UoL Library Blog

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DREaMing of a Library and Information Science research network

Posted by katiefraser on 1 November, 2011

Last week I attended the first workshop of the AHRC-funded DREaM project. DREaM stands for ‘Developing Research Excellence and Methods’ and the project aims to create a network of Library and Information Science researchers across the UK. As an academic librarian with a research background I’m very enthusiastic about the potential for research to improve our practice, and I was delighted to be given a new professional’s travel bursary by the DREaM project, and to have my attendance supported by the Library. In return for my support from Leicester, I’ve been asked to think about how the methods discussed in each workshop might contribute to better understanding the community our academic library serves, and improving our services.

The DREaM workshops are being very thoroughly documented by the team running them: both slides and videos of the presentations are available at the Workshop 1 webpage. I’ll link to, rather than replicate, that content, and focus on my personal thoughts about each method from my own practitioner-researcher perspective.

Introduction to ethnography – Dr Paul Lynch
Ethnography is an approach used to understand culture, usually through immersion within that culture. Better understanding the culture of academic library users, students and staff, is clearly key to improving our service. My MA Librarianship dissertation used ethnographic interviews to look at how students viewed and understood library space, and I think there’s a lot more to be done on understanding how students use and want to use libraries.

In the workshop, Paul Lynch discussed the dual role of the ethnographer – as insider (participant in a culture) and outsider (observer of a culture). I suspect my ability to produce an ethnography of library users is limited by my increased distance from both student and academic roles, so this method may be out for me.

Introduction to social network analysis – Dr Louise Cooke
Social network analysis looks at the networks which exist within groups, and patterns in links between individuals, by asking members of a group to report on their own relationships. During the workshop I could immediately see the relevance of this method to my own work: a major part of my role is acting as liaison between the Library and academic departments, and recording the existence and nature of links between librarians and academic staff would be absolutely fascinating.

I could never use this method with my own departmental contacts: asking individuals to report on their relationships with yourself would be ethically unsound (and probably produce inaccurate results!) However, there is clearly potential to apply this technique elsewhere within the university: perhaps looking at networks between librarians, other academic support staff, and lecturer / researchers within one of the Colleges I don’t directly support.

Introduction to discourse analysis - Professor Andy McKinlay
Discourse analysis is a technique for analysing gathered data, rather than a method for gathering data itself. It involves analysis of what people say (or write) through understanding of the context in which it is said: the social norms embedded in that context, and how language is used to construct a way of seeing the world.

There’s clearly expectations, norms and values implicit in how users talk about the Library. One of the most common comments at from students walking into the David Wilson for the first time is ‘Where are all the books?’ I think that one sentence (and all its implicit assumptions about libraries) could keep a discourse analyst going for days! I could see focus groups, or even analysis of how students describe the Library to each other, on- and off-line, as a really useful way to surface these concepts, and work with, or think about changing them.

Unconference and ethics discussion
The workshop also included bonus research-related sections. In the middle of the day, an unconference session encouraged us to discuss what we wished: I outed myself as a methodological pluralist (i.e. one who believes there is no one best method for studying the world, and has dabbled in several!) and learned about the research interests and priorities of others in our emerging network. At the end of the day, Professor Charles Oppenheim led a section in which we debated ethics in a number of research-related scenarios.

Both these additional sessions really got me thinking about my role as a practitioner-researcher. There are a limited number of participants with dual roles in the DREaM network, but plenty of participants who have been on both sides of the divide at different times in their careers. I think there are lots of interesting discussions to be had about how practitioners use and carry out research, and I look forward to these workshops starting a few. Perhaps we can even kick off here: I’d be pleased to get feedback on some of my suggestions so far…

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