Nancy Lovas is the entrepreneurship and business librarian at UNC Chapel Hill, where she does all things business research. Instruction features heavily in her professional interests, as well as learning the ins-and-outs of business information and databases. Nancy’s best days include a walk outside and a strong cup of tea. She holds a M.S. in library and information science from the University of Maryland, College Park. Find her lurking on Twitter @entrebuslibnc and writing at the Biz Libratory.
If you are here reading The Librarian Parlor, you probably want to learn something about research as a librarian. At least, that is why I started reading in 2018 when I started my first academic job. I knew I wanted to do research, and it’s part of my job description, but I wasn’t sure where to begin. Combing through the archives, I read Lauren Hays’ post about Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). At the end of the article, Hays provides several great tips for getting started, including: “Work with your institution’s Center for Teaching and Learning, Faculty Development Committee, or equivalent department/committee.” Bingo!
Inspired by this advice, I joined the SoTL Faculty Learning Community (FLC) in my institution’s Center for Faculty Excellence. I’m so glad I did since this semester I embarked upon my first research project as a professional academic librarian. The project involved undergoing an IRB process, gaining the cooperation of a faculty member, creating a LibGuide, teaching four face-to-face instruction sessions, developing surveys, identifying ways to collect user engagement data with the LibGuide, and analyzing the collected data. Each step itself has many steps. Without support and guidance from staff at the CFE, I would have not been able to move the project from an idea to a reality.
The Faculty Learning Community
The support began when I first visited the FLC one October afternoon. When I walked into a conference room in the library basement, I felt out of place in the room of faculty. Within moments, the FLC facilitators welcomed me and gave me the day’s articles for the discussion. The warm welcome and prompt inclusion showed me that I did belong in the group of faculty from departments including medicine, economics, and geography. In monthly meetings of an hour and a half, the FLC members share brief updates, get feedback on current and future projects, and spend time co-working on independent projects.
At my second meeting, we used the whole session to discuss projects in depth. Although I was still new to the group, I took a chance to describe a couple of ideas I’d been tossing around. The presence of non-library faculty necessitated a clear description of what library teaching and learning looks like (one-shots) and common struggles librarians face in this model. My current project grew from their feedback. They helped me tease out possible research questions from my tangle of ideas and suggested additional means of data collection. The FLC facilitators offered to provide support and assistance.
As the spring semester began and my project launched, I stayed active in the FLC. Our monthly meetings functioned as dedicated work time. We spent the first few minutes updating each other on our projects and setting goals, before settling in for an hour of work. Throughout the hour, FLC facilitators chatted with each member in more depth, such as offering additional suggestions for data collection or data analysis techniques. Setting goals at these monthly check-ins helped me stay accountable. Sharing updates forced me to have a clear, concise explanation of my project from the start, and added to the accountability.
My research project is an inquiry into the efficacy of a LibGuide created for a first-year business writing class and its impact on student performance and their perceptions of research. I collected data in Spring 2019, and I am now diving into data analysis. For clarity in the discussion below, here is a timeline of the study:
Survey 1→ Instruction Session 1→ Survey 2→ Instruction Session 2→ Survey 3
Throughout each step of this project, the FLC facilitator and CFE research associate, Dr. Dawn X. Henderson, has provided an incredible amount of support as a collaborator. As mentioned earlier, the steps of the project included:
- Undergo an IRB process
- Cooperate with a faculty member
- Create a LibGuide and embed it in the course management system
- Teach four face-to-face instruction sessions
- Develop and distribute surveys
- Identify ways to collect user engagement data with the LibGuide
- Analyze the collected data
I could write thousands of words about all that this collaboration has entailed. Instead, I will focus on the steps for which I have the least experience: the IRB process, and data collection and analysis.
IRB applications require the submission of the study design, all surveys distributed, informed consent documents, and more, in addition to completing CITI ethics training modules. Thankfully, the CITI training I completed in graduate school was still current, though I needed to finish modules specific to my institution. Though I’d done a mock IRB application as part of my MLIS field study, writing a real one felt intimidating.
Dawn and I first met to talk through what I hoped to accomplish and brainstorm a study design. She took my rough thoughts from our conversation and drafted a study design that included specific research questions. She has much more research experience than I do, which enabled her to identify an appropriate study design and know the right academic language to use.
The fact that I was collecting data at the same time as writing the IRB application made the process more difficult. (This is not the recommended order for doing things. Submit your IRB and wait for approval before beginning data collection.) Though Dawn initially drafted surveys in January at the same time as the study design, I was still editing Surveys 2 and 3 several weeks later. Since my data collection process was still evolving (more on this below), I couldn’t yet finalize the informed consent documents. The regular semester demands of consultations, instruction sessions, reference questions, and meetings limited the time I could focus on finishing the application.
Throughout the process, I turned to Dawn with my questions. After I went through the application myself, she walked through it with me and showed me how I could make the application stronger. Importantly, she checked over the informed consent language to ensure study participants would have full knowledge of the study. With Dawn’s encouragement and the dedicated work time in FLC meetings, I got the IRB application submitted.
Data Collection & Analysis
Primary data came from three surveys distributed to two class sections during the semester. I’d taught research sessions for the faculty member prior to the study, and she was enthusiastic about participating. She distributed the survey links in class on specific dates and gave students time to complete them, which boosted response rates. As I mentioned above, Dawn was instrumental in creating the surveys and ensuring the informed consent language passed muster.
In addition to student perceptions of research guides, I wanted to look at LibGuide statistics (page views, origin of views, clicks, etc.) and any correlation to student grades. Dawn knew that other researchers had gathered user engagement data such as page views, clicks, and time on page, from within the institution’s course management system. She arranged a meeting with IT staff to explore possibilities. We learned that it would be simpler to work directly with the Libraries’ LibGuides administrator. I still benefited from the meeting because I learned more about how the course management system works and had another chance to talk with Dawn about my progress on the project.
I met with Sarah Arnold, the LibGuides’ administrator, to see what kind of statistics were accessible. My institution gathers data from Google Analytics as well as from LibGuides. Sarah pulled several reports that sit waiting for analysis, as of this writing.
Data collection is nearly complete. I am planning to spend the first part of the summer on analysis. Since I’ve collected both qualitative and quantitative data, I will need to do mixed methods analysis for the first time. Dawn will continue as consultant to guide me through the process.
I chose the CFE and that has made all the difference. Without the support of the CFE and FLC, the project would not exist in its current form. Even as I’ve been writing this post, the CFE staff and FLC members have continued to help me navigate bumps in the IRB road.
Participating in the FLC was beneficial in a few ways. Monthly meetings provided an accountability check for making progress. Talking through the project with non-library faculty meant I needed jargon-free explanations and clear descriptions of challenges that librarians face in doing SoTL research. In turn, the non-library FLC members offered insights from their own SoTL research experience that informed how I developed the study.
“Our initial meeting was so encouraging. I left that encounter thinking “I can do this,” and I have, with Dawn’s support.”
The collaboration with Dawn made the project a reality. I had wanted to do a project like this for a while, but it felt overwhelming to start. Our initial meeting was so encouraging. I left that encounter thinking “I can do this,” and I have, with Dawn’s support. Collaborating with Dawn made this project feel and be attainable. I have more confidence in tackling future research projects because I know I can turn to someone for support.
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