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Thursday, 22 May 2014

Your multidisciplinary team needs a librarian

A history of Aboriginal Sydney won a Research and Investigation Award from the National Heritage Trust last week. It is a proud achievement for a multidisciplinary team, including a librarian. In Library and Information Week, the Chief Investigator, Professor Peter Read, wishes to share his opinion why librarians are needed in a historical research team.

The University of Sydney project 'A history of Aboriginal Sydney' started off as a planned book, but soon turned into Suzana Sukovic, a librarian and researcher, gently steered the team of oral historian, photographer, film-maker and historical researcher towards an on-line presentation which would produce not three or four parallel results but one co-ordinated one. She joined the team as well, in 2010.

Librarians well versed in digital humanities, I realise now, offer not only new ways of creative thinking, but epistemological insights into how to present historical knowledge and understanding to solve new problems. Issues of design, attractiveness, maneuverability and access are just part of what I understand to be a great deal more than an easy way of putting everything together. We're all proud of what we produced. I'm preaching to the converted here, but any future historical project of mine, will certainly have a librarian in the team.
Admittedly, the librarian in question is also a LARK, but the message is an important one. Academic historians may be more inclined to take it on board when it is coming from their colleague. 

Peter Read is an Adjunct Professor in the Australian Centre for Aboriginal History, ANU.  He has worked in  Aboriginal History for most of his career, especially in NSW and the Northern Territory, and amongst the Stolen Generations.

Monday, 5 May 2014

LARK meetup: report of a sort

By Suzana Sukovic
The LARK meetup was five days ago but we haven’t told you how it went yet. ‘Lovely, as always’, is a short answer, but here is a long one (to quote our good blog friend ALIA Sydney).

It is the first week of the term and it’s just busy, busy, busy...Another meeting, even if lovely and friendly, seems a bit too much, but we’ve made a commitment. Alycia and I buy cheeses and wine, put a smile on our dial and greet our first guests. Our well-known and unknown guests come from near and afar with sure or tentative smiles, ready for the evening. We exchange information, we chat, we nibble and it’s time for a ‘real’ start although we are already on a roll. It’s a small gathering and, because we always have new people, we all say something about our research interests... I grow a bit taller in my chair. Some statements about interests, even research topics, have definitely become much more defined few meetings down the track. 

We talk about examples of research approaches in practice. Mary Anne Kennan tells us about surveys in a large international study and a follow-up using some qualitative methods. Alycia Bailey talks about the ethnography in a school library and lots of fine-grained data gathering – a very different approach from the previous one. I talk about action research and how data helped me see the first phase of my project as a bit more than flat-lying-on-its-back attempt. 

We then split into groups and things are seriously warming up. One group is all over gaming, another is serious about researching the value of ‘fluff’ and the third talks about social change (that’s serious but, in the end, I only know they talked about surveys – keyword injustice). I am the party breaker and clock-watcher (the eternal shame is mine) so we come back and say, ‘So what?’ and ‘What’s next?’ Suggestions that we can meet separately in groups or online don’t fly. Some people just love saying to their families and co-workers, ‘Sorry, guys, I’ve got to go’. My research tells me that there is real value in doing your work and chatting in corners for a few hours. Mary Anne mentions the ‘shut up and write’ approach, Mary Coe suggests reading circles...Now we know what we want – to work as much as we can alone and come back together, for longer, much longer.

By the time we take pictures, some people have gone. Our group is small as it is without a few missing people. But, research has never been a mass exercise. For a handful of LARKs, it’s inspiring to know there are others who are equally glad they I’ve made the effort. That’s what research is about. Fly above the daily grind for something in what you believe.