(Small) public libraries do research too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Building a positive culture around practitioner research, one symposium at a time

by Christine Neilson
Neil John MacLean Health Sciences Library
Centre for Healthcare Innovation
University of Manitoba

This fall I attended my first C-EBLIP symposium, and it was fantastic. The day was filled with interesting presentations; I had a chance to see old colleagues and meet new people who share an interest in library research; and they gave me bacon for breakfast, which is always a win as far as I’m concerned. Two recurring themes during the day were 1) leading by example, and 2) the personal aspects of doing research (such as dealing with research projects that go off the rails, professional vulnerability, and the dreaded “imposter syndrome”). Both of these themes are important. The first as a call to action. The second as an acknowledgement that research isn’t necessarily easy, but none of us are truly alone and there are things we can do to cope.

Acknowledging and exploring the personal issues that come with conducting research is not something that we tend to talk about. I might tell a trusted colleague that sometimes I’m afraid others will see me as the researcher equivalent of the Allstate DIY-er – all of the enthusiasm and optimism, but none of the skill or ability – but generally, we limit our “official” professional discussion to less sensitive topics. Maybe that’s because we don’t want to admit that there might be any issues. Or maybe it’s because there’s a risk the discussion could degenerate into a pity-party that doesn’t move anyone or anything forward. Either way, I think that this is a topic area that needs to be explored in a constructive way.

The C-EBLIP Symposium was a venue that genuinely felt safe to talk about research and the experience of doing research, and I’m thankful I was able to attend. I’m particularly happy that this year’s presenters will have an opportunity to publish about their presentations in an upcoming issue of Evidence Based Library and Information Practice journal. It’s a great opportunity for presenters to share their research, ideas, and experiences with a wider audience, and it will help ensure that content from the day doesn’t disappear into the ether. Building a culture with certain desired qualities is extremely difficult. I’m encouraged that C-EBLIP is building a positive, supportive culture of practitioner research in librarianship and I hope the momentum continues!

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.

Reflections on Research

by Margy MacMillan
Mount Royal University Library

With apologies to Shakespeare: Some are born to research, some achieve research, and others have research thrust upon them . . . and it sometimes feel as though all three are true, often all at once. Whether research is something you have to do, love to do, or just plain do as a part of solving problems, reflecting on what aspects of the tasks YOU find most appealing might reveal some useful patterns.

How do I know this? I did the research! With me as a subject. Yes, it was as uncomfortable as it sounds, at least at first. Then it was… fun, and ultimately very helpful.
When I said I could talk about the What and the Why of research at the C-EBLIP Fall Symposium, I thought it would be easy. What could be simpler than expounding on the motivations for research and the questions that might arise? Teaching an elephant needlepoint. Does the Why lead to the What or vice versa – or do What and Why, the question to be investigated and the reason for the investigation have to occur at the same time? I started thinking in moebius loops where the What and Why become one another simultaneously.

Moebius photo

I searched for answers within. Why had I done research? Were there patterns in the questions? This research required a sunny day, a comfortable chair, and a beverage and was repeated until saturation was achieved. To keep track of reflections I developed a chart.


In filling out my chart, I realized I had NEVER looked at the whole pattern of my research experience. (Have you?) Using mixed methods, noting frequencies, and identifying themes emerging from the discourse, I was quite relieved to find there were patterns, although not always the patterns I thought I’d find. I also discovered connections between what I had thought were a series of random acts of research, and a path that led naturally to where I am now, at the intersection of EBLIP and SoTL – more about that in another post.


It turns out, getting angry with the literature, borrowing from or intruding upon other disciplines and having a practical outcome have consistently been important to me. Some ‘ideal research conditions’ have changed over time – collaboration was not a key factor at the beginning of my library work but has become something I now seek out. As Dr. Vicki Williamson noted about library staffing in her presentation, research sometimes requires Buying, Building, Borrowing, Balancing and Blending.

In subsequent reflection on this reflection, my conditions for memorable research were not strict either/or conditions but points on continua. It’s not that I don’t like theory, it’s just that while I appreciate those who do, I’m drawn more to applied projects. This kind of realization means that while I may not always be able to control the What or the Why, by paying attention to the How, I can work toward more memorable, even enjoyable research experiences.

A comment in the session by Jo Ann Murphy at USask sparked yet more reflection. She talked about research we do on a regular basis – the kind of research that ends when the problem is solved, and not when the presentation is over. This ‘unsung’ research also requires refining questions, developing methods and analyzing results, we just don’t write about it much, and we should. It’s something we need to MAKE time for (thanks Denise Koufogiannakis!) individually so we can spend less time collectively answering the same questions.

On a final note, what a treat to be on the beautiful UofS campus in a room full of engaged, fascinating library folk, listening to an amazing range of presentations. I’m still processing what I heard, and hoping to network with more than a few of you for ideas/ tips/ tools and theories for my next projects.

The presentation is here. I invite you to chart your profile and comment on the common factors in YOUR memorable research experiences below. Hmmm, sounds like an interesting study…

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.