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LibParlor Contributor Series

How Do You Even Start? A Librarian Parlor Series, Part I

LibParlor's newest series all around the central question of "How do you...?"

LibParlor is pleased to publish the first of three in our newest series called, “How Do You…”

Brittany Paloma Fiedler is a Teaching and Learning Librarian at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. She previously worked as a middle school librarian and high school English teacher. She was a 2015-2016 ALA Spectrum Scholar and is a 2018 ALA Emerging Leader.

Chelsea Heinbach is a Teaching and Learning Librarian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Prior to UNLV, she taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Auraria Library in Denver, CO.  She is a co-founder and editor of The Librarian Parlor and she tweets here.

UNLV Libraries hired two Teaching and Learning Librarians to start in the fall of 2017. Brittany had been a school librarian for one year, so she was brand new to academic librarianship and library research. Chelsea had been an academic librarian for a year before she started at UNLV, but she only had experience with one previous research project. We began our tenure-track librarian adventure the same semester and started a research project together right away. We will be sharing our entire process in a three-part series on LibParlor in the hopes that it will encourage other new-to-research librarians to start their own projects!

The first step of the process surprised us because we found our project, conducted a literature review, defined our questions, applied to conferences, and crafted the research pretty much simultaneously. We tell our undergraduate students that research is a messy, non-linear process, and that is true even for those of us on the tenure track. However, all research starts with having an idea or question about a topic.

Finding a Research Project

We were lucky when we started in many ways. Not only did we walk into an institution with a robust (and intimidating) culture of research and support, but our outreach librarian (the amazing Rosan Mitola) had purposely waited to begin this research project until we started at UNLV. We were all genuinely interested in this population – two-thirds of our research team had been transfer students (Chelsea and Rosan).

Without Rosan, we would have needed a different approach, as finding a research project can be one of the toughest parts of the process. One librarian we know checks in with A Library Writer’s Blog on a regular basis. When she finds anything related to her research interests, she adds the dates to a monthly calendar and uses those CFPs to inspire her research. She takes special note of recurring conferences because while she might not be ready to write a proposal about a project this year, she knows the CFP will be due around the same time next year. Another librarian we know is more focused on job duties – whenever a change is implemented in the library, she sees it as an opportunity to document the before/during/after to potentially publish in the future. We also love the approach of drawing from other disciplines that Gina Schlesselman-Tarango’s discussed in her LibParlor post.

Conducting a Literature Review

Feeling a little overwhelmed while trying to get started, we decided to make a spreadsheet to organize past literature on transfer students and the library.

screenshot of excel sheet columns including: article title, author, institution, permalink, research questions, methodologies, availability of survey/interview questions, what they learned, changes/programs implemented, notes, further suggested reading
Screenshot of excel sheet columns including:  article title, author, institution, permalink, research questions, methodologies, availability of survey/interview questions, what they learned, changes/programs implemented, notes, further suggested reading.

Link for lit review template – feel free to copy this template to your own drive!

We divided up the literature between the three of us. As we read, we took note of potentially reproducible methodologies, survey and interview questions we liked, and suggested further reading our articles mentioned. At the end of the lit review, we had a meeting devoted to sharing the highlights. This was a great way to tackle a substantial amount of reading collectively, as it helped us identify takeaways from each paper and record key information for all of us to access easily.  The literature review was essential to helping us define and clarify our research questions, and the process took us about a month.

Defining a Research Question

“If you’re interested in sharing your research at a conference, don’t think you have to be completely done to propose something! You just have to have a good idea of where you are going and follow through with research.”

While we had discussed it at length, the process of formalizing and narrowing our interests down to a few major research questions was difficult. We knew what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to lump transfer students in with first-year students, we didn’t want to compare them to first-year students, and we didn’t want to assume that they were somehow deficient because they started their educational careers elsewhere. As we read the literature about transfer students and the library we realized that current library literature tended to focus on specific interventions, but nothing had been done at UNLV at all yet, so we decided it was okay to indulge our broad interests. We focused on learning about who transfer students are as people and what their academic experiences are as a whole in order to inform the services we should consider designing. Ultimately, our research questions included: Who are transfer students? What are their lives like? How can we take their strengths and previous experiences into account in order to best design library services and resources for them? We planned to pursue answers through surveys and interviews, anticipating that we could get a sense of the variety of transfer student experience through the survey and use the interviews to gain a deeper insight into individual narratives.

Applying to Conferences

We started this process in the middle of CFP season, so we had to do a lot of this simultaneously. True to form, Chelsea made a spreadsheet (are you noticing a trend here?) of relevant conferences that we might consider applying to. It included the conference name, type, theme, submission URL, due date, location, and conference dates. Because of when CFPs were due, we had to write our proposals at the same time that we were designing the project, which was a little uncomfortable.  It felt strange to promise to share results of surveys and interviews we hadn’t quite crafted yet. However, we learned from more experienced librarians that it’s pretty common due to the length of time between proposal and presentation. If you’re interested in sharing your research at a conference, don’t think you have to be completely done to propose something! You just have to have a good idea of where you are going and follow through with research.  

Crafting the Research (Survey, Interview, Methodology)

We wrote our survey and interview questions collectively over many hours and conversations in an empty computer lab, iteratively editing a shared google doc. Our goal was to keep both the survey and interview under 15 questions, which was hard because we wanted to learn so much. We ended up with 16 questions for each. To narrow things down, we had a conversation about every individual question. We asked ourselves why we wanted to ask it*, was it necessary, would it work better as a survey or interview question, was our wording objective, was our wording inclusive, etc. And the big one: was it within the scope of our three major research questions? When we were done, we sat down with our assessment librarian to review it all (if we didn’t have a dedicated assessment librarian we would have had a meeting with the head of our department). She gave us great feedback which we incorporated before testing out the survey and interview questions on our student workers. Getting feedback from various folks along the way was invaluable to the process. If you have folks in your library that are more experienced or specialize in research, ask them for help!

Our next post in this series (How Do You Even Do Research?) will cover the results of our IRB submission as well as the actual process of administering the survey and interviews. The final post (How Do You Even Present and Publish?) will cover preparing for and presenting at conferences (LOEX 2018 here we come!) and writing article(s) to submit to journals. While it is a little scary to be going through this process with an audience, it has been incredibly informative to reflect on our journey!  

*A Note on Demographic Questions

We spent a lot of time considering whether demographic questions were necessary to answer our research questions.We read many articles about when to use and how to write demographic questions (and recommend this and that for people who want to know a little more). Ultimately, we realized that the only reason we wanted to ask the questions in the first place was to ensure that, at our Minority Serving Institution, our research sample was reflective of our student community. We skipped them entirely on the survey and made them an optional activity after the interview. To be inclusive, each participant answered in a free-text comment box so they could self-identify without restrictions.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

  • What are your strategies for finding a new research project?
  • What intimidates you about starting a research project?
  • How do you find collaborators for research?
  • If you have your own “How do you…?” questions, tweet them at LibPalor, or use our hashtag, #LibParlor. We’d love to find authors to help answers your questions about research!

Featured image [CC0], via Pexels

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3 comments on “How Do You Even Start? A Librarian Parlor Series, Part I

  1. Pingback: How Do You Even Do Research? A Librarian Parlor Series, Part II – The Librarian Parlor

  2. Pingback: Them: Please Describe your Research. Me: What Research?! – The Librarian Parlor

  3. Pingback: How Do You Even Do Analyze & Publish? A Librarian Parlor Series, Part III – The Librarian Parlor

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