ACRL announces the publication of Reflections on Practitioner Research: A Practical Guide for Information Professionals, edited by Lee Ann Fullington, Brandon K. West, and Frans Albarillo, which can help information professionals build an understanding of the research process as applied to librarianship and address the challenges of undertaking research as a practitioner.
Learn more about Reflections on Practitioner Research in this excerpt from the introduction, licensed under a CC BY-SA license.
What is a Practitioner-Researcher?
What do we mean when we say practitioner-researcher? When we were thinking through the proposal for this book, we looked at numerous handbooks and textbooks about conducting research, and Helen Kara’s definition resonated with us. She defines a practitioner-researcher as “anyone doing research while working in a public service, whether that work is paid or voluntary, informal or formal, and whether their research is under the formal auspices of the organization or an academic institution.”1 This definition struck home, for as information professionals, we are very much working in a public service, whether it be at a library or an archive, and many of us may be doing research in our roles, whether formally or informally. Kara also stresses that “it doesn’t matter if you are novice or experienced; whether your project is one of many in your life, or the only piece of research you ever carry out. While you are doing your project, you have the identity of ‘researcher’ to add to all of your other identities: friend, colleague, sibling, parent, service user, and so on.”2 We liked Kara’s emphasis on these overlapping identities, as so many of us play so many different roles both at our institutions and in our personal lives.
Using Kara’s definition as a jumping-off point, who then do we mean when we say practitioner-researcher when we are talking about the field of library and information sciences? Is this the reference assistant collecting data to write an internal report about how often certain reference titles are reshelved? Yes. Is this the archivist who created a survey to find out how romance writers are using archival materials in their historical fiction? Indeed. Is this the library assistant who asked each child who came to Drag Queen Story Hour to tell her what their favorite part of the event was so she could compile information for the library director? Of course! Is this the librarian who set up interviews with undergraduates to have them try out a new discovery tool to determine if the facets made sense to students? Absolutely! For this book, we deliberately chose to describe information professionals who are conducting research as “practitioner-researchers,” and we are using the term “information professionals” to refer to librarians, archivists, administrators, and other staff members, whether in a public library, academic library, corporate library, law library, museum, archive, or other special library. We wanted to capture the multifaceted roles we adopt when we do formal or informal research and use our ingenuity and skills to solve problems, evaluate, assess and improve services, make policy decisions, or simply satisfy our own curiosity.
We approached curating this book with the idea that a practitioner-researcher is an information professional who may not have formal training in using research methods and is learning how to use these methods on the job. We believe that practitioner research, whether the findings are generalizable or simply descriptive and reflective, is important for information professionals who build and learn on past practice. At the same time, we also acknowledge that practitioner-researchers face limitations when conducting their research. We often do not have a laboratory condition with randomized controlled trials. Sampling frames are challenging to construct, perhaps due to our respect for privacy and the necessity to keep minimal personal data on our populations. And most important, our research budgets and research staff tend to be small or non-existent, and we may often be going it alone as researchers. In the face of these limitations, this book celebrates and tries to draw insights from the messiness of applying research methods. It was our intention to create a book that shows the complexity of using a research design by information professionals who are picking up these skills along the way.
We acknowledge that conducting research is often at odds with the service orientation of the field. In our experience as academic librarians, we are often promoted as campus resources for students, faculty, and staff and are expected to be giving of our time. We also teach information literacy across multiple subject areas, consult with faculty on curricular matters such as assessment, and serve on library and campus-wide committees. These responsibilities can overwhelm our schedules, making it difficult to build in regular time to focus on our research agendas.
We feel our experiences may be common for most information professionals, as evidenced in our professional literature. Koufogiannakis and Crumley’s content analysis of the LIS research base helped them identify obstacles adversely affecting librarians’ utilization of evidence-based research methods. The obstacles include the lack of formal mechanisms for funding librarians’ research, librarians’ lack of experience in using research methods, librarians lacking time during their workday to perform research, lacking support from their employer to conduct research, and/or lack of access to research-based literature, which is more likely to affect public, special, and school library professionals, who often do not have access to LIS journals and databases.3 Kennedy and Brancolini’s research about the attitudes and perceptions of academic librarians regarding their research capabilities also speaks to these difficulties. They found that librarians report that time continues to be a limiting factor in their research (specifically, reading research-based literature) and that many librarians believe that their LIS programs do not adequately prepare them to tackle their original research agendas.4
The purpose of this book is to help information professionals build an understanding of the research process as applied to our field. Our goal in compiling this volume is to address the challenges of undertaking research as a practitioner, as well as to offer support and advice for all stages of a research project, from writing the proposal to collecting the data to disseminating the findings (whether through an internal report or a published journal article) and the myriad pitfalls that can occur along the way. It is our hope that the stories in this book will inspire you to find ways to integrate strategies that will help you become more productive in your research.
- Helen Kara, Research and Evaluation for Busy Students and Practitioners: A Time-Saving Guide, 2nd ed. (Chicago, IL: Policy Press, 2017), 2.
- Kara, Research and Evaluation, 3.
- Denise Koufogiannakis and Ellen Crumley, “Research in librarianship: issues to consider,” Library Hi Tech 24, no. 3 (2006): 334–35, https://doi.org/10.1108/07378830610692109.
- Marie R. Kennedy and Kristine R. Brancolini, “Academic Librarian Research: An Update to a Survey of Attitudes, Involvement, and Perceived Capabilities,” College & Research Libraries 79, no. 6 (2018): 838–39, https://doi.org/10.5860/crl.79.6.822.