(Small) public libraries do research too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources

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


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

Experiences of publishing journal articles

by Kristin Hoffmann
Associate Librarian, University of Western Ontario

One Tuesday morning last December, Western’s Librarian and Archivist Research Support Network held a panel session where colleagues shared their recent experiences with publishing their research. Sharing experiences of different parts of the research process is an important part of building a research culture. I found it illuminating and motivating to hear about my colleagues’ experiences, so I thought I would share with Brain-Work readers the key points I took away from that session.

It can take a very long time.
All of the panelists talked about this. In none of their cases did the publishing process take less than a year from start to finish. Be prepared for publication to take time, and be quick to respond to requests for revisions.

So, consider having more than one project on the go at any given time.
One panelist offered this suggestion as a follow-up to the long publication times mentioned above. Working on more than one project at once means that you can be working on one while waiting for the reviewers’ comments on the other.

Feedback helps!
Colleagues who read your paper before you submit it to a journal might identify changes that you can’t see because you’re so close to your work. Editors and reviewers can also give you helpful feedback, even if they end up rejecting your submission to their journal. Panelists also emphasized the value of getting feedback throughout their research, not just at the end when they were writing their paper.

Author order matters, so talk about it.
Do this early on in the writing process, if possible. Some factors that our panelists took into account included the relative contributions of each author to the research, and the authors’ sense of which of them would benefit most from being first author.

It matters where you submit your article.
Your article should be a good fit for the journal’s scope. If you aren’t sure, ask the editor. Create a list of journals to which you could submit your paper, and do this early on in the writing process so that you can write with your selected journal’s style in mind. In choosing journals, panelists considered factors such as: prestige, fit with the journal’s scope, open access, frequency of publication, impact factor, and whether the journal could bring the article to a larger audience than librarians.

“Resubmit” is not rejection.
Take it as a positive sign when a journal asks you to resubmit your paper if they don’t accept it outright. Even though “resubmit for review” can feel like a rejection at first, it isn’t! Focus on the positive comments from the reviewers and work on making your paper even better. Also, rejections aren’t the end of the world. Half of our panelists had their first submissions rejected, but their papers were ultimately published in other journals.

For anyone who has published journal articles, this likely reminded you of your own experiences. For those who haven’t yet published an article, or who haven’t published in a while, these are good tips and strategies to keep in mind as you are writing and preparing to submit your paper.


 

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 hidden challenges of a Workplace-based Doctorate

by Tegan Darnell, Research Librarian, University of Southern Queensland

There are those things no one tells you about being a parent. Usually people say ‘Congratulations!’ like being pregnant is some sort of remarkable achievement. Nobody tells you the truth. The nurses don’t tell you that you will be so sleep deprived that you will drive straight through red lights. No one will admit that there will be days when you truly want to leave your kids at the park. Certainly no one tells you to start saving for electronics (I recommend you start saving now). It is the same with starting a Doctorate while working full time.

I expected late nights, intellectual challenges, and workplace negotiations. These things turned out to be less difficult than I expected. With this post I expose some of the hidden challenges I have come across when attempting a major research project while working full-time in a professional position. The things no one told me…

Ethical complexity

Considering the volume of literature published over the past thirty years or more that has lauded the benefits of situated action research to the learning organisation and its relevance to professional learning, I assumed that it would not be difficult to present a case for an insider-researcher model. A research model where the researcher is participating in a project with the people they work with is still considered very risky in the world of academia. My confirmation of candidature process included two revisions and took over seven months. It appears that there is still much work to be done before I can confidently apply for Human Ethics approval.

Existential crises

OK, so, some of this was to be expected. The questions that have arisen as I start to critically examine my professional practice are complex: why do we consider ourselves a profession? is there actually any role for the profession as it exists today at all? why did I end up in this particular profession (and am so passionate about it) when I appear to disagree with so much of what it does?  I could go on. As it is, let’s just say that I am having many sleepless nights wrestling with these questions. This leads nicely into the next challenge.

Headspace shift

One minute you are trying to help someone troubleshoot referencing management software and the next minute you are trying to abandon the idea of the value of referencing at all. One second you are making vegemite sandwiches “cut-in-four-triangles-with-the-crusts-cut-off-please”, and the next you have to sit down and write about how the benefits of situated action research outweigh the risks to participants. It takes me about twenty five minutes every time I have to do a mental shift from “Where are my shoes, Mum?” to “Zuber & Skerritt (2002)”. These interruptions mean that you need more time than you expect, and you need to do some of the next thing.

Extreme time management

When adding a PhD into the mix of full time work and the rest of your life, you’ll probably have to schedule your meals, your sleep, and even your toilet breaks.  You will probably have to schedule time with your spouse and your children – I know I do. As a parent of 2 biological children and 3 non-biological children, with a spouse, a farm, a parent with a disability, and house renovations to contend with, I also schedule myself into Time Out. This usually involves some sort of gore film or video game, whilst telling everyone to *ahem* go away (in a less than civil fashion). Self-care is incredibly important to add to the whole mix.

Surprising reactions

Don’t expect everyone to be happy for you or supportive. There will be those who will tell you to your face that you won’t be able to do your job properly, or, that you can’t possibly commit to research, work, and be a decent parent. Then there are people who tell you that they would have studied if only it wasn’t for their spouse/mother/child/dog problem, and then look at you just waiting for you to withdraw from study.

There are moments when I wonder just how crazy a person has to be, but then I remember that I am me, and I think, “BA HA HA! Pretty crazy!” and it all makes sense. ;P

Dependence on ‘angels’

You will need one or more of these. Angels are the people who make you dinner, do your grocery shopping, repair your toilet, and buy you coffee. Sometimes they remind you to eat, or go to bed. Sometimes they tell you that you are awesome. Sometimes they tell you not to do any study over your Christmas break. The very best ones will tell you to “pull your head in” or that your writing doesn’t make sense. As much as it is your research, you can’t do it without the care, kindness, and goodwill of others, so at some point you will have to just accept it and stop feeling rubbish about it.

Just as someone telling you when you have a child, “Your boobs will never look the same”, I can honestly say about doing an advanced work-based research project: “Your job, workplace, and profession will never look the same”. And just like being a parent, when people ask you “Is it worth it?” I can honestly say, “Most of the time.”


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

Affective Research Supports: Small Actions, Big Difference

by Selinda Berg
Leddy Library, University of Windsor

In informal conversations with colleagues across Canada, as well as within the formal conversation of the professional literature, there is an underlying notion that librarians can feel a lack of support towards their research activities. It is perceived that librarians would benefit from more support from their colleagues and leaders. But when prompted, it is sometimes ambiguous what that “support” might look like. Of course, there is the obvious: funding, time, structural supports; however there is also a substantial need for affective support.

Because there are restrictions on the amount of funding, time, and structural support that colleagues and leaders can provide, I think we should consider the small actions we can take that will show our support towards our colleagues’ research.

Take the opportunity to hear about your colleagues’ research:

All too often we overlook our in-house activities and expertise and look outside of our institutions for the ‘interesting’ and ‘new’. However, there is much value in seeing what is happening internally. Just taking the time to hear about colleagues’ research is a way to demonstrate support, whether the opportunities arise at conferences or within your own institution.

It is always difficult to make decisions about what to see at conferences and there are limitations to all that we can see; however, showing up at your colleague’s presentation can be compelling. Showing support for colleagues can be one factor to take into consideration when selecting your conference itinerary.

Creating opportunities at your own institution to hear about your colleagues’ research is also very helpful. Again, we often overlook the amazing things that the colleagues in our own institutions are doing. At my academic institution, we have the Librarian Research Series where we share our research projects and people often are amazed by the great research happening within our own walls.

Acknowledge colleague’s research successes:

Keep your eye out for your colleague’s research successes, however big or small. Every step of the research process is difficult and perseverance is sometimes difficult to maintain. Acknowledging the milestones—funding successes, REB clearance, launching data collection, completing analysis, presenting findings, and publication—can help individuals push through the long process.

Take the time to acknowledge and congratulate your colleagues on their publications when you see them. Getting published is hard work. Just a quick email will go a long way to applaud and inspire researchers.

Just take an interest:

Of course, not all research is in our focused areas of interest. The research within librarianship is very diverse, spanning many fields. However, the areas are all interconnected and recognizing the ties will create a stronger research culture- a culture that values diverse areas of and approaches to research. We have much to learn from one another and the opportunities that will evolve from this learning are infinite.

What we can all acknowledge is that research is not easy, it takes hard work, tenacity, and perseverance. The tangible supports are valuable, but we cannot undervalue affective supports to help us move through our research journeys. While these small actions may seem insignificant, they can make a big difference. I do also want to encourage those in leadership positions to also engage in these small actions. When tangible supports are limited, affective support can demonstrate continued endorsement, encouragement, and validation of research in our field. These small acknowledgements and signs of support can be very powerful coming from library leaders. We all have a role in demonstrating our commitment to a strong and healthy research environment. Affective supports, which are often under-acknowledged, are small actions that can make big differences.

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.

Adaptability and Inspiration: A Nomadic Research Leave

by Lise Doucette
Assistant Librarian, University of Western Ontario

I’m just past the halfway point of a nine-month sabbatical (combined research/study leave), and reflecting on my experience so far has brought up two interrelated themes: adaptability and inspiration. These five months have challenged my ideas of what physical and digital environments are conducive to and motivational for my research and study, and I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate some of these new practices into my non-sabbatical work life come April, 2017.
doucette_brainwork_cabina

Adaptability
As a bit of a creature of habit, I like the office I’ve had for the past three years at Western Libraries, with its window, big desk, print books, and easy access to printing out PDFs of articles. While spending my research leave outside of London, Ontario, was appealing for a number of personal and professional reasons, I was also a bit apprehensive about not having a real home or office. A nomadic research leave also meant that printed material wouldn’t be practical (heavy to move around and harder to obtain).

During this first part of my leave, I’ve lived and worked from four Canadian provinces, three US states, and three Costa Rican provinces (one of which I had to leave fairly quickly to avoid the country’s first hurricane in many years). These locations have been workshop and conference sites, homes of friends and family, and destinations for travel and exploration. The transitions between locations have become my new ‘weekends,’ and I’ve been happily surprised at how much easier the transitions became with repetition and practice. I’ve redefined ‘office’ as ‘wherever I am sitting with my laptop,’ and that’s been public libraries, kitchen tables, coffee shops, cabin patios, grassy hills, beaches, and hammocks. It’s now natural (and enjoyable!) to work on my research from any location.

I’ve also been really happy that a flexible schedule has worked well for me. The number of hours, days of the week, and times of the day that I’ve worked have varied enormously, to fit deadlines for papers, conferences, and abstracts; match my own personal preferences; adapt to schedules of family and friends; and to accommodate travel time. Creating schedules has helped with focus on a daily level, and with feeling confident about meeting deadlines more broadly. In terms of my digital environment, I’ve learned to tolerate (but not quite love) marking up PDFs of articles digitally. I’ve also bought and accessed e-books (somewhat begrudgingly), and I’ve appreciated being able to easily search the contents.

What will I take back post-sabbatical?
– I will change environments/scenery more often, particularly for working on research (home, the public library, different locations on campus)
– I will create a schedule for research, with goals and timelines clearly identified, and with clearly defined research time blocked off
– I will seek out digital strategies to complement my previous print-focused reading and note-taking preferences

Inspiration
The freedom and time available for research during a sabbatical can provide for unique forms of inspiration. I’ve spent time in familiar and new physical locations, including the beautiful University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor; the Maritime provinces as the autumn leaves changed around me; in beach, jungle, mountain, and city environments in Costa Rica; and at public and university libraries with lovely design, artwork, and views. I’ve been so grateful for the many travel experiences made possible by this sabbatical – it’s helped provide inspiration and increased my commitment to my research and study.

I’ve also been fortunate to have conversations and chance encounters that have provided motivation and interesting directions to consider. While at the University of Michigan, I talked to Jeff, a doctoral student in higher education, about some issues around strategic planning and assessment in libraries; he immediately responded with ‘Isomorphism.’ We discussed this sociological concept and he provided me with a long reading list. It’s a fascinating topic that I’ll be able to use to help explain some aspects of libraries’ behaviours as organizations.

While on a shuttle between locations in Costa Rica, I met Susanna, a doctoral student of aquaculture in Finland. She was taking her own ‘mini’ research leave – one month in Costa Rica to inspire and push her through the dissertation-writing process. She asked me insightful questions that helped me reflect on my research topics and processes, and inspired me with her own writing goals and discipline.

I’ve taken a number of guided hikes in Costa Rica from local and American naturalists, and learning about life strategies and life histories of different plants and animals from Sarah has inspired further thinking and reading about libraries as sociological organizations and their ‘life strategies.’ I’m not sure yet where this will lead research-wise, but I’m excited about it, and thinking about how biological and organizational behaviours are related has been fascinating.

What will I take back post-sabbatical?
– I will spend more time appreciating my local environment – I’ll go for walks, work outside when possible, and enjoy Western’s beautiful campus
– I will seek out lectures and events on campus and in my community, knowing that these will inspire and help me develop research and professional ideas
– I will read more broadly, and make connections between other disciplines and librarianship

I highly recommend that librarians consider a sabbatical as an opportunity to travel and explore – you’ll learn a lot about yourself, and be inspired by the change in scenery and people you meet.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views of 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.

Ethics are for everyone!

by Moriana Garcia
Carlson Science and Engineering Library, University of Rochester
and
Kristin Bogdan
Engineering Library, University of Saskatchewan

In this blog post, we would like to put out a call to action – that librarians seriously consider taking whatever ethics training is available at their home institution, whether they have a specific requirement to do so or not. We came together as research collaborators due to a mutual interest in visual research methods, and our plan to employ those methods in our practice. We intend to publish the research, so we began our journey through the research ethics process. The more we learned about it, the more we realized that this training could have an impact in many areas of our work.

In libraries we collect data about the people that use our spaces, collections, and online resources all of the time. This can be benign and completely anonymous, like gate counts, or specific to individuals, like patrons borrowing records. The systems that we use to provide content to our communities collect information in ways that we don’t even think, and may not fit within our professional or personal sense of ethics. Patrons’ privacy is a common topic of discussion in public libraries, but not so frequently in academic ones. An organization that is trying to change that is the Library Freedom Project. The group, a partnership among librarians, technologists, attorneys, and privacy advocates, aims to promote intellectual freedom in libraries by educating librarians on government and corporate surveillance threats, privacy rights of the population, and the responsibility of libraries to protect those rights. Their website provides access to several educational resources on these topics, and it is a good starting point for librarians interested in privacy issues.

Research ethics training is one way to become more aware of the ethical issues that we face in our practice and in our research. We both went through the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) Program online training. This training is regulated by the Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics (PRE) in Canada or the Office of Human Subject Protection in the United States. These offices aim to protect the rights and welfare of human research subjects at the institutional level. They usually manage the local Research Ethics Board (REB), or Institutional Review Board (IRB) in the U.S., which reviews, approves and follows up on any research project involving human subjects, and provide education and training for researchers on ethical research issues and human subjects safety. Training on human subject research traditionally covers the historical development of human subject protections, as well as current regulatory information and ethical issues related to the topic. An intimate understanding of concepts such as vulnerable populations, consent, and what is known as the three research pillars in research ethics — respect for persons, beneficence and justice — is an important part of the training. You can get more information about these topics in the Belmont Report.

Ethics training will increase your awareness of any possible ethical issues and where you can go for help. Much of the assessment work that we do as librarians will qualify as exempt when it comes to ethics, but you still need to get approval from your ethics office if you want to publish. At the 2016 C-EBLIP Fall Symposium, the keynote speaker, Margaret Henderson, suggested that you should get ethics approval for any project where there is even a remote chance that it will be used for research. Another suggestion from Margaret that could facilitate ethics approval is having a shared set of research instruments (surveys, interview and focus questions protocols) that librarians could use for their evaluation and assessment activities. Using the same instruments as others will take out some of the stress of creating new surveys before going through the ethics process and it will make it easier to compare results across different libraries, which would create a base of LIS research that would be of great value to the profession.

In conclusion, it is well worth the time to go through the ethics training. Going through this process will also help you talk to faculty about their research and allow you to point them in the direction of the research ethics office. Ideally, we would go through the training in our LIS education in order to get a sense of the requirements of doing research on human subjects. We work with vulnerable communities all of the time, so understanding how our practice and research impacts them is in the best interest of everyone.

References:
Henderson, M. “Collaborating to Increase the Evidence Base in Library and Information Practice.” C-EBLIP Fall Symposium. October 12, 2016.

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.

Learning to Let Go: The Perfectionist’s Struggle

by Laura Thorne
UBC Okanagan Library

Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.
– Dr. Harriet Braiker

Last week, I attended C-EBLIP’s third annual Fall Symposium. There were so many great presentations, but there were two in particular that I kept thinking about in the days following – Angie Gerrard’s Changing Your Research Plan En-Route and The Elephant in the Room: Imposter Syndrome and Librarian Researchers by Jaclyn McLean. Both presentations tackled often-encountered, but rarely discussed topics that come up when conducting research – our emotions and personalities. Gerrard discussed the emotional challenge associated with research not going according to plan and the need for professional vulnerability, while McLean discussed imposter syndrome and feeling like you’re not good enough, even when you’ve accomplished so much. They led me to think about a related issue that I’ve struggled with in my career and while doing research – perfectionism.

Like many librarians I know, I am a perfectionist. Perfectionism can be an excellent trait. It can lead to high quality work and can motivate me to always strive to do my best. But it can also be challenging. While I wouldn’t diagnose myself with atelophobia, at times my perfectionism has been paralyzing and has prevented me from taking risks, trying new things, or even completing what I’ve started. There are drawbacks to thinking everything you do needs to be perfect or the best.

Studies show that perfectionism is rampant in academia (Charbonneau, 2011;
Dunn, Whelton & Sharpe, 2006; Sherry, Hewitt, Sherry, Flett & Graham, 2010; Rockquemore, 2012; Shives, 2014) and is something many of our students also struggle with while at university (Çapan, 2010; Eum & Rice, 2011; Jiao & Onwuegbuzie, 1998). While knowing I’m not alone is of some comfort, one of the biggest professional struggles I’ve had to overcome is learning to let go of projects, especially my writing.

You could say my entire career thus far has been an experiment in letting go, in telling myself, “It’s good enough, just send it out,” but nowhere has this needed to be repeated as much as in my research. For the most part, my research is not something I have to do; it’s something I want to do. I do it largely outside of my regular everyday work and is truly a labour of love. Because of this, there tends not be set deadlines (I attempt to set them for myself, but I’m not the strictest timekeeper), and I either a) procrastinate or b) agonize over tiny details instead of just getting it over with and letting it go.

Some of the tricks I’ve found useful in combatting my perfectionism and learning to let go:
• Embrace the mantra of good enough: This isn’t to say do the bare minimum, but accepting that perfection is unattainable and realizing that a finished project is a good project makes it easier to make progress on your research.
• Fight the urge to procrastinate: For me personally, it’s easy to procrastinate – it gives you an out for why something isn’t perfect. But this only exacerbates the problem.
• Set deadlines for yourself (and stick to them): This helps with the procrastination!
• Don’t go alone: Having a research partner or team has been incredibly helpful in learning to let go and can work as a support system when you’re obsessing about the details and unable to see the bigger picture.
• Love the draft: By completing drafts of my work, whether it be a research proposal or an article, I can slowly get used to the idea of letting go of my work in a staged process before sending it out into the world.
• Develop a network you trust: When you’re unsure of or fighting with a project, it’s useful to have a network of people you can talk to and receive feedback. It makes it easier to let go of a project when I know someone I respect thinks it’s good. And I do the same for them!
• Don’t re-read after you’ve submitted your work: This should go without saying, but unfortunately, I had an awful habit of re-reading an item right after I’ve hit submit or send. As I’m reading through, I’m thinking “I should have changed this or that that” and making myself feel dreadful instead of happy that I’ve finished. It’s an exercise in torture and since I’ve stopped, I feel much less critical of the work I’ve done and can actually celebrate a job well done.

“Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it. Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you got, and fix it along the way.”
– Paul Arden

References (and further reading)

Çapan, B. E. (2010). Relationship among perfectionism, academic procrastination and life satisfaction of university students. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 5, 1665-1671.

Charbonneau, L. (2011). Perfectionist professors have lower research productivity. University Affairs. Retrieved from http://www.universityaffairs.ca/news/news-article/perfectionist-professors-have-lower-research-productivity/

Dunn, J. C., Whelton, W. J., & Sharpe, D. (2006). Maladaptive perfectionism, hassles, coping, and psychological distress in university professors. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 53(4), 511.

Eum, K., & Rice, K. G. (2011). Test anxiety, perfectionism, goal orientation, and academic performance. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 24(2), 167-178.

Hibner, H. (2016, Jan 19). Don’t overthink it: How librarians can conquer perfectionism with mindfulness. [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://librarylostfound.com/2016/01/19/dont-overthink-it-how-librarians-can-conquer-perfectionism-with-mindfulness/

Jiao, Q. G., & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (1998). Perfectionism and library anxiety among graduate students. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 24(5), 365-371.

Rockquemore, K. (2012). Overcoming academic perfectionism. [Web log series]. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/career-advice/overcoming-academic-perfectionism

Sherry, S. B., Hewitt, P. L., Sherry, D. L., Flett, G. L., & Graham, A. R. (2010). Perfectionism dimensions and research productivity in psychology professors: Implications for understanding the (mal)adaptiveness of perfectionism. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 42(4), 273-283. doi:10.1037/a0020466

Shives, K. (2014, Nov 11). The battle between perfectionism and productivity. [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/battle-between-perfectionism-and-productivity

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.

Non-Attachment as an Antidote for Procrastination

by DeDe Dawson
Science Library, University of Saskatchewan

I have a weakness for popular psychology books and I’m a wee bit of a cynic, too – so when I came across Oliver Burkeman’s book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking I knew it would be good. And it is good, very good: entertainingly written and thought-provoking. After returning my borrowed library copy I actually went out and bought my own copy and re-read it! Now that is an endorsement.

But what does this have to do with research?

I wasn’t expecting to find advice to apply to my research in this book – but sometimes when you least expect it the most useful nugget of wisdom lands on your lap!

Each chapter in the book explores a different counter-intuitive route to happiness. In chapter three, “The Storm before the Calm”, Burkeman discusses the Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment. Essentially, Buddhists believe that the root of all suffering is attachment. It is a very human and understandable tendency to cling to things we like and avoid things we don’t. Both of these tendencies can be considered attachments though. The examples Burkeman uses are:

“Develop a strong attachment to your good looks – as opposed to merely enjoying them while they last – and you will suffer when they fade, as they inevitably will; develop a strong attachment to your luxurious lifestyle, and your life may become an unhappy, fearful struggle to keep things that way.” (Burkeman, 2012, p. 53)

So, the Buddhist approach to life is to practice non-attachment: to be non-judgmentally aware of these feelings and impulses but not get hung up on them. Once we stop struggling to be positive and happy then we might actually experience some peace! Counter-intuitive… but compelling.

And now the connection to research… Virginia Wilson wrote candidly in this blog a few weeks ago about her struggles with procrastination – a common curse of academics when they get to the “write-up” portion of a research project. We’ve all heard the inspirational quotes, the motivational tips, and other well-meaning advice. Burkeman states that most of these tips and tricks don’t work simply because they are more about putting you in the mood to get things done, instead of how to actually get things done.

It turns out that non-attachment can be a practical way to get things done.

If you wait until you’re in the right mood to get things done… then you’ll never get things done:

“Who says you need to wait until you ‘feel like’ doing something in order to start doing it? The problem, from this perspective, isn’t that you don’t feel motivated; it’s that you imagine you need to feel motivated. If you can regard your thoughts and emotions about whatever you’re procrastinating on as passing weather, you’ll realise that your reluctance about working isn’t something that needs to be eradicated or transformed into positivity. You can coexist with it. You can note the procrastinatory feelings and act anyway.” (Burkeman, 2012, p. 69)

The emphasis in the above quote is mine. These last two sentences are the ones I underlined and starred in the book (my copy – not the library copy!). After this passage Burkeman goes on to describe the daily rituals of some highly productive and famous writers – they rarely include techniques meant to inspire or motivate, instead they are routines that provide structure whether or not the writer happens to feel motivated at the time.

An aside: My artist husband claims he needs to be inspired to paint – and guess what? He doesn’t get much painting done. I always tell him: “Just sit down and paint, the inspiration will come!”

So, this is my advice to myself and my fellow procrastinating writers: recognize that you don’t feel like it… then just sit down and write. It is very similar to Lorie’s advice to Virginia: “Just do it!”

Oh, and read this book:
Burkeman, O. (2012). The antidote: Happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking. New York: Faber and Faber, Inc.

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.