Research can be hard. That’s okay.

Joe Hardenbrook has written a great post on the issue of making (re)search exciting or fun, which you should all read.  It drives home some opinions that I bet a lot of us share, mainly being that research isn’t necessarily exciting.  And that any “excitement potential” held in a research project is dependent more on the subject matter and the researcher than it is in any tool at hand.  Kudos to Joe for speaking plainly and truthfully on this subject.

This “make research fun” issue is something that I often struggle with, especially when reading some LIS blogs and Twitter streams that veer into the subject.  “How do I make research exciting?”  “How can I make this assignment fun?”  “How can I keep them interested enough to see all of ProQuest’s search refinements?”  “Will they pay more attention in my one-shot if I launch into a stand-up comedy routine?”  I don’t buy into the argument underlying questions like those.  I’ll speak candidly here: I do not believe that it’s our job to make research “fun.”

I’m not a killjoy at work, and I promise that Steeleworthy’s Office Hours is not all doom and gloom, but neither am I some one who is going to pretend that research is something it’s not. Research is work.  Research can be frustrating.  Even for the best researchers on the planet, research can be difficult.  The advice and consultation I give can definitely help researchers of all kinds (students, faculty, staff, community members, etc) make their research more efficient by systematizing their work and improving their search precision, and this will make their work easier had they not spoken to me first. If our researcher’s excitement or interest is piqued in the research process – if they found cheap thrills as librarians and archivists do when they’ve found the needle in the haystack – then I’m thrilled and I know I’ve done my job. But “excitement” should not be our primary measure here.  Our main purpose (our main duty) is to collect the best of the world’s information, master its systems, and then help others access this information and master the systems themselves.

What it comes down to for me is how we present ourselves and our work to our users.  Our users don’t expect us to be fun-makers.  Our users come to us because they need help finding stuff.  If we can put a smile on their face along the way, then we’re doing them a service, but only if we’ve helped them find that information in the first place.

I’m going to end this by quoting Joe:

I’m a realist: Will they be excited? Chances are, no. But will they think the research process seems a little more doable and will they be willing to seek help? Yes.

We’re here to help people master research. In many ways, the library is where the job gets done at university. I really do hope that everyone enjoys their work, whatever their work is. And I also hope that everyone enjoys the classes they are enrolled in and the assignments they are working on. But those assignments are still work, and I don’t want to play down the effort required to get the job done.  I have an excellent demeanour with my users and I’m confident that many of them see me as a team player who will help them through their research. But I won’t lie to them. I’m not going to say that some one is going to have a blast writing an essay when really they just want to have watched last night’s season premiere of Revenge.  Instead, I speak honestly to my users. “Is this going to be work?” Yes, probably.  “Is it going to take some time?” Yes, likely.  “Is it going to be the worst thing to ever happen in my life?” Not at all.  “Are there tools and techniques I can use to make my work more efficient?” Yes, definitely.  “Can you help me?” Yes, obviously. I am already.

1 thought on “Research can be hard. That’s okay.”

  1. Hum… this is a very interesting post. For any empirically based research, finding literature is one important step in the research process. For academic librarians this is their bread and butter.

    The difficulty for many (not all) librarians may lay in the fact that our expertise is not quantitative or qualitative research (and the various methods behind it). This portion of the research process may best be left to the faculty who have studied it ad-nauseam.

    Research should become fun though. I think, like any other skill (e.g. painting or woodworking) – the better one becomes at something over time – the more enjoyment one receives from it (in part from both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation!)

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