Recently published : Incorporating Online Instruction in Academic Libraries

Here’s my opportunity to influence all of your summer reading lists. The article that I co–authored with my colleague, Pauline Dewan, Incorporating Online Instruction in Academic Libraries: Getting Ahead of the Curve, has just been published in the Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning.

These children are using a computer to help them solve their homework problems

This (with other reports, presentations, and articles), is the culmination of a large project Pauline and I undertook to assess our Library’s online teaching and learning programme in 2012. During the course of that project, we conducted a thorough literature review and analysis of the state of online instruction in our library, and generally in North America. The recommendations we made regarding goal formation, acquiring stakeholder buy-in, technological formats and delivery, and organizational change, can speak well to many libraries’ online teaching and learning programmes.

We also have an extensive bibliography that touches on policy, analysis, information literacy, and organizational behaviour – check this out because we’ve done a lot of heavy lifting, which may you help you in your own work.

Happy reading,


Thoughts on CARL’s Research Data Management Course

Last month, I attended CARL’s 4-day course on Research Data Management Services in Toronto. (Jargon alert: CARL is the Canadian Association of Research Libraries). This was an intensive week of collaborating on research data management (RDM) practices and creating a community of practice within Canadian academic librarianship. Our concern for sound RDM practices at Canadian universities brought together librarians with all kinds and levels of expertise so that we could share tools and develop action plans that will make a positive impact in this field.

1. Research Data Management, Data Lifecycles, and Research Data Lifecycles

What is research data management? I won’t go into textbook-detail suffice to say we’re talking about systematic practices that govern how research data are defined, organized, collected, used and conserved before, during, and after the research process. That sentence is a mouthful and it covers a lot of ground, so I suggest you look to Chuck Humphrey’s Research Data Management Infrastructure (RDMI) site for a more focused definition. Chuck is hailed in Canada for his data management expertise, and he led many sessions at the workshop. He explains that:

Research data management involves the practices and activities across the research lifecycle that involve the operational support of data through design, production, processing, documentation, analysis, preservation, discovery and reuse.  Collectively, these data-related activities span the stages of project-based research as well as the extended stages that tend to be institutionally based.  The activities are about the “what” and “how” of research data. (source)

Chuck’s website is a great introduction to the existing RDM gap in Canada, and we referred to it several times in the course. It neatly summarizes key information such as the shaky progress and history of RDM in Canada, where the Canadian RDM community stands in the world today, the differences between data management and data stewardship, and why the Canadian research community should focus its attention on building infrastructure to support RDM as opposed to building a national institution to guide it.

The Data Lifecycle (Source: UK Data Archive)

The Data Lifecycle (Source: UK Data Archive)

Beyond talking about what RDM is and isn’t, we spent a lot of time studying where RDM sits within the research lifecycle. Many people are familiar with the data lifecycle model since it introduces us to the many facets of data management, however, the CARL course proposed that we instead examine data management practices as an integral part of the larger research lifecycle. Rather than focusing only on data at the expense of the larger research project, the course facilitators asked us to apply RDM within the entire research process, using the following model from the University of Virginia:

Research Lifecycle (Source: UVa Library

Research Lifecycle (Source: UVa Library)

The salient point is that research data management isn’t limited to only the data life cycle; it affects the entire research process. (A simple example: data management strategies should be discussed well before data are created or collected.). Furthermore, if we want to develop sound RDM practices, we need to think like the researcher, understand the researcher’s needs, and include our work within their processes. If you’re not working with the researcher, then your RDM plan isn’t working.

2. Local RDM Drivers and Activities

If understanding what research data management is and where it affects the research process was one takeaway of the course, analyzing our local data environments was another:

  • RDM drivers, such as your library’s consortial collaborations, number of staff, existing IT relationships, administrative support, etc., are the parameters that shape and support your local RDM programme.
  • The activities in your RDM programme, meanwhile can be broadly categorized into the four areas: collection, access, use, and preservation (note: activities can fall into more than one category, and the order is not linear).

Discussing the things that affect our data landscapes and the activities we could perform helped us understand what is possible at our own libraries. I think a lot of us found this useful because all of our unique circumstances (e.g., library and university sizes, existing infrastructure and knowledge, etc.) can make RDM a bit nebulous at times. Although our focus is the same – RDM – our individual goals and aims might be different – are we building our technical capability, or are we designing soft systems that focus on relationships? Are we only collecting new locally created data, or will we also gather existing, completed projects?  The answers are going to depend on your local situation.

RDM activities within the research process.

RDM activities within the research process.

 The course facilitators were careful to help participants understand RDM as a necessarily scalable enterprise. Don’t create a monster RDM plan. Instead, contextualize your local RDM drivers and your library’s capabilities and desires so that you can mitigate the risks of creating an RDM plan that doesn’t fit your organization. The aim is to create a system and process that brings clear benefits to the researchers.


3. Planning… and Doing

The final takeway from the CARL RDM course, which you may have noticed I’ve been building up to, was straight-up, no-nonsense, get’er-done planning. The course facilitators built opportunities for real action into the course, which is probably one of the best parts of the week. Generally speaking, the academic enterprise undertakes a lot of talk and high-level planning before things happen.  This is often a good thing (read: I demand critical inquiry), but it can also stifle action (read: I despise institutional inertia). However, this CARL course found a way to bring together discussion and action. It gave us theory, but it demanded practice. Before the week was out, we had all talked about 3-year planning, considered how such a plan might look locally, and started to write one. Of course, these drafts aren’t ready for prime time, but my point is that before I came back to the office on Monday, I already had written the skeleton of a research data management plan that shows my library’s potential RDM activities and stakeholders, outlines activities and scopes, and offers timelines and deliverables. It didn’t make me an expert (and neither do I claim to be one), but it did offer some tools to help the library step out and make positive change.

So was the CARL RDM course money well spent? It sure was.  It’s not too often you come back from an event with a new community of practice, insight on a vital part of the research enterprise, and a plan to put everything in action. Hat’s off to the course facilitators for putting on such a great week – I think you’ve started something necessary, and good, for Canadian research.

(And some time next week, I’ll start gathering up some of the key readings from some of the bibliographies they presented us…  I’ll try not to turn the next post into a lit review, but it may come close to it.)

New Degrees and New Jobs

This week I begin a new position working in Information Literacy and Reference Services at the Dalhousie University Libraries.   I’m excited about this posting and expect to do some great things and have a little fun along the way.  I’ve been a student and a community member at Dal for a number of years so it’s heart-warming to get the call and be asked to join the team.  Of course, there will be days that may feel more frustrating than fun (what job doesn’t have them?), but I think that on the whole everyone is going to come out ahead when it’s all said and done.

This opportunity to work at Dal and my graduation this spring from their MLIS programme at their School of Information Management has kept me busy thinking about what I’ll do with myself in my new profession. At Dal, I’ve been hired to work in information literacy and in research and reference services, and sure enough I’m experienced in both areas.  I like the service aspect of both fields, i.e., the opportunities to help students learn how to learn, to identify how to use information resources effectively, or to help someone find the tiny kernel of truth that can set a paper straight.  I’m also going to try to find some time at or outside of the workplace to do some publishable research in IL.  A large part of my time will be creating learning tutorials (something I’m already acquainted with) and maybe making use of social media, so I’d like to possibly examine their value and worth to academic librarianship.  Creating streaming instructional material can be a cumbersome process that requires a lot of time and collaboration, and the end result is often a finished project that can’t be easily tweaked, so I’m thinking about researching means to improve production rates, or researching alternative ways to produce materials which will remain adaptable to changing environments.

But I know that my professional and academic interests aren’t limited to these fields alone.  For several years now I’ve been interested in the intersections between technology and culture.  In my MLIS programme, we called this the “information society,” which is an apt term, but I’m also concerned about how tech and information affects the things we make and consume in this society – hence, the “culture” aspect. Aside from my work in IL and Reference, I’m determined to spend my evenings working on a half-finished MA thesis on the effects of modern technology on Shakespearean adaptations, but at this point I may instead convert what I’ve done in this area into an MA focused on the Technological Affects rather than on the literature itself. This would require course transfers to a different programme, but it would better reflect my research interests.

I’m leaving the most important thing to the end of this post (a definite no-no when it comes to blogging), which is my interest in applied ethics in information science.  Understanding information ethics is an imperative for me – my morals, the ethical guidelines of my workplace, and of my profession guide my thoughts and actions.  I’m also a firm believer in social justice, so I’d like to one day not only do more research in this area, but also put it into practice.  We’ll see how it happens.

So there’s a list of action items and aspirations for you.  On Tuesday, I’ll enter the trenches in my new position, so you may see a few more posts related directly to information literacy.  But with a little luck, you’ll find a few posts about technoculture and information ethics arrive in your feedreaders as well.


[header image credit]

Library Weeks (4-8 Jan 2010)

This past week, the first week in the winter term, had me digging for clues to a puzzle. Some faculty members at the university have a unique criminology research question and are pulling out all the stops to collect data and analysis. To help them locate literature on the subject, I had to consult abstracts that our library holds only in bound volumes.  For a number of reasons (most of which are financial), we still subscribe to Criminal Justice Abstracts in print only; it is only one of a few bound indexes which the library still holds, and it remains vital to the school’s scholarship in criminology and sociology.  Although the beginning of my work was psychologically draining – the thought of looking up CJA‘s cumulative subject index volume-by-volume was not good for the soul – I eventually caught on to a rhythm and was breezing through the years in no time at all.  I may be a big proponent for electronic resources in the library, but for a moment I appreciated being able to physically handle the volumes again: there was almost a meditative quality to flipping the pages to find what I was looking for.

What made this work so poignant wasn’t the physical work of moving from one volume to another, however, but the fact that I was forced to rely on abstracts to determine an article’s value to the subject matter.  Although I always emphasize to students the convenience and effectiveness of abstracts when working with electronic resources, like so many others I’ll sooner or later open a PDF and hope that an article’s full-text will help me quickly consider its worth to the subject.  But more often than not this slows us down and can lead us away from literature useful to the subject.  Perhaps when we’re at the reference desk and we’re helping a student, a part of us feels compelled to open the file and find a potential reward, as if the article contained in that PDF will speak to the student’s specific subject.  But speed and gratification can’t be our main concern when helping our patrons. I’m not suggesting that we ignore these issues entirely, because gratification is part of the human condition so we must be prepared to deal with people who want results if not soon, then immediately.  But we need to remember (if not reinforce the fact) that opening every single PDF we find can send a patron down many different rabbit holes, most of which would be peripheral to their work.  Locating scholarly literature by considering abstracts, making value-judgments and marking items, and then moving toward analysis and synthesis (i.e. first search, then read), is likely a more efficient and effective way to research a topic.

Part of me wonders if we should keep bound volumes of CJA close by the reference desk, or bring them along in our information literacy training sessions just to help students understand not only the massive amount of information available on the internet, but also the massive amount of organization that has been lost (or is regularly side-stepped) with the move to electronic access.  Yes, the internet can make data location and retrieval a fairly simply and routine task – I am not suggesting at all that we return to the days of print volumes, I promise.  But by putting all of eggs into one basket, or at least making it look that way to the end-user, we’re making it appear that the information is now easier to not only find, but also evaluate when it necessarily isn’t so.  Too often our students see abstracts in Academic Search Premier or in JSTOR as one extra screen to click through to get to the goods – the article’s full-text.  We need to spend more time helping students understand that the abstract screens aren’t an impediment to the end result but rather a useful tool to improve their searches by helping them separate what’s useful from what’s not in a timely manner.

The library science doctorate and the professional librarian

(A tender caveat: these opinions are only partly uninformed.)

I subscribe to a listserv for library managers, directors, and administrators, aptly called  LibAdmin.  I’m hardly a library manager, director or administrator, but I plan on being one soon, and the mailing list has afforded me the chance to be the fly on the wall and listen in conversations I’ll may get to take part in in the future.

I’ve noticed that every couple of months some one asks the LibAdmin crowd if it’s advisable to take a PhD in library and information science in order to advance their career in academic librarianship.  The question is premised on the fact that university librarians are on the whole considered deans, and deans have PhDs; therefore it’s reasonable that (1) the peer group demands new members to be as qualified as they are, and (2), there will surely be candidates for any university librarian position who already have the PhD, so enrolling in one well ahead-of-time is just a wise career move for a potential applicant to make.

The discussion that ensues after this question is asked is interesting at the beginning, but not substantive in its follow-through.  Although this is partly to do with the nature of e-mail listservs, it is most mostly owing to the diverse nature of the academic librarianship.  Most respondents to the question answer by saying they have X, Y, or Z degree over and above the MLIS and that this degree either helped them or did not in their career.  Developing anything close to a consensus in this argument is a bit of a fool’s game, not because the question or its answers are foolish, but because everyone’s got a story to tell and so many times these stories are struck from personal experience.

But is there anything that can be distilled from discussions about whether or a doctorate in LIS is necessary to secure a position as a university librarian in North America?  It might be fair to say that many institutions expect their applications to have a PhD in hand even if the time spent attaining it might have been better served in the field or by doing graduate work in public or educational administration.  It might also be fair to say that in spite of all the arguments which suggest that getting a PhD makes good business sense, many recent University Librarians do not have the degree and cannot be called “doctor” and yet maintain their budgets, explore avenues for institutional growth, and have the respect of their dean-level peer group.  In the end, the situations are always going to be particular to the applicant and to the institution itself.

As for me (this is where the “partly uninformed” part comes in), if I had to come down with an opinion in this argument, I’d argue that it might be more important for an academic library director to be an expert in organizational management than to have spent 5-7 years researching X topic in LIS.  The day-to-day affairs of a university librarian deal more with planning, projecting, and organizing than it does with breaking new ground in his or her particular field of research, be that field indigenous peoples and intellectual property or the digital divide as it exists in North America.  That’s not to say that I have no care for the PhD in LIS.  On the contrary, I constantly wrestle with the idea of conducting further research in the field (particularly in digital technologies and (inter-)national copyright reform or in civil rights, ethics, and LIS), but before doing so I’d like to first spend some time considering the organizational structure of libraries, archives, and museums.  I think if I were to enroll in an MPA or an MBA, I might have a better opportunity to engage in critical and interdisciplinary work in library management, which might do me and my own little part in the profession a little bit of good.

What are you thoughts on the subject?  How does the PhD in Library and Information Science fit within the profession of (academic) librarianship?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]