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.” https://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2017/01/17/lit-review-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. https://www.psych.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/our-research/research-groups/thematic-analysis/about-thematic-analysis.html
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.

Together at the Seams: Tim Sherratt and metaphors of access, C-EBLIP Journal Club May 11, 2017

By Craig Harkema
University Archives and Special Collections, University of Saskatchewan

Sherratt, T. (2017). Seams and edges: Dreams of aggregation, access & discovery in a broken world. [online] discontents. Available at: http://discontents.com.au/seams-and-edges-dreams-of-aggregation-access-discovery-in-a-broken-world/

As a librarian who has focused on digital initiatives over the course of the past 8 years or so, I’ve followed with great interest the many projects and programs that have emerged out of Australia during this time. I find myself regularly checking in on some of the incredible hackers, artists, culture curators, and innovators from Oz.  Their names – Tim Sherratt  (formerly at the Trove, currently at the University of Canberra), Sarah Kenderdine (University of New South Wales), Paula Bray (DX Lab, New South Wales), Mitchell Whitelaw (Australian National University) and Seb Chan (Australian Centre for the Moving Image), among others – continue to pop out of my mouth when discussing digital cultural collections with my colleagues.  So when asked to select and lead a discussion about an article of my choice for the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP) journal club, I knew I’d likely pick something from one of the above.

As it happens, three years ago I was lucky enough to be in Canberra and stop in to visit the good folks at the Trove.  Near the end of my time there, I had the chance to talk with Sherratt, standing out just a touch in his casual attire, wearing red Converse Chuck Taylors. Mostly we chatted about these sorts of initiatives as platforms for developing tools and about the possibilities for use and reuse of digital content found in places like the Trove, Europeana, DPLA, and, on a much smaller scale, Sask History Online (the project I was leading at the time). Later that week he presented a talk called “Seams and Edges: Dreams of Aggregation, Access, and Discovery in a Broken World” at the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) Conference.  I’ll get back to it in a bit, but I feel this particular talk/blog post is as good a place as any to begin learning what Sherratt’s work is about. I think the Trove itself is a great example of how these large initiatives can support a wide range of research and public interest objectives; objectives we as library people should be most interested in.

Although he has now moved on from the Trove, Sherratt’s influence on the program will undoubtedly be long lasting. As much as anything, he has advanced the concept of the Trove as a platform for building tools and collections through the API. Trove is much more than a search engine that delivers results instantaneously. I’m hopeful this will continue in his absence and in the wake of massive budget cuts from the Australian government. Not surprisingly then, part of the Trove’s mandate is to develop a systems infrastructure and community that encourages and enables folks to reuse content. For Sherratt, the Trove has been just that, a store of valuable, quirky, surprising, and baffling materials that can be pulled apart and woven back together. It’s clear that he has developed a multifaceted and multilevel scholarly practice over the past several years, one that follows from a concerted effort to take a different tack from many of his peers:

A scholarly practice that has room for the angry and the weird alongside the rigorous and detached. That sees in digital technologies not just the chance to crunch huge quantities of data, but the opportunity to tinker with our preconceptions, to be playful and political, to explore emotions as well as evidence, to create bots as well as books ( “#Borderfarce…”, September 2015).

He has long been illustrating how this can be done and, often using the Trove’s API, has developed several new approaches to exploring and interacting with the content.

One example of this is his Eyes on the Past project, an experimental interface built in a weekend – the quick agile development worth noting – using facial recognition software. Like his Faces project, it is meant to reinforce to users that history is made up of stories about real people. The interface allows users to navigate the collections by scanning the faces and/or eyes of the individuals who are featured in the textual content. As he says in “Seams and Edges”:

By focusing on the stylish minimalism of the search box, we discard opportunities for traversing relationships, for fostering serendipity, for seeing the big picture. By creating experimental interfaces, by playing around with our expectations, we can start to think differently — to develop new metaphors for our online experience that are not framed around technological conquest.

The ability to work with content in these ways enables Sherratt and others to develop news ways of engaging with culture and history. Which brings me around to one of the reasons Sherratt’s work is so interesting to me and, as it turns out, to the folks who showed up at the C-EBLIP journal club.  I think as 21st-century librarians and archivists we should consider more carefully the metaphors and jargon used by purveyors of systems and content providers, and indeed those used by ourselves.  As the title of the article suggests, Sherratt hones in on problems associated with the terms “seamlessness” and/or “seamless discovery” – metaphors matter. Pursuing “seamless discovery” in the wake of Google means engaging with questions of politics and power.” So what does it mean, for example, when Ex Libris promotes Primo (their discovery layer) as providing “users with a consistent discovery across devices, quick access to frequent actions, and seamless patron services – all from a single, intuitive web interface.”  More importantly, what are we giving up and what do our users need to know when using a system that promises seamlessness and quick access? As Sherratt suggests, “seams are not simply obstacles to a smooth user experience, they’re reminders that our online services are themselves constructed. There’s nothing natural or inevitable about a list of search results.” Do we consider this every time we perform a search? Do those we help work with these systems? And what role do we play in revealing seams and edges? Or in the development of systems, tools, and approaches that help us become aware of and engage with them?

I’m not sure Sherratt’s work is explicitly a call to action, but for me, his hacker ethos combined with critical approaches to historical research challenge me to consider the standard ways we do our work. The profession would be well served by challenging the status quo more often and by developing our own creative solutions to our own complex problems. By making room for the angry and weird, tinkering with our preconceptions, and developing new metaphors, we have the opportunity to make important changes to the way people interact with the information we help provide and preserve.

 


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.

Reframing Instruction: Get Messy

By Tasha Maddison
Librarian, Saskatchewan Polytechnic

As an instructor, I endeavour to incorporate active learning techniques and rely on the constructivist theory for my pedagogy; yet inevitably I find myself devoting the first 5-10 minutes of any class period to live demonstrations. Before class, I spend a significant amount of time carefully developing search strategies. These perfect search strings are then used to illustrate how databases work or the features and benefits of a particular tool.  I am careful to include points from the students’ upcoming class assignment, along with the advanced search techniques that I feel are appropriate for their level.  Developing and trialing these searches provides me an opportunity to prep as I develop knowledge of my subject area and discover how the tools for that discipline work. Yet this seamless, rehearsed demonstration of search tools fails to acknowledge to students that library research is an interactive process, one that involves many stops and starts, and which may result in unsuccessful searches.  Sure, I always throw in a joke about librarians being magicians, but is this enough?

I recently came across a powerful article that has challenged the way that I think about information literacy instruction and, in particular, demonstration vs. the development of critical thinking skills.  The article suggests that instead of performing a perfectly crafted search, librarians should demonstrate the “messy process of research as exploration” which reveals to the student “some of the key dispositions required of novice (and experienced) researchers: resilience, curiosity, and persistence” (p. 4).  This idea is based upon the new ACRL Framework which reinforces the principles of lifelong learning and reiterates that successful information literacy instruction cannot be accomplished in a single transaction with students.  Burgess’ ‘messy research process’ and the Framework tie together well, but what happens when librarians only have one opportunity to work with a class and feel pressured to ‘cover it all’?

Recently, I had an opportunity to test out this process of exploration.  I had a structured lesson plan with a search example in mind, but I let my students decide what we were going to search for and how we were going to conduct the search.  Together we built a search string with multiple concepts and a variety of potential synonyms.  We decided on a database and which limiters we would apply.  The result: success through failure?  We found nothing.  This failure provided me with a great opportunity to discuss the research process, as well as the necessity of tweaking ideas and concepts to ensure that search results are meaningful and relevant.  I even mentioned Burgess’ theory.  One of my students piped up, “nice save”—and indeed it was!  More, it helped me to communicate that everyone—even advanced searchers—need to process information and adjust our methodology to accomplish a successful search.

When discussing the Framework, Burgess (2015) encourages librarians to “evolv[e] instruction from a point-and-click database demo style to an engaged and interactive IL discussion with students. The instructor occupies the role of coach, animator, or advisor leading the discussion, while encouraging students to become active agents in their own learning” (p, 2).  Librarians can integrate the principles of the Framework into their teaching by fostering open dialogue within their classrooms.  We can create safe environments that allow for questions but also nurture peer learning.  One great example that comes to mind is when a student presents a challenging question to the class.  The instructor can respond with, “that is an interesting situation, has anyone else come across that?” and “how did you resolve that issue?”  Rather than inspiring panic in the library instructor, such questions can instead offer rich opportunities for experiential learning experiences!

Reference

Burgess, C. (2015). Teaching students, not standards: The new ACRL information literacy framework and threshold crossings for instructors. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 10(1), 1-6.  doi:10.21083/partnership.v10i1.3440


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.

Grey areas in research

by Christine Neilson, Knowledge Synthesis Librarian
Neil John Maclean Health Sciences Library
Centre for Healthcare Innovation
University of Manitoba

Through the course of my day-to-day duties, I came across an interesting article by Adams et al. about searching for “grey information” for the purposes of evidence synthesis in public health. For anyone who is unfamiliar with evidence synthesis, evidence synthesis is much more than a literature review. It involves identifying and tracking down all relevant evidence, evaluating it, extracting data, contacting authors to request additional data that is not included in a published article (where applicable), and using that larger pool of data to answer the question at hand. A thorough evidence synthesis includes grey literature – literature that is published by an entity that’s main business is something other than publishing – in an attempt to reduce bias. There can be some seriously heavy statistical analysis involved, and the entire process is a heck of a pile of work. Adams et al. took the idea of grey literature, extended it to other information that is difficult to get hold of, and provided a critical reflection of three separate projects where they relied heavily on “grey information”. When I read their article, I was struck by two things.

First, Adams and colleagues were interested in public health programs that came out of practice, rather than formal research. As they point out, “Interventions and evaluations that were primarily conducted as part of, or to inform, practice may be particularly unlikely to be described in peer-reviewed publications or even formally documented in reports available to others in electronic or hard copy. Information on these activities may, instead, be stored in more private or informal spaces such as meeting notes, emails, or even just in people’s memories.” To me, this statement applies as much to librarianship as it does to public health. I can’t imagine how many awesome library programs and practices we could learn from, except for the fact that few of us have heard about them.

The second thing that struck me as I read this article was that even though the authors conceded that their work was “verging” on primary research, they considered these projects to be evidence syntheses instead. But evidence synthesis relies on published information. Rather than ask for additional information to clarify the data they collected from a published source, the authors gathered new information by interviewing key informants, so to me, they were conducting primary research: full stop. The authors seemed to know what an evidence synthesis actually entails – not everyone can say the same – so I wonder: the work they did was a legitimate form of research so why would they label it as evidence synthesis? Are the lines between different forms of research really that blurry? Were they trying to avoid going through the REB process? Or were they concerned their work wouldn’t have the status associated with an evidence synthesis and so they named it to their liking?

I think that sometimes we don’t realize that library research has a lot in common with research in other fields. Like the field of public health, there is so much useful information about our practice that is not widely available or findable. I think we also have our go-to research methods, and opinions about what kinds of publications count… and what don’t. The “how we done it good” articles that simply describe a program or activity have gotten a bit of a bad rap in recent memory. I do agree with those who say that we need more rigorous, research-oriented library publications in general. But simply sharing what was done informs us of what is going on in library practice in a discoverable way. Perhaps we should not be so quick to discourage it.

References

Adams J et al. Searching and synthesising ‘grey literature’ and ‘grey information’ in public health: critical reflections on three case studies. Systematic Reviews. 2016;5(1):164.
Available online at: https://systematicreviewsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13643-016-0337-y


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.

An Uneasy Cult(ure) of Stress in Academic Libraries

by Lise Doucette
Assistant Librarian, University of Western Ontario

Academic librarians’ stress levels are not unusual when compared to other types of workers employed in social services, healthcare, and information settings (Shupe et al., 2015) – but that doesn’t mean we should accept this status quo.  Shupe and her colleagues found that academic librarians’ stress is often due to ambiguity and overload in our roles.  How do these factors also affect our research practices and research productivity?

Hoffmann et al. (2014) performed a content analysis of 42 papers on research productivity, and found that one of the most prevalent factors was “time.”  In discussions at my university, librarians and archivists also identified “lack of time” as a barrier to research productivity.  I’ve heard myself and colleagues talk about cancelling pre-planned research time for professional practice work, to deal with never-ending emails, and to get started on new work we’ve volunteered for.

There are many ideas in popular science and psychology literature about solving these problems of uncertainty and overload.  At the root of some solutions is managing the uncertainty, and at the root of other solutions is accepting that uncertainty.

  • Time management systems and project management software abound, promising to make you productive and happy. The title of a recent blog post – The Perfect System – made my heart leap.  Finally!  The true solution!  Alas, the actual post pokes fun at my (and others’) quest for this ultimate system, and the uncertainty and fear that drives us to seek it out.  The answer, says the author, is acknowledging, becoming comfortable with, and even embracing the discomfort of uncertainty, while pushing yourself to do hard and important work.
  • Many time management systems are based on negative descriptions of time, like scarcity of time and time famine. There are also interesting physical descriptions of time – visualising time or talking about the volume of busyness or work, as if it’s a heavy, physical burden.  Other approaches to managing time and work use more expansive words like acceptance and mindfulness, and suggest building slack or a buffer in your schedule (see blog posts Why I’m Eliminating the Word ‘Busy’ From My Vocabulary or Why You Can’t Stop Being Busy Even If You Want To).
  • One approach recommended by Cal Newport, professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University and author of Deep Work, is blocking time for doing important thinking work (like research and writing) and developing the ability to concentrate without distraction. His book and blog talk about ways to achieve this.  A similar approach is identified in the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown – identifying the things that are essential and where you can contribute the most, and eliminating the rest (i.e., doing fewer things but doing them better).

We have the right and the responsibility to be deliberate and selective about our work, within the bounds of how workload is set at our institutions.  When reading Ryan and Koufogiannakis’ (2007) viewpoint ‘Librarianship and the Culture of Busy,’ I laughed out loud when I came to their tongue-in-cheek use of the term ‘busy excellence.’  They and others also identify the problems with busyness as a performance – whether to supervisors, colleagues, or oneself.  If we associate busyness and stress with productivity and recognition, we neglect to address the real physical and mental impacts of stress on individuals and groups, and we neglect to make and take time for the important and time-consuming (but not always urgent) parts of our roles, like research.


Books and articles:

Hoffmann, Kristin, Selinda Adelle Berg, and Denise Koufogiannakis.  (2014). Examining success: identifying factors that contribute to research productivity across librarianship and other disciplines.  Library and Information Research, 38(119), 13-28.  http://www.lirgjournal.org.uk/lir/ojs/index.php/lir/article/view/639

McKeown, Greg.  Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.  New York: Crown Business, 2014.

Newport, Cal.  Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.  New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016.

Ryan, Pam, and Denise Koufogiannakis.  (2007.) Librarianship and the Culture of Busy. Partnership, 2(1).  https://journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/perj/article/view/149/371#.WSxz_mgrKUk

Shupe, Ellen I., Stephanie K. Wambaugh, and Reed J. Bramble.  (2015). Role-related Stress Experienced by Academic Librarians.  The Journal of Academic Librarianship 41, 264-269.  doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2015.03.016


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.

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!

References

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 http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2017/sparking-curiosity/

Project Information Literacy. (n.d.). Project Information Literacy: A national study about college students’ research habits [Infographic].  Retrieved from http://www.projectinfolit.org/uploads/2/7/5/4/27541717/pilresearchiglarge.png

Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2011). Teaching students to ask their own questions. Harvard Education Letter, 27(5). Retrieved from http://hepg.org/hel-home/issues/27_5/helarticle/teaching-students-to-ask-their-own-questions_507#home


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.

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.