Research Groups and the Gift of Spaciousness

by Marjorie Mitchell
Research Librarian, UBC Okanagan Library

As I write this, it is early August. The days are long and hot, and a haze of smoke from wildfires tints the air. It’s a time of year I always find spacious. I have spent much of my life guided by the rhythms of the school/academic year and summer is that glorious time-out from regular duties and a period less scripted than most of the rest of the year. It is the time of the year for “projects” and “research” and “planning” and, my favorite, “reflection.” Traditionally, in the next few days, I would move from this feeling of spaciousness to one of increasing claustrophobia and borderline panic. Oh, it always started off as a mild discomfort. Niggling thoughts of “I should get this done before September” shifted to “I better get this data analysis done” to “OMG, I haven’t done nearly as much as I planned to do and now all my deadlines are getting pushed forward and now I have to plan for the classes I have to teach….” and so on into full panic mode.

This year is different. It’s not perfect, and yes, I still have a few “To Do” lists floating around, but I can see a big difference. This year I have seen evidence of increased research productivity and reduced stress that really are the advantages of sincere, concerted teamwork, specifically a research team.

I have been actively participating in research investigating the research data management needs of faculty from all across Canada and specifically from my institution, the University of British Columbia. I was not the initiator (a big thank you to Eugene Barsky who did initiate these studies at UBC), nor do I do the bulk of any of the work that goes into this research, and that’s the beauty of these research teams – sharing the work really does make it seem more manageable.

The larger team is a group of Canadian librarians, the Canadian RDM Survey Consortium, who saw a situation developing (research data management plans being made mandatory by multiple international granting bodies) and who decided to pro-actively prepare in the strong likelihood that Canadian granting bodies would follow suit. In order to effectively prepare, we needed to understand the research data management needs of our researchers across the disciplines. In other words, we needed to conduct original research about the actual practices and needs of researchers. We sought answers to questions as general as how many research projects did the respondent lead in the past year to specific questions about how much data a respondent’s research generated and where the respondent stored it, etc. We didn’t research all the disciplines at once. Instead, we started first with engineering and natural sciences, followed by the social sciences and humanities in the second round, then concluded with the health and allied sciences. This has taken over two years to complete.

The smaller team is a shifting group of librarians at UBC who have all participated in this research as we have worked our way through the disciplines. These research surveys and their results all form the basis of the national research, but were able to provide significant insight into our local research landscape. If you have questions about what researchers are doing with respect to research data management, we have discovered some of the answers.

The spirit of collaboration, goodwill, and support that members of these groups exhibit every time we meet (virtually) is inspiring. We discuss the tasks that need to be done for research, from the ethics applications, to analyzing the data, to writing the paper or poster, to colour schemes for graphics, etc. As we decide on the tasks, we also volunteer for them. One of the biggest advantages of such groups is the depth and breadth of skill within the group. Each of us aspires to creating the best paper or poster possible and each of us contributes something of value.

The other benefit of these collaborations has been the scheduling of the research, analysis, and writing. When working with a group, I don’t always get to set the timeframes for when the work needs to get completed, and that is not a bad thing. Yes, there can be some long days or extra work on a weekend as I race to meet a deadline I agreed to, but, ultimately, not letting the members of this group down is strong motivation for me. I appreciate that all the members of the group are also putting in the time, one way or another. The scheduling is often driven by conference or journal proposal deadlines, and those all happen in the winter and spring, and not so much over the summer. And so, this year, RDM research is not on my list of things yet to do before September. They really were right at the Librarian’s Research Institute when they suggested not being a solo researcher.

If your research practice is stalled, or hitting some speed bumps, or just not going the way you envisioned it, think about creating or joining a team/group/consortium. The benefits outweigh the costs significantly. And you might have some fun – I know I do.

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.

Information Literacy: Stronger, Together

by Angie Gerrard
Murray Library, University of Saskatchewan

I heart information literacy! I am lucky that information literacy is intertwined with my professional practice and research interests. Most recently a team of us developed a framework for information literacy instruction for undergraduate students here at the University of Saskatchewan. A milestone of this project was a presentation to the university’s teaching and learning committee of council where our work was graciously embraced by fellow colleagues who also share a passion for teaching and learning. An unexpected perk of this presentation was meeting a colleague, who is an instructional designer outside of the library, who was interested in digital literacy.

Digital literacy was something that I did not have much experience with, or at least I didn’t think I did. I wondered how digital literacy was related to other literacies. My brain had been in overdrive trying to keep up with the new and improved concept of information literacy (thanks to the new ACRL Framework) so I questioned whether there was room in my heart and head for yet another literacy. Turns-out …. yes, yes there was!

My backstory: I knew that information literacy was alive and well outside the walls of the library (yay) but to be honest, I really had no idea of the scope. So, a focus of my research has been to try and uncover faculty perceptions and practices of information literacy. What I have learned thus far is that yes faculty value information literacy but not necessarily by that name and not necessarily delivered by librarians. Interesting stuff, right!? My point is that maybe we as librarians need not worry so much about what we call information literacy and who is teaching it but instead, focus our energies on collaborating with those who share our same overarching goals, i.e. improved student success, critical thinking skills, lifelong learning, etc.

Which leads me back to digital literacy. When I first started this collaboration I admit that I was trying hard to figure-out the perfect match and alignment between information literacy and digital literacy. Was there a hierarchy? Was one a subset of the other? What came first, the chicken or the egg? And yes, we were able to find many commonalities and overlaps of these concepts (ex: critical evaluation of information, understanding how information is produced, ethical use of information, etc.). But perhaps more importantly, through this somewhat unknown process, I’ve come to realization that we as librarians don’t always need to be waving the information literacy flag when we meet with colleagues outside the library. We don’t own information literacy nor we should we appropriate others’ conceptualizations of what we deem to be ‘information literacy’. The beauty of the recent reconceptualization of information literacy is that it opens the door to much wider conversations around information, research, teaching, and scholarship. And I welcome this!

To date, my collaborator and I have taught a few sessions on information literacy and digital literacy, mostly to faculty, and we are now looking into the future. We are also at the stage where we are trying to figure out what to call this beast (‘digital information literacy’ is a bit of a mouthful so I welcome any and all suggestions). The point is that we are working together, each from our own context, trying to come to a common understanding and a way forward. And really, isn’t that the exciting part?

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.

Considering collaborations

by Margy MacMillan
Mount Royal University Library

Most of my work in Library and Information Practice involves other people so it’s not surprising that working on building and using an evidence base for this work has brought me into close collaboration with people across the library, the campus, and global libraryland*. Reflecting on these experiences has illuminated some patterns and common factors in positive collaborations as well as some aspects that require attention at the beginning to ensure everyone stays friendly at the end.

One of the most important things is to align conceptions of realistic timelines, milestones and deadlines. In one group I worked with, this was evident even in small things – if we said we’d meet in the lobby at 7:30 to catch a shuttle to a conference, we were all there by 7:00. This congruence happened naturally among us, but is something that most groups I’ve been part of have had to work out. While the set dates of publications and presentations can be helpful motivators, developing a schedule that all collaborators are comfortable with should be part of the early planning stages.

Related to the question of time, is motivation. Understanding why your collaborators are interested in the project and how it fits into their lives can help determine feasible timelines. If one partner needs to analyse data as part of planning for a new service and another sees the potential of this analysis to inform wider work through publication, the partners will have to accept different commitment and energy levels for different parts of the project. In situations like these, colleagues and I have often taken the lead at different stages: gathering, initial analysis, submission and write-up. While we all contributed to these stages, leading different parts was an effective way to align aspects of the projects with our skills and motivations, and ensured that no one felt overburdened.

A crucial aspect in both of these collaboration was that we trusted each other to do the work. That trust was built on frank discussions of available time and competing priorities, acknowledgements of each others’ expertise, and shared understanding of tasks and expectations. Looking back those have been key factors in all of the successful collaborations I’ve been a part of.

Nancy Chick, Caitlin McClurg, and the author, collaborating on a cross-disciplinary project.

Nancy Chick, Caitlin McClurg, and the author, collaborating on a cross-disciplinary project.

Openness to others’ expertise is, of course, critical when you are working across disciplinary boundaries. Your partner may be more comfortable in a different research methodology, or simply a different citation style, and developing a shared language around the project is critical. Disciplines bring distinct terminologies and conventions around knowledge creation and dissemination (to see this in action, bring a table of mixed faculty together, open the discussion of author name order, and stand back). These differences affect the questions you ask, the evidence you value, the analysis you undertake and the audience(s) for the final product.Just as you would when coding data, nothing works quite so well as writing down decisions once you find  consensus.  It’s easy (and occasionally disastrous for a project) to make assumptions about shared understandings working with people in your own discipline, but I’ve found these groups can have just as divergent thinking as cross-disciplinary ones. The early communicaiton stage is often skipped on the assumption that as members of the ‘hive mind’ of librarianship we have common conceptions of  information literacy, or what term we should use for patron/user/client/ or how open does a publication need to be to count as OA?.

Much of this: negotiating meaning across disciplines, negotiating time zones and spelling conventions across borders and oceans, or negotiating variations in motivation regardless of other differences or similarities, is a matter of making the tacit explicit, of learning how to say what we mean, what we need, and what we can do clearly and without apology.

It turns out that this really is one of the great unsung benefits of collaboration. Working with others has taught me more about my professional self than any other activity. It has made me think about my values as a librarian, as a researcher, and as a teacher, and in articulating those values to others I have found a strengthened sense of purpose. Negotiating the meaning of information literacy, whether with library colleagues or with other faculty has given me a more nuanced personal definition, and helped me enact and communicate that definition in my teaching and scholarship. I have found that these meaning-making tasks have been far more productive and authentic when I have worked on them as a means to collaboration than when I have considered them as ends in themselves.

Try starting your next collaboration with the kind of conversation that engages participants in self-explanation, where tacit assumptions and definitions are brought into the light of others’ questions, probed for nuance, and made explicit. There is no guarantee this will lead to a trouble-free project of course, but according to the OED ‘explicit’ does derive from the classical Latin explicitus: free from difficulties… so it just might.

*A semi-mythical place where all information is well-organized, all colleagues are congenial and collegial, and timezones prove no barrier to productive conversations.

For a longer discussion of collaboration in research, I highly recommend the “Coda on Collaboration” chapter of Critical Reading in Higher Education: Academic Goals and Social Engagement by Karen Manarin, Miriam Carey, Melanie Rathburn, and Glen Ryland, 2015, Indiana University Press.

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.

Lessons Learned: A Book Editing Collaboration

by Maha Kumaran
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library, University of Saskatchewan
and
Tasha Maddison
Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Recently Maha and Tasha (M/T) had an opportunity to collaborate on a major research project – editing a book. The book is entitled Distributed Learning: Pedagogy and Technology in Online Information Literacy Instruction and is expected to be published in October 2016 by Chandos Information Professional Series, an imprint of Elsevier.

Editing a book is a massive, arduous, and time-consuming project that typically extends over a long period of time. As editors of this project, M/T originally initiated conversations with the publishers in October of 2014. The book proposal was accepted in January 2015 and the final manuscript was submitted in May 2016. The book is now in the safe custody of the publisher undergoing copy-editing and production.

Collaboration has its merits and learning moments. This post reflects on the merits of M/T’s collaboration and what they learned from working together.

There is lots to do:
• Initiating the project and connecting with various groups of people
These groups include your institutional ethics office, your fellow editor(s), and people at the publishing house. You need to finding reviewers for your initial book proposal, chapter authors, and peer reviewers. For this project there are 22 chapters and 44 contributors, so you can imagine how many emails were sent and responded to.
• Deadlines to deal with
Deadlines for abstracts and chapters from authors and feedback from peer reviewers on each chapter. Then you need to work with the publishing house until the final manuscript is submitted.
• Corresponding throughout the project
Corresponding about copyrighted material within chapters and contributor agreements with authors, negotiating the contract with the publisher, collaborating with your co-editor almost on a daily basis, sending acknowledgements to chapter authors on receiving their work, writing letters to the peer reviewers, sending their feedback to authors, and all the while remembering to keep confidential information in check, etc.

Merits of this Collaboration – Strengths of M/T Combined:
After submitting the final manuscript, M/T appreciated working together on this project. Neither one could have completed this task without the others’ help. Tasha’s expertise in communicating in a timely fashion with empathy (especially when a chapter had to be rejected), her ability to nudge others gently with reminders, and her positive attitude throughout the project is a huge skill set.

Maha’s prior experience with publishing, writing, and co-editing proved invaluable throughout the process especially when negotiating the contract with the publisher and anticipating critical next steps. Maha is also a good editor and Tasha looked to her for advice on many issues throughout the peer review process.

What did we learn?
• Find someone that complements your skills and hopefully shares your research interests – easier said than done!!
• Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! If you cannot answer an email immediately, acknowledge receipt and let them know you will respond soon. M/T communicated primarily through email, but also met in person, phoned each other, and sent text messages.
• Be prepared. Last minute issues will occur: an author might pull out too late, may decide not to submit the chapter, and may not accept your revision suggestions. Learn to remain nimble and adapt accordingly.
• Sometimes things will fall apart, something won’t meet your expectations, events won’t happen on time, issues won’t get resolved the way you want them to be resolved. Get over it and move on!! See the big picture.
• If you find someone who is easy to work with and you form a successful team – hang onto them! This doesn’t happen every day and it is truly special!

Other Brain-Work posts on collaboration:
http://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2015/06/09/collaborating-for-research-experiences-and-lessons-learnt/
http://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2014/08/19/to-boldly-go-the-research-collaboration/
http://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2015/04/21/co-authoring-shared-work-%E2%89%A0-less-work/
http://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2015/09/01/co-authoring2/

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.

Co-authoring Take 2: A co-authored blog post about co-authoring

by
Shannon Lucky, Library Systems & Information Technology, University of Saskatchewan Carolyn Hoessler, Program and Curriculum Development Specialist, Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness

This post is a follow-up to an article published on April 21, 2015 on Brain-Work about co-authoring. After that article went up I was delighted to receive an email from Carolyn wondering if I had plans to develop the co-authoring checklist I mentioned in my post. I hadn’t planned that far ahead, but I said that I would be interested if she wanted to collaborate on it – a perfect co-authoring opportunity!

Carolyn and I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet before, even though we work in the same building on the U Sask campus and, apparently, have some shared interests. We met up earlier this summer to talk through some of the issues that have come up for us during co-authoring projects and to share what we’ve learned in our respective positions. The following post was written by both of us and is based on the 5 Basic Elements of Cooperative Learning that Carolyn introduced me to. To see Carolyn’s description of our collaboration visit Educatus, the official blog of the GMCTE, where this article is cross-posted. 

-Shannon


Co-authoring and collaborative research can be personally rewarding and can strengthen a project by tapping into multiple perspectives and disciplines. It can also be difficult and frustrating at times but conflicts can be minimized, or avoided altogether, through  planning and clear communication.

The following checklist is based on the five basic elements of cooperative learning developed by Johnson, Johnson, & Johnson Holubec. Each element is defined and lists questions you should answer as a group and tips to keep in mind as your work progresses. These questions can feel uncomfortable or may lead to conflict, but it is better to have these hard conversations early and to sort out any impasses before it is too late. Sometimes collaborating with someone just doesn’t work and it can be better to identify these situations early and walk away on good terms rather than having a project fall apart mid-way through when lots of time, energy, and resources have already been invested.

Communicate early! Communicate often!

A good collaborative team needs:

  1. Positive Interdependence – having mutual goals, pursue mutual rewards, and need each other to be successful.

    Ask:
    • What are my goals for the project and what are my co-author’s goals?
      This can include the number of publications you will write, the venue and format of publication, and timelines.
    • What am I bringing to this project and what are other in the group bringing?
      Talk about your work style and preferences, personality, Myers-Briggs types, StrengthsFinders, what bugs you about working in groups – anything that will help your group get to know each others preferred work styles.
    • Can the project be easily divided so that everyone has a defined task?
      Doing the literature review, editing, analyzing, referencing, etc.
    • What will each of our roles on the project team be and will they be static or rotating?
      Note taking, coordinating meetings, synthesizing/pulling together ideas, etc.
    • What will the author order be or how else will author contribution be recognized?
      How is this determined and is everyone in agreement?

Tips:

  • Know thyself – figure out what has bothered you about past collaborations and what has worked well. Communicate this clearly to your team members and ask them what works and does not work for them. Be honest and upfront about your expectations.
  1. Face-to-Face Promotive Interaction – reading each other’s expressions or tone and have positive interactions

Ask:

  • How can we meet face-to-face, in the same room or using technology?
    Especially important when working at a distance. We must interact with each other in ways that avoid misunderstandings or assumptions and build consensus/respected distinction?
  • How frequently should we meet and how will these meetings be arranged?
    Are all meetings planned at the start of the project? Who is required at the meetings and who will organize and lead them? When will they occur?
  • What will our meetings look like?
    Will they be for planning and checking in on individual progress, working meetings, or discussion and co-creation focused?
  • What is the length of our project?
    Confirm what collaborator and able and willing to commit to in advance. Situations can change, but having a rough expectation for required time and contribution to the group can help with contingency planning if need be.
  • How will we create a good rapport and welcoming environment for the group?
    Whose job is it to set the tone? The meeting host and the content lead for the discussion don’t have to be the same person.

Tips:

  • Pay attention to discussions happening over email and other non face-to-face interactions to ensure that positivity, respect, and encouragement is maintained.
  • Make sure everyone in the group is included in discussions so no one becomes isolated or siloed in their piece of the project. This recommendation does not preclude small task groups or subgroups, but communication should be forefront.
  1. Individual Accountability – each person knowing what they need to do, is able to do it, and does it on time.

Ask:

  • What are the deliverables?
  • What are realistic timelines for me?  For my co-author(s)?
  • What are our external deadlines?
    e.g., special issue deadlines, external reviewer, conferences, personal deadlines
  • What will we do if we fall behind or need to step back?
    Anticipate setbacks and plan contingencies.

Tips:

  • Make individuals accountable to the group and their collective goals, rather than to a single individual leader. Allow the weight of several people relying on and expecting each piece to prompt action. Also reduces the tracking and chasing of the leader.
  • Make sure there is an explicit link between author order and contribution to the project or ensure another type of recognition for all authors.
  1. Interpersonal And Small Group Skills – having the conflict-management, leadership, trust-building, and communication skills to build a well-functioning group

Ask:

  • What skills do we already have in our group for leadership, conflict-management, facilitation etc.? What gaps exist and how can we fill them?
    This can mean adding a person or finding external support such as hiring a copyeditor.
  • What roles do we all want to play on this project?
    Take care to consider each person’s workload and other projects they are involved with. You might not want to be the lead researcher or editor for multiple projects are the same time.
  • What is my bandwidth for contributing to this project?
    Note if this is likely to change during the lifecycle of the project and how this will impact the group.

Tips:

  • See what skill development opportunities are available in your area.
  • Co-authoring might be an opportunity to either observe or practice a new skill
  1. Group Processing – continuing to be a well-functioning group, checking in regularly and using the skills from element #4.

Ask:

  • What points of coherence and dissonance have we identified as a group?
    • How do our personalities in element #1 work together or against each other?
    • How will we deal with disagreements?
    • What is the plan when individuals do not fulfill their part of the project?

Tips:

  • Revisit your roles and decisions periodically as a group.
  • Build time to reflect and discuss the project into your meetings or schedule time specifically for this activity.  
  • Identify one next step or a change to improve your project and/or your work dynamic.
  • Celebrate your successes!

 


Sources:

Johnson, David W., Roger T. Johnson, and Edythe Johnson Holubec.Cooperation in the Classroom. Edina: Interaction Book, 1991. Print.

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.

The Library Researcher Series: A Team Approach to Planning and Teaching

by Tasha Maddison
Engineering Library, University of Saskatchewan

During the summer of 2012, a chance meeting of two science liaison librarians led to the creation and development of the initial Library Workshop Series for Scientists and Engineers. DeDe Dawson was eager to address the needs of graduate students and faculty – often these two groups do not receive library instruction and could benefit from sessions on literature searching and research productivity skills. I had just started as a liaison librarian and was eager to begin providing instruction and expand my contacts within the College of Engineering. The idea of providing a series sounded like a perfect opportunity for both of us. Although we acknowledged that the initial course offerings might appeal to a broader audience, we focused our pilot project on our primary areas of liaison work and targeted these graduate students and faculty members specifically in all promotion and marketing initiatives of the series. The series was launched that fall with an initial offering of four classes. All sessions were taught collaboratively and the series was repeated with two additional classes in the winter semester.

Building upon the initial success of the fall semester, the Library Instruction Interest Group piloted a concurrent series that offered RefWorks training in the winter semester of 2013. Based on the initial pilot project, the collaboration with the Library Instruction Interest Group, a planning team was formed and the Library Researcher Series was born. DeDe Dawson, Carolyn Doi, Vicky Duncan, Angie Gerrard, Maha Kumaran and Tasha Maddison are the founding and current members of the planning team. The team members represent five of the seven library branches which includes discipline coverage in the Sciences, Social Sciences, Education and Fine Arts. Due to the interdisciplinary approach to planning, the team is able to offer a series with a broader scope, as well as an expanded breadth and depth than the original pilot project. The team continues to utilize a collaborative approach to teaching, reaching out to librarians and other instructors in the university community to offer sessions as part of the series.

A core element of each series since the beginning has been the collection of statistics and feedback associated with each session. This evidence has shown us which sessions are popular and should be offered again, what additional sessions could be developed based on comments received, and how best to market our series. The data collected has also allowed us to document our successes! Since the fall semester of 2012, we have seen an increase in attendance each subsequent semester. Most recently, in the winter of 2014, we averaged 13 participants per session. We also worked hard to brand our series last year, creating a logo and consistent promotional materials such as posters and advertisements in On Campus News, the University of Saskatchewan’s newspaper. Our most successful marketing tool remains the direct emails which are sent to faculty and graduate students from liaison librarians.

Planning is currently underway for the fall of 2014 with a roster of approximately 21 classes being offered with topics such as: Comprehensive Literature Review (Part A – Subject Searching, Part B – Keyword Searching), Plagiarism, Scholarly Identity, Making the most of Google and Managing Citations Series (RefWorks, EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero). We are also exploring live streaming and recording some sessions. Part of each planning meeting is dedicated to a review of existing classes, deciding which ones to keep and when is the most suitable time for them to be offered again. We have generated a list of new topics which are added to the series when appropriate. Expressions of interest are also requested from our colleagues and instructors within our University community. Some classes are favourites and are offered every term, while others come and go from the series.

For more information, please see: http://libguides.usask.ca/LibraryResearcherSeries

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.

To Boldly Go: The Research Collaboration

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

I’m currently in the middle of a research project in which I have talked to librarians who conduct research about being librarians who conduct research. It’s a bit meta, to say the least. And while I’m still slogging through my qualitative analysis (no, it’s great, really! 🙂 ), some themes and ideas have already floated to the surface and I find myself thinking a lot about them. One thing that has emerged is the benefit of belonging to a research team or a research collaboration, especially if one is a new librarian just starting out in research. This advice has come from librarians who have participated in research teams and see the benefits after the fact of such a partnership. But what if you are reticent to jump in to that environment? There might be several reasons why someone might be reluctant to get involved in a research collaboration:

• Fear that you can’t bring enough to the table in terms of knowledge and experience
• Disliking “group work” (this often emerges in grad school—the irony is librarianship is mostly group work!)
• Lack of partnership possibilities (this is more about lack of opportunities than actual reluctance)
• Partnership possibilities that don’t quite mesh with your own research interests
• The single-minded desire to go it alone

There are probably other reasons why a research collaboration doesn’t sound that appealing and it’s a bit of a catch-22 in that people can say all they want about how beneficial a partnership is, but you really don’t know until you try it, and then once you jump in, you’re committed! A lot has been written about the benefits of research collaboration (you can find 20 reasons to do it right here!). I’m going to focus how you might overcome some of the personal barriers to embarking on such a partnership, and leave it to you to do some googlin’ and find more good reasons.

First of all, I wouldn’t worry about what you can bring to the table. As a professional librarian, you’ve got lots of skills, ideas, and knowledge to share. If there isn’t much research experience, be up front about that and discuss with your research partner(s) ways in which you can contribute that will benefit the project and facilitate your learning. You can learn as you go both from your research partner and by being proactive. If the project necessitates sending out a questionnaire, read up on survey methodology and questionnaire design. And then of course you’ll learning to do just by wading in and doing it!

From the bullet points above, I rather think the second point (disliking group work) and the last point (the desire to go it alone) are often driven more by fear than by anything else. Fear can be a huge barrier to conducting research whether you’re by yourself or on a team. This is where being reflective can help you out. Think about why you might be afraid, and be really honest with yourself. Think about the worst case scenario. Write it down. And plan some work-arounds or pre-emptive strikes for what that might be. For example, let’s say I’m afraid of research group work. My worst case scenario is that I can’t work with these people and we’ll end up with major disagreements and conflict. How can I help mitigate that scenario? One way would be to talk openly and honestly with my research partners. A partnership like this has to have a certain level of trust that you can build over time. Being open about your fears as well as what you hope to accomplishment with the collaboration can go a long way to making the project run smoothly and can be helpful in building trust and a good researching relationship.

If you’re interested in teaming up with someone but the suggested topic isn’t quite what you’re interested in, I say go for it anyway. First of all, the topic might grab you as you move forward in the project or it might spin off after the fact into something you’re more interested in pursuing. Also, you will be learning valuable skills no matter what the topic: team work, methodology, the research project cycle, etc. And finally, you’ll ideally get a publication out of the experience which is nothing to sneeze at in terms of moving forward in your career. After that initial team project, you’ll have gained the confidence to start a study on your own topic, with the knowledge that you’ve been through the process and have come successfully out the other side.

And finally, if there just aren’t partnership possibilities for you, here are some suggestions. Go outside of librarianship into other disciplines. The social sciences are good areas to explore to team up with like-minded researchers. You could also engage in social networking to cast your net further. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are three social tools that can help expand your network and aid in meeting people outside your immediate situation. And be bold! If you run across someone who’s published in your area of interest, reach out to that person. It could result in a direct partnership, it could be another way to expand your network and increase the chances of you teaming up with someone in the future, and at the very least you’ll have made an interesting connection with someone in your area.

If you have anything to add about research collaborations, please do so in the comments. Who knows? Maybe a partnership will happen right here in the Brain-Work blog!

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.