Sunday, January 8, 2012

Role of Research in Academic Librarianship

I've noticed that librarians are increasingly under pressure to increase the visibility of their professional work, notably in the three main activities of librarianship: scholarly, professional and service.  This is not to say that we were not doing this, but often it was much more informal and unrecognized. For instance, some have done a lot of research related to their jobs, but they just haven't written it up and submitted it for publication.  I have no doubt that most, if not all, of the librarians have performed these activities on a regular basis, but usually below the radar.  Now, there is growing recognition that this needs to change.  Of particular emphasis is the research & publication requirements.

While there is some concern about the additional work required, it seems to me we are just not comfortable "doing research".  While some may not have had enough formal education in the methods, I think this is primarily due to a lack of confidence.  We librarians think of "doing research" as much harder than it really is.  We do it all the time in our lives, mostly through trial and error.  We "experiment" in the kitchen with a new recipe, or on the information desk with a new way of finding information.  But it is all informal and not documented.  We need to take the next step.

But a question that occurred to me was, what kind and level of research should we be doing as librarian practitioners, and not PhD information scientists?  Faculty-researchers have been trained in more advanced methods of study design and analysis than masters-trained professionals.  While many of us had a research methods and maybe a statistics course, that is really not enough training conduct the kind of studies that we think of as Research.  You know, the kind that our research faculty do.

But maybe that should not be what we should be doing.  We are not research faculty...we are professionals.  We have a responsibility to those faculty, to provide the best resources for their research; to the students, to provide the necessary resources and services for their education; and to the administration, to use the financial and human resources wisely and to demonstrate our impact on the outcomes of the organization.  As professionals, we have a set of values that we strive to uphold, succinctly summarized in Michael Gorman's Our Enduring Values: Stewardship, Service, Intellectual Freedom, Rationalism, Literacy and learning, Equity of Access, Privacy, and Democracy (I imagine some would argue with these, but I think it is a complete list).

We are also practitioners - we put into practice what we have been trained to do. Maybe we should be doing "practice-based research" - to improve the efficiency and efficacy and increase the impact of what we do. This kind of research, I think, differs from what our PhD colleagues in the SLIS departments do.  Their questions are of the higher realm - mostly, "why?"  Our questions tend to be more pragmatic - what works and why?  How to...and what's the best way?  Then there is evidence-based librarianship, where we take what is learned and apply it in our own environments and improve it.  Conversely, EBL involves documenting and sharing what we have tried with others.

As I wrote in my initial posting, I hope to use this blog to help me think through these issues and "talk out" my ideas.  With this post, I've been able to reduce my concerns about the scale and level of research to take.  What I do should first help my institution, which should also help grow the knowledge in the field.  I will discuss the topics of research that I'm considering in a later post.

Thanks for listening.

No comments:

Post a Comment