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Wednesday, 28 February 2018

LARK & New Graduates chat about research

Our first event this year is a Twitter chat with ALIA Students and New Graduates. What could be a more promising way to start this year's events than a chat with rising LIS stars? And, research in practice is always a hot topic.

Paul Jewell, Business Librarian from the Western Sydney University, had a great idea to join forces with New Graduates and host one of their regular chats on Twitter. Paul will facilitate this online event. 
In preparation for the meeting, here are the questions to guide our discussions:
  1. What do you see as the role of research in your practice, information service or sector?
  2. Do you read research literature on a regular basis? How do you do this? What stops you?
  3. Are there any initiatives or programs at your workplace that encourages reading, critical discussion and sharing of research?
  4. Have you or your colleagues ever undertaken any original LIS-based research? Please share brief details and links.
  5. What aspirations for research plans do you have in the future? What might support you to better engage with research?
If you are new to Twitter chats, you may like to check a handy guide prepared by the New Graduates.
We hope you can join us (@aliangac @pdjewel @suzanasukovic)
When? Tuesday 6 March 9 pm AEDT
Where? Twitter #auslibchat
Top image is taken from the NGAC blog.
Image credit: Keith C Rainsford, 1946: Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria (Accession no: H99.201/1669) via SLVIC.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

LARK's new look & Treasurer

By Suzana Sukovic

LARK has been so quiet that you have been wondering if the bird went to an around the world trip for holidays. It did fly around, but LARK also took time to revamp its look and freshen its flock. 

LARK is delighted to introduce the new Treasurer, Jamaica Eisner. Jamaica is a wise new graduate who has recognised the importance of starting research early in her career so she joined our flock. If you want to find out more about Jamaica and see her hard at work, go to our About page.

Five years old and a big bird now, LARK can't go around in its baby plumage anymore. So, here is its new look. Anna Nadarajah, ALIA designer, designed two great versions of the logo and we'll use them both. ¿Porque no los dos? The fancy blog banner was designed by Zoran Malesevic. Jamaica and I did a bit of work on Blogger to revamp its appearance.

We'd love to know what you think about our new look by commenting on this post and Twitter #LARK.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

LARK's Treasurer & End Year event

By Suzana Sukovic

As many of you have already found out via other channels, ALIA LARK is organising the end of year event in Sydney. It will be a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and influence our direction for next year. You don't have to be an ALIA member to join us. Colleagues from allied professions are most welcome. I am sure that GLAM professionals, educators and many others will find out that we have a lot in common.

Please register on Eventbrite if you would like to come. I would also like to invite all of you who can't come to this meeting, but want to participate in organising future events (including remote organisation of online events) to get in touch with me (see details below).

LARK looks for a new TREASURER. After five years, Alycia Bailey has decided to pass the mantle. I wish to thank her for all her work and support over the years hoping to see her in LARK's meetings and events. This is the opportunity for another well-organised person to take a lead in this unique group.  

If you are interested, please check information about ALIA's office bearers (ALIA Group FAQ) and get in touch with me by email ( or via Twitter (@suzanasukovic).

Looking forward to hearing from and seeing current and potential LARKs soon.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Five years of LARK, or how birds of the feather flock together

By Suzana Sukovic

Celebrating 5 years of LARK - 22 September 2017, State Library NSW
A version of this post was first published on the Canadian C-EBLIP blog. Some minor changes have been made and additional pictures added to this post.

LARK (Library Applied Research Kollektive), a grass-roots group connecting professionals and academics with interest in practice-based research, celebrates its fifth birthday this year. Having a professional network of people with similar interests may sound quite straightforward, but there are days when I think it’s a miracle that baby LARK reached childhood by the human measure and, probably, teenage years by measure of longevity of a grassroot group. 

With LARK, bird jokes and metaphors are inevitable. We sometimes talk about being birds of the feather. Since C-EBLIP belongs to the same bird species, I’d like to share LARK’s story, a bit of parental pride and some insights from our five-years long flight.

Let's Talk About Research - 20 September 2012, St.Vincent's College
In 2011, I made an unusual job change and, after many years of working at universities, I started working in an independent high school. In 2012, I initiated a research project at work and thought that some collaboration would go a long way in boosting the study. I also felt a strange sense of isolation in this new sector although connections with information worlds in which I worked before seemed obvious. So, I decided to call professionals from different corners of the library, information and educational sectors to come to an informal meeting called Let’s Talk About Research. We gathered after work at St.Vincent’s College (Sydney), had a nibble and a glass of wine, talked about research interests and had a good time. People were enthusiastic about establishing a network and thought we needed to put in place some structures to support our connections. That’s how LARK was born. My library colleagues at St.Vincent’s College and I decided about the name, I started the blog and a mailing list and invited people to join us. The mailing list had a decent number of members pretty quickly. We were ready to fly.

But, we didn’t. Any baby needs a fair bit of attention. Baby LARK needed attention and lots of patience. It kept quiet and slept a lot. Like most first-time parents, I had some misplaced expectations based on examples I saw (Humanist Discussion Group being the prime example). Where I expected chatter and collaboration, the LARK list offered a deafening silence. My messages felt like sending letters to myself. So, I’d let my daily life take over and LARK slide far to the periphery of my (and everyone else’s) attention. But, whenever that happened, there was someone sending a private message saying how much they enjoyed posts about research. Or, my interpretation of the enthusiasm at the first meeting as one-off occurrence would be corrected by people who’d get in touch to ask when we were meeting next.

So, LARK met again. And again. Some people continued from the first meeting (notably, Alycia Bailey), others joined in for a short or long period of time. Some have become regular companions (shout out to Janet Chelliah and Bhuva Narayan from the University of Technology, Sydney - UTS). We usually had around 15, sometimes 20 people in engaging meetings after work, always followed by dinner. Our colleagues were getting in touch afterwards to say how they’d like to join, but couldn’t on that occasion. During the first couple of years, I expected people would either come in bigger numbers or stop coming altogether. Neither happened. Academics, librarians from university, public, school and special libraries, information professionals and teachers kept getting together. The gatherings had never been large, but the group thrived nevertheless. With ongoing activities and a need for some support, we joined ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association) in December 2013.

Culture of curiosity (from LARK's event in 2015)
What also happened over time was that people were getting in touch from various parts of Australia to say how they had research interests, but felt isolated and disconnected from research networks. This is how we initiated regular online events in 2016. Our first online event included presenters from Australia and New Zealand. Like face-to-face meetings, online events attracted a solid audience, but not a huge following. They became, however, an important connection point. The most recent webinar in 2017 was also an opportunity to reach out to other professional groups who talked to us about their research experiences reinforcing a sense of interprofessional networks.

LARK blog: Pageviews by countries 5/11/2017
LARK’s online presence grew in other ways too. This collaboratively written blog  has attracted a fair bit of attention over time. Particularly important were contributions from the ALIA Research Advisory Committee. C-EBLIP’s own Virginia Wilson has become a contributor too. According to the latest statistics, LARK’s blog attracted over 80,000 visits from around the world, well over 700 visits per post.

During a period of a couple of years, Fiona McDonald, Liz Walkley Hall and I ran the first Antipodean LIS reading group on Twitter (#EBLIPRG). We connected with professional groups overseas and even had a session facilitated from Ireland. LARK had an important role in making #EBLIPRG visible.

In May 2017, LARK branched out from online spaces and Sydney to South Australia. Liz Walkley Hall had already led an active research group at Flinders University and decided to initiate LARK group in South Australia to connect with colleagues from other organisations. The group had an initial meeting and has plans for future events.

Happy birthday to us: Krystal Campbell is getting ready to blow candles
Post by post, event by event, LARK has become very visible in the Australian LIS landscape. On 22 September this year we celebrated LARK’s fifth birthday in a research style by organising a seminar titled Holy Evidence! Research in information practice. Yet again, it was a relatively small gathering, but one for which some people travelled significant distances. It was also pleasing that LARK was able for the first time to offer a grant to a LIS student to attend the seminar (congratulations to Krystal Campbell, a student at UTS). 

Seminar Holy Evidence! Research in Information Practice
In the first half of the day, we considered the Australian research environment and heard from a variety of experienced researchers and novices from different sectors and even industries. In the second part of the day, we had a workshop to discuss how to develop a research project from idea to reality, and how to publish research findings. A feeling of connection and genuine engagement in the room was well supported by feedback forms. People greatly enjoyed, not only substantial learning, but also each other’s company. It was particularly rewarding to see that people who came from afar were not disappointed. A sense of a connected research community was palpable in the air.
David Schmidt's reflection on the seminar: 1. Most views were from Russia in the week 18 September 3. Liz Griffits presented a thought-provoking paper comparing research with a swamp 4. Suzanne Lewis presented a paper on search filters

During the seminar, I looked back at the five years of LARK and thought of many dispersed people who are prepared to put effort in making research a reality in LIS practice. Establishing connections between interested people is essential, especially when they don’t even see themselves as researchers. For research, you only need curiosity and tenacity; everything else can be learnt, said David Schmidt at the LARK’s seminar when he talked about research capacity building in health in rural and remote areas. With a network of curios tenacious people, learning is much more likely to happen, and it’s also much more enjoyable. A network also makes practice-based research visible.

Another issue is working with research bubbles formed along academic and professional, hierarchical and sector-based divisions. Distinctions between different types of research and interests are real, but often grossly exaggerated. When it comes to research, there are more connections than non-negotiable barriers. With LARK’s participants and presenters from various LIS sectors and allied fields, it has become evident that we have a lot in common when it comes to sharing research experiences and concerns. Groups like LARK open the lines of conversation and help us pop the bubbles.

In the spirit of interprofessional learning, I looked up what biology says on how birds of the feather flock together. They are known for changing direction, possibly to confuse predators. The change can be led by any bird in the flock and others will follow. How birds of a feather flock together…they are democratic, claims an article in the Daily Mail interpreting a research study. Without looking into the authenticity of this interpretation, I like the idea that any bird can take a leadership position when it picks up important signals from its place in the environment. I like to believe that this is how a loosely organised group like LARK thrives. People come to the group for a short or long period of time, but they keep up the flight and influence the direction. At the end of the seminar, a few young librarians from various parts of Australia offered their help and expressed their willingness to be more involved with LARK. After a very rewarding research celebration, these offers were a real highlight for me. They are saying to me that LARK will keep flying. For all of us, especially new LARKs ready to fly, it is crucial to have the flock. 

Thanks to Virginia Wilson for her kind words and the first post.  

Dr Suzana Sukovic currently works as the Executive Director, Educational Research and Evidence Based Practice at HETI (Health Education and Training Institute), NSW Health

Thursday, 5 October 2017

“Mum, I can’t walk. I am going to fly”

aerial, airliner, airplane

Improvisation on a rural research theme

By Suzana Sukovic

“Mum, I can’t walk. I am going to fly”, Jannine Shepherd enthusiastically announced. In her keynote address at the Rural Health and Research Congress 2017 in Wagga Wagga last week, Janine Shepherd, a champion skier once in training for the Olympics, told us how her love of hills saved her. At the time, she faced the towering obstacle of her broken body and a doctor’s prediction that she would never walk again. The doctor’s prediction didn’t come true because Janine decided to challenge it with the determination and tenacity of a mountain lover. The announcement that she would fly, however, came true, although even mum’s best response was, ‘That’s nice, dear’. As a partially paraplegic woman, Janine learnt to fly an aircraft a year and a half after her accident and proceeded to teach others.

I think we have a powerful research lesson here. It involves a love of hills which, with all the challenges, provide the best route and unexpected views. It also involves a great deal of learning. And some unlearning. 

Looking afield from our customary professional horizons, a lot can be seen. Changing industries is certainly not the momentous alpine range Janine has experienced in her life, but it does provide some challenging and thrilling moments. Last week at the congress I remembered rewards of a meandering career when ordinary things reappear as new. Keynotes, for example, are  cerebral events. I believed they were presented by smart people who talked about something relevant to our work. Our raw life is not the topic of keynotes. Even the firm belief that rational and emotional are part of a human whole, didn’t prepare me for the powerful personal stories I heard from the main congress stage. Or that bodily functions are not to be discussed over the table (unless it’s a research breakfast and the presenter’s study happens to be about the by-products of abdominal functions). 

Along with challenged assumptions, there were some personal and professional lessons. Looking at how the health profession goes about its research and practical work, I thought I’d like to share a few takeaways with colleagues in the library and information sector. They are likely to be applicable in GLAM as well (Galleries-Libraries-Archives-Museums). 

Cartoon by David Schmidt

1. Research in the limelight. Everything we heard in the congress wasn’t about research, but research was a driving force connecting all the parts and showing the way ahead. It had a much more prominent position than in last year’s congress. Hon. Brad Hazzard, in his dual roles as the Minister for Health and Minister for Medical Research, stressed that research has become a distinct part of his portfolio signifying its importance in health. With new interest in educational research and even a “medical approach to teaching” described as a cause of “quiet revolution” by media, it is time to re-consider the role of research in other sectors. Seriously, research is in the limelight.

2. Client on the stage and other stories. A big part of library and information work evolves around stories – stocked in our collections and heard over and over again at service points. Maybe there is a bit of story fatigue, but we don’t invite clients’ stories very often. Teachers invite students to talk about their learning in teachers’ conferences or to participate with them in workshops. “We are all learners”, they say. Health professionals invite their patients to the stage to tell them about their experiences in dealing with the health system. “We can all make this better”, they say. Chris Pointon, for example, spoke about the powerful campaign “Hello my name is” initiated by his late wife, Kate Granger. As a doctor who became a terminally ill patient, she saw an opportunity for a simple, but significant improvement for patient-centred care. 

There was a session at the congress dedicated to Aboriginal engagement and research. One of the presenters commented on how Aboriginal people prefer stories instead of Power Point presentations. A few people on Twitter joined in saying “not only Aborigines”. In this session, Jayla Nix, Aboriginal Health Worker, pointed out an app, which uses images and patients’ stories to help Aboriginal people understand medical procedures. She said it was the most useful research outcome she saw. It all made me wonder whether we hear stories of our clients as industry and research partners often enough.  

3. Gathering data through pain spots. Janine Shepherd told us how she recorded data daily as she progressed on her journey from a wheel-chair to walking on her own feet. If you want to fly and, even more importantly, walk on your own, tenacity and systematic improvement based on evidence go a long way – literally. 

Vic McEwan, the Artistic Director of the Cad Factory, discussed his art projects involving patients. In one of these projects, he gathered data about hospital sounds (see Intensive Care: artists in healthcare environments  and Art in the real world: from the hospital ward to the Tate). McEwan talked to patients, and measured vibrations and noises. The research outcomes were diverse: a documentary giving a voice to loud sounds and silent worries, he said, music from a cello bow played on a hospital bed, and recommendations to administrators who were not aware of any concerns about disturbing noises. But, some facts are hard to ignore. When an intensive care door makes the sound as loud as an airplane every 30 seconds and there is a measurement for evidence, someone needs to fix the door. 

A point of difference between regular data-gathering and these examples is the focus on the pain spots. Galleries have a few things to say on the topic, but I wonder whether libraries go far enough when they invite artists in-residence. Can we ask them not only to look, but also to listen to silenced voices, banging doors and beeping machines? Is there an experience of pain to be documented with a harp and trumpet?

4. I didn’t know you can do it that way. Interprofessional learning is mainstream in health and there are fewer places where it is as obvious as in rural settings. Geographically dispersed and with a relatively small number of specialists, professionals in rural areas need to collaborate and to learn from each other to solve a problem. This sort of thinking becomes obvious in a conference where all sorts of health professionals, patients, artists, Indigenous elders and a historian come together with an understanding that there are many ways to keep people healthy. After a year in health, I have no doubt that information professionals have a lot to take from and to contribute to this mix. 

5. Translate that research. Application of research to practice is not a spontaneous process. It takes time, effort and, often, resources. In health, translational research attracts a great deal of attention and funding. It was inspiring to see at the congress that a translational research grant was given to a novice researcher graduating from the Rural Research Capacity Building Program. Two grants were also given to graduates to present papers about their research at international or national conferences. An investment in research education doesn’t have a full impact without opportunities to communicate findings and apply them in practice. Admittedly, health care is much better funded than other industries, but it also has a tradition of connecting basic and applied research (and of putting research in the limelight).

For the library and information sector (and GLAM) which does so well offering substantial and innovative services while struggling to make ends meet, climbing research mountains may feel like an extreme sport. Pointing towards examples from health with all the support that industry has may feel a little insensitive to say the least. In the library and information field, which constantly deals with information overload, pointing out more information elsewhere may not seem very practical or necessary. However, ‘out of the blue’ ideas and painstaking efforts, especially with a data-collection diary in hand, are often what makes us fly when we struggle to walk. 

Libraries know the art of self-recreation well as they have bravely and successfully reinvented themselves in the face of many challenges. But, original research hasn’t been included in a self-reinvention yet. We still don’t have professional conferences devoted to research unless it is about helping others. Research isn’t a regular part of the library professional identity. However, the signs are in the fresh Wagga air that we must think about this carefully.

Janine Shepherd told us how a love of hills made her an Olympic athlete and then saved her life. She also told us that greater than the power of love is the power of choice. You need to choose love, she said. And you can't just choose hills, you need to learn to love hills. As a sector, we need to choose research, not as a hill, but as a whole mountain range. For the ascent, we need the imagination of an artist, the endurance of an Olympic athlete and the wisdom of a librarian. 

Monday, 2 October 2017

2018 Rural Research Capacity Building Program

By Suzana Sukovic

Some of you may have already heard of an excellent capacity building program for health workers in rural and remote areas of New South Wales. The good news is that applications for the 2018 Rural Research Capacity Building Program are now open. Even better, it has been confirmed that the program is not for health staff only. Dr Kerith Duncanson, Program Officer, invites library and information staff to apply:
We have had such wonderful support in the past for RRCBP candidates from Local Health District librarians, and also within the systematic review courses. However, we have never had a librarian in the program and there are many topics that would be useful and applicable for a librarian to investigate. Therefore, if any of the librarians were interested in developing research skills and have a research question to answer, we would encourage an application.
Some of you may have heard about the program in LARK's webinar in February. You may now like to hear or revisit Kerith Duncanson's presentation From experienced health clinician to novice researcher to find out more about the program.

Applications are open till 31 October 2017. Click here for further details.