What I am writing today is not what I first imagined reflects a real-life challenge faced by many of our colleagues across the globe. This challenge isn’t a new discovery by any means but perhaps what my post can bring to the understanding is a different context and perspective. It is the challenge of finding a place to begin to research when a person feels surrounded by external and internal pressures for productivity; overwhelmed by change; confused by conflicting information and priorities; concerned about a lack of experience with doing research; and unnerved at the thought of having your first attempts at publishing research scrutinized. What I will share with the readers of this blog is how I came about this realization serendipitously as I was enthusiastically trying to open a debate about EBLIP among technical services librarians.
In October I gave a presentation at Library 2.014 on various issues surrounding the management of eBook collections which I called “Do you have what it takes to manage an eBook library? (http://www.library20.com/forum/topics/do-you-have-what-it-takes-to-manage-an-ebook-library). Seeing as I was already aware of a lack of research studies published on various practices associated with the management of eBook collections, I thought that it might be interesting to insert a brief discussion on the issue of evidence based practice in terms of its value and the need to share findings of this research with the larger LIS community. After briefly explaining what EBLIP is, I discussed areas related to the topic of the presentation where I discovered that published research studies are largely missing. Then I gave my opinion as to why I believe it is especially important for those who are faced with particularly challenging tasks, such as eBook collection management, to publish data and findings which may be useful to the larger LIS community. I argued that because there is such a diversity of environments in which eBook management occurs, the need for an even greater body of published research is required to help to progress knowledge and practices within the field. As part of my presentation I encouraged attendees to contact me via email or chat to discuss this issue.
I did get email in response to my presentation. I actually got more messages than I expected and even a librarian interested in having a Skype conversation. Given that the presentation was recorded and based on the fact that the email trickled in over the course of three weeks, it seems that many of the people who responded to me watched the recording and must have played certain parts of it repeatedly so that they could quote back phrases and sentences I used. The email was both pleasing and puzzling. I was pleased that there was so much sincere interest in the topic of my presentation and that things I had said stirred questions and deeper thinking on the part of those watching it. The first time I had presented at a Library 2.0 conference, I only received one follow-up email. The second time I presented I was quite pleased that I got 5 messages. With my most recent presentation, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from 16 librarians. Pleasantly surprised and also overwhelmed by the time it took to read and respond to the questions and comments. Where I was puzzled was that not a single librarian contacted me with regard to EBLIP or any aspect of the importance of research in our discipline. In retrospect, I should not have been surprised by this. During the presentation, the questions that showed up in the chat book included a question about what discovery system my library uses and another one that asked if I found that records were missing in the record sets I get from vendors. These questions were definitely reflected in the questions I got via email in the weeks following the presentation. However, what I found particularly interesting is that many of the questions and comments were about topics that I hadn’t covered in my presentation although they were definitely questions related to the problems associated with various aspects of managing eBook collections. Questions and comments included the following topics: Comments and examples of how the nature of eBooks and eBook metadata are poorly understood by library staff and patrons(x5); Problems with eBooks in Primo (x4); Questions about MARCEdit (x4); Questions and comments about provider neutral eBook records (x4); Questions and comments about problems with eBook records for DDA/PDA (x3); Questions about eBook vendor platform changes (x3); Questions about link resolvers (x3); Questions and comments about dealing with various unrealistic expectations of patrons and other library staff (x2); Questions about WorldShare Metadata and Worldshare in general (x2); Questions about OCLC Collection Sets (x2); Questions related to time management for cataloging librarians (2x); Question about the training required to be a metadata librarian (x1); Question about courses for learning how to manage eBook metadata (x1); Question about the functionality of a vendor’s eBook platform (x1); Question about digitization software (x1); Question about DRM (x1). Unfortunately, many of the questions were so specific to the librarian’s context or were related to some function or product that I am not familiar with so that I was unable to be helpful. Overall, I got the impression that the librarians who either attended my presentation or watched the recording were very hungry for information about managing eBook collections and they took the fact that I provided my email address as an open invitation to try to seek answers from me which they have been unable to find elsewhere or to have an audience for their ideas and comments. At times I got the sense that an email was sent to me in the blind hope that perhaps I could be of some help in areas or on topics which were sticking points or unresolved problems in that librarians’ context. While giving me a great insight into the types of problems librarians are facing, it seemed that my conference presentation did little to further the discussion on research and EBLIP.
In terms of my great plan to report the types of discussions that arose out of the comments and questions which arose from my conference presentation via this blog post, it soon became clear that I would not be able to achieve that end without some extra effort on my part. Generally, when I answered a question I either didn’t hear again from that librarian or got a brief thank-you. However, there was one librarian who was more “chatty”, so to speak, and also wanted some in-depth instruction on a particular function of the MARCEdit software. I offered to provide her the instruction in return for having her provide answers to some interview questions which would be reprinted in this blog. Below are excerpts of the transcript of questions and answers from that interview:
Q: Would you be willing to have your answers shared on the Brain-Work blog?
A: Yes, I would like to share them but please keep my name and library confidential. I don’t want to have my director hearing about what I have to say about this topic. …. it makes it look…. Well… not very good.
Q: Do you undertake research in order to inform decisions for your work? If so, can you describe what you do?
A: Of course I do what I can to research and collect information before I make decisions. The trouble is that I have a lot of pressure on me to solve these problems and I don’t have a lot of time to do proper research….. that is to say, if I had good training and skills in doing proper research. I’m good at literature reviews but designing studies and collecting data and all of that…. It’s not something that I have a lot of experience doing. And, the deadlines and various pressures to get things done or solved really don’t help the situation. When I think about it, I feel guilty. I know that I shouldn’t be faking-it so much and I know that I should make decisions based on evidence… especially when they are the big decisions… but, you know, things are just changing so much and I feel as if by the time I planned the study, carried it out, collected all of the data, analyzed it, wrote it all up and got it published the rest of the world would have moved onto the next thing and my work would be irrelevant. You know what I mean?
Q: You’ve described a number of barriers to doing more formalized research as part of your librarian practice. If you were going to boil it all down to one or two key barriers, what do you think they would be?
A: That’s easy….. I think…. no, no doubt it is …. it would be a lack of time. If I had the time I’d learn the skills. If I had the time I’d plan the study. If I had the time, I’d collect the data. If I had the time, I’d write the whole thing up and get it published.
Q: What do you think is the second most significant barrier you encounter in doing formalized research?
A: I’m not sure exactly how to put this…. I suppose I could say that it is a contradiction in the messages I get. The librarians at my library talk about the importance of doing research but I don’t get a sense that it really is that important. Getting projects done seems to be the most important. At my library projects to do this or do that are a big deal. I’ve never heard of one of those projects being a research project. Instead the projects are to get this program working, to digitize that collection or to weed a section of the collection. Its things like that and not research. Come to think of it, I don’t ever remember seeing the background research that we do as part of projects ever being officially recorded anywhere. I suppose you could say that I get mixed messages. In every day practice, it sure doesn’t look like formalized research is valued.
Q: Can you explain how this is a barrier for conducting your own research?
A: What happens in the day to day is that I get caught up in the various phases of doing a project as well as putting out the usual fires and doing my regular day to day work that I don’t even have time to think about research. It’s a barrier because my attention is constantly pulled in various directions. None of those directions move me closer to doing systematic research.
Q: So, what do you think would help you to overcome that barrier?
A: Don’t get me wrong…. I do research but it’s just not as well-planned and systematic as I think that it should be and I admit that I don’t publish my findings.
Q: As you’ve said, you’d like to have better-planned and more systematic research and, as you’ve also said, the distraction of projects and everyday work create a barrier for you, I was wondering what you think might help you to overcome those barriers?
A: Oh, I see. Well, I think that if I had some dedicated time for doing research that would be a start. The second thing would be working together with other librarians to plan and do research rather than just these short-term projects all of the time. I think that if the environment were switched up a little bit I’d feel like research was more important and a valid use of my time and I’d make sure that I did it up right and published a paper every now and again. After all, I do collect data to make decisions. Thinking about it now, it wouldn’t have been that big of a step to write it up and publish it somewhere. I just haven’t been thinking in those terms.
Q: When you collect quantitative data in order to make decisions at your workplace, what do you typically do with that data?
A: Typically, I’ve been asked to collect it by one of the managers or our director. I either pass it along to whomever it was that needed it in the first place or I write up a report about it myself. If it’s for one of the projects, it’s generally just stored in spreadsheets on my computer.
Q: Have you ever published your data collected and the associated findings related to problems you needed to solve at your library or considered publishing it?
A: No…. well, um, I’m not sure that it’s the sort of thing that I would publish…. come to think of it, I suppose that I could have published it. If I were at another library, I would have found some of it interesting or useful even if it didn’t relate directly to my library. It never occurred to me... to publish, you know? You have a point, maybe I could have written some of it up and published it. But, no, I didn’t think of doing that.
Q: Have you ever published your research? Why or why not?
A: I published an article back when I was in library school but I haven’t published anything since then….. Why or why not? Well, I suppose that besides the time issue, I don’t really know how to get started properly and plan something that would be worthy of getting peer reviewed and published. A couple of times I had this big idea that I would do a research project. Each time things sort of fell down once I tried to do a literature review and didn’t find much of anything in the journals. I have to admit it that I didn’t know what to do next and sort of dropped the whole thing. I don’t feel really good about putting something out for people to review when I don’t feel that I know what I’m doing.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say on this topic?
A: Maybe… that I don’t want to make it sound like I’m just making a bunch of excuses. Until you started asking me questions about research, I hadn’t thought about some of these things too deeply. I see now that I’ve been so caught up in the day to day that I have forgotten about the importance of research. Just in the little bit that I’ve been thinking about this today, I think that librarians need to have an environment which supports their research work. It would be helpful if the library had something to offer me to help me get started. Each librarian, no doubt, needs something a little different than the next librarian but unless you make the effort and set things up so that you can do research in your work day, work week and so on, you won’t think in terms of research. Just in the past few minutes that we’ve been talking, I can see that I can likely make the time to do research. I just have to look at things a different way and take up opportunities as they present themselves. The more that I think about it, the more that I have to admit that I had sort of given up on research.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
A: Yes, as we were talking before we started the interview, you said that you were a little disappointed in not being able to get people to talk to you more about doing research….. well, maybe you’ve done more than you realize. Maybe there are a lot of people out there like me and maybe just posing the question is a great first step. Maybe the next time you do a conference presentation and want to talk to librarians about research you’ll actually be able to have a conversation about research and not link resolvers. You know what I mean?
In reflecting on the interview, I have to admit that I remained disappointed at the outcome of my attempts to engage other librarians in a discussion about research. However, as I reread the transcripts of the interview and selected questions and answers to include I found myself more satisfied with the discussion. In fact, as I read the words of the librarian, I realized that in the past few months I have felt some of the same feelings in terms of getting caught up in the day to day and focusing on projects. At the same time, there were other sentiments that weren’t part of my experience. But, I had to admit that I feel the same worries about presenting something for others to review when my research and writing skills have not yet been proven. I admit that I am not yet entirely confident and this is a barrier which may not be easy for anyone to recognize and accept. As I read more of the interview, I started to wonder if perhaps these sentiments are common ones for librarians in the early years or at any point in their careers when change stirs things up. While the interview responses were not a mirror image of my own sentiments and experience, I certainly could relate to enough of what she said to help me reflect on my own struggles in a different light. Perhaps this librarian helped me understand that the discussion needs to start somewhere and that’s what our interview was, a beginning for both of us. I certainly have a greater appreciation for my current environment where there is support and encouragement for undertaking research projects.