughout a library workshop. For this post, I will share how we used Poll Everywhere at our recent Duke Kunshan University Library orientation sessions to capture student questions and convert these questions into social media collateral.

August 2018 was a very exciting time for Duke Kunshan University (DKU) – it was the month in which we welcomed the inaugural class of undergraduate students onto the campus and in to classrooms. During the intensive university-wide orientation program, the Library had a one hour session with students – just one hour, with over 250 students, on the second-last day of a two week orientation program for the very first undergraduate students at this start-up university – a daunting task! It was clear we needed to make the Library session easy to follow and engaging.

We quickly decided to use Poll Everywhere to make the session interactive and capture each student’s attention. Rather than use Poll Everywhere as a way of testing their knowledge, we decided to use it as a means to ‘surprise’ students with information about the library. For example, instead of simply telling them how many books we have, we asked students to guess the number, and they were – dare I say – amazed at the size of our collection. Similarly, rather than just listing what types of online resources we have access to, we gave specific examples of a variety of resource types, and asked students to guess which resources they could access via the Library, as shown in the following screenshot:

Usually at the end of any session we would allow time for questions. However, in this context where we wanted to maximise our time with the students, we elected to ask students to submit their questions via Poll Everywhere. In the last section students were asked to ‘Please share any comments or questions you have about DKU Library’. We would then collect and review the questions and ask students to follow us on WeChat where we would be sharing the answers to their questions over the coming days.

We received 99 responses to the question. We did a quick and dirty analysis to identify some common themes and came up with the following general categories of questions/comments:
1. Using eBooks
2. Borrowing policies
3. Borrowing DVDs
4. Updating the collection
5. Study space and availability
6. Getting access to things students can’t find/we don’t have

We could certainly do a much more detailed analysis of the data we collected, but the goal was not to conduct “serious research”, just to get a general picture of what students wanted to know about and use this information to create timely and useful WeChat posts, such as this one:


WeChat is particularly well-suited to creating groups of articles for this purpose, but this could also be replicated using a blog or perhaps LibGuides.

One challenge we encountered was that we were surprised at the number of questions we received, meaning we had our work cut out for us to quickly create the WeChat posts. This will be easier in future as we will be able to reuse some of the content from this semester, anticipate what will be asked in future sessions, and also adjust our teaching to make sure we don’t overlook information that may seem unimportant to us but is of interest to our students.

Overall this was a simple but effective way of combining our goals of gathering student questions and feedback and creating social media content that was immediately relevant to their needs. We were pleasantly surprised at the number of questions we received – far more than we could have answered at the end of the orientation session. We will continue to use this method in future sessions.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Plain Language in Research Writing, or, How I learned to chill out and love contractions

by Ruby (Lavallee) Warren
User Experience Librarian, University of Manitoba Libraries

When I came to academic writing, I was terrified. As a first generation student and (I’ll be honest) a pretty extreme example of a high school slacker, I had a deep conviction that I didn’t belong in a University at all. To try and “prove” that I was worthwhile to academia, I tried to bend my writing in imitation of the journal articles I struggled through, in imitation of the ideas of my professors, even in imitation of the practices of other students if I was sufficiently intimidated by them. I tried to make myself sound important and knowledgeable in the way I wrote. The stuffier and more impenetrable my language was, as far as I could tell, the better I was doing at “fitting in”.

Of course, I was really just learning how to write poorly and look pretentious. In my third year, one of my professors gave us all an invitation to come and talk with him about our first essays and basically told me as much (sincere thank you to Joshua Schuster at Western University!). It took me years to relax enough to understand the advice he gave me on writing over the course of his class, but eventually I accepted that I didn’t need to write mazes to make people listen to my ideas. Writing mazes, in fact, accomplished the opposite feat; almost no one will reach understanding while fighting through writing that’s actively obscuring your meaning. Now I try and live by three rules when I write up my research for an audience:

Use the Two-Dollar Word Instead of the Ten

Writing is a lot like cooking. Sometimes you need a very, very specific ingredient of high value – a truffle oil, for example – to get the flavour you’re going for and make the occasion special. But most of the time you just want regular ingredients, in the cheapest and easiest way you can get them, to combine so you can make something nourishing and tasty.

Research writing, in particular, is an everyday-meal writing situation. Whether it’s a report for your institution or a paper for an academic journal, no reader comes to research writing looking to be dazzled by your ingredients. If there’s a way to say something with two different words, go for the most common option. Nobody has ever been impressed by a writer utilizing prodigiously assorted terminology (ugh, see?). And if absolutely only the truffle oil of words will do, make certain that its surroundings are simple and the meaning of the term is clear to your intended reader. Absolutely no one wants to eat (or read) something entirely made of truffle oils.

Simplify, and Make Reading Easy

To quote Serena Golden (of the Washington Post Express), “language isn’t a fence to keep the riffraff out”. Make your sentences easy to read – keep your phrasing as direct and simple as possible, and change up your sentence length to make your paragraphs feel more like speech and less like someone barking in your face. People complain about the “passive voice”1 , but the passive voice serves a purpose – as far as I’m concerned, the real crime in academic writing is writing that wastes time. Every word and clause you write should create meaning or readability. If it doesn’t, throw it out.

Straightforward writing may come easily to you. My misconceptions and brainwashing about needing to sound smart in academic writing took up a pretty strong residence in my brain, so often I find I have to write my paragraph, stare at it for a while, and read it out loud a few times before I can try out replacement sentences that are easier to understand. If you struggle, keep at it. When you’re stuck, I find it also helps to have someone less familiar with your specific field take a look and tell you when it’s becoming harder to read.

Be Human

While you should tailor your tone to your audience, you don’t have to obliterate any presence of personality from your writing. Say “I” or “we” instead of “the researchers” – a phrase that makes you sound like you’re having an out of body experience. Use contractions. View the piece of research writing as a conversation you’re looking to have with someone, and shape it accordingly. When speaking you have a style for your coworkers, a style for your boss, a style for strangers you’re secretly afraid know way more than you do – use them! Practice adapting yourself to writing and find out where your voice is for each level of formality.

(Admittedly, I have bit of trouble with this last rule. I lean toward the colloquial and slang-y, which is really only appropriate for research dissemination in blog posts and presentations, and I tend to over-compensate for it when I need to be formal. Further, it’s difficult to find your own voice while also trying to write in a way that other people can easily digest. And if you have stuffy editors or reviewers or collaborators, there are times that not a whole lot of your humanity comes across on the final page. But it’s worth trying. I think.)

You might not ever come to enjoy your own writing, but if you follow those three rules, you can at least be confident most people will be able to understand it. As long as people can understand your ideas, you can actually be part of the conversation – regardless of how confident you feel in your own style or credentials. And I guess that’s a good Rule Four for me to add in the future: If they Get It, It’s Good Enough.
______________
1Check http://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/revising/passive-voice/ for help with the passive voice if you aren’t sure when it’s appropriate.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Study Leave Anxiety

by Nicole Eva
University of Lethbridge

Is study leave anxiety a thing? I put off applying for mine last year at the last minute, telling a colleague to go ahead and submit her application instead of competing with her (we only have space for one to go every year). I had doubts about the quality of my research idea (having to do with librarianship and motherhood) and decided it wasn’t enough to carry me through for the full year. So this year it was my turn to apply, and as the only applicant I didn’t have anyone else to defer my spot to – if I didn’t apply, no librarians would be on study leave next year, and while that might be wonderful in terms of workload issues (those remaining absorb the person on leave’s duties for the year) I fear repercussions of us not continually taking advantage of this benefit.

Leona Jacobs, a retired colleague from the University of Lethbridge, noted that many librarians are reluctant to take advantage of their study leaves; in her research presented at CLA 2007, If it is negotiated, will it be used? An investigation into the use of sabbatical leave provisions by librarians, Leona reported that in 14 years, only six librarians at the U of L had taken leaves; five of these were educational. She turned her own anxiety about ‘what to do’ into the research project itself; brilliant! And also good to know that I wasn’t alone, though her research suggested that ‘my’ generation of more recently-minted librarians were more likely to take advantage of study leave benefits. Perhaps I am in the minority after all. Certainly when I got this job, the potential for a year’s leave was a huge incentive. I had fantasies of moving to Europe for a good part of it, with no actual idea of what the research would be but certain I’d come up with something by the time I was eligible. In the meantime I got married and had a child, so the prospect of relocating for a leave became much more logistically difficult. My enthusiasm for the leave took a nosedive, especially with no ‘great ideas’ on the horizon.

Regardless, I did apply this round, with a different project than I had in mind last year. This time, it’s to analyze two years’ worth of two-year-old qualitative data collected from student journal reflections on info lit labs, determining whether or not the students crossed the ‘threshold’ of understanding regarding the various ACRL Frames. I will use it as an opportunity to learn NVivo and the art of qualitative research, and to finally get to the analysis of these reflections which have been sitting gathering dust on my filing cabinet. However, even as I was filling in the submission application (at the very last minute!), I was once again filled with doubt. Do I care enough about this to last me the year? Is it enough work to fill the duration of the leave? I’m so used to doing research ‘off the side of my desk’, I have no idea what a full-time research load might look like. Or feel like. Will I be so sick of this project after two months that I will dread the remaining ten? What about missing my normal daily work? I also have serious FOMO – what kind of changes will occur in the library during my absence, both good and bad, that I may miss out having a say in?

I also have circled back to the librarianship and motherhood idea; I presented a brief summary of the state of the literature at CAPAL18 and was met with enthusiastic responses on the need for more research in the area. [In brief: much exists on academics and parenthood; very little exists on academic (or any kind of) librarians and parenthood, and even the stats are hard to come by]. So now I wish I’d submitted my application to do a full study on this, and at the very least try to edit a compilation of articles written on the topic (realizing full well that it’s much more work than I might anticipate, as reported by Maha Kumaran & Tasha Maddison in their presentation, Contracts, Contributors and Conflicts: Working with Publishers and Chapter Contributors at the C-EBLIP 2015 Fall Symposium.

So here I am. Info lit-related proposal submitted and accepted; leave to start July 1, 2019. I am simultaneously happy and terrified. Can I decide at the last minute (well, at least before our 2019/2020 assignment of duties are finalized) to not go? Will I enjoy it so much I never want to come back to my regular job? Will I be bored silly by my topic? Will I wish I’d done the motherhood topic instead? If I do decide to at least try an edited volume around motherhood and librarianship, will I get any submissions? (yes, that’s a hint – let me know if you’re interested!). Can I possibly do both in a year (without working even more than I normally do)?

Someone tell me I won’t regret this, please! (likewise, if you did regret your leave – I’d like to hear about that as well!)

Sincerely,
Anxiety-ridden librarian.

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This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.