Breaking Though the Bubble

By Frank Winter, Librarian Emeritus
University of Saskatchewan Library

A couple of years ago I attended a talk by the renowned Australian scientist Tim Flannery concerning various issues related to climate change. One of the panelists, frustrated by the narrow focus of remarks by the other panelists, urged the audience not to limit their thinking to Vancouver (the city). He exhorted us to “break through the bubble” and think about Vancouver (the region). His phrase stuck with me and I thought about what sort of bubbles I might unreflectively inhabit. By extension, is there a bubble entitled “the University Library” that Canadian university librarians inhabit? How might they try to break through it as they engage with the challenges and opportunities that face them today?

Can we start by acknowledging that Canadian university librarians in continuing positions in publicly funded institutions have terms and conditions of work that are good by any comparative or absolute standard? Gaining job security through tenure or some other continuing status is demonstrably achievable. Individual librarians at publicly funded Canadian universities exercise a good deal of control over how their work assignments are carried out without overly intrusive management oversight. There are always individual or group cases where the situation is perhaps not quite so rosy for whatever reasons but these are exceptions.

Does this relatively comfortable status encourage complacency and a professional culture that focuses largely on how we perceive ourselves and our work and from that standpoint, how our work can assist others in their work? In Lorcan Dempsey’s phrase, this is an inside-out perspective.[1]

What are some of the conceptual bubbles that we ought to be aware of?

One bubble is not acknowledging that success in our work depends heavily on campus services provided from outside of the library. University libraries have really good infrastructure support from the central campus services in areas such as information technology and networking, physical plant, human resources, finance and other functions that public libraries, for example, typically have to manage for themselves. Without superior on- and off-campus networks, for example, university libraries would be stymied in their ability to deliver information services. Without a good caretaking staff, the heavily used public areas of libraries soon turn into unpleasant pigsties. These support services cost money and a good library manager must be vigilant that these central services receive appropriate budgetary support.

Another bubble is the presumption that the local collection is the most important service that the library provides to the university community. The implications of the concept of a collective collection for a mindset that privileges the primacy of the local print collection are significant. There may be specific areas of activity within a library in which the local collection is the most important service provided to a user community but there are others in which it might not be. Although the trend seems clear, internalizing and then communicating the consequences of this change to users and to senior university managers is difficult. Different approaches will be needed for different communities of campus users.

Many new roles are suggested for university librarians and libraries from a service provider perspective. The recent External Review of the University of Saskatchewan Library contained a typical list of current candidates: “digital humanities, scholarly communication, copyright, research data management, data visualization, and other areas of current and emerging priorities in academic libraries.”[2] They could easily have mentioned research information management services as well.

Deciding which of these services, or parts of these services, the campus community is interested in receiving from the library is challenging. Successfully engaging in any of these services will require breaking through the bubble of treating “the University Library” as an undifferentiated whole and instead viewing it as a disaggregated set of different units working with different user communities on and off campus in different ways. Each of these services involves interacting with experts from outside the library. Negotiating a mutual understanding of how these different expertises can be meshed to achieve a common goal requires that librarians be able to reify their skillsets and mindsets in a manner that can be communicated to other experts so that they can understand what value librarians bring to the table. Conversely, librarians in these multi-disciplinary activities have to be able to understand and work with the often very different skillsets and mindsets of other professionals.

Competitors abound but the bubbles university librarians inhabit may make it difficult to perceive let alone respond effectively to these competitors. Roger Schonfeld has posted some interesting observations on the evolving strategies of commercial content providers such as Elsevier.[3] The motives of the users of the pirate site Sci-Hub have been the subject of innumerable articles and comments while Google Scholar continues its prominence in the activities of people seeking scholarly information. DeDe Dawson’s recent BrainWork post addresses the topic of information privilege from the perspective of Open Access and how undergraduates will be able to access scholarly information once they leave the university.[4] David Worlock’s blog is a good place for tracking developments in the information industry that has developed to serve users in for-profit sectors.[5] He discusses many services that never appear on the radar of university librarians. For me, the bubble here is workflow. Sci-Hub and Google Scholar mesh with users’ workflows while Elsevier, in particular, seems singularly focused on building complete ecosystems for researchers to manage their research workflow. Although most university librarians know the importance of understanding their users’ evolving workflow patterns, the options available to them, and the services they actually use, it remains very challenging to alter our existing models of service delivery.

There are issues of finding the appropriate scale to work at. There is also a non-trivial element of risk. Besides the risks involved in financial and human resource reallocation in breaking through the bubbles described above, there is also the risk of mismatches between the goals of library leaders and the expectations of senior university administrators and between the library and the varied user communities on campus.[6]

Concerns about individual workload abound, as documented in numerous studies.[7] There is, however, an evolving toolkit of organizational and personal responses to resolving workload concerns.[8] In the context of workload, the basic requirement to account for our time remains relevant. Bottom line: librarians are at the university to do work that the university needs to have done. If there were not work that needed to be done, or if that work disappears, there will be fewer jobs for librarians.[9] It is quite possible, at any particular institution and for local reasons, that the institution may not be receptive or interested in what librarians can contribute to the institution’s evolving priorities and activities. In such cases, it is perfectly logical that some resources formerly allocated to the library may be directed elsewhere on campus to higher priority activities and/ or to groups perceived to be better able to deliver the required service.

Communication is key to understanding and breaking through the bubbles we inhabit. Think about how many different people you interact with physically or virtually over the course of a typical day or week or month. If they are always the same few folks and especially if they are library folks, then you are not getting out enough. Librarianship is a contact sport.


[1] Dempsey, Lorcan. (2016). Library collections in the life of the user: two directions. LIBER Quarterly. 26(4),  pp.338–359. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18352/lq.10170 retrieved on May 15, 2017.

[2] University of Saskatchewan.  (2016). University Library:  External Review Report. (2016). Prepared by:  Gerald Beasley Joyce Garnett Elliott Shore, March 10, 2016, https://www.usask.ca/ipa/documents/Reviews%20-%20University%20of%20Saskatchewan%20Library%20External%20Review%20Report%202016-03-10.pdf retrieved on May 15, 2017.

[3] Schonfeld, Roger C. (2017). The strategic investments of content providers. Ithaka S+R [blog]. http://www.sr.ithaka.org/blog/the-strategic-investments-of-content-providers/retrieved on May 15, 2017.

[4] Dawson, DeDe. (2017). Information privilege and the undergraduate student. Brain-Work [blog]. https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2017/05/02/info-privilege-undergrad/ retrieved on May 15, 2017.

[5] See http://www.davidworlock.com/category/blog/.

[6] Schonfeld, Roger C. (2017). The strategic direction of research library leaders: Findings from the latest Ithaka S+R survey. Scholarly Kitchen [blog]. https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2017/04/04/the-strategic-direction-of-research-library-leaders-findings-from-the-latest-ithaka-sr-survey/ retrieved on May 15, 2017.

[7] Delong, Kathleen, Sorensen, Marianne, Williamson, Vicki. (May 2015) 8Rs Redux: CARL Libraries Human Resources Study. Ottawa: Canadian Association of Research Libraries. http://www.ls.ualberta.ca/8rs/8rs-redux-final-report-2015.pdf retrieved on May 15, 2017; Fox, David. (2007). Finding time for scholarship: a survey of Canadian research university librarians. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 7(4), pp. 451-462, http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/portal_libraries_and_the_academy/v007/7.4fox.pdf retrieved onMay 17, 2017.

[8] See, for example, University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association. Fact Sheet: Assignment of Duties, http://www.usaskfaculty.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Assignment-of-Duties-Fact-Sheet.pdf. The Library has its own detailed guidelines on the assignment of duties. See also, for example, Workload Policy – University of Toronto Library. (2012), https://www.utfa.org/sites/default/files/LibrarianWorkloadPolicyFinal2016.pdf retrieved on May 15, 2017.

[9] Winter, Frank. (2014). Traditionalists, Progressives and the Gone-Away World. Brain-Work [blog]. http://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2014/10/14/traditionalistsprogressives-and-the-gone-away-world/ retrieved on May 15, 2017.


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.

Revising a manuscript: Thoughts on how to organize your response to peer reviewer and editor comments

Lorie Kloda
Editor-in-Chief, Evidence Based Library & Information Practice
Associate University Librarian, Planning & Community Relations, Concordia University

Rebekah (Becky) Willson
Associate Editor (Research Articles), Evidence Based Library & Information Practice
Lecturer, Department of Computer & Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom

Lisl Zach
Associate Editor (Research Articles), Evidence Based Library & Information Practice
Managing Partner, Informatics Insights, LLC, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Red Pen

CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (Some rights reserved by cellar_door_films)

The process of revising and resubmitting a manuscript for further review can be a long and sometimes challenging process. As editors for the journal Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, we see a range of responses to requests for revisions or to revise and resubmit manuscripts. Based on our experience, there are things that you as an author can do to help both yourself and your reviewers to ensure a smooth process and to increase the likelihood of having your revised manuscript accepted for publication.

The first is to read the editor’s and reviewers’ comments and suggestions carefully. These comments are aimed at improving your manuscript. Not all of the editor’s and reviewers’ comments may be applicable or relevant to your work, and therefore you may have good reasons for disagreeing with their suggestions. Not all of the changes suggested have to be made, but all of the editor’s and reviewers’ comments do have to be addressed.

One challenging thing for editors and reviewers is the number of submissions we see. The time lag between when a manuscript is originally submitted and the time when it is revised and resubmitted can be many months. To help the editors and reviewers see whether you have addressed the comments made about your manuscript and revised it accordingly, you need to identify the changes you have made (or not made) and explain why.

One way to do this is to submit a revised version of the article with the changes clearly highlighted. Using Word’s Track Changes feature can be a useful tool to do this. By scanning through a manuscript with Track Changes, it is very clear what changes have been made. However, it must also be clear why you have made the changes that you did, how you approached those changes, and why you decided not to make the changes suggested. To keep track of your revisions – which are based on the input of at least two separate reviewers and the editor – a separate document that includes a table can be very useful. (See Rebekah Willson’s template for an example of how to organize this information.)

This table should consist of:

  1. The first column should contain the reviewers’ comments. Take each comment that requires a response (either a revision or an explanation) and paste it into a separate box.
  2. The second column should contain any revisions that you have made. With a brief description of what you’ve done, copy and paste the changes you’ve made to the manuscript as a result of the reviewers’ comments. Include page numbers (and, if helpful, table or figure numbers, paragraphs, or section names), so that it is easy to flip between the revised manuscript and the table of revisions. If the changes are too long to fit into the table, just provide the description and page numbers.
  3. The third column should explain your actions. If you have made revisions, explain how your changes have addressed the reviewer’s comments. If you have not made revisions, explain why you have made that decision.

Filling out the table once the revisions have been made can be very challenging. If you start by going through the editor’s and reviewers’ comments and putting them into the first column of the table, this will help you to identify the work that must be done. Then working between the table and your revised manuscript you can proceed in a step-by-step manner to complete your changes.

When working on a manuscript with multiple authors, a helpful strategy is to create the table and add all the editor’s and reviewers’ comments and suggestions, and then add another column to assign each of these to an author to address. Following this, a meeting to reach consensus on the changes to make and to assign the work can streamline the revision process and ensure the manuscript is resubmitted in a timely fashion.

See another example of how a PhD student organizes her manuscript revisions.

What questions do you have about the peer review and revisions process?


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.

Are we designing services with an expiration date?

Kristin Lee, Research Data Librarian
Tisch Library, Tufts University

In January of this year, I started a new job as the first Research Data Librarian at the Tisch Library at Tufts University. Librarians at Tisch have been providing research data services to the Schools of Arts & Science and Engineering, so one of my first jobs was to understand the services that have already been offered and where we might expand into new areas. As is the case in many libraries, a cornerstone of the data management services was providing consultations for researchers writing data management plans (DMPs) for grant applications to the US federal funding agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health. ‘Perfect,’ I thought, ‘I can work with this.’

Then came what felt a bit like a data librarian existential crisis – the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy memorandum calling for expanded public access to research data, among other things, had disappeared from the White House website. While this created a good excuse to go through my LibGuides and find all of the links to that memo, it also made me question everything I had been thinking about when it came to the services I was going to offer. So, as I created page after page of notes with titles like “Research Data Services”, “Data Management Services”, “Services for Researchers”, and a lot of other permutations of those few phrases, the rest of the words refused to materialize. How would I convince researchers that managing their data was in their best interest, and if I couldn’t figure out how to do that would I still have a job?

The disappearance of the memo from the White House website has not meant that the US funding agencies have gotten rid of the DMP requirements, so my job is safe and my move from Saskatchewan to Massachusetts was not for nothing – existential crisis averted. But it still made me wonder about the longevity of services designed as a reaction to specific external forces, and to think that it might be okay to plan services that might eventually have an expiration date.

Once I stopped thinking about the service list I was putting together as being written in stone I was able to start drafting some ideas.  I was able to center the researchers (who should have been my main concern in the first place) as the focus of my work instead of relying on the threat of funding agency mandates to make them seek me out.  I could think about what we would be able to do in order to actually help people make the most of their data in both their research and teaching. I reminded myself that data skills are important to students in their academic and personal lives and are transferable whether they continue to study or decide to work outside of higher education. We can give the next generation of researchers the background and tools they need to keep pushing the open science movement forward.

Considering that the shelf life of some of our services is going to be measured in years as opposed to decades, there are clear implications for the way we share our work with each other as practitioner-researchers. If it takes 3 or more years to collect data and a year between having a paper accepted and published in a peer-reviewed journal, how timely will the research be? One of my favorite sessions at the Research Data Access and Preservation Summit (https://www.asis.org/rdap/) in Seattle this year was the Institutional Snapshots where we got a very brief picture of what is happening at a variety of institutions. From this session, I was able to identify institutions to reach out to get the gory details about what had worked for them and what hadn’t with respect to research data services.

I know that the services will change over time, so much so that they become unrecognizable in the future, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth offering them now and seeing what works. Finding venues to share what we are doing, not just our successes but also our failures and the things that keep us up at night will help us get through times of uncertainty and change. What started as a “the-sky-is-falling” moment for me has let me get back to why I love being a data librarian in the first place; we can help researchers at all levels get the skills they need to solve the world’s big problems, and we are doing it as a community.


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.

Looking back, looking around, looking forward

by Margy MacMillan
Mount Royal University Library

Margy MacMillan

 

Part of my retirement preparation has been to dispose of mountains of paper – articles, reports, illegible notes, etc. Skimming the articles, most on research in information literacy, I noticed a trend. The reason I noticed this trend in the library literature was because of a trend in current SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) work that has made me question a lot of my practices. A major theme in SoTL now is “students-as-partners”:

 

 

 

“Students as partners goes beyond the student voice and involves students as co-creators, co-researchers, co-teachers, co-producers and co-designers in learning and teaching.”

– McMaster Students as Partners Summer Institute  https://macblog.mcmaster.ca/summer-institute/about-students-as-partners/

The aspect of the trend I find most interesting is having the students involved in generating the questions. In other words – doing research with students, rather than to students. Interesting thought . . . and certainly easily transferable to other communities, public library settings, etc.

The trend I noticed in the library literature in my piles and files, as you’ve probably guessed, was an almost complete lack of research based on questions generated by library users as co-inquirers.  This may, of course, be more reflective of what I’ve been searching and reading than the actual state of library literature, so I want to be clear, I am more questioning my own work than the field in general.  So:

What kind of questions would the people who use our libraries like to ask?
What kinds of questions would the people who DON’T use our libraries like to ask?

Think about it. And then think about this:

What kind of agency would it grant members of our communities to ask them to develop questions?

Would it change how members of our communities feel about their library?

If I was at the start of my professional career instead of at the end, or if I could time travel back and do it all over, this is how I’d like to approach evidence-based practice.

There is growing evidence of the benefits of a students-as-partners approach for both the students and the other researchers (see below for starting points).  There are also strong parallels to these benefits, especially around diversifying research questions and creating agency, in the more established literatures of participatory research, community-engaged scholarship, and other approaches that are what Helen Kara (2015) describes as transformative methodological frameworks. In Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide, she includes many examples of projects using feminist, decolonized, emancipatory, and participatory methodologies that serve as a rich source of ideas for the kind of work we could be doing more of. A common feature of transformative practice is “a move from oppressive to egalitarian practices, thereby supporting a wider shift from oppressive to egalitarian societies” (p. 39). I highly recommend this book, especially for those of you engaged in the #critlib discussions, as I think it bridges critical library practice and research.

Applying some of the perspectives from critical theory to our research practices as well as to other aspects of our work may seem a daunting task. Researchers risk exposure, the often solitary rewards of spending time with the literature to answer your own questions may be lost in work with others. This may be even more the case in work with people outside of academia or the profession, who may not share the same language, research conventions, or agreed ‘standards’. But wouldn’t the resulting possibilities and perspectives be worth it for libraries? Wouldn’t the greater involvement be worth it for our communities?

sunset on the Cristalino River in Brazil

Some references and starting points….

Bell, A. (2016). Students as co-inquirers in Australian higher education: Opportunities and challenges. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 4(2), 1-10. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.4.2.8 This is part of a theme issue on students as co-inquirers in SoTL – http://tlijournal.com/tli/index.php/TLI/issue/view/15

Kara, H. (2015). Creative research methods in the social sciences: A practical guide. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

Light, A., Egglestone, P., Wakeford, T., & Rogers, J. (2011). Participant-making: Bridging the gulf between community knowledge and academic research. The Journal Of Community Informatics, 7(3). Retrieved from http://ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/view/804/808

Marquis, E., Puri, V., Wan, S., Ahmad, A., Goff, L., Knorr, K., Vassileva, I., & Woo, J. (2016). Navigating the threshold of student–staff partnerships: a case study from an Ontario teaching and learning institute. International Journal for Academic Development, 21(1), 4-15.

Matthews, K. (2017). University of Queensland Institute for Teaching and Learning Students as Partners site – http://itali.uq.edu.au/matthews-studentsaspartners

 


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.

Choosing the right metric for Facebook advertisements: a (very) small case study

by Joanna Hare, Run Run Shaw Library, City University of Hong Kong

Following on from my previous Brain Work blog post about Facebook Insights, for this post I would like to share my recent experiences of utilising paid Facebook advertising for our library’s Facebook page.

Starting in October 2016 my library has been experimenting with paid Facebook advertising. Using a modest budget we have run two broad categories of advert:

  1. Page Likes: An advert shown to our specified target audience to invite them to like our page.
  2. Boosted Posts: Promote a single post from our Page to help it reach both our existing fans and people who have not ‘Liked’ our Page.

This is the second semester in which we have utilised paid Facebook adverts, which means I have been able to learn from the first semester and make adjustments for the second. For this post, I would like to reflect on choosing the right type of metric to be able to accurately assess the performance of your advert.

In the first semester of experimenting with Facebook advertisements, we boosted a post promoting our citation management workshops (Fig 1). In my previous experience, I had found Photo posts had performed better on Facebook than Link posts, so I used the same strategy in this advert.      

Fig 1: The first advert promoting our citation management workshops, run in November 2016.

Fig 1: The first advert promoting our citation management workshops, run in November 2016.

 

The results of this post were both encouraging and disappointing. While I was pleased that 54 people ‘reacted’ to the post, only 6 people clicked the link to view the workshop registration page. This indicated to me that people liked the content of the post (perhaps baited by a cute kitten!), but they were not so engaged as to take the extra step to click the link and view the workshop registration page.

To address this, in the second semester I used an advert type specifically designed to direct people to a destination off Facebook. The major difference is the ‘Sign Up’ button at the bottom of the post (Fig 2.), which when clicked directs users to the workshops registration page.   

Fig 2: The second advert promoting our citation management workshops, run in February 2017.

Fig 2: The second advert promoting our citation management workshops, run in February 2017.

 

The performance of this advert was much more encouraging: while only 6 people ‘reacted’ to the post, 93 people clicked the link to visit the registration page – a number greatly improved from the previous semester. Ordinarily the low number of reactions to a paid advert would be disappointing, but in this case, a high-click through result is preferable to lots of Likes.

In terms of the impact on workshop registrations, we did record a slight increase in the number of registrations and attendees, but certainly not an increase of 93 people, meaning not all of those visitors to the registration page actually registered for or attended the workshop. This could be a reflection of the design of the workshop registration page or the process of registration. This brings us to the next (much larger!) phase in our assessment of our Facebook adverts – to investigate their real-world impact outside of link clicks and post likes.

While Facebook is notoriously secretive of about how their algorithms work, they do provide a huge amount of data to demonstrate how your content is performing – and paid adverts are no different. Ultimately this exercise taught me to pay attention to the metrics used to assess the performance of Facebook adverts, and to choose an advert template that addresses the goal of placing the advert. This whole exercise forms part of a broader strategy in the Library to adopt an evidence-based approach to the use of Facebook to ensure our efforts on social media are worth the time investment. Based on the increased outreach and engagement with our posts thanks to paid advertising, our Library will continue to experiment with Facebook adverts in the coming academic year.

Recommended reading for anyone wanting to explore Facebook advertising for academic libraries:

  • Chan, Christopher, “Your Mileage May Vary: Facebook Advertising Revisited,” College and Research Library News, 77:4 (2016): 190-193, accessed December 21, 2016, http://crln.acrl.org/content/77/4/190.full
  • Scott W.H. Young, Angela M. Tate, Angela M., Doralyn Rossmann and Mary Anne Hansen, “The Social Media Toll Road: The Promise and Peril of Facebook Advertising” College and Research Library News 75:8 (2014): 427-434, accessed December 21, 2016,  http://crln.acrl.org/content/75/8/427.full   

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.

Academic City of Villages

by Dr. Suzana Sukovic, Executive Director, Educational Research and Evidence Based Practice at HETI (Health Education and Training Institute) in Sydney, Australia

Originally posted on http://scitechconnect.elsevier.com, December 16, 2016 . The post refers to a chapter in the book “Transliteracy in complex information environments”, published by Chandos.

Transliteracy in complex information environments (Chandos, 2017)

Transliteracy in complex information environments (Chandos, 2017)

At a time when information spurts from everywhere, numerous voices demand to be heard and traditional authorities are under scrutiny, academia occupies challenging and contested space. Particularly indicative of wider changes in the information and knowledge field are humanistic disciplines. They epitomize academic traditions in which historical resources and dialogues with the past are an essential part of academic work. Scholarship in the humanities can also act as a touchstone for and a commentary on the present.

I would like to propose that the way in which humanists negotiate the fast changing information world is based on the model I call the ‘academic city of villages’. Academics, especially in the developed countries, live in an information metropolis in which information is available in abundance and wide variety. However, academics’ everyday life is defined by norms and traditions of their disciplines which dictate the rules of their academic worlds. ‘City of villages’, a metaphor promoted by town planners of cities such as San Diego, Los Angeles, Dublin and Sydney, is used to present some of the dynamics of living in disciplinary ‘small worlds’ or ‘villages’ within an information metropolis. This proposition is based on my study of roles of electronic texts in the humanities and, later, research into transliteracy.

Small information worlds and a ‘life in the round’

Women who eat dirt for its perceived benefits, prisoners, janitors and retired women are people who live in impoverished information worlds, yet employ complex information practices. This insight arose from the work of Elfreda Chatman who developed an information theory of a ‘small world’ and a ‘life in the round’, showing how groups influence and determine information behaviour. Chatman (2000, p. 3) described the concept of a small world as ‘a world in which everyday happenings occur with some degree of predictability’. ‘A small world is also defined by natural philosophy and everyday knowledge’ (Chatman, 1999, 210). A ‘life in the round’ is a public form of life, ‘a “taken-for-granted,” “business-as-usual” style of being’ (Chatman, 1999, p. 207). Chatman showed that powerful social rules determine conditions and ways in which information is sought, what acceptable information is and what appropriate uses of information are. Individuals usually conform or keep socially unacceptable practices private.

Saying that the information behaviour of academics follow some similar patterns to those of information impoverished groups sounds far-fetched. However, findings emerging from my study of research practices of academics in the humanities show similarities, which are not obvious at face value.

Social types are central to the normative behaviour of a social group. ‘Legitimised others’ in Chatman’s theory are comparable with academic ‘big guns’ who need to be convinced that a piece of research can and should enter academic circle. A historian who studies contemporary religions, such as Jediism, Heathenism and beliefs in extraterrestrial life, many with a strong online presence, described ‘big guns’ in the following way:

… the big guns have grown up in a different kind of scholarship and they’re the ones who edit the journals and who run the big publishing houses. [It is] important that you convince them that you really can do real scholarship… It’s a kind of professional accreditation problem that people who work in really kind of out there fields are stuck with. (Participant 5/2)

Academic peers are ‘insiders’, people who are in command of norms and who judge what is trivial or useless: ‘They are the quintessential frame of reference for observing and controlling not only behavior, but also the information flow into a social world’ (Chatman, 1999, p. 212). When academics in my study talked about ‘students’, ‘young generation’, ‘traditional historians’, ‘big guns’ and ‘people who work in out-there fields’, they described academic social types that play a part in shaping information processes.

Secrecy and self-protective behaviours are part of living in a small world. Self-protective behaviour is apparent in situations when the need for information is recognised as potentially helpful, but is ignored, often because of the desire to ‘appear normal’ (Chatman, 2000, p. 7).  Scholars choose to make their information behaviours, such as the use of online sources, public or keep them private in relation to the norms, worldviews and possible reactions of their peers who have roles of ‘insiders’ and ‘legitimised others’. The dismissive attitude of peers to the use of electronic resources is evident in scholars’ public discourse, summarised in ‘all that crap from the net’ as a conversation topic as described by one of the study participants. This discourse observed in some academic circles is quite likely to make an individual researcher reluctant to ask questions that would reveal the extent of her or his own use, which may be seen as unscholarly or unauthoritative. The majority of study participants talked about an area where information about the use of electronic resources and digital methods was needed, but that information had not been sought. The lack of discussion about uncertainties related to the use of electronic resources and the unexpressed need for training are signs of an impoverished life-world. It does not relate to an absolute amount of information that has been shared, but rather to an undisclosed information need.

Living in a city of villages

Academic disciplines define the norms and practices accepted by a disciplinary community and set boundaries of academic small worlds. However, disciplines do not function as isolated environments. It is increasingly common that scholars work in interdisciplinary fields, and belong to different disciplinary communities, negotiating their different cultures, traditions and expectations. Even if they remain within the boundaries of a single discipline, they live in a dynamic information environment populated by international scholars. This vibrant environment can be seen as an information metropolis. At the same time, academics follow the rules of their immediate disciplinary communities, which form their small worlds.

How do scholars negotiate potentially contradictory demands? They usually have a primary discipline, but they seek information in other disciplines if that is the requirement of their projects. Boundary-crossing usually happens according to the rules of the primary discipline. In some cases, it means following traditional trails of academic authority. For example, a literary scholar in the study worked in a well-defined discipline where she has been a recognised expert. A sense of authority is based on knowing sources very well. However, to satisfy the requirements of a particular project, she had to leave the established information paths and seek information in neighbouring fields. The process happened according to the dominant academic tradition by following the advice of a colleague in the other field. In other words, the researcher does not normally leave her village in search of information, but when she has to do that, it happens according to the rules of following well-established academic expertise.

For other scholars, negotiation of different disciplinary rules and project demands require trade-offs. When a historian decided to write a book aiming to open a challenging dialogue with traditional scholars, he excluded references to all sources that he felt would not be acceptable to these colleagues. However, he introduced a style of writing promoted by interactions with electronic sources, which ‘pushed the edges’ of traditional scholarship.

Academics who visit blogs, tourist web sites and forums about extraterrestrials leave an academic neighbourhood to roam around the city and listen to stories in dark alleys and under bridges. Stories from the underbelly of the city are often socially unacceptable in established disciplinary clubs in university quarters. Scholars who frequent the clubs, but cross the boundaries of academia, often learn from the ‘dark stories’ and consider how to present them according to accepted disciplinary conventions. In non-traditional fields within traditional disciplines, it means more or less successful ‘dressing up’ of research, which Participant 5/2 described as a way of using disciplinary theories and citations to make unconventional research acceptable to the mainstream discipline. In more traditional literary and historical studies, it means taking unaccepted sources into account without referring to them openly.

Scholars who do cross boundaries against the rules of their discipline, would do so because information is perceived as critical or there is a perception that a ‘life in the round’ is no longer functioning. Rapid changes in academia, inconsistent systems of promotions and evaluation of scholarly work, as well as conflicting expectations, indicate that academic life is functioning with a number of difficulties. Participant 15/1 talked about experimenting ‘without an umpire’ in mind in the environment in which some peers are interested in experimental work with the multiplicity of resources while others do not think that it meets scholarly standards. According to this participant, scholars who work in new fields start within a traditional disciplineand gradually split away when another community takes shape.

In a metropolis, news travels fast and it is impossible to maintain local customs untouched, but that does not negate the existence and influence of small villages. The balance between the preservation of a village life and the interaction with the metropolis — sometimes threatening, sometimes alluring – is in flux even in the most sheltered villages.

It may be that other professional worlds work in a similar way, but more research is needed to establish the evidence. However, an understanding of social processes in academia helps us to enhance our understanding of knowledge processes and wider societal changes. It helps us also to provide information and professional development services tailored with deeper understanding of our clients’ information worlds.

References

CHATMAN, E. A. 1999. A theory of life in the round. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50, 207-217.

CHATMAN, E. A. 2000. Framing social life in theory and research. The New Review of Information Behaviour Research, 1, 3-17.

 


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 Evidence and Emotion Collide: Rolling Out Controversial Evidence-Based Decisions

by Kathleen Reed, Assessment and Data Librarian, Instructor in the Department of Women’s Studies, and VP of the Faculty Association at Vancouver Island University

Last week’s news of Trent University Library’s Innovation Cluster was the latest in a string of controversial decisions centering on academic libraries that jumped from campus debate into the mainstream media. With so many libraries in the middle of decisions that are likely unpopular (e.g. cutting journals, weeding little-used and aging print collections), I’ve been increasingly thinking about best practices for communicating major evidence-based decisions to campus communities.

Simply having the data to support your decision isn’t enough; rolling out a controversial decision is an art form.  Luckily, I’ve had some really good teachers in the form of colleagues and bosses (shout out to Dana, Jean, Tim, and Bob).  With the disclaimer that I’ve taken no change-management training and am in no way an expert, here’s what I’ve learned in my first six years as a librarian:

Start conversations early and have them often.
Decisions do not go well when they’re dropped on people out of the blue. For example, we know that there’s a crisis in scholarly publishing – the fees and inflation vendors are charging are unsustainable and the CAD/USD conversion rate isn’t in our favour. Faculty need to hear that message now, not in a few years when a major journal package has to be cut.  If you talk to communities early, you’re able to hear concerns that may figure into future decision making, and figure out strategies to meet needs in other ways.

Don’t force an idea if you don’t have to.
One of the things my first boss told me was that sometimes you’ll have a great idea, but conditions just aren’t right for uptake.  Now 6 years into my career, I can see what he meant.  In my first year, cutting a particular database was unthinkable to a particular department, even though there was plenty of evidence that this cut should be made.  Four years later and I was able to get an agreement to cancel from the department with little issue.  Sometimes an issue has to be dealt with, but other times you can wait.  Plant a seed, walk away, and come back to it another time if you can.

Be proactive.
When Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) announced that thousands of journals were being reviewed for potential cost-savings and CBC reported on it, Ryerson University Library & Archives did something outstanding: they published a proactive blog article being upfront with their community. There was no beating around the bush, with the first Q&A being: “Can we anticipate similar activities at Ryerson? Yes we can.”  Ryerson didn’t have to do anything – the controversy wasn’t at their institution.  But they showed excellent leadership in addressing the issue head-on and set a great example for other libraries to follow.

Have a plan
A former boss of mine brought the idea of project charters to our work culture. These documents clearly outline goals, deliverables, in/out of scope areas, rationale, stakeholders responsibilities, scheduling considerations, timelines, risks & mitigation strategies, and sustainability. The most recent project charter around my library is related to the evolution of our print collection, which we’re looking to reduce over the next 5 years (evidence-based, of course – shout out to the COPPUL Shared Print Archive Network (SPAN) Project and GreenGlass. Having a project charter allows all librarians and staff to consider the direction of the project, have their input, and get on board with it. And this last point is key – if employees don’t feel consulted and buy-in, it’ll be especially hard to support that decision externally.

I’ll also highlight the “risks & mitigation strategy” section of project charters. This is where risks are identified.  For example, if the decision you’re undertaking is related to reducing the number of journals or print books, you’re probably going to attract negative media attention and dissatisfaction among print-book lovers. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, so plan for it.

Show due diligence and evidence.
I’ve mentioned above that it’s important to give your community plenty of opportunities to talk to librarians about large decisions and to get assistance for mitigation strategies (if necessary). But it’s also important to keep a record of how you did this. I once had an irate student group demand a meeting about a database that was cut over a year prior. When I laid out the process (multiple meetings and emails) and the evidence (rubric numbers, faculty input) used to make the decision, as well as how the library devised alternatives to accessing the cut database’s content, the students were completely satisfied and even apologized for assuming that the library was in the wrong.

At my library, we use a rubric to assess all our databases. Aside from helping us make decisions, this rubric enables us to “show our work” to faculty. When they see that we look at 28 different categories for every database, they’re more inclined to trust our decision-making than if we showed up with limited evidence and told them we need to cancel a database.

Do some anger aikido (if appropriate)
When our library started a consultation with several faculties on cutting a particular database, some of our faculty were understandably upset. But because of prior conversations about the problems in scholarly communications, instead of turning that anger on librarians it was directed at admin for not funding the library better, and at a parasitic scholarly publishing industry. When the latter came up, it gave librarians an opening to talk about the importance of Open Access, and helped convince some faculty to submit their work to our institutional repository to ensure it would no longer be behind a paywall.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take the blame if it’s legit your fault.  If you messed up, own it and don’t throw your colleagues under the bus. But when librarians are doing the best they can – being proactive, using evidence, starting conversations early – and factors beyond our control are the source of anger, I think it’s acceptable to do a little aikido and redirect the anger toward the source (especially if change can be made there).

People may not like a decision but they will usually respect your position if you’ve shown yourself worthy of respect.
Difficult decisions are easier to respect when they’re argued for by trustworthy, respectful, diligent people who have a track record of working on behalf of the community instead of for personal gain.  Be one of those people. As one of my favourite sayings goes, “We’re all smart in academia. Distinguish yourself by being kind.”

Consider the Spectrum of Allies.
I was first introduced to the Spectrum of Allies in the Next Up social justice leadership program, but it’s applicable to any controversial subject. The idea is that you’re not going to radically shift people from opposing an idea to loving it, so it’s better to think of nudging people from one position to the next.

Applying this concept to the decision to cancel a database might look something like this: active allies are those that will advocate for the decision; passive allies are those who agree with the decision but don’t speak up; neutrals are those who don’t care either way; passive opposition is people who oppose the decision but don’t speak up; and active opposition are the folks who are outspoken critics of the decision.  The point becomes to shift each group one position over.  So you may not be able to convince Professor Y that they should support the decision to cancel the database, but you might convince them to move from active opposition to passive, thereby not running to the press.

Accept that some people will be unreasonable.
Some people are just jerks. There will be nothing you can do to satisfy them, and there’s no point in dumping endless energy into convincing them of a decision.  But you can try to neutralizing their influence. If one particular member of a department is being an unreasonable PITA (Pain In The Ass), make sure you’re talking to their departmental colleagues so that those folks aren’t swayed by the individual’s influence.

Build an evidence-based culture.
If your library becomes known as a department that does assessment well and can provide valid evidence, you’ll garner respect on campus which can only make life easier.

Study the people around you who are good at conflict.
Tap into the wisdom of your diplomatic colleagues.  I’m lucky enough to have one who is United Nations-level good at diplomacy, and so when I found myself in a situation where my natural un-diplomatic impulses were about to take over, I’d ask myself “What would (name) do?”  After several years of this practice, I now cut out the middle step and just act tactfully in the first place most of the time (“fake it ‘til you make it” really does work!) But I’d have never been able to get to this place without watching and learning strategies from my co-worker.

At the end of it all, reflect on how it went and what you can do better next time.
Big decisions, like canceling journals or doing significant weeding, are difficult and hard to make roll out perfectly. It’s important to reflect on what’s gone well in the process and what can be improved upon for next time.

What’s your experience with rolling out controversial decisions?  Is there something that should be added or subtracted from this list?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


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.

Impactful research

by Nicole Eva-Rice, Liaison Librarian for Management, Economics, Political Science, and Agriculture Studies, University of Lethbridge Library

Why do we do research? Is it simply to fulfill our obligations for tenure and promotion? Is it to satisfy our curiosity about some phenomenon? Or is it to help our fellow librarians (or researchers in another discipline) to do their jobs, or further the knowledge in our field?

I find myself grappling with these thoughts when embarking on a new research project. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the point of our research when we are stuck on the ‘publish or perish’ hamster wheel, and I suspect it’s all the more so for faculty outside of librarianship. It’s wonderful when we have an obvious course set out for us and can see the practical applications of our research – finding a cure for a disease, for example, or a way to improve school curriculum – but what if the nature of our research is more esoteric? Does the world need another article on the philosophy of librarianship, or the creative process in research methods? Or are these ‘make work’ projects for scholars who must research in order to survive in academe?

My most satisfying research experiences, and the ones I most appreciate from others, have to do with practical aspects of my job. I love research that can directly inform my day to day work, and know that any decisions I make based on that research have been grounded in evidence. If someone has researched the effectiveness of flipping a one-shot and can show me if it’s better or worse than the alternative, I am very appreciative of their efforts both in performing the study and publishing their results as I can benefit directly from their experience. Likewise, if someone publishes an article on how they systematically analyzed their serials collections to make cuts, I can put their practices to use in my own library. I may not cite those articles – in fact, most people won’t unless they do further research along that line – but they have a direct impact on the field of librarianship. Unfortunately, that impact is invisible to the author/researchers, unless we make a point of making contact with them and telling them how we were able to apply their research in our own institutions (and I don’t know about you, but I have never done that nor has it occurred to me to do that until just this minute). So measuring ‘impact’ by citations, tweets, or downloads just doesn’t do justice to the true impact of that article. Even a philosophy of librarianship article could have serious ‘impact’ in the way that it affects the way someone approaches their job – but unless the reader goes on to write another article citing it, that original article doesn’t have anything that proves the very real impact it has made.

In fact, the research doesn’t even have to result in a scholarly article – if I read a blog post on some of these topics, I might still be able to benefit from them and use the ideas in my own practice. Of course, this depends on exactly what the content is and how much rigor you need in replicating the procedure in your own institution, but sometimes I find blog posts more useful in my day-to-day practice than the actual scholarly articles. Even the philosophical-type posts are more easily digested and contemplated in the length and tone provided in a more informal publication.

This is all to say that I think the way we measure and value academic research is seriously flawed – something many librarians (and other academics) would agree with, but that others in academia still strongly adhere to. This is becoming almost a moral issue for me. Why does everything have to be measurable? Why can’t STP committees take the research project as described at face value, and accept other types of impact it could have on readers/policy makers/practitioners rather than assigning a numerical value based on where it was published and how many times it was cited?

When I hear other faculty members discussing their research, even if I don’t know anything about their subject area, I can often tell if it will have ‘real’ impact or not. The health sciences researcher whose report to the government resulted in policy change obviously had a real impact – but she won’t have a peer-reviewed article to list on her CV (unless she goes out of her way to create one to satisfy the process) nor will she likely have citations (unless the aforementioned article is written). It also makes me think about my next idea for a research project, which is truly just something I’ve been curious about, but which I can’t see many practical implications for other than to serve others’ curiosity. It’s a departure for me because I am usually the most practical of people and my research usually has to serve the dual purpose of both having application in my current workplace as well as becoming fodder for another line on my CV. As I have been thinking about the implication of impact more and more, I realize that as publicly paid employees, perhaps we have an obligation to make our research have as wide a practical impact as possible. What do you think? Have we moved beyond the luxury of researching for research’s sake? As employees of public institutions, do we have a societal impact to produce practical outcomes? I’m curious as to what others think and would love to continue the conversation.

For more on impact and what can count as evidence of it, please see Farah Friesen’s previous posts on this blog, What “counts” as evidence of impact? Part 1 and Part 2.


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.

(Small) public libraries do research too!

By Meghan O’Leary, MLIS, Collections and Reader’s Advisory Librarian, John M. Cuelenaere Public Library

Last October I attended the Centre of Evidence-Based Library and Information Practice Fall Symposium and quickly came to the realization that I was the only public librarian in attendance and the year before that there were only two of us. Almost all the presentations were geared towards special or academic libraries, which got me thinking, “Hey! Public librarians do this kind of research too!”

Of course, public libraries do research! Admittedly, research in the LIS discipline is dominated by academic librarians. Even research about public libraries tends to be done mostly by academic librarians. Why is that? Public librarians do not need to publish in the same way that academic librarians need to, but why don’t we publish more research? Do we not have the time or funding? Do we not consider what we do as research worth publishing? These are important questions, but not what I want to discuss today.

What I do want to talk about is what small public libraries, specifically the one I work at, does as far as research is concerned. But, first, some background information. I live in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and work as the Collections and Reader’s Advisory Librarian at John M. Cuelenaere Public Library. Prince Albert has one full branch and one satellite branch out on the west side of the city and a population of roughly 40,000 people. Compared to Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary, etc. we are a rather small library.

Small public libraries, like mine, do engage in research. However, the research we do is generally not seen as “traditional” research because data collection is usually an ongoing process and we often do not share it with the LIS community. Matthews (2013) offers a model of “Try, Assess, and Reflect” for public libraries embracing evidence-based librarianship and says, “try something, gather some data about the effectiveness of the change, and then make some adjustments” (p. 28). Here’s an example of how we used this model: A couple of years ago we looked at what other libraries were doing and made the decision to launch a small video game collection. After a few months, I gathered statistical information about the new collection. Based on that we tweaked how we were doing things. Some of the items were not being returned, so we limited checkouts to two games per patron. E-rated games were being used more than M-rated games, therefore I altered my buying habits accordingly. Each month I gather statistical data on the whole collection to see what is being used, what is not being used, and what current trends are.

That is an example of how small public libraries use quantitative research methods to guide change; however, there has been a shift in research trends in the LIS community from quantitative to qualitative methodologies. Another project I want to talk about is our most recent strategic planning project. It has been ongoing for a few months now and we have done various different types of information gathering. We use statistical data like gate counts, usage stats, website metrics, etc. to guide us in creating a new strategic plan, but we also had three separate strategic planning sessions where we gathered qualitative data. Our first session was with the members of our board and library management, the second was with the rest of the library staff, and finally, the third session was held with the public. The major topics up for discussion were Facilities, Technology, Collections, Programs, and Community Outreach. The topics were written on large pieces of paper posted around the room, then everyone who attended the session was given a marker (and a cookie, because you have to lure them in somehow) and asked to go around the room and write their ideas under each heading. Each session built on the previous session and we analyzed the information gathered and have started developing a work plan which will target each of the major points. The information gathered has already helped us with the designs for our renovation project, as well as with our budget allocations.

I could write more about the various types of research small public libraries, such as John M. Cuelenaere Public Library, do but I do not want to turn this blog post into an essay! If there are any Brain-Works blog readers out there who are also from public libraries and conduct other forms of research please comment! I would love to hear what other public libraries (large or small) are doing.

Resources

Matthews, J. R. (2013). Research-based planning for public libraries increasing relevance in the digital age. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.


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.

The first few weeks of sabbatical – Time to focus!

by Laura Newton Miller, on sabbatical from Carleton University

I’m lucky to be in the beginning weeks of a one-year sabbatical.  This is my second sabbatical, and I seem to be approaching this one a little differently than 7 years ago.

Unlike my first sabbatical, I started this one with a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to New Zealand. Although it was mostly a holiday, I did have the opportunity to meet and discuss all-things-library with Janet Fletcher and some of the lovely staff at Victoria University of Wellington.  I love seeing how other libraries do things, and our discussions really helped me to focus on my particular research. I was also able to discuss my research focus with family in Wellington, and really appreciated how I can apply their non-library perspective to my own work.

Knowing that I was taking this holiday, I did a lot of initial research pre-sabbatical (ethics approval, survey implementation) so that when I returned, I’d be able to immediately sink my teeth into the analysis. This is different than my first sabbatical, where I started work right away.

So what have I learned so far in my second sabbatical? I will readily admit that I probably have more questions than answers at this point, but I do have some tidbits of what to watch out for….

Limit social media

  • I know, I know – we know this – but it’s tricky sometimes! I find this very easy to do while on vacation, but the combination of jet-lag and arriving back just in time for a lot of turmoil south of the Canadian border made it very difficult to focus my first week back. I’m finding staying off social media a little more difficult this time around, but am aiming to limit myself to checking less often.

Find the time to work

  • I have school-age kids. I’m not sure if the winter weather was better the last sabbatical or not, but my kids seem to be around more because of storm cancellations or catching some sickness/bug. It makes it difficult to try and work during perhaps more “traditional” hours. I’m happy to be there for them, but finding that quiet time can sometimes be a challenge.

I still love analysis

  • I’m reading through comments from my survey. It was overwhelming at first- just sort of “swimming” in all the data, trying to figure out the themes and ways to code things. I’ve finally reached a breakthrough, which is exciting in itself, but even when I’m floundering I still just love it. I’m so excited for all of the things I’m going to learn this year.

I MAY have taken on too much .

Take a vacation/significant break before sinking teeth into work

  • Since I’m really at the beginning of everything right now, I’m still on the fence on whether or not this has helped my productivity. But it has been wonderful to give myself space between my work life and my sabbatical life- to have a chance to “let go” of some of the work-related things and to really focus. Which leads me to….

Stay off work emails

  • I found this very easy to do for my first sabbatical. Because I’m at a different point in my career now, I find myself checking my email *sometimes* this time around. But I try to limit it to infrequently getting rid of junk mail and catching up on major work-related news.

Do you have any tips on staying focused? I would love to hear them. I’m excited and energized about what my sabbatical year holds!


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.