Originally published November 22, 2016 at

On November 18, 2016 an event to focus on research culture in academic libraries, Keeping it ReAL: Research in Academic Libraries, was held at UBC, sponsored by Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, UBC Library, SFU Library, UVic Library, and the UBC School of Library, Archival and Information Studies.

Organizers Heather O’Brien (UBC SLAIS), Holly Hendrigan (SFU Library), Erin Fields, Jo-Anne Naslund (UBC Library), and Christine Walde (UVic Library) assembled a program that served to concisely introduce a wide variety of topics related to research activity among academic librarians. Presentations addressed theory and practice, with concrete suggestions for how to approach and succeed at research projects and effectively communicate findings. Circumstances of academic librarian-researchers vary considerably depending on such factors as institutional mandate, circumstances of appointment, formal expectations related to research (or absence of them), availability of funding and release, and more, but there was a great deal of common ground that emerged in presentations and in discussion, to do with identifying meaningful opportunities, finding time and resources, the benefits of working in collaboration, and determining best-fit venue/s for sharing results. All slides from the day were compiled and have been made available, and these provide a sense of the breadth of the program.

The day also was well-balanced in that there were useful learning and reflection opportunities for those who came with more experience, along with plenty of material to motivate and equip a beginning scholar. A noteworthy aspect of the event in my view was the extensive involvement of students from the UBC iSchool, including detailed note-taking for all of the sessions of the day, resulting in a valuable resource for all attendees. There seems to be energy and intention to hold the event again in future, and I wonder about the potential for engaging students in other ways in future. It would be interesting to see a panel on student research activity, or how students see themselves as beginning researchers, or to close the day with a structured opportunity for reflection in which students participate.

In early planning, organizers contacted me together with other colleagues to form a panel to discuss “enabling a research culture” from our diverse perspectives. The presentations that preceded our afternoon spot in the schedule set us up nicely to share our examples, experiences, frustrations and wins. Here are a few notes on our panel, with thanks to Kathleen Reed for producing great slides!

Enabling a research culture in the Library: (Success) stories from the Island

Our panel participants offered perspectives on three proposed themes. To begin with, and amplifying advice given by Lisa Goddard early in the day, each of us endorsed collaborative approaches to scholarship:

  • to share work
  • to bring complementary skills and diverse perspectives to a project
  • to foster a motivating sense of accountability that may increase likelihood of meeting milestones
  • to mentor newer colleagues in scholarship
  • to  explore ideas from outside the discipline, build mutual understanding, and create lasting relationships

Collaborative research relationships can be energizing, sustaining, and recurring. This was brought home to me in preparing with colleagues for the panel, which also turned out to be an opportunity to reflect on research work that some of us had done together in the past.

With respect to liaison, our panel presented a range of examples where scholarly activity acted to extend or enhance the liaison role by helping to demonstrate competence and empathy. From our own research experience we can:

  • build rapport with students as an expert in research processes and tools.
  • through formal inquiry into new areas of responsibility, develop familiarity and confidence.
  • explain how disciplinary knowledge and approaches to research might intersect with library and information studies perspectives.
  • speak to faculty colleagues from that experience, engaging on a critical level with current issues.

New liaison opportunities may arise from our own activity as scholars: consulting about author rights and open access, modeling critical engagement with commercial scholarly tools and new metrics related to scholarship, discussing options for alternative dissemination of scholarship.

Considering the theme of growth and development as a librarian/researcher, our panel affirmed that librarianship is a dynamic profession, and research can be a way to explore new areas. We reflected on what we have learned about how to be effective in our respective circumstances, as well as how our perspectives on scholarly activity may have changed over time:

  • Building awareness of available grants and awards can be very helpful.
  • Choosing projects that are immediately relevant to the work environment may be helpful to align effort and resources.
  • Research ethics processes become less mystifying with practice. Try to anticipate potential uses of the data you want to collect.
  • It may become increasingly hard to do research as career progresses, with competing demands on time for administration and service in addition to operational responsibilities. It becomes important to decide how to invest efforts: What kind of research actually effects change in the world?
  • Assessment does not necessarily mean research; not as rigorous or extensive an analysis.
  • Work environment and opportunities will affect what approach you take to scholarly inquiry, but it is important to make the effort because it will enrich the work we do.
  • Journal publishing and book chapters are important and useful things to do, but later in careers or in non-tenure settings, it may be possible to push boundaries of non-traditional platforms: What useful and credible alternatives are there for dissemination?

This last point is one that I was really interested to surface through the panel. As it turned out, the importance of non-traditional platforms for scholarly communication also emerged early in the day, in Jennifer Douglas’ “Research Rewind” remarks on dissemination, and seemed to be met with enthusiasm by other attendees through the day. I’m looking forward to seeing where the conversation may go.

Leading up to the Keeping it ReAL event, I had in mind to post about it because it promised to be an interesting day, and also because as I noted previously, I have been thinking about how blogs might serve to reach a broader audience and to promote immediacy in communication about scholarly activity. To learn more it seems like a good idea to try blogging for myself,  and to try introducing some of the elements that I’m thinking about.

I had been pondering leading up to Keeping it ReAL how and how far academics who are not necessarily compelled to participate in traditional scholarly publishing might contribute to change in scholarly communication by pushing the potential of alternate modes, including exploring what might be required to have those serve as credible alternatives. A few questions that I’m developing:

  • What are the features and limits of this freedom to innovate that I think I see?
  • How can a blog effectively be a venue to share outcomes of inquiry?
  • What of review?
  • What about the discovery that is necessary to facilitate discourse?

I began this post with the intention of starting to explore one or more of these questions, using the November 18 event as a departure or reference point. Now I think that this post is better completed as a reflection on the day, and my questions should come back in future posts that will make reference to these and other resources. I have other questions and topics in mind too, and for some of them I’m hoping to implicate other writers and perspectives. Look out!

Keeping it ReAL – Research in Academic Libraries #ReAL_16: Reflections on the event by Dana McFarland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.