Question Everything: Librarian Research and #IRDL

How is the fall semester already in swing, but I’ve not yet shared my amazing research experience as an IRDL Scholar this summer?

IRDL stands for the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship.  It is itself the product of an IMLS grant-funded research project to develop librarians’ research skills specifically as researchers (in addition to our role as providers of research support).  Its primary investigators, Marie Kennedy and Kris Brancolini, co-direct this project with grant matching funds from their home institution, Loyola Marymount University William H. Hannon Library.  Their direction in partnership with the San José State University School of Information, the Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium (SCELC) and others are what make this life-changing experience for librarians possible. A 9-day workshop on the LMU campus (aka beautiful Los Angeles, CA!) kicks off the institute, but the experience continues for an entire year with progressive networking, mentoring, and collaboration opportunities built in to prepare researchers for disseminating their work.

When this opportunity first came to my attention, the timing of the proposal deadline fell (like so many others seemed to) way too late for me to pull anything together.  With ambivalent hope, I added this to my calendar and annual goals to apply for the following year.  Turns out, as I began approaching my application, I realized what great timing (falling from December to January) the call for proposal offers. Besides the usual window of downtime in academia, just the difference between a month-long window for proposals, as opposed to a single application deadline, is the kind of careful thought and facilitative detail that permeate everything about the IRDL experience and what set it apart.


I admit, there’s kind of a weird mixture of both honor and humility in becoming an IRDL Scholar.  We are by design:

“a diverse group of academic and research librarians who are motivated and enthusiastic about conducting research but need additional training and/or other support to perform the steps successfully”.

It takes an uneasy bit of vulnerability to recognize your own limitations in a skill so necessary for your field.  Maybe this opportunity seems natural and reasonable for librarians at the beginning of their career, or someone changing library specialization (say from public to academic).  The Institute’s generous interpretation of a novice researcher includes new librarians for sure, but also recognizes the variation and barriers that exist for library research support.  That could be in the variety of institutional resources, MLS program strengths, or even research methods education undertaken too many years and paces-of-change ago to adequately support today’s research needs.  What about librarians who have already published research?  Yes!  That too!  And we can call it all into question, which is a good thing.

At the same time that IRDL scholars recognize these limitations, we also must recognize — and are recognized for — the fact that our research is worth pursuing and generously supporting.   My unique brand of novice researcher stems from working primarily in technical services and leadership positions, on and off the tenure track, and directly involved a lot of organizational restructuring and change.  This has meant wide variation in available time, focus, and research methods application. Ever- “motivated and enthusiastic” however, I’ve sought out countless webinars, brown bags, mentor conversations, e-forums, and conference sessions on making time for research, developing research questions, networking for publication, and more. Yet nothing has been as effective as what I took away from IRDL.

The secret sauce (*winks to Marie*) that IRDL offers library researchers includes:

First, other motivated and enthusiastic scholars like you with the same (and yet unique) gaps in trying to cross their own research bridge.  You learn from others in a way you can’t learn in just a textbook, or webinar, or conference session.  Part of that is because the learning frames a specific and applicable need. But the other part is the community of expertise IRDL provides and how it includes the expertise of the novice researchers.  As these ITLWTLP blogging librarians discovered, it’s an important distinction between needs based learning (aka problem based learning) and critical pedagogy.   Taking the skills learned at IRDL, I am certainly more confident in my ability and ways to help my colleagues’ research.  However, I don’t approach this in a teach-the-teacher way, but as true peer researchers – vulnerabilities, strengths, and all.  This peer dynamic is what I think  we expect to happen professionally between colleagues,  but somehow haven’t always managed to achieve.

Secondly, IRDL intentionally builds real and ongoing research network relationships. Not just talking about networking or giving networking tips. Not just one kind of research network, or mentor, or just colleagues you know who are also responsible for research.  I mean a variety of differently strength-ed researchers in your network who are committed themselves to a network of research relationships, as well as committed to improving the design, methods, and impact of published library research literature.

Finally, IRDL (in true California style) offers the value of reflection. Throughout the week together with my IRDL cohort, we reflected on our research as it changed dramatically from day to day; reflected as a group as we learned and struggled to learn together; and reflected individually about our experiences, needs, and interpersonal growth.  Now we have begun reflecting on our progress and ultimate goals with an expanded network of IRDL scholars and mentors as we continue this year-long (life-long) endeavor.

If you are interested in applying to become a IRDL scholar, I encourage to follow @IRDLonline  and set a goal for preparing your 2019 proposals.  You won’t regret it and I will be delighted to meet you!

Theory as a keel: Developing a critical framework for open education

Virginians involved in education were extremely fortunate to have the 13th Annual Open Education Conference held in Richmond, at the Great Richmond Convention Center November 2nd through 4th, 2016. The conference, billed as the “premiere venue for sharing research, development, advocacy, design, and other work relating the open education,” offers librarians a unique opportunity to interface with researchers, technologists, publishers, and educators in a collaborative environment. While some of these connections happened during sessions on topics like inclusive design, open education policy, and licensing, many occurred between sessions. On the final day, I had the chance to eat lunch with several William & Mary faculty and student researchers interested in open education, along with Kathleen DeLaurenti, the librarian at William & Mary leading our OER initiatives. The lunch conversation afforded me great perspective on the challenges educators face when trying to access and utilize appropriate open education resources as alternatives in their classes, especially for advanced topic courses. I am excited to join deLaurenti and our Scholarly Communications Committee’s efforts to expand open education resources here at William & Mary, where we will be running a pilot of the Open Textbook Network Program beginning early next year.

Open education is not just about textbooks and materials, however. Among the presenters at the Open Ed Conference this year was a William & Mary Ph.D. student in the School of Education, Jamison Miller, who joins a growing contingent of open education scholars calling for a theoretical grounding to support the practicum, resource-focused open education movement, a component he feels will be critical to its long term success and sustainability.

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Saying No

No. A word in the English language that we probably use every single day. The definition is “a negative used to express dissent, denial, or refusal, as in response to a question or request.”

We use it in our everyday life. However, when it comes to the workplace, it can be hard saying “no.” As a first year librarian, many people have given me their advice on the first year, settling in at a new institution, etc. I have been grateful for all the advice I have been given, but the one piece that stood out was “you don’t always have to say yes to everything.”

I understood what this meant. However, this is a little easier said than done. As a new academic librarian, I was ready to dive in. I found myself getting a lot of opportunities in terms of scholarship, service, and projects in other library departments. As I took on more projects, my schedule became busier and my workload increased. I felt that this was a good thing; after all, I wanted to be completely immersed in academic libraries.

I tend to have the habit of piling things, and working on them at the last minute. The workload piled up during the same time period. I would rush to get everything done and ended up being tired all the time. This is a result of taking on too much, but even when I knew I had a lot on my plate, I would take on more.

Why? There were a couple of reasons. The first reason was fear of missing out on valuable opportunities–not only opportunities that would allow me to gain valuable experience, but opportunities that would benefit me in terms of being able to get a tenure-track position in the future. I also did not want to say no because I did not want to disappoint anyone. Many of the opportunities that appeared, did not do so magically. Colleagues, friends, my mentor, and my supervisor let me know about them. Whether it was something they saw through email or something that they were working on, I did not want to seem ungrateful by rejecting them.

Further, as someone trying to put her name out there, I had the mindset that I could not afford to say no. It has been a little over 6 months since I have started my position, and it feels like a lifetime ago that I began this new job. The saying goes, “live and learn” Let me tell you, I have (and still have more to learn).

 

Now that I have been at my job for half a year, here are some lessons learned:

-As you go through your job duties, you will learn your workload limit. If you go past it, be prepared to work harder and know that it will be a stressful time. You alone know your limits.

-Plan ahead and schedule everything. My calendar is filled with proposal deadlines, conferences I am attending, web meetings, and dates of when projects are due. Not only does this include work and scholarship related dates, but it also includes vacation days and my research days or working from home. The reality is that sometimes I have to get work done during my own time, but keeping track of everything helps me budget my time. I have found that I rely very heavily on my Google calendar. Without it, I would be lost.

-There are times when you will feel overwhelmed. For moments like these, I like to make lists. I make a list for daily tasks and tasks/events that are coming up soon. Being able to cross off things on my list make me feel like I have been productive and makes me feel like my workload gets a little bit lighter.

-There were times where I saw all the scholarship that other colleagues were doing and made me question whether I truly want to go down the tenure-track in the future. For the first couple of months, I began to doubt whether this was something I wanted to do. Something that helped immensely was talking to my mentor. I spoke to her about my doubts and fears. When it came down to it, I just needed to talk about it to someone that had already been through the process.

-It’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough or you feel that you could be doing more. I like to observe other people and how they go about their scholarship process. However, in the end, it is about your own work and your own process.

-I saw that when I took too much on, the quality of my work was not the quality that I had expected or hoped for. This caused many revisions and extra time spend on a project. I now have my own personal rule: if I am not willing to give 110% to a project, then will it be worth it to me in the end?

-Always be on the lookout for proposals or possible projects. It’s not just for ALA or ACRL, but there are other specialized conferences that might be a better fit for you. Look at the topics and dates and plan accordingly.

With these experiences in my first year, I have learned that it’s not just about yes or no. It is about learning your limits, exploring scholarly endeavors, and discovering new research interests. I still put too much on my plate, but I am learning as I go along. I think it is safe to assume that this will be a lifelong process.

Working on Wikipedia Redux

Last weekend I had a great time participating in the Wikipedia Art+Feminism editathon, an annual event to increase the representation and coverage of women in the arts on Wikipedia. You may remember Art+Feminism co-organizer Siân Evans’s guest post last December — Why GLAM Wiki — which well-explains the editathon’s aims and accomplishments.

I’m a huge fan of Wikipedia — for my (and my family’s) own use as well as in teaching undergrads and graduate students. I also think working on Wikipedia is a perfect fit for academic librarians, with our research skills and our ability to access paywalled academic literature (though the latter I hope will someday become unnecessary as open access continues to gain ground). But I confess that I’m not as active in editing and adding content to Wikipedia as I’d like to be.

Indeed, last weekend I found myself thinking about the last editathon I attended two years ago, which I wrote about on my very infrequently updated professional blog. That semester I participated in the editathon in part because I was co-teaching a graduate class on interactive technology and pedagogy with Michael Mandiberg, another Art+Feminism co-organizer. We included a couple of Wikipedia assignments for our students in our grad course, and I wanted to put myself in my students’ shoes by doing a bit of editing and adding content, too.

This semester I’m teaching the course again (though solo this time), and again students are working on a Wikipedia assignment. We’re also spending more time in the course reading and talking about Wikipedia as a community as well as a collaboratively-created resource. Again I find myself thinking, as I did two years ago, about undergraduate work on Wikipedia, especially in the context of single- (or 2-3) session instruction as opposed to an entire semester of work on a Wikipedia assignment. I know my grad students — many of whom are teaching right now or will be soon — are also thinking about this. How can we incorporate Wikipedia content creation into instruction in smaller ways than spending a whole semester on an article or series of articles?

This year the editathon I attended was at Interference Archive, a volunteer-run archive in Brooklyn, NY that focuses on social movements. Editathon co-organizers Nora Almeida and Jen Hoyer went through the archives before last weekend to pull particularly relevant files for us to work on if we were looking for inspiration. My background is not in the arts, so I especially appreciated these efforts and was glad to be able to jump into finding info about an artist whose work I found in one of the files. And it strikes me that this might be a good way for students to jump into Wikipedia editing, too — beginning with archival or historical materials and synthesizing them with sources we can find online.

I’m happy to see that the edits I made last weekend — creating a stub for the Australian artist Arlene TextaQueen, are still live as I type this. And even more pleasantly surprising? The edits I made 2 years ago are still live, too.

Thinking Tenure Thoughts

Last week Meredith Farkas wrote a thoughtful post on her blog, Information Wants to Be Free, about tenure status for academic librarians. Spirited discussion ensued in Meredith’s blog comments and on libraryland Twitter (much of which Meredith Storified) which has continued to today. The conversation has included many varied perspectives on the advantages and disadvantages of tenure for academic librarians, including preparation for research and scholarship in graduate library programs, the perceptions of status and equality between academic librarians and faculty in other departments, salary parity, academic freedom, and the usefulness and rigor of the library literature.

I support tenure for academic librarians as I do for faculty in other departments primarily because I believe that tenure ensures academic freedom, which is as important in the library as it is in other disciplines. I also have concerns about the tenure system more generally, concerns that many academics in libraries and other departments also voice. One of my big concerns is that the pressure to publish can result in quantity over quality.

This conundrum was raised during the Twitter discussion of Meredith’s post and had me nodding vigorously as I read. I am absolutely in agreement that the tenure system as it currently stands has encouraged the publication of large amounts of scholarship that ranges from the excellent and thought-provoking, to the interesting if somewhat obvious, to the just not very good, to the occasionally completely wrong. Of course, this is a problem not just in academic librarianship but in other disciplines as well. The avalanche of scholarship resulting from the pressures to publish to gain tenure affects libraries and the broader academic enterprise in a variety of ways.

It takes time to write and publish, and time spent on that is less time to spend on doing research or reading the research that others have published, research that might be useful in our jobs as well as our own research. You might remember the article in the Guardian late last year in which Nobel Prize-winning physicist Peter Higgs suggested that he’d be unlikely to get tenure in today’s academic climate because he hasn’t published enough. I try to stay current on what’s being published in a handful of library journals, but like many of us my interests are interdisciplinary and there is no way I can read even a fraction of what’s relevant to my scholarly interests. And the more that’s published, the more difficult it can become to find the good stuff — something we see when we teach students to evaluate sources, but something that can stymie more experienced researchers as well.

There’s also a direct connection between the ever-increasing publication for tenure needs and academic library budgets. Those articles need to go somewhere, and journal publishers have been more than willing to create new journals to fill up with reports of academic research and sell back to libraries. Publishing in open access journals can help, as others including Barbara Fister have suggested.

But I think academic librarians with tenure can make an impact on the quality versus quantity problem, both in the library literature and in scholarly communication more widely. I’m coming up for tenure in the fall, and while I’ve published my research open access, it’s also true that I’ve submitted most of my work for publication in peer reviewed journals, primarily because that’s what “counts” most. I don’t know that I’ve written anything in the past 6 years that I wouldn’t have otherwise, but as Meredith and others noted in the Twitter conversation, without worries about what counts I probably wouldn’t have felt as much pressure to write as much as I have for peer reviewed journals, and might have spread my efforts more evenly between blogging or other forms of publication as well. I’ve also felt torn spending time on other work that I know isn’t as highly regarded as traditional scholarly publishing — work like conference organizing and article reviewing and blogging, for example.

I’m looking forward to coming up for tenure in part because I’d like to help work toward expanding the definition of scholarly productivity to include alternatives to peer-reviewed publication in journals, and to focus on quality over quantity. Some of this is work that librarians are already doing — work in promoting open access, for example, among faculty in other departments who may not realize that there are peer-reviewed, highly-regarded OA journals. As academic librarians we have a view of the scholarly publishing landscape that other faculty may not share, and I hope we can use this position to advocate for tenure requirements that take into account more of the possibilities for contributing to the creation and propagation of knowledge than peer review and impact factor alone.