Last month, I participated in the Librarians’ Research Institute, sponsored by CARL and hosted by Carleton University in lovely Ottawa. The LRI is a 3 1/2 day workshop developed by librarians, for librarians to “provide practicing academic librarians in Canada an opportunity to immerse themselves in sustained conversations and activities related to scholarly research, inquiry, and publishing.” This was the 3rd iteration.
What was it like?
The Institute brought together 30+ librarians from across Canada including, for the first time, colleagues from non-CARL and Quebec institutions. It was a diverse and engaged group, with a wide variety of research experience. I am firmly at the novice end of the spectrum, but never felt as though that meant I had less to contribute. I was impressed by the level of focus — no one was multitasking (unheard of!). I am fortunate to have made connections with such an ambitious and inquisitive bunch.
The entire thing was run by 5 ‘Peer Mentors’ – practicing librarians who are accomplished researchers. Our Peer Mentors were: Selinda Berg (Windsor, also the LRI Co-Chair), Cara Bradley (U Regina), Marwin Britto (U Saskatchewan), Pascal Lupien ( U Guelph), and Tony Horava (U Ottawa). They represented different career paths, research interests, and methodological leanings. The Institute was very thoughtfully planned, including a variety of formats, and it is clear that a whole lot of heart went into this.
Given the differing levels of experience and reasons for attending, I expect that the ‘take aways’ were highly personal. These are mine:
Take into consideration your temperament and strengths when designing a research project. It’s okay and, in fact, wise to play to those strengths. For example, if you are introverted, you may not want to be cold-calling dozens of interview subjects. Some librarians might work best in collaboration, some might not. We don’t have a strict model, since we operate across the disciplines.
And pick something that excites *you*. That will help to sustain you through what can be a long, hard slog.
Remember the Broad Spectrum of Methods
Somewhat related to the first idea, I was reminded of the wide variety of research methods available to us! We discussed the categories: Quantitative, Qualitative, and Critical/ Theoretical. It was suggested that LIS tends to value quantitative methods & we have lots of love for a good ol’ survey. But that doesn’t make the other methods less valid! Don’t feel locked in by the methods that have high occurrence in our field.
Heck, you can even invent your own damn method.
Do Your Homework
Also, there are plenty of strong reference books on research methods — whether in LIS or broader fields of study. Use them. They might just have smart things to tell you.
We were discussing a scenario & the notion of assessing student confidence came up. I suggested that this is really hard to do & someone pointed me to a major researcher on this topic. Ahh right. I had recently been involved in creating a survey to assess the effectiveness of a library tutorial & we stumbled through the design of measurements, completely in isolation. I bemoaned the fact that we didn’t think to do some RESEARCH on the topic. This is a case in which research should have informed my practice, but it did not. That said, I am resolved to try and think bigger picture next time around.
Focus on the Positive
From the start, the peer mentors acknowledged that there are very real barriers for librarians doing research (lack of time, skills, support, etc.). But, throughout the institute, they effectively maintained a strengths focus: Yes, barriers exist — so, what are strategies to overcome them? I believe this will be a useful lens for re-starting these conversations back at my home institution.
For example, we talked about the importance of making our research work more visible. Whether that means blocking ‘research’ time in our shared calendars, or negotiating that you will temporarily withdraw from another task in order to focus on your project.
LRI Resources & Exercises
The workshop materials included a few gems that I will refer back to, including: a list of peer-reviewed LIS journals, tools to help you articulate your research question, and a compendium of research methods complete with examples of each method in the LIS field. Unfortunately, the program materials cannot be shared publicly online.
Several of the exercises really stuck with me. For example, in groups of three, we worked to articulate our research themes. The feedback from group members was very insightful. In another exercise, we discussed whether practice informs our research, or vice versa. The group talked about setting goals: One peer mentor said that she had her research goals posted in her office (ex. Submit 2 articles to peer-reviewed journals in 2014).
Where does that leave me?
Despite the personal nature of the experience, one thing I expect all attendees had in common: It was a rare privilege to focus on research for 3 1/2 days straight, with support from the these mentors and fellow participants.
I returned from the LRI to a mountain of Summer Projects, as we do. So, truthfully my energies are focused elsewhere right now.
But the LRI came at a good time for me: I am trying to build towards something. I’ve written a review essay which is currently in the editorial process. This past year, I’ve served as a peer reviewer for two LIS journals. This is all helping to build my confidence & understanding of the mechanics of publishing. And now, with this ‘research bootcamp’ under my belt, I feel better equipped to move forward.