By Sara Wingate Gray, on 27 April 2012
Following on from January’s workshop in London, this time it was especially nice to have the opportunity to get out of town and visit that fine city of literature and libraries that is Edinburgh in order to attend the Library and Information Science Research Coalition‘s third workshop event, held at Edinburgh Napier University.
This was the final workshop event in the series, which has an overall aim of “building the skills to build the evidence base” for Library and Information Science practitioners and researchers, via providing information and insights on specific quantitative and qualitative research techniques that are not necessarily the preserve, nor the norm, for the profession. Previous workshops introduced delegates to investigatory approaches such as discourse analysis, webometrics, and action research, and I was looking forward to this final workshop session not just for the likely engaging line-up, and fascinating insights of speakers (going on previous sessions which always had at least one, and more often than not, several, fantastic academic presenters) but also the opportunity to once again meet up with colleagues who I’d begun to develop professional relationships with from the previous events.
This workshop was no different in amply providing both of these opportunities, and this time specifically covered the research methods of “horizon scanning”; techniques from psychology, focusing specifically on “repertory grids”; and “data mining”. My favourite session was given by Dr Harry J Woodroof, who presented his work as a member of the Horizon Scanning Team within the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) that is part of the Ministry of Defence, where the aim is to identify future “threats” and “opportunities” and enable “decisions” to be made in the present. This particular session led me to realise how I often, rather intuitively (and certainly more loosely), already use such a mode of investigation when engaging in “future planning” regards both my personal and professional life, and it was a really fascinating presentation, in fact giving me pause for thought in terms of what astonishing and interesting types of roles the information profession can find themselves in.
Coming a close second, however, in my favourite-speaker stakes, was the work of Dr Phil Turner from Edinburgh Napier University, who presented an interesting case study from his research, in order to contextualise and explain the repertory grid technique, which itself stems from the work of the clinical psychologist George Kelly and personal construct theory research. The work which Dr Turner presented on, using his research and findings into “attachment to digital and non-digital artefacts”, provided a great, and suitably clear and concise, example of the use of the repertory grid interviewing technique, and I think gave a very real insight into how useful and relevant this method could be for LIS researchers.
I should add that I consider data mining, as the third and final technique that was discussed during the workshop by Kevin Swingler from Stirling University, in fact a thoroughly fascinating and incredibly useful and revealing tool for the LIS sector –and in particular– it has the potential for conjuring amazing uses of public sector data such as that which public libraries collect and collate as part and parcel of their everyday services, just as another delegate, Jo Alcock, points out with regard to the work of academic librarian (and fab all-round amazing library-data-masher-upper) Dave Pattern, who has been providing and enabling such usages and experiments with academic library data for some time now. Although not part of my personal PhD research into public libraries, this is an area I have both a professional and personal interest in (but certainly not the coding skills of Dave P!) and I would positively welcome a move to work together with others on collaborations and ideas which bring the realm of data mining to the public library sphere: I believe it has the potential for radical and sensational results!
Alongside these presentations we also had the chance to break into groups and discuss the potential pitfalls, successes and the links between research and impact: the group I was in centred on considering the different approaches and practicalities of moving research findings from within the research field out into the wider world of practitioners, with some of us also providing a nod to how both parties’ collaborative work might then inform policy and policy-makers themselves.
I particularly enjoyed this “working together” time, which brought a small group of PhD students together with library and information professionals, from a range of settings such as schools and public libraries (for example), as it soon became clear that although we might begin at different points in our work, our objectives and aims coalesced in wanting a real world result aka impact. What became clear to me from our discussions, and the feedback from other groups who were similarly addressing the same research/impact equation, was that when we come together as a cohort, we are able to speak all the more clearly and resonantly about our professional aims, objectives, roles and ethics: leading with one voice, based on a clarity of consensus clearly has a greater impetus, and therefore impact, than trying to walk alone.
For me, this aspect of the workshops has been the most wonderful – meeting likeminded peers and colleagues who span the ranges and realms of LIS, and who seek to perform and provide the same practicalities, insights, services and purposes that define our profession. I am really excited about maintaining the links I’ve developed with individuals, and am beginning to think about how nurturing these relationships, and the conversations and ideas that spring forth, can help drive forward positive change for the profession, and in particular my own research focus of public libraries.