Researcher Degrees of Freedom

by Marjorie Mitchell
Research Librarian, UBC Okanagan Library

I recently learned about the concept of researcher degrees of freedom. The idea is that, as researchers, we make many decisions about the data we collect and how we analyze it (Simmons, Nelson & Simonsohn, 2011) and that these decisions have a direct impact on the results of our research. Obviously. And this is what begins to make this concept so powerful. I’ve been familiar with the idea of researcher bias, but this is a more subtle concept. I want to make it clear that I am not talking about deliberate falsifying of research results, but about the real choices a researcher who has gathered data, in any form, is faced with making during the journey from research question construction through gathering data through publication. Some of these choices include what data is being gathered and what is not, how to handle data outliers, how to group or cluster points of data when looking for significance or impact, and so on.

The concept has been around for some time and has been explored in the fields of medicine, psychology, and more widely in the sciences, where researchers were finding they could not replicate the results from published research studies. It’s spawned a whole area of research on false positive results, publication bias (more papers are published that show positive results than show negative results), selective reporting of results, and an “Open Science” network.

Evidence-based practice, no matter what field or discipline, has been one method of critically analyzing research results. It’s a valuable tool, but only one of many that can be applied. I, personally, would like to see more credit being given for rigorously trying to replicate previously conducted research. I would also like to see the publication of more null-results reports. It is incredibly handy to know a particular path is not a useful path to follow. I have to admit, I don’t know whether I’m ready to participate in the registration of my research methods in advance of collecting data. “A registration is useful for certifying what you did in a project in advance of data analysis, or for confirming the exact state of the project at important points of the lifecycle, such as manuscript submission or the onset of data collection” (Centre for Open Science, 2018). This certainly raises the bar for research.

We have a journal club in my library where we meet to discuss recent articles from the library literature. I am pleased with the “skeptical eye” we often apply to the articles we read, but I wonder whether our critical and skeptical reading ultimately makes us less biased researchers.

More often than not, it is challenging to attempt to make these decisions in advance of conducting out research. I admit to thinking “I’ll just have a look at the results of my survey before I commit to an hypothesis.” Often my research never reaches the publication stage but our research will ultimately be stronger if we try to make these decisions in advance.

I continue to look for new lenses to apply to the research I do and to the research I consume. It has not been my intent to criticize the people doing research but to discuss the challenges and struggles I wrestle with as I continue down a research path. I hope this concept will be of interest to others as well.

References
Center for Open Science. (2018).OSF FAQs What is registration? https://cos.io/our-services/top-guidelines/

Dickersin, K., Chan, S., Chalmersx, T. C., Sacks, H. S., & Smith, H. (1987). Publication bias and clinical trials. Controlled Clinical Trials, 8(4), 343-353. doi:10.1016/0197-2456(87)90155-3

Kepes, S., Banks, G. C., & Oh, I. (2014). Avoiding bias in publication bias research: The value of “null” findings. Journal of Business and Psychology, 29(2), 183-203. doi:10.1007/s10869-012-9279-0

Pickett, J. T., & Roche, S. P. (2018). Questionable, objectionable or criminal? public opinion on data fraud and selective reporting in science. Science and Engineering Ethics, 24(1), 151-171.
doi:10.1007/s11948-017-9886-2

Simmons, J. P., Nelson, L. D., & Simonsohn, U. (2011). False-positive psychology: Undisclosed flexibility in data collection and analysis allows presenting anything as significant. Psychological Science, 22(11), 1359-1366. doi:10.1177/0956797611417632

Stahl, D., & Pickles, A. (2018). Fact or fiction: Reducing the proportion and impact of false positives. Psychological Medicine, 48(7), 1084. doi:10.1017/S003329171700294X

Pickett, J. T., & Roche, S. P. (2018). Questionable, objectionable or criminal? public opinion on data fraud and selective reporting in science. Science and Engineering Ethics, 24(1), 151-171. doi:10.1007/s

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.

Research Ethics for Canadian Academic Librarians and Archivists

by Lise Doucette
Assistant Librarian, University of Western Ontario

Background
Researchers at Canadian universities must follow the research ethics guidelines set out by the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (aka TCPS2), and this of course includes academic librarian and archivists who are conducting research. TCPS2 was developed by the Panel of Research Ethics, a group created by the three federal research agencies (SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR) and composed of Canadian researchers.

TCPS2 guidelines are based on three interdependent and complementary principles: respect for persons, concern for welfare, and justice. Respect for persons involves respecting the autonomy of potential and actual participants, and seeking free, ongoing, and informed consent. Concern for welfare includes minimizing risks to participants, and providing potential participants with enough information about risks so that they can make an informed decision about their participation. Justice means treating people fairly and equitably, and designing the study such that processes like recruiting practices and inclusion criteria do not unfairly include or exclude certain groups (in particular, vulnerable groups).

Many academic librarians and archivists have practitioner, research, and service responsibilities. So how does research ethics relate to each of these roles?

As an individual researcher
It’s likely that at some point in your career you’ll want to do research involving students, faculty, or other librarians/archivists, using methods like interviews, surveys, or observational research. Before beginning your research, you must obtain approval from your research ethics board by submitting an application with details of your research project and methodology based on the board’s guidelines. Universities generally have two research ethics boards (for medical and non-medical research) comprised primarily of researchers at that institution, as well as research ethics officers and administrative staff.

The two most important things I recommend as a researcher: first, learn how to write a good research ethics application. Consult with colleagues who have previously submitted successful applications, and follow the board’s guidelines carefully. Make it exceedingly clear to the board what potential participants will experience in your study. Second, build the research ethics approval process into your timeline. When you’re excited about your research project, you want to get started, and it can be frustrating to be waiting for approval. Plan ahead as much as possible – for example, if you want to interview undergraduate students, submitting your ethics application in March may mean that it’s approved just as students are in the April exam period and then leaving for the summer. Work backwards from your desired study date and build in extra time for the ethics approval process.

As a member of the academic community at your institution

At some universities, librarians and archivists have a seat on the non-medical research ethics board. This is a great service opportunity. By serving on the board at Western for two years, I learned a lot about the amount of thought and care board members put into reviewing the applications from the potential participants’ viewpoints, as well as what types of issues regularly require revision in order to be approved. After reviewing and providing feedback on dozens of applications, I also learned what kind of language (concise and clear!) makes these applications easy for board members to read – remember that board members will be reviewing applications from researchers in many disciplines. It can be a fascinating and rewarding experience that will help you to better design your own research studies to meet ethical requirements.

If your university doesn’t have a seat on the board for librarians or archivists, consider approaching the research ethics office or the Chair of the non-medical research ethics board to discuss the possibility. Some groups (such as librarians/archivists and other academic departments in my own institution) have multiple people assigned to the same seat. With 12 meetings of the board per year, four librarian or archivist members each attend three of the meetings per year and also review delegated (low-risk) applications outside of meetings.

As a practitioner
As practitioners, especially those of us who do work related to assessment or user experience, we often conduct studies in our own libraries to better understand our users and make improvements to our online and physical spaces and services. TCPS2 states that “quality assurance and quality improvement studies … do not constitute research for the purposes of this Policy, and do not fall within the scope of REB review” (TCPS2 Article 2.5). This means that studies undertaken to make improvements to library services or resources, when there is no intention of publishing and sharing the results more widely, do not need to be reviewed by the research ethics board

In such situations, I would encourage colleagues to set the same ethical standards for themselves for internal studies as they do for more formal research projects, and to apply the concepts of respect for persons, concern for welfare, and justice to their recruitment and methodology. Thinking through these concepts as they apply to different aspects of your study will help you design a better study and feel more confident that human participants are being treated ethically.

Learning more

• Read the policy: Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans
• Your local research ethics board may require that you complete TCPS2 training before becoming a board member or before submitting a research ethics application. It’s freely accessible online, and the exercises are based on realistic research situations: https://tcps2core.ca/
• Read this previous Brainwork post: Ethics are for Everyone
• Read books about research ethics (here’s a list of suggestions)
• Pick up any social sciences research methods textbook – there should be a chapter on research ethics

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

The High Hopes for Our Research: Don’t Lose Sight

by Selinda Berg
Leddy Library, University of Windsor

When I deliver professional development workshops on cultivating research topics and creating research questions, I highlight the importance of ensuring that research topics and questions have significance and that researchers can articulate that significance. This is not about statistical significance but rather considering how the question aims to have consequence, impact, and importance. This is imperative because as Huth (1990) notes research is:

“not just baskets carrying unconnected facts like a telephone directory; they are instruments of persuasion. [Research] must argue you into believing what they conclude; and be built on the principles of critical arguments.”

Researchers must be able to articulate why their research matters and what the research sets out to convince the reader. This type of significance of research is an element that is not always strongly articulated in our professional literature. Often, researchers start with a strong understanding of the high hopes and intended impact of their research, but throughout the arduous research process they lose sight of it, and in turn, the readers/audiences cannot see it either. However, articulating the significance of research is important to ensure that the research fits into a wider context, that the research can be built upon to achieve the larger goal, and that the importance of the research is explicit.

Librarians engaging in research to support critical librarianship do this well. They are explicit that they aim to identify, expose and disrupt social and political powers that underlie information systems (Gregory & Higgins, 2013, 3). I think many researchers hope that their research can contribute to a healthier work environment, a stronger profession, or a better society, but they do not situate their research within these higher goals. Many librarians, independent of method or approach, set out to uncover injustices, inequities, or areas where we can just do better within and around our profession, but are not overt in their intentions. We need to consciously and explicitly do this better.

I encourage researchers to not lose sight of the larger goals that inspired them to engage in research, and to use space within presentations and articles to situate their research within a wider context and within their high hopes for how their research might just lead to a stronger profession or better society.

References
Huth, E. J. (1990). How to writing and publish papers in medical sciences. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

Higgins, S. & Gregory, L. (2013). Information literacy and social justice: Rodical professional praxis. Duluth: Library Juice Press.

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

The Mount Allison Way: Finding Research Collaborators at a Small Institution

by Elizabeth Stregger
Systems Librarian, Mount Allison University
Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada

In a recent meeting, a colleague asked me how I got started on a research project with Christiana MacDougall, a faculty member from Women’s and Gender Studies. I squirmed in my seat, looked perplexed, and started my story, “well, I went out for a beer with another faculty member and we got on to the topic of Wikipedia….” Merriment burst out in the room. “Ah, the Mount Allison way,” someone commented.

When I came to Mount Allison University, I was keen to find people with similar interests. I started going to all kinds of campus events, from evening lectures to the Pride parade to Faculty Council. I asked everyone if they were a knitter, or if they knew of a knitting group in town. I said hello to people I recognized at the Farmer’s Market. I helped organize a film series in the library. Little did I know that I was starting to establish my research network.

At a smaller library we all have broader responsibilities. If the projector isn’t working, I’m the person who goes and checks all the connections. If a faculty member needs a repository for a digital project, that question comes to me too. These interactions across faculty boundaries are part of life on a smaller campus.

New responsibilities send me into research mode. I start searching the literature, creating Zotero folders, and sharing articles. Although my initial intention is to use evidence to inform my practice, follow up conversations with faculty members spark new ideas for projects and collaborative research.

Bringing these ideas back to the library creates new connections with library colleagues. The best space on campus for the Women’s and Gender Studies Wikipedia edit-a-thon was the library. When one of the students had questions about some genealogical abbreviations in a source, I called the Archivist, David Mawhinney, for help. Now David and I will be speaking together at our International Women’s Day event about women in science at Mount Allison.

Truly engaging in the university community in these ways has required a bit of bravery. The positive feedback loop has me committed to challenging my introverted instincts. In less than a year, I’ve had two conference presentation proposals accepted, my first collaborative REB proposal was approved, and I was included in a SSHRC grant proposal.

Previous positions at other institutions laid the groundwork for the activities I’m involved in now—from developing an evidence based practice at the University of Saskatchewan to working with medical researchers on their research profiles at the University of Manitoba. The “Mount Allison Way” is an exciting approach to research, and I’m looking forward to seeing what other kinds of opportunities will come out of the woodwork next!

What are your tips for adapting to a new institution?

How do you take advantage of happenstance in your research?

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

The Elephant Tale of Data

by
Kristin Lee, Tufts University
Liz Settoducato, Tufts University

Earlier last year when I asked my colleague Liz Settoducato, Engineering Librarian here at the Tisch Library, if she would be interested in looking into Jumbo the Elephant with me we didn’t realize it would become a bit of a weird obsession. A simple idea to use data about Tufts University’s beloved mascot for instruction sparked research into the circus, P. T. Barnum and his shenanigans, taxidermy, and scientific specimens. The more we read, the more we wanted to know.

This project has become a place where our personal journeys to librarianship collide. My background is in science and I have long been fascinated by the idea of physical objects as data. I also love maps, a perfect way to present the adventures of an elephant who had his own personal train car. Liz comes from the world of gender studies and archives. She understands how our fascination with different forms of entertainment impact scholarship and research, and why it is essential to study this as part of the experience of being human. Together we can look at our subject, the sadly doomed star of the London Zoo so fiercely pursued by circus showman P. T. Barnum, who met his end in a train accident in St. Thomas Ontario in 1885, as the pop culture icon and flesh and bone creature that he was.

Chasing down information hasn’t been easy. There are circus handbills, correspondence, newspaper articles, songs, and images of Jumbo in collections all across the country. But we wanted more. Jumbo became the mascot of Tufts University posthumously, when his stuffed hide was donated to the Barnum Museum of Natural History in 1889 by Mr. Barnum himself, after travelling with the circus (The Story of Jumbo). There are pieces of Jumbo, King of Elephants, in collections all over the country (I just found out about this piece of tusk at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan while writing this ). His heart was purchased by Cornell University, but all they have left is the jar, a fact which caused Liz and me to have a conversation about just how you could lose a 40 lb elephant heart. All of these specimens were once a whole, living elephant, a collection that requires each piece for context, and bringing them back together (at least virtually) has become a bit of a mission.

What we call “Our Eccentric Jumbo Research Project” isn’t really that outlandish in the context of librarian research at all. We are using tools from the digital humanities to explore texts, like the biography of Jumbo by his keeper Matthew Scott, to try and figure out how the people around him understood him. We are thinking about how P. T. Barnum, purveyor of “humbug” and serial hyperbolist, spread misinformation about his prized attraction to get the attention of crowds and how that affected the public view of wildlife in places they could only imagine in the late 19th century. We are tracking down data from studies of Jumbo’s bones and his tail (the only piece that survived after the rest of his hide was destroyed when Barnum Hall at Tufts burned down in 1975) to better understand how he was treated during his short life. Librarianship is about not only providing our communities with what they need, but giving them access to worlds they didn’t even know were out there and allowing a sense of wonder and whimsy to infiltrate the research process.

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

Following a Research Plan – an update

by Jaclyn McLean, Electronic Resources Librarian
University of Saskatchewan

In August, I wrote about my personal challenge of taking on too much. I committed to a plan for the year ahead, and to keep reminding myself that my plate was full. Well, readers, let me admit that I may have not been able to keep my idea generating brain completely in check.

Click the above tweet to read the Twitter conversation

I might need an intervention, and even though my early expectation was that my idea wouldn’t make the cut, I was wrong. My e-poster was accepted, and I’m getting excited about participating in ER&L from afar this year, and doing a Q&A about my poster on Twitter. And truly, the content of my poster is being informed by ongoing work I’m already doing. So, designing & making the poster as a short slide deck is the only added burden on my time. Am I being naïve, believing I can squeeze something else into my carefully planned Gantt chart for the next couple of months? As the deadlines for a few of my projects on the go draw nearer, I sure hope not. Am I glad that I made a careful plan for the year, am sticking to it, and managed to limit myself to one new research project? Yup! Would January and February be a bit calmer if I’d managed to restrain myself from submitting a proposal. Maybe, but we’ll never know.

I am still grateful to past me for making a research plan. It has been a very successful tool for me so far. Why?

• I am more conscious about how much time I actually have for new things
Without a plan, I would very likely have said to yes to a couple of new things because I was excited about them, and found myself in over my head

• I can update anyone about my progress on any ongoing project quickly & easily
Whether it’s collaborators, my research mentorship team, or someone else who’s interested, I always know where I’m at and where I’m going next

• I can update my plan easily, and it’s visually appealing
I check my Gantt chart at least once a month, at the start of a research day—it takes less than 10 minutes, and reminds me where I’d expected to be & where I’m at

• I went in knowing that there would need to be adjustments
Now I know which of my deadlines are external (e.g., a collaborator waiting for me to finish something, a journal submission deadline), and which ones are just for me, and can be adjusted to match current reality as a project progresses

• I feel rewarded and satisfied when I can check something off a list
I like making a plan and sticking to it, and the reward of staying on track is enough for me

Do you have any research planning strategies that work well for you?

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.

Introducing the C-EBLIP List of Peer-Reviewed Journals in LIS

by Kristin Hoffmann
University of Western Ontario

Have you ever wondered where to submit your latest research paper? Would you like to be able to identify Open Access titles in librarianship?

I am happy to announce that the C-EBLIP site now hosts a list of peer reviewed journals in library and information science (LIS). This list was created to help librarians and archivists identify journals where they can submit manuscripts for publication. To that purpose, we have developed the list with three key features in mind:

Organization by category
There are twelve categories for this list, covering a wide range of topics in LIS, which help identify journals that relate to the topic of your manuscript. The category “Library and Information Science” contains the journals that are the broadest in scope. For simplicity, we have listed each title in only one category.

Identification of Open Access and Canadian titles
Open Access (OA) journals have theOpen Access logo logo at the end of their reference. Happily, there are many more OA titles now than when we started this list in 2007, in part because all of the journals that have launched since then are OA. Since C-EBLIP is based in Canada, we have highlighted Canadian titles with Maple Leaf .

Active titles only
The list does not include journals that have ceased publication, because the goal is to help identify potential venues for publication. We have listed journals under their most recent title, with previous titles provided in the entry.

Selinda Berg created this list in 2007 for the Librarians and Archivists Research Support Network at the University of Western Ontario, based on information from Ulrichs Serials Directory. I have since maintained this list in print, and we have shared it as part of the participant handouts at each Librarians’ Research Institute, updating it with newly created journal titles. Moving it to the C-EBLIP site means that this list is now publicly available and online.

In moving the list online, I reviewed each title over the past few months to check that the basic information about the journal was complete and up to date. Over the coming year, my plan is to add brief annotations to each title based on the focus and scope as described on the website for each journal.

There are almost certainly more titles we could add to this list, and despite our best efforts there may be typos or other errors. If you notice any incomplete or incorrect information about a title, or if you would like to suggest additional titles to include on this list, please comment here or write to Virginia Wilson, virginia.wilson@usask.ca

By the numbers
Journals currently on this list: 115
Open Access journals: 35
Canadian journals: 5
Journals that have launched since 2007: 14
Journals that have launched since 2007 and are Open Access: 14
Journals that have changed their name since 2007: 10

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.

UBC Okanagan’s First Researcher-in-Residence Day Report

by Marjorie Mitchell
Research Librarian, UBC Okanagan Library

A small and intrepid group of librarians and archivists gathered on December 15, 2017, in the University of British Columbia Okanagan Library Special Collections room for a day focused on the processes of conducting research. Librarians from Okanagan College and UBC’s Vancouver Campus joined their Okanagan colleagues to hear Jane Schmidt talk about her experience conducting research while on sabbatical, the challenge of peer-review for a topic that takes a critical stance, and, following the publication of her article Little Free Libraries®: Interrogating the impact of the branded book exchange, the media attention she and her research partner, Jordon Hale, received. Jane talked candidly about doing research on a topic she was passionate about, creating strong research partnerships with people who have complimentary skills, and about managing the aftermath of publishing an article critical of a US-based not-for-profit organization that caught the media’s attention.

In the question and answer time following Jane’s formal presentation she said one thing she would have done differently was to have secured ethics approval for portions of the research. She ultimately ended up excluding from her article what she learned from following social media on the Little Free Libraries® because she hadn’t sought ethics approval in advance of joining the closed Facebook group whose members are all people who built individual installations of a Little Free Libraries® box. A participant also asked Jane how she would have done this research if she had not been on sabbatical. Jane emphatically answered that the research would not have happened!

Following Jane’s candid and engaging talk, invited speakers Pierre Rondier and Mary Butterfield, both from UBC Okanagan, talked about writing grant proposals. Pierre focused on information about applying for Social Science and Humanities Research Council grants including the types of grants available, their scope, deadlines and criteria. Mary shared her insight as both a person who helps members of the Faculty of Management to write grant proposals and as an adjudicator for community grants such as community arts grants and grants from the Central Okanagan foundation. Both agreed researchers need to thoroughly understand the criteria of the grants for which they are applying.

The final session of the day was a panel presentation and discussion of research collaborations. Jane Schmidt talked about working with her researcher partner who was a student at the time they worked together. Sajni Lacey spoke about finding research collaborators during her time as a contract academic librarian prior to starting at UBC Okanagan on a tenure track. Finally, I spoke about collaborating in a large group over long distances highlighting my participation within the national studies on research data management practices of groups of faculty. Audience members added their experiences to the discussion to round out the breadth of variety of research, especially research done while on sabbatical or study leave.

Participants expressed an interest in seeing this type of event happen again.

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.

12 questions for new year’s research reflection

by Carolyn Doi
Education and Music Library, University of Saskatchewan


New Year’s Resolutions” by Jorge Cham

We’ve made it to 2018! For many of us, 2017 was a bit of rough one. The new year, with promise of new possibilities, is a great time to reflect and move forward with resolve. While I am generally skeptical of those long new year’s resolutions lists (do I really need more on my plate?), I do find it helpful to take time to plan for the year ahead.

When it comes to academic timelines, January is more of a half way point than a beginning. One busy semester is now behind us and one still yet to come. Often my research projects fall to the back burner in the fall, while teaching, research support, and collegial obligations become bigger priorities. With conference season coming up in the spring and summer, making sure those promised papers and presentations are well underway is critical.

I would like to use this new year as an opportunity to reflect on my research activities to this point, where I am now, and where I need to get to. Nothing like a quick check in to get the ball rolling. If you’re in the habit of keeping a research journal, feel free to borrow these questions and document your own answers.

The Researcher’s 12 Questions for New Year’s Reflection:1

1) What was an unexpected win (big or small)?
2) What was an unexpected obstacle?
3) What was the best research tool or resource you discovered this year?
4) Who within your research network did you build the most valuable relationship with?
5) What was the biggest change in your research?
6) In what way(s) did your concept of your research grow?
7) What was the most enjoyable part of your research?
8) What was the most challenging part of your research?
9) What was your single biggest time waster?
10) What was the best way you used your time?
11) What would you try if you knew you could not fail?
12) What was biggest thing you learned?

The jury is definitely out on whether setting resolutions is an effective way of achieving change. Resolvers seem to have a higher rate of success than non-resolvers, when combined with self-efficacy, skills to change, and readiness to change. But, this may also depend on the type of goals we set. Personally, I’m keeping my own resolutions simple this year with two questions: What do you want to bring into 2018? What do you want to leave behind?

Check out #academicresoltuions or #365papers on twitter for some inspired goal setting. Whether you are a resolver or not, here’s to a productive, insightful, and healthy research year ahead!

1Adapted from Tsh Oxenreider’s 20 Questions for New Year’s Eve.

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.

Five years of LARK, or how birds of the feather flock together

Dr Suzana Sukovic, Executive Director Educational Research & Evidence Based Practice, Health Education and Training Institute (HETI)
@suzanasukovic

Australian LARK (Library Applied Research Kollektive), a grass-roots group connecting professionals and academics with interest in practice-based research, celebrated its fifth birthday last month. Having a professional network of people with similar interests may sound quite straightforward, but there are days when I think it’s a miracle that baby LARK reached childhood by the human measure and, probably, teenage years by measure of longevity of a grass-root group.

With LARK, bird jokes and metaphors are inevitable. We sometimes talk about being birds of the feather. Since C-EBLIP belongs to the same bird species, I’d like to share LARK’s story, a bit of parental pride, and some insights from our five-years long flight.

In 2011, I made an unusual job change and, after many years of working at universities, I started working in an independent high school. In 2012, I initiated a research project at work and thought that some collaboration would go a long way in boosting the study. I also felt a strange sense of isolation in this new sector although connections with information worlds in which I worked before seemed obvious. So, I decided to call professionals from different corners of the library, information, and educational sectors to come to an informal meeting called Let’s talk about research. We gathered after work at St.Vincent’s College (Sydney), had a nibble and a glass of wine, talked about research interests, and had a good time. People were enthusiastic about establishing a network and thought we needed to put in place some structures to support our connections. That’s how LARK was born. My library colleagues at St.Vincent’s College and I decided about the name, I started the blog and a mailing list and invited people to join us. The mailing list had a decent number of members pretty quickly. We were ready to fly.

But, we didn’t. Any baby needs a fair bit of attention. Baby LARK needed attention and lots of patience. It kept quiet and slept a lot. Like most first-time parents, I had some misplaced expectations based on examples I saw (Humanist Discussion Group being the prime example). Where I expected chatter and collaboration, the LARK list offered a deafening silence. My messages to the list felt like sending letters to myself. So, I’d let my daily life take over and LARK slide far to the periphery of my (and everyone else’s) attention. But, whenever that happened, there was someone sending a private message saying how much they enjoyed posts about research. Or, my interpretation of the enthusiasm at the first meeting as one-off occurrence would be corrected by people who’d get in touch to ask when we were meeting next.

So, LARK met again. And again. Some people continued from the first meeting (notably, Alycia Bailey), others joined in for a short or long period of time. Some have become regular companions (shout out to Janet Chelliah and Bhuva Narayan from the University of Technology, Sydney – UTS). We usually had around 15, sometimes 20 people in engaging meetings after work, always followed by dinner. Our colleagues were getting in touch afterwards to say how they’d like to join, but couldn’t on that occasion. During the first couple of years, I expected people would either come in bigger numbers or stop coming altogether. Neither happened. Academics, librarians from university, public, school and special libraries, information professionals, and teachers kept getting together. The gatherings had never been large, but the group thrived nevertheless. With ongoing activities and a need for some support, we joined ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association) in December 2013.

What also happened over time was that people were getting in touch from various parts of Australia to say how they had research interests, but felt isolated and disconnected from research networks. This is how we initiated regular online events in 2016. Our first online event included presenters from Australia and New Zealand. Like face-to-face meetings, online events attracted a solid audience, but not a huge following. They became, however, an important connection point. The most recent webinar in 2017 was also an opportunity to reach out to other professional groups who talked to us about their research experiences reinforcing a sense of interprofessional connection.

LARK’s online presence grew in other ways too. The collaboratively written blog has attracted a fair bit of attention over time. Particularly important were contributions from the ALIA Research Advisory Committee. C-EBLIP’s own Virginia Wilson has become a contributor, too. According to the latest statistics, LARK’s blog attracted over 79200 visits from around the world, well over 700 visits per post.

During a period of a couple of years, Fiona McDonald, Liz Walkley Hall, and I ran the first Antipodean LIS reading group on Twitter (#EBLIPRG). We connected with professional groups overseas and even had a session facilitated from Ireland. LARK had an important role in making #EBLIPRG visible.

In May 2017, LARK branched out from online spaces and Sydney to South Australia. Liz Walkley Hall had already led an active research group at Flinders University and decided to initiate LARK group in South Australia to connect with colleagues from other organisations. The group had an initial meeting and has plans for future events.

Post by post, event by event, LARK has become very visible in the Australian LIS landscape. In September this year we celebrated LARK’s fifth birthday in a research style by organising a seminar titled Holy Evidence! Research in information practice. Yet again, it was a relatively small gathering, but one for which some people traveled significant distances. It was also pleasing that LARK was able for the first time to offer a grant to a LIS student to attend the seminar (congratulations to Crystal Campbell, a student at UTS).

In the first half of the day, we considered the Australian research landscape and heard from a variety of experienced researchers and novices from different sectors and even industries. In the second part of the day, we had a workshop to discuss how to develop a research project from idea to reality, and how to publish research findings. A feeling of connection and genuine engagement in the room was well supported by feedback forms. People greatly enjoyed not only substantial learning, but also each other’s company. It was particularly rewarding to see that people who came from afar were not disappointed. A sense of a connected research community was palpable in the air.

During the seminar, I looked back at the five years of LARK and thought of many dispersed people who are prepared to put effort in making research a reality in LIS practice. Establishing connections between interested people is essential, especially when they don’t even see themselves as researchers. For research you only need curiosity and tenacity; everything else can be learnt, said David Schmidt at the LARK’s seminar when he talked about research capacity building in health in rural and remote areas. With a network of curious tenacious people, learning is much more likely to happen, and it’s also much more enjoyable. A network also makes practice-based research visible.

Another issue is the formation of research bubbles along academic and professional, hierarchical and sector-based divisions. Distinctions between different types of research and interests are real, but often grossly exaggerated. When it comes to research, there are more connections than non-negotiable barriers. With LARK’s participants and presenters from various LIS sectors and allied fields, it has become evident that we have a lot in common when it comes to sharing research experiences and concerns. Groups like LARK open the lines of conversation and help us pop the bubbles.

In the spirit of interprofessional learning, I looked up what biology says on how birds of the feather flock together. They are known for changing direction, possibly to confuse predators. The change can be led by any bird in the flock and others will follow. How birds of a feather flock together…they are democratic claims an article in the Daily Mail interpreting a research study. Without looking into the authenticity of this interpretation, I like the idea that any bird can take a leadership position when it picks up important signals from its place in the environment. I like to believe that this is how a loosely organised group like LARK thrives. People come to the group for a short or long period of time, but they keep up the flight and influence the direction. At the end of the seminar, a few young librarians from various parts of Australia offered their help and expressed their willingness to be more involved with LARK. After a very rewarding research celebration, these offers were a real highlight for me. They are saying to me that LARK will keep flying. For all of us, especially new LARKs ready to fly, it is crucial to have the flock.

C-EBLIP members and readers are invited to join the LARK mailing list, like us on Facebook, use our collection of resources on Diigo and write about their work for the blog. All links are available from the LARK blog.

For more information about the LARK seminar “Holy Evidence! Research in information practice”, see program and this blog post.

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.