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Sunday, 16 October 2016

My journey from practitioner to researcher to published author

By Edward Luca
Sign from Luca's & Narayan's article
I started working in an academic library three years ago. At the time, I was completing my Bachelor’s degree in library and information science. The job was not as a librarian, but rather a communication officer. If you were to take the position description at face value, you could quite easily find a marketing person to write some copy and talk to other marketing people around the university. But, I was training to be a librarian and the job got me working in a library, so I was pretty pleased about it.

As I walked around my new work environment, I became increasingly interested in the experience of being in the physical library. I’ve rarely, if ever, had a truly great library interaction online. The physical space brings focus, it inspires, and it welcomes anyone and everyone. And yet it was covered in pieces of paper, with words that don’t mean anything to the average person. All these rules and instructions, which made me feel like I was in the wrong for not understanding them.

Through my LIS studies I had been exposed to the principles of Human-Centred Design, User Experience Design and Design Thinking. Don Norman, a big name in this space, writes that design needs to put human needs, capabilities and behaviour first. The process of design starts and ends with the users.

There seemed to be a chasm between this research I had studied, and what was actually happening in the library; I’ve found this disconnect to be true of LIS research and practice in general. This was certainly true of the signage in the library, and my in-house project to fix the library signage has now evolved into a peer-reviewed journal article. So how did I get here?

One of my favourite observations in Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches' wonderful book Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library, is that often as librarians we’ll put up a paper sign when something isn’t working well. Instead, they argue, we should aim to address the core issue which will both improve the visual environment and make the library more pleasant to use. But how do we know when something isn’t working well, and more importantly, how can we fix it? Based on the literature, I decided to use the Design Thinking approach to solve the issue. What’s so valuable about the Design Thinking approach is that it’s not just for designers; it can be used for absolutely any product or service.The library is a tremendously complex user environment, with so many different systems and processes all talking to each other. And this confusion is evident in our users! I think that anything we can do to better understand our users is a vital for a librarian, but this sort of user research is not something that we often have time for in our busy schedules.

While working through this project, I began to realise that the problems I was attempted to solve were not problems unique to our library. In fact, they seem to happen everywhere! So many libraries are covered in paper signs, have troublesome printers, hard to find rooms, or awkward checkout machines. While the size of the collection, design of the building, and range of services on offer may vary from library to library, the fundamental issues that we are trying to solve are very similar. 

As I was executing the project, I thought that perhaps there was a value to documenting our process, so that other libraries could learn from our experiences and take advantage of some of the lessons we had learned along the way. I didn’t know how to go about this. Fortunately, an LIS academic at the university had noticed our signage work and approached me with the prospect of writing a journal article about the project. I was surprised to find out that many LIS academics are on the lookout for library practitioners to collaborate with.

This was such an exciting opportunity for me, and as I thought about how an article might be structured, I began to realise that in producing the new signs I had drawn upon so much knowledge gained from my degree - ideas about user experience design, information design, observations, interviews, and even slightly tangential things like visual communication and creative writing. Not only were we able to draw upon these theoretical frameworks, but we were also able to use practice-based evidence through our own findings and experiences at the library. The research literature gives us some guidance, but we needed to validate these findings with support and evidence from our own users. 

This was also a mutually beneficial process. My academic co-author was able to conduct some practice-based research, and I received academic guidance about how to structure the project into an article with a clear conceptual framework and methodology, as I had never written a journal article before. 

This project has had a significant impact on my own practice of librarianship, while it’s also given me a much clearer idea of some of the challenges facing academics in the writing process. My co-author and I are both huge open access advocates, so the decision to look for an open access journal to publish in was an easy one. We only sent in a proposal and not the whole article, and the immediate response was very encouraging, so we decided to write it, after all.

The actual writing was the easiest bit; the work had been done. Manipulating it into a piece of writing that would be of value to any library, whilst also foregrounding the research, was much harder. What surprised me was how much time we spent considering the article conceptually. We had a clearly defined project with a successful outcome, but many afternoons were spent thinking about the conceptual framework and structure of the paper.

Feedback provided during the peer-review process was especially helpful here. For example, in our first version of the work, we’d spent more time on the specific details of our case study. After the first round of peer-reviews, we needed to reorient the work to focus on the overall process/method, which makes a much more valuable contribution to the research literature as it provides a methodology which can be applied at other libraries. The whole process from start to publication took us about six months of working together wherein we put in a total of about 40-50 hours overall, writing together and in turns.

And the day it was published? There was this huge sense of accomplishment that’s hard to describe! 

I am still very surprised by the huge positive reaction to the work. We tweeted about the article and sent it out to our networks, but were very soon seeing it picked up by staff at other academic libraries and around the world, and even by design thinking researchers, some of whom want to translate it to French. This immediate reaction is gratifying for an author, and being open access, the article is immediately readable by anyone who stumbles across it. This was also an opportunity to put into practice much of the publication literacy that librarians are engaged in: ensuring an appropriate copy is made available in the institutional repository, adding it to our researcher profiles (e.g. ORCID) and using social media for promotion. I feel that making my academic publishing debut, and already understanding these practices, will stand me in good stead for future works. 

The article was only really possible through collaboration between an academic and a library practitioner. Libraries have always been required to evolve and adapt to changing user needs. Though we certainly have a host of new issues in today’s landscape, many of these remain under-researched. It is essential that library professionals work with trained researchers from universities and elsewhere to create a body of evidence that can support contemporary needs in the profession. This experience has convinced me that LIS needs much more of this sort of collaborative research; evidence-based practice creating practice-led evidence through a conceptual research framework.

Luca, E, Narayan, B 2016, Signage by design: a design-thinking approach to library user experience, Weave: Journal of Library User Experience, 3 (5), DOI:

Edward Luca (AALIA) is Communication Officer at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Library, Australia

Dr Bhuva Narayan (AALIA) is Senior Lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Australia

Thursday, 13 October 2016

What happened in the LARKMeet, 11 October

By Suzana Sukovic

"In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not."

(Anonymous; attributed to Einstein)

This clever observation was one of many interesting points raised in Liz Walkley Hall's presentation Working as a practitioner researcher: view from the frontline. If you missed the meeting (see details), here are the slides with Liz's talk . ( BTW, the sound quality improves after a couple of minutes. A brief conversation about the sound is in the recording for your authentic experience.)

After Liz's thought-provoking presentation, we discussed our experiences of doing research in practice. Here are notes with some pointers how to support practice-based research. 

Research mindset
  • Importance of developing research mindset or a ‘habit of the mind’. Peer support is critical and may not mean that everyone in organisation is doing research, but it is important that peers understand and support the research mindset
  • Groups like LARK are important in establishing peer support
  • Liz’s research show that a ‘habit of the mind’ means stepping away from the problem at hand and asking, ‘What evidence am I using to support my decision?’
  • Benefits – enhanced and reflective practice
What is helpful?
  • Connections 
o between different projects as they evolve from a particular interest and theme
o between work and studying at university
-enables tapping into different sorts of expertise
- access to people whose opinions and experience can help you without a need to look for them
- not having to divide a head space between work and study
o doing research on work-related topics – maximising opportunities if research is tied up with work outcomes; sharing with the profession; learning at conferences

Careers and publishing
  • Research usually not on job descriptions (a recent exception of the University of Southern Queensland mentioned) 
  • Publications add to being a stronger candidate, at least in academic libraries
  • In some organisations publications seen as unnecessary; no evidence of benefits of publications to LIS careers
  • A wish to publish and present finished research expressed
  • Starting with a peer-reviewed paper
o Collaboration
Writing with an experienced author helps; people who haven’t published before can contribute valuable ideas
Writing with a peer group

o Peer-review process  
Articles turn out better after peer-reviewing
Internal reviewing with peers helps
Valuable to have someone who can interpret peer reviewers’ comments, help to apply them or explain why they haven’t been accepted – learning to deal with the whole culture around publishing
Important to step back and consider comments from a distance

We could certainly keep going as one hour passed very quickly. All of us who were there are willing to meet again and continue conversations.

Thanks to everyone who participated in discussions and to our silent audience as they made time to be with us. Special thanks to Liz for her interesting presentation and to Alycia Bailey for looking after slides and technology.

Friday, 7 October 2016

LARKMeet online 11 October

Hopefully, you've been inspired by Virginia Wilson's recent post about Canadian experience with LIS research and evidence based practice. In the next LARK Meet online, we'd like to connect inspiration and your good ideas with practice. The main presentation will be by Liz Walkley Hall, an experienced practice-based researcher followed by questions and disucussions.

Working as a practitioner-researcher: a view from the frontline

Presented by Liz Walkley Hall, Flinders University Library

Librarians who combine research with practice - practitioner-researchers - face many challenges. However this is outweighed by the opportunities research can bring to practice, including bringing an evidence base to our decision-making, as well as firsthand experience of the research process which can be invaluable in the academic library context.

In this presentation, Liz will explore how we can all incorporate research into our practice as librarians, offering some tips and tricks that she has learnt.

Please join us for what is planned to be an interactive, exploratory session - bring your questions and comments !

WHEN: Tue, Oct 11, 2016 8:00 PM - 9:00 PM (Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne)

Please join this meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone. 

You can also dial in using your phone. 
United States +1 (872) 240-3412 
Access Code: 997-699-789 

Liz Walkley Hall is the Open Scholarship Librarian at Flinders University and an active practitioner-researcher. She is also the Chair of the Library's Research Working Group. In this role, she supports librarians to undertake their own research projects. Over the past six years, the group has published or presented more than 20 papers, from usability studies to library-community engagement. Liz's own research interests include knowledge management, organisational change, workplace learning, and research skills for librarians.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice: One Canadian Answer to Research and EBLIP Support

By Virginia Wilson 

At the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, librarians are faculty members. This means that we are responsible for the practice of professional skills, service, and research. In fact, we are required to conduct and disseminate research to achieve tenure and promotion. You might think that the mandate to conduct research would mean that doing so is seamless and easy. Not so! I know that from my own experiences as a librarian who was hired on the tenure track and who went through the tenure and promotion processes that there are common barriers to conducting research. I probably suffered through all of them. There are challenges like protecting the time we have to actually do the research; thinking about research as part of the role of a librarian rather than merely an add-on to the “real job”; dealing with financial concerns – will my professional fund allow me to hire a student and go to that crucial conference?; and feeling a self-perceived lack of research skills.

After making my way through the tenure and promotion process with the help of mentors and peer support, and working for a library Dean who strongly believed in implementing a culture of research at our library, I took the lead on the development and implementation of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, or C-EBLIP. C-EBLIP’s mandate is to support librarians as researchers and to promote evidence based library and information practice. C-EBLIP is dedicated to raising the profile of librarians as researchers on campus and beyond; enhancing the University Library’s national and international reputation as a research organization; developing peer mentoring relationships to augment research and evidence based library and information practice; and sustaining established activities such as the Dean's Research Lecture Series and the Researcher-in- Residence Program. The formal application to establish the centre had to make its way through the University governance system, culminating in approval by the University Council. University Council is responsible for overseeing and directing the U of S’s academic affairs.

C-EBLIP was launched in July 2013 at the 7 th International Evidence Based Library and Information Practice conference which was held at the U of S. In the past three years, C-EBLIP has sponsored a number of activities designed to support our own librarians – workshops, a journal club, a writing circle, a code club, a blog, and more. But at the same time, as Director, I’ve always thought about the necessity and the benefits of facing outward and of connecting with others doing the same kind of work. Across Canada, not all academic libraries have the same requirements for research amongst their librarians. The terminology varies for things like tenure, faculty status, and the like. And more expansively, around the world it varies greatly as to whether or not librarians are required to conduct research for career advancement. However, whether or not it is a requirement, librarians are conducting research. They do so to enhance practice, to continue to develop professionally, and to contribute to the profession of librarianship. I wanted C-EBLIP to facilitate a connection with other librarians doing research and/or interested in evidence based practice.

One of the ways to do this was to organize an event. In 2014, the first annual C-EBLIP Fall Symposium: Librarians as Researchers was held at the U of S. Approximately 54 librarians from across Canada (and one from the United States) and from across library sectors attended this free, one-day symposium that included a keynote speaker, a single track of sessions, and really, a lot of food. In 2015, 62 librarians attended and we added a pre-symposium workshop included in the free registration. Currently, registration is in full swing for the 2016 edition of the C-EBLIP Fall Symposium and we’ve added a networking breakfast into the mix. From the start, post-symposium feedback has been exceptional, with one of the highlights for many librarians being the chance to network and connect with other librarians in the context of our work as researchers.

It’s been fantastic working with librarians at the U of S and connecting with librarians nationally at the C-EBLIP Fall Symposium. But why stop there? Spring 2016 saw the launch of the C-EBLIP Research Network, an international affiliation of institutions that support librarians as researchers and/or are interested in evidence based library and information practice. And while the membership is institutional (libraries, research groups, etc.) the research network is truly for librarians. There is a nominal institutional membership fee each calendar year (starting January 2017) and all funds being rolled back into the C-EBLIP Research Network to provide two online learning opportunities per year as well as research grants if funds allow.

As of this writing, there are currently 19 institutional members belonging to the C-EBLIP Research Network – members from Canada, Australia (including LARK, Flinders University Library, and the library at the University of Southern Queensland), the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and the United States. The remainder of 2016 continues to be a building time with full C-EBLIP Research Network activities ramping up in 2017. All of the details about the C-EBLIP Research Network and how to join can be found hereThere’s also a continually updated list of current members. Networking on a global scale is filled with possibilities for communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing, and learning, which in turn can enhance research and practice. C-EBLIP is very keen to connect with more institutions and more librarians. Join us!

Virginia Wilson is Director, Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice at the University Library, University of Saskatchewan