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Sunday, 14 October 2012

Why library research?

Suzana Sukovic

The most of this blog first appeared on ALIA Sydney blog, 30 June 2012

For the first LARK post, here is my plain and bold statement: librarians need to do research. It is necessary for us and good for the rest of the world. And here are six reasons why.


3 reasons why practice-based research is good for librarians

1. To save our skin. At a recent teacher-librarians’ conference, Di Laycock argued for the importance of research in school libraries and showed us a picture of a frog. If you throw a frog in hot water, she said, it will jump out immediately. However, if you gradually increase temperature while the frog is in water, the adaptable animal will stay in the water until it boils alive. In a demanding information world, librarians are a bit like frogs. In order to save our skins, we need to monitor our environment regularly and systematically to be able to act accordingly.

2.To evolve through evidence based practice. In the complicated and sometimes dangerously hot information environment, we can’t afford to rely only on our experience and impressions. We need rigorously gathered evidence to inform our constantly changing practice. Gathering reliable evidence takes time but it is still faster than guess work. It is a bit like asking locals for directions – you stop the car, but get to your destination faster or make an informed decision about how to continue your trip. (I acknowledge that asking for directions is an impossibly difficult thought for some people.)

3. To broaden our career options and strengthen reputation. We already apply research skills in a number of careers outside our main domains. An ability to do primary research may open some new options such as participation as equal partners on research teams, particularly cross-disciplinary ones. Numerous possibilities will open as the demand for innovation and evidence-based practice in many professions increases. At the same time, benefits for our individual and collective professional reputation will be substantial.

3 reasons why librarians’ research is good for the world

4. To keep saving the free thinking world. In our information world domineered by a few big players and swamped by many smaller ones who are trying to get their piece of profitable pie, who is going to defend the right to free information? Librarians and Friends, of course. Knowing about information trends first hand and using that knowledge to be the best we can is something we owe to nothing less than Democracy and Free Thought. Librarians existed well before googles of the modern world, kept the record of civilisations dead and alive, and survived as one of the last civic places. At the time of tremendous changes, we are not going to trust you-know-who to tell us about information trends, are we?

5. To contribute insights from a unique perspective. By serving everyone every day, we have unique insights into the information world. We have been great curators of knowledge records, but now we have a special position to become great ethnographers of the fast-changing world of information and knowledge. We have unparalleled access to potential data about information needs and behaviours on a daily basis - and we have a reputation and tradition to be trusted curators and interpreters of that information. Our perspective is valuable.

6. To enhance our academic field. Academia traditionally saw itself as self-sufficient and all-knowing, but it increasingly recognises the value of connection with practice. This connection is particularly important in the library and information studies which, like it or not, is predominantly an applied discipline. Some important lessons can be learnt from other applied fields. For example, there are good reasons why most academics in faculties of medicine are practicing clinicians and why they have a well-developed system of university hospitals. The sooner our field recognises advantages of different types of research and practice, the sooner it will benefit from a stronger reputation, better career paths, an improved position in negotiating research grants, and increased enrolments in postgraduate courses.

Da Vinci Institute has predicted what the future holds for libraries and made some recommendations. The first is to evaluate the library experience - to ask for opinions, to survey - in other words, to do research. There is no doubt in my mind that practice-based research will be critical for thriving libraries. When it comes to research, the question is not whether or why, but how and where to start.

Suzana is the Head of Learning Resource Centre, St.Vincent's College, Potts Point and Research Associate at the University of Sydney. She has a long history of boundary-crossing. A drive on a simulator train and a doctoral degree in information studies are some of her proud professional achievements

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