Rebecca Halpern is the teaching and learning services coordinator at The Claremont Colleges Library. She is interested in critical librarianship, antiracist management practices, and maintaining a strong work-life separation. Find her on twitter at @beccakatharine.
“What I now know is that it’s possible to stay true to your personal research agenda while allowing for flexibility and the realities of our work situations.”
Research methods and design, adult learning theories, online pedagogy, critical information literacy assessment, and gender identities: what do these topics have in common? Other than all being the focus of various research projects on my CV, perhaps not much. In looking over my history of publications and presentations, it’s easy to see the phases my personal research agenda have taken. The topics I’ve devoted significant time to researching and writing about have largely been driven by where I worked, what my responsibilities were, and what new questions I needed answers to do my job well. On one hand, a career-driven research agenda makes sense. Particularly in a tenure-track position, your research agenda should be impactful to your work, and help to question the critical assumptions of your position. On the other hand, though, at least for me, there was an element to my research phases that focused on the shiny-new-thing in librarianship that would impress my administration and conference selection committees. Instead of trying to answer a question of significance to me, I often chased the questions I thought would look good on my CV. While I don’t regret any particular past project or approach, I do wish I had a clearer sense of what I wanted out of my own development at the beginning of my career. What I now know is that it’s possible to stay true to your personal research agenda while allowing for flexibility and the realities of our work situations.
I’m now in a particular stage of my career – in a non-tenure track, non-faculty middle-management position – where I can really start to turn my research interests in an direction that is important to me. As I start to see the trajectory of my career (a future library administrator), it’s necessary that the questions I explore are the answers I’ll need to move forward in a way that resonates with my values and interests. For instance, now that I’m in a position where I’m responsible for overseeing programs and managing staff, my research agenda is pivoting away from teaching- and instruction-specific questions (like, does active-based learning work in online classrooms) to questions that address programmatic infrastructures and working conditions (like, what specific management approaches foster an inclusive environment). With this in mind, it’s easier for me to identify the opportunities I want to take advantage of, and which ones to turn down because they no longer fit into my research agenda.
The following are some questions to frame your research agenda development. These are in no way exhaustive! And, of course, your research agenda will change as your career changes, and that’s ok. The important thing is to stay true to your values, interests, and future goals. Note: we also made a Google Doc that you can copy so you can answer the questions too!
What do I like to read? Am I drawn to work that explores issues through specific theoretical lenses? Or do I prefer more practical, how-to case studies? Since I’ll be my most loyal reader of my work, I’ll choose the approaches that speaks to me.
As my value-driven research agenda transitions towards issues of equity and antiracist library work, I find myself more and more drawn to research that tells stories. I want to know about the effects of structures and policies on real experiences, which is often done through qualitative methods and studies. In particular, I really enjoy being introduced to new frameworks, paradigms, or ways of thinking – and then supplementing those with case studies or qualitative studies that help me see how those frameworks work in practice.
Whose stories or voices are absent from my reading list?
As a white, able-bodies, cis woman it’s critical that I don’t take up space where I don’t belong or where I’m already overrepresented, and part of my research agenda includes listening to professionals who don’t look like me or share my privileges in order to find out what they need from allies. I cannot overstate how important Shirley Lew’s and Baharak Yousefi’s Feminists Among Us: Resistance and Advocacy in Library Leadership has been on shaping my research agenda. This edited book offers perspectives in what a critical, feminist, and antiracist leadership strategy can look like in practice and offers invaluable perspectives for allies in library leadership. Many of the authors are people of color and who do not share my gender identity or sexual orientation. This collection also focuses on frameworks with qualitative approaches (see #1 above).
What do I want my career to look like?
I’m not a 10-year plan kinda person. Hell, I’m hardly even a 1-year plan kinda person! But I do have ambition and I know where I’d like to end up, if not exactly how I’ll get there. I hope for my research agenda to both tell the story of my career, and help carve its path. Now that I’m mid-career and in a middle-management position, my research agenda is shifting towards the kind of information and perspectives I’ll need to continue to be an effective and social justice-minded leader. So, at this point, much of my research agenda is exploratory. As my career progresses, perhaps my research agenda will focus more on specific approaches or case studies.
What are my values? What information needs to be out there? What questions need asking? Need exploring?
For me, that our profession is stubbornly, overwhelmingly white, does not reflect my personal values so I want my research agenda to focus on the barriers to true inclusion. Ideally, no matter the specifics of the research project, an eye towards inclusivity and antiracist work will be at the heart of my agenda. What is important to you?
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