Research methods and networks

I was delighted to be selected as a 2019 Institute for Research Design in Librarianship scholar. IRDL “is designed to bring together a diverse group of academic and research librarians who are motivated and enthusiastic about conducting research but need additional training and/or other support to perform the steps successfully.” At the week long institute at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, I met the other 22 scholars and spent each day learning research methods, having consultations with qualitative and quantitative research experts and the two project directors, and basically geeking out over libraries and library research. I learned so much about research methods; I feel confident in my research design and methodology and equipped to carry out my work, which is to create and study a program in which peer Learning Success Mentors share information literacy and learning science tips with new students at my community college.

But the most important thing I gained is a research network. I would have taken a research methods class (although not in a week and not in such a beautiful place). But getting to know other people who are interested in which design will best answer a research question, how to write an in-depth interview guide and develop a codebook to analyze the transcripts, when to use regression theory, and why this matters to librarianship is not an experience I could every have had without IRDL. Knowing I can call on my fellow IRDLers and starting in July, my mentor, an experienced research librarian who will support me through the year’s work, is also pretty awesome.

The coming year will be difficult — I’ll be working harder than I ever have, trying things I’ve never done, working to deadlines, all on a project with a lot of moving parts that may not turn out as I hope. It’s pretty daunting. But so was getting on a plane to LA, being away for nine days, worrying about whether I’d be able to hold my own at the Institute. And in the coming year, the best part is that each of my fellow IRDL scholars will be doing what I am doing — holding ourselves to getting the work done, and standing with each other as we prioritize our research among all the other demands on our time. They are an amazingly talented group. I feel like I upped my game just being with them all for a week. Plus, I earned some pretty cool badges (yes, literal ones, not virtual).

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It’s great to be home, and I am excited to be on this research journey in such good company.

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A fringe benefit of the Trump era for librarians?

I read a fascinating and also somewhat irritating piece today by David Beard at Poynter, contrasting two polls about public mistrust of the media in the Trump age with one establishing how high public trust of librarians, which has been a mainstay of our profession for a long time, is right now. Beard points out all the usual stuff about why people think highly of their libraries and librarians, and why they don’t think as highly of the media.

I found it interesting that he refers to librarians as journalists’ “information-gathering cousins,” especially since he writes for a “thought leader” (Poynter Institute) that lists fact-checking among its special concerns. So journalists are supposed to be, ideally, information gatherers. But don’t news organizations, large ones at least, have librarians on staff? In places where that isn’t the case, are journalists using library resources as they do background research?

Beard goes on to speak with Mike Sullivan, librarian Weare, New Hampshire, a town not far from mine, who started a library/town newspaper. It’s an interesting idea, for a library to step into what people see as a void of “fake news” and fill it with relevant information. Beard goes on to say that Sullivan is working to counter the common view that libraries are “free” and so not valuable, but then he veers into a new direction.

“Libraries cannot bring down a president, or regularly push accountability of government officials who may help fund the institution,” Beard says. I think librarians do just that in various ways and to varying degrees — ask Scott Bonner, of Ferguson, Missouri. By his actions in making the library a safe space when the police couldn’t or wouldn’t make the rest of the town one, he absolutely held officials accountable. Are we any more or less likely to bring a president down? If not down, at least rendered less effective. The American Library Association has worked for over a year to rally its members to oppose the administration’s immigration bans, budget priorities, and executive orders that “contradict core values” of our profession. Many librarians also stood firm against the privacy overreaches of The Patriot Act, refusing to turn over patron records. And we value radical hospitality in a society that is often segregated along social, racial, and economic lines.

Beard then goes on to suggest library/journalist partnerships, and speaks with Tom Huang of the Dallas Morning News:

“In areas not served by traditional news outlets, libraries, already trusted by the community, could become a hub for news collection, Huang says. There would have to be training on one-on-one interviewing techniques or how to be an assigner or “editor” for events or stories done by community members — as well as the understanding that these are beginning steps to journalism, not involved investigative pieces. ‘Ultimately, we could train librarians to do some of this stuff,’ Huang says. ‘It’s not like it’s rocket science.'”

So let’s get this straight. Librarians and libraries are seen as sources of reliable information for citizens, and in some cases they are taking that information to the public in creative ways, as with the Weare paper. But what libraries really need is for journalists — who Beard has just said are nearly reviled at this point — to teach them what to do because gee, even librarians could learn this stuff.

What do you think of all this? My view is that public libraries already know how to partner with community members and organizations including journalists, and that school, public, and academic librarians have been showing people how to find and use information effectively for as long as libraries have existed, which as far as I know is longer than the media has. We don’t need to be “trained . . . to do some of this stuff” to be effective partners. And we certainly don’t need to be told how to oppose repression or intolerance or expose lack in our communities. If anything, journalists might benefit, based on the public perception of our respective professions, from mentioning their own library use in their work. Maybe if journalists admitted looking things up at their local library, the public would trust them more.