Cultivating a Culture of Curiosity? The Benefits of Doing So if Research is on Your Mind

by Virginia Wilson, Director
Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP_
University of Saskatchewan, Canada

[This post was originally published on the LARK Library Applied Research Kollektive blog on August 31, 2017.]

Many information organizations strive to create a culture of research for different reasons. Some, like many Canadian academic libraries, do so to encourage their librarians who are required to conduct and disseminate research for professional advancement, i.e. tenure, permanent status. Others have embraced evidence based library and information practice (EBLIP) where research alongside professional expertise and what the users want/need is prevalent. Still others see research as an important part of librarianship where research can inform practice. And then there are combinations of the above. Indeed, our own University Library has spent the last 10 years developing a robust culture of research, where research and scholarly activity are supported and encouraged, as librarians are faculty members and on the tenure track. We also consider the tenets of EBLIP in our practice of professional skills.

However, many librarians do not have extensive training in the research enterprise. Library schools offer the obligatory research methods survey class and unless the librarian also has another graduate degree or opts for the thesis route in library school, research experience is not a given. So, when a librarian comes into a culture of research, it can be daunting and frustrating no matter what supports are offered and a common difficulty for new librarians is trying to think of or decide on a research topic. It seems to look (simplistically1) like this (click on charts for a clearer view):

Even though we ask candidates about their research interests, often the idea of the actual doing of research doesn’t hit home until the candidate is faced with the realities and requirements of the tenure process.

The research life cycle2 looks something like this:

This seems to be a robust and thorough depiction of the research process (although I might use the term “data” instead of “assets” in the Implementation box). I like how this process encourages open access publishing and includes social media as a source of impact metrics. It’s good stuff. But nowhere in this process is there a description of coming up with a research topic. It presumes that the topic is there and the research question is already at hand.

I wonder then if the idea of a “culture of research” is too late in the game. There are many different cultures an information organization can strive to create: culture of learning, culture of excellence, culture of success, but what about a culture of curiosity?

1: desire to know:
b: interest leading to inquiry – intellectual curiosity – Her natural curiosity led her to ask more questions.


A culture of curiosity is in line with encouraging research amongst librarians as researchers. As defined by Merriam-Webster, curiosity is interest leading to inquiry. Fostering a culture of curiosity with the implicit and explicit aim of curiosity leading to research allows the research piece to be part of the natural process of having a question and seeking an answer. A culture of curiosity would look something like this:

Research, therefore, would be part of the process – just not the starting point.

But if the organization requires research and indeed it is part of a librarian’s job, that fact cannot be ignored. Can a librarian put that requirement to the back of their mind and go into their job all wide-eyed and curious? Surely there will be the looming spectre of research outputs and then the pressure to be curious in the right way – a way that will lead to an answerable research question. I don’t deny that the scenario could happen, and I’m not trying to institute tricking your employees into doing research as an active strategy. I believe we can have both a culture of curiosity and a culture of research, and that they will build on one another moving forward. Curiosity leads to questions which lead to research which can lead to innovation. An added bonus of working within a culture of curiosity is that curiosity will also increase employee engagement and provide the continuous impetus to examine and reflect on the work so to be open to innovation.

How does one develop a culture of curiosity? Obviously, having management that is on board with such a culture is important. However, in browsing around about this topic, I compiled four ways to encourage curiosity that anyone can try:

  1. Write agendas as questions: using the premise that employees are more engaged when they feel like they can influence the outcome, set up meetings that are as participatory as possible and encourage interest by structuring agendas in the form of questions.
  2. Encourage collaboration: because great ideas don’t generally happen in a vacuum, have employees work together often and in different groupings. They will be exposed to the talents of their co-workers and can take advantage of cross-unit ideas and inspiration.
  3. Get rid of fear by embracing failure: research and publishing can be a hot bed of disappointment. Harsh peer reviews, rejection letters, uncooperative methodologies – there are many ways to find yourself down the wrong path. An organization that calmly accepts that failure is a part of progress will enable employees to move on to the next thing faster and with confidence.
  4. Encourage questioning: while it is true that constant questioning has the risk of causing defensiveness, realistic questioning of policy and processes can help to stimulate new ways of thinking and new ways of doing the work. This is also the place where research topics are born.

A culture of curiosity will benefit not only the librarians who have research as a mandate, but also all the library employees who are working in the information organization and the organization itself. Encouraging curiosity, creativity, and innovation can help in a sea of constant change. And in our fast-paced work world, keeping pace with or ahead of change will serve us all better. And if a research mandate is on the table, curiosity is a must to achieve something relevant and useful.

Works consulted
Goodman, R. (2016, June 1). How to build a culture of curiosity [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Kalra, A.S. (2015, October 23). 10 ways to build a culture of curiosity. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Karl, A. (2013, November). Create a culture of curiosity: guest blog by Allan Karl. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Milway, K.S. and Goldmark, A. (2013, September 18). Four ways of cultivating a culture of curiosity [Blog post]. Retrieved from

1I say simplistically up above because of course candidates at our library know prior to being hired that they must do research. We focus on it specifically during the hiring process to avoid blindsiding someone coming in.
2“Research Life Cycle” image from UC Irvine Library Digital Scholarship Services Found on University of Michigan Scientific Discovery Path of Excellence – An Information Resource Starter Kit

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.

Public Library Research by Public Librarians

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

Most people reading this blog will already be familiar with the research process, so this post will not go into much detail on that. What I am going to talk about are research methods public librarians may want to utilize, as well as some other factors they will have to consider before getting started on a research project.

First, what type of research methods work well for public library research projects? Most of the research I do at my public library is statistics based; however, the following are some research methods that could work well for public library research. Leedy and Ormrod’s (2013) Practical Research: Planning and Design was the textbook we used in school and it is a great resource if you are trying to think of appropriate methods for your project. You may have a different method you think would work well in a public library setting, so I encourage you to comment and share your ideas!


    • Reference interviews
    • Focus groups
    • Photo narrative with follow-up interviews – Shailoo Bedi & Jenaya Webb (2017) wrote an excellent article about using photographic methods in library research. See the full reference down below.
    • Public consultation sessions
    • Qualitative questionnaires


  • Statistics (patron stats, collections stats, usage stats, etc.)
  • Anonymous surveys
  • Quantitative questionnaires
  • Behavioural mapping

The second factor public librarians need to consider before starting a study is the ethical framework behind their research methodology. When I was in library school I was taught that if you are dealing with one-on-one humans, asking personal questions, you need to get ethics approval before getting started. With the help of Virginia Wilson, Director of C-EBLIP, I contacted Beryl Radcliffe, Human Research Ethics Specialist (Behavioural) from the University of Saskatchewan’s Research Ethics Board (REB) and asked her some clarifying questions about research ethics for public libraries. According to Beryl, public libraries are not required to go through a REB to do research, nor is there really any mechanism for them to do so. There are some for-profit REBs out there but applications are expensive and are usually only used for clinical trials. Public library research tends to deal mostly with improvement of programs, assessment, and physical space; therefore, it is not necessary to get ethics approval. There is no point in wasting funds to get approval you do not need. If there is no need to go through a REB for public libraries where can public librarians go for approval of their research project? The first step would be to talk to your superiors and seek approval from your library’s Board of Directors. Second, check with your local professional association, for example, the Saskatchewan Library Association, to see if there are any research guidelines listed for their members.

On top of answering my questions, Beryl also gave me some helpful ethics tips for public librarians wanting to do research:

  • Go through an REB application process, even if you do not intend to submit it because it will help you with planning your research project and will usually provide templates for consent forms, agreements, etc. The University of Saskatchewan REB documents are online and free to look at and use. Institutional REBs, such as the University of Saskatchewan REB, cannot approve unaffiliated research, but going through the process will ensure that you have covered all your bases, so to speak.
  • Tell people why you are asking them questions and what you plan to do with the information you gather. If you let people know how you plan to use the information people tend to be more open with their answers, which can provide better data.
  • If you are still concerned about research ethics you can take the TCPS 2 Tutorial Course on Research Ethics (CORE) and get your certificate of completion. Here is the link:

Since I briefly mentioned it before, I will now talk about the third factor that public librarians should consider before starting their research project – funding. Doing research does not have to cost a lot of money. There are, however, unavoidable expenses that come with doing research. The money for travel costs or honorariums, for example, needs to come from somewhere. There are grants available online, and if your research is going to be used to further develop and improve your library, attaining one of these grants should be a simple matter. Consider which sector your research falls under and search for grants in that area. For example, if your research deals with programming for senior citizens, consider a grant from Employment and Social Development Canada or New Horizons for Seniors. If your research is specifically about the library building, apply for community infrastructure grants. For example, last year Western Economic Diversification Canada offered a Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program grants.

If you are unsuccessful in obtaining a grant, try pitching your research project to your library board. Explain why you want to do the research, why it is important for the library, and why you need funds to accomplish it. There may be reserve funds that can be brought forward to help with your research. Another option is to approach your professional organization and see if they offer grants for research, or ask if there are any funds available for research in exchange for future conference presentations.

The last thing public librarians should consider before starting their research projects is how to gain access to scholarly articles when, generally speaking, public libraries do not have access to academic journal databases. Or, if public libraries do have access to some academic journals through a database subscription they tend to be quite limited. There are a few options one can consider. First, check to see if you have access to your alma mater’s online journals. Most of the time, as an alumna, you will have access to the journals if you are physically on site. If this is not possible for you due to distance, your next best option is to search for open access journals. Evidence Based Library and Information Science hosted by the University of Alberta Learning Services is an excellent resource, but also check out the Directory of Open Access Journals to find some peer-reviewed journals in the discipline you are researching. There are some other ways to get the articles you need, such as the Twitter #icanhazpdf hashtag, SciHub, and LibGen; however, it would be better to try and get what you need through more official sources.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post, and I hope if you are a public librarian wanting to do research you found this article helpful. If you have any other tips for public librarians please leave a comment!

Leedy, P. D. & Ormrod, J. E., (2013). Practical research: Planning and design. (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Bedi, S. & Webb, J. (2017). Through the students’ lens: Photographic methods for research in library spaces. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 12 (2). Retrieved from

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.

Can you always do “just one more thing”?

by Jaclyn McLean, Electronic Resources Librarian
University of Saskatchewan

I grew up hearing the refrain “just one more thing” about my dad, usually around 6 p.m., as we were all sitting down to supper and his chair sat empty. One of us would say, “well, he probably had just one more thing to do.” And then we would sigh, or laugh, and eat. Now, this isn’t a post about nature/nurture, but I do find it curious that I often find myself trying to squeeze in just one more thing, at the end of the workday, or before going to sleep, and this attitude that I’ve always got time to squeeze something else in can get me into trouble.

Like now, as I am diving into not one, or two, but three new research-type endeavors (and wrapping up a fourth). All with specific and overlapping timelines; and different methodologies and topics. So how did I get there? It’s entirely my own fault, not that I feel negative about it. All of the projects are interesting, variously collaborative and solo, focused on publishing, presentation, and art curation. I am excited about all of them, and can’t wait to dig in and get past this beginning stage.

Planning how the projects will intersect and cohabitate in my brain for the next few months is key. To that end, I’ve been working out a detailed Gantt chart, and working on accepting that this chart will change on a weekly, if not daily, basis. I enjoy having lots on the go, different projects and ideas to divert my attention. I also like making lists, schedules, and organizing my time (and that of others, my collaborators should be warned). A key to my success is going to be paying attention to this careful planning and checking in regularly on the established timelines, shifting and nudging things around as things change.

I need to accept that this will all feel overwhelming at some point down the road. Probably when the days get shorter, and the deadlines loom much closer than they do today. Because you see, this isn’t the first time I’ve found myself with a lot on my plate. And I’ve learned that if I can do all the pre-planning, and have an established plan to shift and flex with, I am more effective. Flexibility and rolling with the punches is not my nature, but I am optimistic, and excited about the opportunities coming my way with these projects (and those that might emerge out of them in the future).

But it’s also time to sit on my hands, and stop coming up with new ideas of things I would like to do. Because I need to make sure I don’t exceed my capacity, and switch my perspective from excitement to dread, from optimism to overwhelmed. Stopping the flow of new ideas isn’t something I’ll be able to stick to (it’s good to recognize your own flaws, right?), but I am committing here, in this public forum, to write them down for later, or share them with someone else who might be able to take them and run. And I will keep reminding myself that my slate is full for this year. And as we head into a fresh new academic year, doesn’t that sound exciting?

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.

Designing and Presenting Research Posters

By Shannon Lucky, Information Technology Librarian, University of Saskatchewan
Bernice Leyeza, Research Assistant, Department of Geography & Planning, University of Saskatchewan

This summer I have been fortunate to have Bernice working as a research assistant, partially funded by an undergraduate student research grant at our institution. Part of the grant program has the RAs participate in a research poster competition at the end of the summer. This sounded like the perfect opportunity to co-write a post about designing and presenting a research poster from our two different perspectives.

I love presenting research posters. I like having real, sometimes lengthy, conversations with people who are interested in my research. I have gotten new perspectives on my work and great suggestions for things to look at, particularly scholarship outside of my academic bubble, from conversations with one or two people in a hall full of posters. This has never happened to me during a standard paper Q&A. Conferences where the posters presentations happen in tandem with refreshments are also a bonus. I have long suspected that the insightful introverts in our communities are a little bolder during cocktail hour than during lecture hall panel discussions.

While presenting a poster might be my favourite part of the process, designing one has been a surprisingly useful scholarly activity. I can easily fill up a word count limit for a paper, but trying to essentialize down what I am really trying to say (conveyed in the right 30 pt. font verbiage) has challenged me to get real about what I am doing – not what I like to think I am doing, or what I want other academics to think I am doing. It is hard to hide behind academic-ese when you have 16 square inches to describe the significance of your project. You also need to actually use that elevator pitch I know I have been coerced into writing at more than one research workshop. This is all to say that it is hard to phone-in a decent poster. You need to know your question, data, and results inside and out; well enough to distill it down to the essential text, speak extemporaneously about it, and probably answer a few questions.

I was lucky to have Bernice as my RA for this project. Not only was she eager to take on the challenge of translating our early results into a poster, she also has design skills that far surpass my own. In planning for the poster we came up with four essential questions that we have done our best to answer from each of our perspectives. We hope that the following advice will be useful for veteran and rookie research poster presenters alike.

  1. What is the poster for and who is my audience?

“My first undergraduate degree required us to master our skills in producing different communication materials. I took a lab class where our weekly assignments were to translate a research article into a poster – good practice for designing your own.” (Bernice)

Whether your poster is for a class or a conference, focus on the most interesting and important information for that audience and what language will speak to them. This is a good time to note any restrictions on dimensions, digital file standards, and any design or content requirements provided by the event organizer. Is this the place to show your creativity, or is it expected that you use a standard template/layout? Look at other examples from researchers in your discipline online or ask colleagues/professors if they can share examples with you. Get an idea of the common practices within your discipline or at the event you will be presenting at.


  1. What comes first, the writing or the design?

The quality of your research and ability to communicate its value is first and foremost. You can’t have a successful poster without solid research to communicate. Having said that, there are different approaches to turning your literature review, hypothesis, data, and analysis into a cohesive poster design. Bernice prefers to write up a research article first which helps solidify the important details for the poster. As she transfers the writing into the poster layout she works to make it more concise – good practice for academic writing in general. If the poster is about new (unpublished) research, Shannon prefers to write some quick notes and start laying out the broad ideas on post-its or in the design software. Finessing the writing comes later. Both approaches work well, just make sure to avoid self-plagiarism if you are re-purposing text from your publications and grants to fill out the purpose/methods/relevance sections.


  1. What design program should I use?

Unless there is a standard required template, you can use whatever software you like. We recommend using what you are comfortable with so you don’t spend extra hours struggling with the software; there is enough work to do getting your content organised. You can use something as simple as PowerPoint, or as complicated as InDesign, both can give you a professional looking result.

Sometimes universities will have a standard template students and faculty can use. For Bernice’s poster, we wanted it to look like a poster from our institution, but not like all of the other posters in the competition. Instead of using the standard ppt file, Bernice chose to design her own layout in InDesign using the official university colours.


  1. How will you make your poster engaging and able to stand out in a hall full of other presenters?

This answer has two approaches: design and presentation.

Design – Use sound design rules for your poster. You can print out 4-6 paragraphs of text in 16 pt. font and call it a day, but taking some extra time to make your poster look approachable (as in, you can read it in less than 30 minutes) and visually appealing will make your research look more approachable and interesting. Using appropriate white space, limiting your colour pallet (and think about accessibility for colour blind readers), and using a legible font in an appropriate size will go a long way to making your poster stand out. A good font size guideline is 85 pt. for the title, 36 pt. for sub headings, 24 pt. for the body, and 18 pt. for captions and references. Using relevant images and diagrams is also a good idea.

Presentation – First and foremost, you want to be presentable. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes that are appropriate for the event. If you feel comfortable you will be more comfortable presenting. Have your elevator pitch memorised, but be ready to have a conversation about your project. Don’t stick to a formal script but if you get nervous you can prepare some talking points and write them down in bullet form. Try to engage with the audience around their interest in your research, not just your favourite ideas. This is a great way to find collaborators or get asked questions that may not come up in a formal conference Q&A. While you are standing by your poster waiting for someone to approach put your phone away, smile, and say hello. Don’t just talk to the people you know or people from your institution, you never know what kind of connections you will make.

This is a great networking opportunity, so make it easy for people to follow-up with you after the event. Include your email address, Twitter handle, or website URL directly on your poster and bring your business cards with you. If you won’t be standing next to your poster for the entire event, pin up a few cards next to your poster for people to take.

A few final tips:

  • If you are travelling to present at a conference, plan ahead to have your poster printed at your destination. Shannon has had good luck using hosting universities’ campus print shops, and Staples is always a quick and nearly universal option. This will save you having to carry on a poster tube or risking damaging or losing your poster en route.
  • Get the most mileage out of your poster. If your institution has an institutional repository, add your poster and some speaking notes to your profile. If you have a personal academic website, link to a pdf version of your poster there. Like any scholarly communication product, this may be useful to another researcher (if not for the subject matter, then certainly for your elegant design).

Research poster can be a little tricky, it may be easier to write about your research first or some people might find it easier to start with the layout. Practising how to write concise material is a useful exercise. If your information is well written, designing and presenting will come naturally. You don’t have to use complicated software to design your poster and can use the resources you have. Again, you are presenting your research and that’s the bulk of your poster. Make sure to follow the design rules of the conference and have your elevator pitch ready.

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 right tool for the job: NVivo software for thematic analysis

by Carolyn Doi
Education and Music Library, University of Saskatchewan

This post builds off of an earlier one by research assistant Veronica Kmiech, which outlines the process for searching and identifying literature on the topic of how practitioners in cultural heritage organizations manage local music collections.1 I have worked with Veronica since summer 2016 on this project, which led to a thematic analysis of the literature seeking to better understand the professional practices implemented and challenges faced in managing, preserving and providing access to local music collections in libraries and archives.2

Using NVivo to facilitate the thematic analysis in this project was ultimately extremely helpful in organizing and managing the data. With over fifty sources to analyze in this review, the thought of doing this work manually seemed daunting.

Thematic analysis typically encompasses steps which take the researcher from familiarization of the data, through development of codes and themes, and finally to being able to tie these themes to the broader picture within the literature.3 NVivo becomes particularly useful at the stages of coding and theme development.

During the coding phase, NVivo will help save descriptions, inclusion, and exclusion criteria for each code. These are fairly easy to change as needed, being able to see an overview of the codes you are working with is definitely helpful, and it is easy to create hierarchies within the node sets. Once code labels are identified, coding the dataset involves (a lot!) of highlighting and decisions about which node(s) to assign to that piece of text. Adding new nodes is fairly simple, as there will likely be themes that come up throughout the coding process. Word to the wise: coding is made easier with NVivo, but the software doesn’t do all the work for you. Schedule extra time for this portion of the research.

During the phase of theme development and organization, NVivo made it quite easy to sort nodes into broader themes. In practice, this process took a few revisions in order to fully think through how and why nodes should be sorted and organized. The software has some features that assist with finding significance within the themes including ability to make mind maps, charts, and word frequency queries. After this process, I identified five broad themes were identified within the literature, some with as few as three associated nodes, and some with as many as thirteen (fig. 1).

Figure 1: Themes and node hierarchy

Following the development of this hierarchy, I went back into the literature, to find examples of how each theme was applied and referred to in the literature. When presenting the analysis portion, these examples were helpful in illustrating the underlying narrative.

This example (fig. 2) shows nodes found within the theme which brings together data on the theme of why practitioners choose to collect local music.

Figure 2: Goal and Objective theme

To better illustrate the significance or application of these concepts, I used quotes from the literature as examples. This excerpt works particularly well as an illustration of why heritage organizations might choose to collect local music, why it may present challenges, and why it can be considered unique:

The Louisville Underground Music Archives (LUMA) project was born of the need to document this particular, and important, slice of Louisville’s musical culture. …from a diverse community of bands and musicians, venue and store owners, recording studios and label managers, and fans to maintain the entire story from a broad range of perspectives.4

Pulling quotes such as this one helped me to build a narrative around the themes I’d identified, and serve to provide a gateway into the literature being analyzed.

The process of analyzing the data this way provided me with a rich resource on which to build the literature review, and a unique map of what the literature represents. While NVivo has some flaws and drawbacks (price, switching between operating systems, and working collaboratively were notable obstacles), the benefits outweighed them in the end (quick learning curve, saves the time of the researcher, assists considerably with organization of data and thematic synthesis). I highly recommend NVivo as a tool to keep in your back pocket for future qualitative analysis projects.

1 “Locating the local: A literature review and analysis of local music collections.”
2 Results from this analysis were recently presented during the 2017 annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Music Libraries (CAML) in Toronto, ON in a paper titled Regional music collection practices in libraries: A qualitative systematic review and thematic analysis of the literature.
3 “About Thematic Analysis.” University of Auckland.
4 Caroline Daniels, Heather Fox, Sarah-Jane Poindexter, and Elizabeth Reilly. Saving All the Freaks on the Life Raft: Blending Documentation Strategy with Community Engagement to Build a Local Music Archives. The American Archivist, Vol. 78, No. 1 (2015): 238–261.

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.

Balancing Needs and Resources in Developmental Offerings in an Academic Library

By Jill Crawley-Low
Science Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

The University Library at the University of Saskatchewan is fortunate among academic libraries in having had more than a decade of continual investment in training and development with active support from library leaders. About a decade ago, the Dean of the library recognized that sending people away to workshops did not result in expertise and skills returning to the organization in a sustainable and shareable way. Nor was leaving for external training possible for all employees. It became apparent that a new approach was needed. A variety of offerings delivered in-house and customized for library employees evolved into three different streams. Over time, the organizational culture shifted to one in which engaged employees expected to have access to continuing learning opportunities. Guided by the strategic plan, the library is preparing to review its existing training and development program with the goal of balancing the needs of employees with the resources that are available.

The University Library’s training and development offerings have evolved into three predominantly in-house streams. The first stream includes single-session offerings on a variety of topics. For example, the Learning and Development Committee annually develops a program of single sessions delivered over the course of a year.  Another example is Sustaining Leadership Learning designed to continue leadership learning with one-off sessions that complement the multi-part programs.

The second stream includes multi-part programs with a specific focus delivered over a period of weeks or months. An example is the Library Leadership Development Program, which consists of six components delivered over several months with a focus on leadership for self, team, and organization. The single-session and multi-part programs described above were developed in-house. An example of an externally developed multi-part program is Indigenous Voices, which seeks to share knowledge and experience in Aboriginal education with employees. Indigenous Voices is customized for employees of the University Library. These are just a few examples of the more established training and development opportunities available in the University Library.

The third stream of informal training and development opportunities has recently developed as an unexpected result of a change management initiative with a 3-5 year timeline. Teaching and learning; research support; and collections were identified as priority areas set to position the University Library to respond quickly to changes in the information landscape locally or in the profession. The third stream is evolving because each of the thematic plans includes action items to gather feedback from users and employees and, further, to share those learnings.

For example, the Research Support Plan, which includes activities to position the library as the definitive source of expertise and advocacy for open access on campus. The working group asked library employees for feedback on the usefulness of resources the group is creating on the concept of open access. Currently, the group is sharing knowledge about open access by presenting educational sessions, which all employees are encouraged to attend.

Library employees have become accustomed to easy access to sessions/programs on a variety of topics delivered in-house. The concept of improving oneself and contributing to the goals of the organization is firmly entrenched in the library’s culture. Attendance at training sessions is balanced with maintaining services objectives. Happily, quantitative evidence of the value of this sustained period of access to training and development opportunities appears in employee engagement scores rising from year to year. Anecdotal evidence includes reports from employees who enjoy building relationships at training sessions with colleagues from different work units. Employees who learn together are a tightly knit group, able to show resilience in the face of continual change in the academic sector. Newcomers to the organization take the development opportunities as a given, and expect to be included in the shared leadership/training experience.

With the plethora of training and development opportunities presented in a climate of reduced budgets, it is timely that the University Library is preparing to review its offerings in order to balance programming costs with the obvious developmental benefits. The shift in organizational culture has created ongoing demand for training and developmental opportunities for employees who are engaged in learning about themselves and their colleagues. By placing the review and coordination of programs in the strategic plan, library leaders are acknowledging the importance of training and development for employees and the organization.

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.

New Vistas for Vicki Williamson

By Virginia Wilson
Director, Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice

In 2006, Dr. Vicki Williamson left her Australian home in the middle of summer to become the Dean of the University Library, University of Saskatchewan (U of S). Please note that the middle of an Australian summer is the middle of a Saskatchewan winter. This alone illustrates Vicki’s tenacity, drive, and dedication. It also necessitated the purchase of a long down-filled winter coat and other protective paraphernalia. Vicki developed a working relationship with Saskatchewan weather and from 2006 to 2016, she served two five-year terms as the first ever Dean of the University Library. After an administrative leave, Vicki has retired. One wonders if Vicki kept that coat for the memories when she returned to Australia.

This post is to say a fond farewell, to express gratitude, and to invite you to join me in wishing Vicki all the best. Her career has spanned many years and multiple locations. After Vicki served in several high-level positions in Australia, the University Library was lucky enough to get the benefit of all that experience. With a focus on library transformation, library leadership, and librarians as researchers (to name just a few areas), Vicki’s hard work and dedication has put our University Library on the world map.

Vicki was proactive in her involvement with librarianship at the national and international level. Vicki played active roles in the following organizations:
• The Association of Commonweath Universities (ACU)
• Association of Research Libraries (ARL)
• Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL)
• Centre for Research Libraries
• Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries (COPPUL)
• Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)

Within the University of Saskatchewan, the Library emerged as an entity recognized not only for providing excellent service for faculty, students, and staff, but also as a place where its faculty members conduct research and contribute to the research agenda of the University. One notable achievement (from my personal perspective) was the creation of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP), a type-A centre in the U of S’s centre structure. C-EBLIP is the first of its kind in Canada and its mandate is to support librarians as researchers and to promote evidence based library and information practice (EBLIP). Vicki unflaggingly shepherded the Centre application through University channels culminating in the University Council voting in the affirmative for the creation of C-EBLIP in December 2012. From its grand opening in July 2013 until the present, C-EBLIP has been a concrete feature in the University Library and has supported librarians through grant proposals, tenure and promotion, academic writing, conducting research, the dissemination of research, and many more activities. Were it not for Vicki’s support and dedication, C-EBLIP would not exist.

There are so many more things to highlight about Vicki’s superlative career but it would take more than a blog post to do so. I will end by saying that I miss Vicki’s active presence in the Library and in librarianship. She has been a role model, an inspiration, and a strong leader for many of the librarians she has met. Canadian librarianship is better for Vicki’s time in our country (and now her country, as she obtained Canadian citizenship during her residence here). I wish her all the best in the future and hope that you might do the same in the comments below. Happy Retirement, Vicki!

l-r Dr. Vicki Williamson and author

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.

In The End, It All Starts With Really Good Questions!

by Angie Gerrard, Student Learning Services, University of Saskatchewan

While attending an experiential learning showcase on my campus a few weeks ago, I was struck by a common theme mentioned by several faculty presenters. Faculty who work with students undertaking original research projects noted that a common challenge for students was identifying a research question. A particular faculty member surveyed her students on their experiences with the course research project and students reported that articulating a research question was the most difficult part of the entire research project. An interesting side note is that students reported that analyzing their data was the most valuable part of the process.

The challenge of formulating research questions piqued my interest as a librarian as we are often on the front lines assisting students with the evolution of their topic as the research process unfolds. We often help students navigate the iterative processes of exploring a topic, brainstorming potential avenues of research, asking different questions, undertaking initial searches in the literature, narrowing the scope of a question or alternatively broadening the scope, all the while tweaking the research question and trying to avoid the dreaded ‘maybe I should just switch my topic’.  I often wonder if there is an understanding of the time commitment and perseverance required for these initial, complex processes in the research cycle.  Clearly, students are struggling with this, as shown above; this challenge was echoed in Project Information Literacy’s findings where they asked students what was most difficult about research; 84% reported that getting started was the most challenging (Project Information Literacy, n.d.).

We know that students struggle with these initial stages of the research process, so what can librarians and faculty do to help students get past the hurdle of formulating good research questions? Here are a few suggestions.

Be explicit about the process. Research is iterative, messy, and time-consuming and often students who are new to academic research may arrive with a more linear mental model of the research process. To illustrate that research is a process, it is powerful to show students how to take broad course-related research topics, break them down into potential research questions, discuss how the questions evolve once one gets a taste of the literature and how further refinement of the question takes place as the process continues. By being explicit about the process, students have a better understanding that the broad topic they start with often evolves into something much more meaningful, unexpected, or interesting.

Encourage curiosity in the research process. At the campus event I alluded to, when I asked faculty how they dealt with students’ struggles with identifying research questions, they all reported the importance of students picking something that interests them, something they are curious about.  Anne-Marie Deitering and Hannah Gascho Rempel (2017), librarians at Oregon State University, recognized the overwhelming lack of curiosity expressed by students in their study, when these students were asked to reflect on their own research process. In response, the authors recommend “that as instruction librarians we needed to enter the process earlier, at the topic selection stage, and that we needed to think more intentionally about how to create an environment that encourages curiosity” (pg 3). In their awesome paper, the authors discuss different strategies they used with first-year students to encourage curiosity-driven research.

Start with a juicy source or artifact! Chat with faculty and ask them to recommend a subject-specific editorial, news article, blog posting, etc. that is controversial and/or thought provoking.  These sources can be old or new; the point is that students start with intriguing sources, not a pre-determined list of research topics. Students examine the sources then begin to develop various lines of inquiry, which evolve into research questions.

Use the Question Formulation Technique (QFT). Although this technique was developed for the K-12 environment, the approach can be adapted to higher education and beyond.  The QFT has six steps, as summarized in the Harvard Education Letter:

  • Step 1: Teachers Design a Question Focus. This question focus is a prompt in any form (visual, print, oral) that is meant to pique students’ interests and stimulate various questions.
  • Step 2: Students Produce Questions. Students note questions following a set of four rules: ask as many questions as you can; do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer any of the questions; write down every question exactly as it was stated; and change any statements into questions.
  • Step 3: Students Improve Their Questions. Students identify their questions are either open- or closed-ended and flip the questions into the alternative form.
  • Step 4: Students Prioritize Their Questions. With the assistance of the teacher, students sort and identify their top questions. Students move from divergent thinking (brainstorming) to convergent thinking (categorizing and prioritizing).
  • Step 5: Students and Teachers Decide on Next Steps. This stage is context specific where students and teachers discuss how they are going to use the identified questions.
  • Step 6: Students Reflect on What They Have Learned. This final step allows for students to develop their metacognitive / reflective thinking (Rothstein & Santana, 2011).

Rothstein and Santana (2011) note that “(w)hen students know how to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own. However, this skill is rarely, if ever, deliberately taught to students from kindergarten through high school. Typically, questions are seen as the province of teachers, who spend years figuring out how to craft questions and fine-tune them to stimulate students’ curiosity or engage them more effectively. We have found that teaching students to ask their own questions can accomplish these same goals while teaching a critical lifelong skill” (para. 3).

We know that formulating research questions can be a challenge for students. Being honest, explicit and transparent about this process may help students in tackling this challenge. I think we could all agree that encouraging curiosity in research and asking meaningful questions is not something that is confined to academia but rather are characteristics seen in lifelong learners.

In the end, it all starts with really good questions!


Deitering, A.-M., & Rempel, H. G. (2017, February 22). Sparking curiosity – librarians’ role in encouraging exploration. In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Retrieved from

Project Information Literacy. (n.d.). Project Information Literacy: A national study about college students’ research habits [Infographic].  Retrieved from

Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2011). Teaching students to ask their own questions. Harvard Education Letter, 27(5). Retrieved from

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.

5 Reasons You Should Attend EBLIP9

by Stacy Stanislaw, Drexel University

EBLIP9 is only a month away, and we’re working hard to finalize the last-minute details to ensure this year’s conference is the best ever. If you’re still not sure if this conference is right for you, then check out these 5 reasons why we’re excited for the meeting:

  1. Innovative and instructive workshops, programs and sessions. Is evidence-based practice important to you? Do you want to learn more about applying evidence-based concepts to clinical care, your research, or your own library or other organization? This year’s conference features more than 40 concurrent sessions, pre-conference workshops and other programming events that are all things evidence-based! Check out the full program and descriptions online to see for yourself.
  1. Networking opportunities. One of my favorite parts of attending conferences is the opportunity to meet new people and see old friends, and we know many of you feel the same way. So we’ve built lots of time for informal conversations throughout the conference. Grab a coffee and chat between sessions or tour the Free Library of Philadelphia with other conference goers during the opening night reception. Registration also includes access to the conference dinner at the Crystal Tea Room, one of Philly’s famous event spaces.
  1. Inspiring key note speakers. The 2017 keynote speakers hail from all different backgrounds. Opening keynote speaker Dr. Alison Brettle, a professor in Health Information and Evidence Based Practice at the University of Salford in the UK will kick off the conference, and Drexel’s own Yi Deng, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Informatics & Computing will speak on Tuesday morning. The conference ends with a talk from Pam Ryan, the Director for Service Development & Innovation at Toronto Public Library, on Wednesday.
  1. Poster Madness! What’s a conference without poster sessions? EBLIP9 will have a collection of amazing poster presentations on everything from using assessment to develop a plan for renovating library spaces to discussions on the value of consortia for an ARL library. And of course, we’ll continue the Poster Madness tradition, where presenters have one minute to find unique and interesting ways to promote their posters before the sessions begin.
  1. With Love, Philadelphia xoxo. Philly is an amazing city rich with history, museums, restaurants, shops and more. In between sessions and during your free time, visit the Liberty Bell or check out the renowned Philadelphia Museum of Art (don’t forget to have your photo taken with the Rocky statue, and then take a quick job up the museum steps!). You can also tour Drexel’s campus or visit our neighbor, the University of Pennsylvania, and then head down to the Rosenbach Museum & Library. We’ve got even more suggestions and tourism information on the conference page, and we’re happy to answer questions or help you book arrangements and tours if interested!

Those are just a few reasons to attend the 2017 Evidence-Based Library & Information Practice conference this June. Check out the conference website – – for more details on this year’s program, events and networking opportunities. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for immediate updates on the conference.

And finally, registration is open through May 31! You can register online for the full conference, a one-day pass, or for a pre-conference workshop. Sign up now to ensure your spot at the meeting.

We hope to see you here in Philadelphia!

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.

Surviving Conference Season

This week we are going back into the Brain-work archives to revisit tips on surviving and thriving during conference season. Happy spring everyone – let us know in the comments which conferences you are planning to attend this year and what your plans are to maximize your time and resources.

by Carolyn Doi
Education and Music Library, University of Saskatchewan
*originally posted May 3, 2016

It’s that time of year again: conference season. It seems like myself and all of my library colleagues are out there right now, presenting, networking, and gathering ideas to bring back to the workplace. That being said, not every conference experience is a positive one. Here are some of my tips and tricks for making it through your next conference like a pro!

1) Plan for success. Preview the conference schedule beforehand and prioritize the things you absolutely need to attend (committee meetings, chapter sessions, your own presentation (!), etc.) and then the ones you’d really like to see. Pick your scheduling method of choice. A colleague of mine prefers to highlight the heck out of the print schedule, while I’ve found that taking advantage of the conference apps such as Guidebook can be really handy.

Don’t forget to give yourself time to see some of the local sights as well! If there’s an afternoon you can get away from the conference or – even better – if you can book an extra day or two on either end of the conference, you’ll be happy you did. It can be really frustrating to travel across the country to only see the inside of a convention centre. Plus, exploring the city with your fellow conference attendees is a great networking activity.

2) Surf the backchannel. Find the conference hashtag and tap into real-time Twitter/Facebook/Instagram conversations to find out what folks are saying about everything from the conference sessions, venue, and the best place to grab a quick bite to eat. It can be a great way to feel engaged and connected. Just remember, if you’ve got something negative to say on Twitter, be sure you’re ready to have the same conversation in person at the coffee break.

When I’m presenting, I find Twitter provides a quick and easy way to see how my presentation went over with the audience and gives me an opportunity to answer questions or send out links following the allotted presentation time. It’s always good to include the presenter in the conversation as well with an @ mention and use the conference hashtag, so those following from afar can also tap into what’s going on. There’s a lot to consider about the merits, drawbacks, and etiquette of conference tweeting. Check out Ryan Cordell’s article and suggested tweeting principles for more ideas.

3) Making networking meaningful. Small talk can be intimidating, but it’s certainly not impossible. Fallon Bleich’s article Small Talk at Conferences: How to Survive It offers some good tips.

As much as it can be tempting to talk to the people you already know, try to also work in some conversations with people you’ve never met, or someone you’ve always wanted to chat with. When in doubt, ask them what they’re working on at the moment. You might learn something new or even find someone new to collaborate with! I’ve had some great collaborative research projects come out of a simple conversation at a conference reception.

4) Presenting like a Pro. So much has already been written about how to give a good presentation. But as a rule of thumb, whether you’re using PowerPoint, Prezi, Google Slides, or Reveal, make sure your presentation slides aren’t more interesting than you are as a speaker. Selinda Berg discussed this in a previous C-EBLIP blog post where she argued for “PowerPoint as a companion…not as a standalone document to be read.” I couldn’t agree more. At the end of the day, you don’t want to be outdone by your own conference slides!

5) Mindful reflection. Take time before the conference to set an intention for your experience there. Is there a particular problem you want to solve, certain people you need to have a face-to-face conversation with or vendors that you need to approach? Conferences can go by quickly. Make sure you’ve identified your goals in advance so they become a priority while you’re there. I like to use a free note taking system such as Evernote to write everything down. Once I get home, I reread my notes and reflect on my experience. How can I apply what I learned in my own practice or research? Who do I need to follow up with?

Everyone has their own approach to traveling, presenting, and networking at professional events. These are some of the things that have worked for me and helped to make the whole experience more beneficial and enjoyable overall. Whatever your approach, I encourage you to sit back and enjoy the ride. Happy conference season, everyone!

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.