Walking the (Research Data Management) Talk

by Marjorie Mitchell
Librarian, Learning and Research Services
UBC Okanagan Library

Librarians helping researchers to create data management plans, developing usable file management systems (including file naming conventions), preparing the data for submission into repositories and working through the mysteries of subject-specific metadata schemes are at the forefront of the data sharing movement. All this work leads to research that is more reproducible, more rigorous, has fewer errors, and more frequently cited (Wicherts, 2011) than research that isn’t shared. In addition to those benefits, shared data leads to increased opportunities for collaboration and, potentially, economic benefits (Johnson, 2016). However, are we doing what we are asking our researchers to do and ultimately making our research data available and open for reanalysis and reuse? Are we walking the talk? Or is this the case of the carpenter’s house (unfinished) and the mechanic’s car (needing repair)?

When I’m speaking of data I use Eisner and Vasgird’s description of data as “a collection of facts, measurements or observations used to make inferences about the world we live in” (n.d.) because the research done by librarians consists of wide varieties of data: numerical, textual, photographic images, hand drawn maps, or diagrams created by study participants. Almost all have the potential to be shared openly and to act as a springboard for further research, subject to appropriate ethical considerations.

I started searching to see what data I could find from Canadian librarian researchers in repositories. I have not finished my search, but my early results show some interesting things. To date, this has not been a rigorous study, but more of a curious, pre-research “let’s see what’s out there” browse, and therefore must not be misconstrued as the basis for conclusions. I briefly looked internationally for a few studies and found a wider variety of topics with available datasets than I had found in Canadian repositories, which was what I expected to find.

Two things jumped out at me right away. First, when data is available, it is either from large, national or multi-institutional studies, or it is from studies that have been repeated over time, such as LibQUAL+®. Far fewer institution-specific or single researcher/research team datasets are “available.” Some of those have “request access” restrictions, meaning it may be possible to access the data with permission from the creator, but that is not guaranteed. The second thing I noticed was how difficult it is locate these datasets. Although there is a movement to assign unique and persistent identifiers to datasets, this has not, as yet, translated into a search engine that can comprehensively search for datasets.

I am happy to see a steady increase in the amount of librarian-generated research data being made available. Librarian-generated research is not alone in this trend. It is happening across the disciplines. While little library research is externally funded, it is worth noting some funders are requiring data management plans with the goal of data sharing. Some scholarly journals, particularly in the sciences, have strong policies about data sharing. Each change, minor or major, moves us more toward data that is shared as a matter of course, rather than data shared only reluctantly.

If this all sounds like “just another thing to do” or maybe “I don’t have the skills or interest to do this,” consider research data sharing as an opportunity to partner with another librarian who has those skills but perhaps lacks the research skills you have. Research partners and teams can allow people to contribute their best skills rather than struggling to compensate for their weaknesses throughout the process.

Finally, have a look at the data that is out there just waiting to be reused. Cite it, add to it (if allowed), and share your new results. I am confident this will add greater context to your research and highlight subtleties and nuances that might have remained invisible otherwise.


Eisner, R., & Vasgird, D. (n.d.) Foundation Text. In RCR Data Acquisition and Management. Retrieved from http://ori.hhs.gov/education/products/columbia_wbt/rcr_data/foundation/index.html

Johnson, B. (2016). Open Data: Delivering the Benefits. Presentation, London, UK.

Wicherts, J. M., Bakker, M., & Molenaar, D. (2011). Willingness to Share Research Data Is Related to the Strength of the Evidence and the Quality of Reporting of Statistical Results. PLoS ONE, 6(11). doi:hOp://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0026828

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.

What if we talked about capacity for research, not research competencies?

by Selinda Berg
Schulich School of Medicine – Windsor Program
Leddy Library, University of Windsor
University Library Researcher in Residence, University of Saskatchewan

[For the first time, I am making a blog post that puts out ‘there’ some ideas that I have been working on, which will hopefully evolve into a published paper. In the past, I have been someone that has been hesitant to blog in this way, but I am pushing myself in a new direction.]

Lately, I have been studying and contemplating multiple theoretical frameworks that span the humanities, social sciences, and health sciences. Reading these works and their framing of complex and changing environments have led me to question the current emphasis on competencies in librarianship. In this project, I am considering the ways that librarianship may benefit from making a shift away from its focus on competencies and move towards adopting the concept of capacity. Whereas competency focuses on the abilities, knowledge, and skills to successfully complete a task, capacity is the faculty or potential for experiencing, appreciating, and adapting. Capacity is about growth: growth of the individual in knowledge and experience.

We have recently seen an influx of documents addressing the competencies of librarians, including the research competencies of librarians (for example: see CARL, 2007). While these documents have value, they are one piece of a much larger puzzle. In this post, I want to consider the ways in which a shift towards a focus on capacity for research may initiate positive changes in our understanding and approach to research:

Embrace research as a learning process: There is no one static set of skills or abilities that will prepare someone to “do” research. The abilities, skills, and knowledge that I have gained by completing my PhD will not “set me up” for my next research study or for the research project that I undertake after that. I will have to learn new methods, try out new technologies, consider new theoretical frameworks, and certainly evolve my ideas. Research does not require a static set of skills and abilities (competencies), but rather the ability to continually evolve in our knowledge and abilities (capacity). As librarians, most of us have taken one, two, or three research methods courses. However published research, formal and informal conversations, and personal experience suggests that this framework of skills has not fully prepared us to successfully undertake research. We need to reframe our thinking and acknowledge that our greatest strength is our curiosity and our ability to evolve.

Encourage a research program: As noted above, research is not Rinse and Repeat. Our goal should not be to repeat the research that we have done before, but rather to develop a research program that evolves our ideas, builds off of our results, delves deeper into issues, and looks at questions at different angles and through different lenses. The realization that our success relies not on our current set of skills but our ability to evolve and grow our understandings will encourage us to push further and delve deeper into a topic and in turn, develop a strong program of research.

Empower librarians to know that we can: Embracing the idea that we have the ability to learn, to grow, and to adapt will move us away from conversations (within and outside of the profession) that focus on “Librarians were not trained to be researchers,” “Librarians do not have PhDs,” and “Librarians don’t have the skills to do research.” We need to embrace the notion that we can evolve and transform to meet the challenges presented by new research opportunities and we must take the time for these processes to take place. All researchers have to dedicate significant time to exploring and learning the context of a topic, to explore the wide of array of possible techniques for study, and to consider the way in which they can contribute a new understanding of a topic. It is quite possible that our first projects will not have the perfect research question, method, instrument or theoretical frameworks but from that, we should be motivated and inspired to learn and grow—to tap into our capacity.

Research success relies on more than a set of skills: While the skills and abilities to do research are important, capacity recognizes that there are factors at play beyond skills. Personal commitment, institutional commitment, resources to support research, and the allocation and dedication of time to transform and evolve are potentially as important or more important factors in fulfilling both personal capacity and institutional capacity for research. Capacity is the potential to grow and experience but it is critical to realize that potential requires more than a set of skills to complete a task.

Competencies are the skills we need to complete a task. But research is not a task, it is a process. Librarians, in all areas of their professional responsibilities, transform and evolve to meet the needs of the new challenges and opportunities. As librarians, we need to recognize that our biggest asset is our ability to learn and to grow–our capacity for research.

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.

Publish or practice, never that simple: C-EBLIP Journal Club, November 17, 2015

by Selinda Berg
Schulich School of Medicine – Windsor Program
Leddy Library, University of Windsor
University Library Researcher in Residence, University of Saskatchewan

As the Researcher-in-Residence, I was very eager to convene the November gathering of the University of Saskatchewan Library’s C-EBLIP Journal Club. I think that this initiative by the Centre (C-EBLIP) is incredibly valuable to librarians: It expands our understanding of the research landscape; increases are understanding our colleague’s research interests; and diversifies our perspectives and deepens our knowledge about research.

The article we discussed in November was:
Finlay, C. F., Ni, C. Tsou, A., Sugimoto, C. R. (2013). Publish or practice?: Examination of librarians’ contributions to research. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 134), 403-421.

In this article, the researchers share the results of their investigation into the authorship of LIS literature with an emphasis on understanding the contributions and attributes of practitioner scholarship. The article intersects well with my own research interests, as well as aligns with many of the ongoing conversations about the research outputs and the research productivity by academic librarians. The conversation was lively, informative, and thoughtful.

The article was well-received by those at journal club with members highlighting the article’s clear methods and style of writing. The discussion was diverse and lead us to many different conversation, but three themes did emerge.

Other possible interpretations and explanations:
The authors found that there was a decrease in the proportion of article published by practitioners between 2006 and 2011. The authors made a couple of suggestions as to why this may have occurred, including the increase in non-traditional publications and the decrease in expectations for research. In addition to these explanations, we discussed other possibilities including a movement away from LIS journals as librarians’ research interests become more diverse; a decrease in tenure-track/tenured librarian positions (resulting in more contract positions without research opportunities and perhaps more practice heavy positions); and/or a change in the nature of articles with a movement away from a focus on quantity of articles to a focus on quality research.

Application of method and findings to the development of institutional standards and a disciplinary research culture:
The discussion led to interesting conversation about how contributions to scholarship are measured, both in relation to our disciplinary research culture as well as institutional standards. As scholarly communications evolve, is the counting of articles in respected journals the only (or best) was to evaluate research contributions? This discussion led us to further consideration about how disciplinary differences in research culture make a difference in the interpretation of contributions, and in turn, the relatively young and immature research culture in academic libraries makes it difficult to name our disciplinary criteria and in turn develop institutional standards.

Related research questions:
The article was really well-received and from good research comes more questions. The article raised some interesting discussion about related research questions that were not within in the scope of the research article. There was an interest in knowing more about the qualities and attributes of the librarians who have been publishing (including their position, their length of service, their motivations for research, and the factors that determined where they publish). There was also questions as to whether these librarians who are contributing to scholarship through “traditional” scholarly venues are also contributing to the scholarly conversations though non-traditional formats (blogs, open publishing etc.). Lastly there was an underlying assumption that these two bodies of literature by two set of authors, LIS scholars and practitioner-scholars interact and impact each other; however, there was an interest in knowing how these two bodies literature, written by two groups of authors actually do interact- for example: are they citing each other, or do they cite their own communities?

Great discussion ensued at the meeting and some stimulating ideas were generated from the many interesting findings within the paper and beyond. Some very thoughtful discussion emerged during journal club—looking forward to Janurary!!

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.

I am a Qualitative Researcher

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

Had I known that in my role as an academic librarian I would be required to research and publish I would have taken in-depth research methods classes in library school – famous last words?

Although I wanted to be in an academic library setting, I wasn’t sure I would end up in one given that most of my experience was in public libraries. I didn’t think of conducting research and I certainly did not consider publishing when I finished library school. But I managed to co-author and publish two peer reviewed papers – one with my best friend in library school and another with a library colleague at the public library where I started my first librarian position. The latter research project was on exploring diverse populations in Saskatchewan and whether public libraries in the province are prepared/equipped to cater to these groups. Before this went into publication I moved to the University of Saskatchewan, where for tenure-track positions publishing was a requirement. Using my first two publishing experiences, I embarked on other research projects sometimes with colleagues and other times alone. Through this learning process I realized I was very much a qualitative researcher.

The fact that I am a qualitative researcher was once again confirmed after I enrolled in a qualitative research methods class at the College of Education, University of Saskatchewan. I don’t like numbers, I like stories. I like that I can talk to participants, interview them, survey them, observe them at work, gather information most relevant and important to them, and interpret all this for rest of the world.

There are various approaches to qualitative research such as narrative, phenomenology, case study, grounded theory, biographical, historical, ethnography, and numerous variations within them; the prospect of including poetry, pictures, photos, drawings, metaphors; the ability to be flexible with interview questions; the possibility of profound investigations into a situation based on conversations with participants especially when it is an interview are all exciting and seemingly endless. And then there is data analysis. Data can be in many forms and formats. It can be categorized, divided into themes, coded, concepts identified, refined, re-categorized, and authenticated conclusions arrived at. Personally, such data analysis is much more appealing than just quantifying information.

The whole process of qualitative research is as much an art as it is science, and contrary to assumptions that it allows for subjective interpretations, it is about consistencies and deeper meanings while allowing room for authors and/or participants to state their personal biases.

I am sure that I will explore quantitative research later in the future, but for now I have confirmed that my interests are slanted towards being a qualitative researcher. I have found my niche in evidence based practice.

If you are a qualitative researcher, I would love to hear what about it excites you.

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.

There’s a New Research Support Group in Town (or at least in Canada)

by Virginia Wilson, Director
Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP)
University of Saskatchewan

It has been my experience as a librarian who has a mandate to conduct research (the tenure and promotion process as a faculty member at the University of Saskatchewan), who wants to conduct research (I’m curious, I want to learn!), and who has been at this for the past 10 years, that support for research endeavours is an important factor in the ability of librarian practitioner-researchers to move their research programs or projects forward. Organizational support and collegial, peer support are both valuable at every state of the research process. Some are lucky enough, like me, to work in an organization with a strong culture of research and the belief in the benefits of research for an academic career and for practice. Others perhaps do not have that kind of support readily available, working solo with no evident supports or working in an organization that does not support or value that type of work.

I recently found out about a new group in Nova Scotia, Canada, the LibrariesNS Research Support Group. This group was founded in June 2015, and its ultimate goal is to “increase the amount and quality of library research in Nova Scotia.” This group is targeted to all the librarians, library workers/technicians, and LIS academics working in Nova Scotia who are interested in research. The impetus for the group, according to the proposal that you can find on their part of the Libraries Nova Scotia webpage, came from a talk given by C-EBLIP Adjunct Member and University of Western Ontario librarian Kristin Hoffmann that was held at the Halifax Public Library in April 2015 entitled “Academic Librarians as Successful Researchers.” During the talk and the ensuing discussion, attending Nova Scotian librarians talked about research in their library community – its challenges and successes. The idea for a “work in progress” support group came out of that discussion and after a proposal to Libraries Nova Scotia, the group found a home and is now rolling out various supports to librarians from all sectors in Nova Scotia.

What a fabulous idea! While librarians spend a lot of time supporting researchers who work in our various organizations, we too need support for our research endeavours. Initiatives such as the CARL Librarian Research Institute on a national level and the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice at the local level help to create a supportive and engaging environment in which librarians as researchers can explore questions related to practice (and even not related to practice!), conduct rigorous and timely research, and disseminate that research in order to inform colleagues and to enhance the evidence base for librarianship.

I’m interested in various supports out there for librarians as researchers. If your group or organization is doing something formally or informally around supporting practicing librarians who also conduct research, I’d like to hear about it if you are willing to share. You can contact me at virginia.wilson@usask.ca.

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.

Librarians as Practitioner-Researchers: Limiting Label

by Selinda Berg
Schulich School of Medicine – Windsor Program
Leddy Library, University of Windsor

This is a complementary post to Kristin Hoffmann’s post, Librarians as Practitioner-Researchers: Constructive Concept. Kristin and I are both deeply interested in the development of research culture in academic libraries, and together we have discussed the possibilities of framing academic librarians as practitioner-researchers. We have taken diverging approaches in our posts, but we have many points of convergence as well.

I would like to suggest that the term “practitioner-researcher” has the potential to also be a limiting label. I agree with much of Kristin’s argument: We are both researchers and practitioners and we want to embrace the distinctive knowledge about research and practice that can only come from our unique vantage point. My concern is that this label will not only inform our identity as researchers, but also dictate our image as researchers. It is not only about the way we view ourselves from the inside, but also how we are viewed from the outside. Ultimately, naming is a not only a personal issue, but also a political one.

One of the primary texts on the practitioner-researcher identity is Peter Jarvis’s The Practitioner-Researcher published in 1999. There are multiple examples in Jarvis’s book where the research of professionals and practitioners is presented as second class. One such example is:

[Practitioners] often are not recognized a researchers. They certainly do not have the traditional image of the researcher, and they may not always be in a position to conduct their research in a most satisfactory way, nor do they necessarily meet the stringent demands of some members of the traditional research community. Nevertheless this does not mean that they should not be viewed as practitioner-researchers, because that is what they are. (Jarvis, 1999, p.9)

This description of practitioner research as low quality and sub-standard is disheartening, but not necessarily rare. The library community of researchers to which I belong strives to produce high quality and valuable research. (At the same time, we recognize that there is always lots to learn and ways to grow as a researcher). No researcher wants their output to be viewed as unsatisfactory or low quality, but this may be the reality of how the practitioner-researcher’s work is perceived. It has been suggested that we need to reclaim and redefine the term practitioner-researcher and make it into what we desire. It is likely, however, that we can only reclaim and redefine this term for ourselves. The ways those on the “outside” view the practitioner-researcher will likely be quite different, and I fear that their perceptions will be more aligned with Jarvis than what we desire. This image of practitioner-researcher is limiting and will continue to limit where we, as librarians, are able to take our research.

I would like to provide one concrete example of how this inaccurate view of our research could be limiting—funding. I have heard on three occasions about academic librarians applying for SSHRC[1] grants, and being told (either from within the formal feedback process or from outside of the formal process) that academic librarians should not be applying for these grants, because these grants are “not for them, but for faculty researchers.” I do understand the magnitude and significance of the SSHRC grant. However, if it is not our research itself, but rather our image or even identity, that is precluding us from such opportunities, I see this as deeply problematic. In the future more and more librarians will have the credentials, supports, and research programs that meet SSHRC’s criteria: They should not be limited by their image. While a SSHRC grant may not be of interest to all, these same kinds of limitations may play out in the type of journals we publish in; the conferences we are comfortable at; the institutional funding we have access to; and our overall position in the research community.

I recognize the importance of the interplay between our professional work and our research; yet I also believe that before we embrace the term ‘practitioner-researcher,’ there must be acknowledgement and recognition that labels and naming are not only personal issues, they are also political issues.

Jarvis, P. (1999). The practitioner-researcher: Developing theory from practice. Josey-Bass: San Francisco.
1. SSHRC: Social Science and Humanities Research Council is Canada’s federal research funding agency that promotes and supports postsecondary-based research and training in the humanities and social sciences.

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.