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LibParlor Contributor Series

I Can Do This! Doing Research as a Non-tenure-track librarian. A Librarian Parlor Series, Part II

LibParlor Contributor, Zoe Bastone, is back for her second post in her series discussing how she built her research agenda.

Zoe Bastone is an Outreach and Instruction Librarian at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, serving students at UT’s Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine library. Zoe is interested in outreach assessment, information literacy pedagogy, and conducting spatial assessments. Outside of her role in the library, Zoe enjoys spending her time exploring local parks with her dog Albus, baking gluten free goodies, and listening to podcasts. Find her on Twitter here.


This post is the second in the series “I Can’t Do That….” where I reflect on how I am building my research agenda as a non-tenure-track librarian. Check out my first post that explores my journey in deciding that I want to conduct research. In this post, I will detail how I am working on building my research interests.

Breathe it all in:

The moment it clicked with me that I was serious about pursuing and growing as a researcher, I had to make the conscientious decision as to what the nature of my research would be. Partially, I needed to identify what skill sets were necessary for me to grow in order to be successful. Would my research include submitting to my an IRB? Would I learn how to organize and plan focus groups? The answer to both of these questions was yes, eventually.

It can feel overwhelming to focus on gaps, especially when considering what additional responsibilities you will need to take on in order to be proficient. I decided to prioritize which skill sets to focus on by taking stock of what my work portfolio is like and how my portfolio could relate to potential research projects. , I asked myself the following questions:

  • What interests me about this work/this project that would make me want to write/present on it?
  • Who does this work/project serve? What do I find interesting about this population?
  • What outcomes will come from my work on this project?
  • What will I still want to know when this project is completed?
  • What additional steps will I need to take to answer this question?
  • How is this project connected with others’ work in my library system and at other institutions?

Asking these questions has made me mindful about the work that I am doing. Very often, it is easy to think of the work as action items, part of the daily grind. Answering these questions allowed me the freedom to think more broadly about the implications of my work and how I can improve it in the future.

Doing my homework

The last question that I posit leads to the second step in my process: doing my homework. In my previous post, I noted the challenges of doing those in-depth literature searches when you are overwhelmed by the responsibilities at hand. Changing tactics from the fall where I easily accumulated a mountain of articles to peruse, I employed my Zotero library to assist me in organizing my research by classifying them by projects. Organizing my articles by project helped me keep perspective on the bulk of materials. As part of my workflow, I strived to carve an hour’s worth of time into my work schedule to look through those articles. I then made notes regarding how the article connects to my current work and what questions I still have. While reading these articles, I paid special attention to the literature review sections to consider current trends, which  led me to reflect on how my work fits in with the larger conversations at hand.

New projects

“…it is okay to present projects when they are not completely finished.”

In preparing  for the upcoming academic year, I have started to plan new projects that will improve my work as an outreach and instruction librarian. I have some vague ideas regarding what research I would like to do with these projects; but, I have grown to accept that I may not have a fully formed idea until I have worked on these projects for an extended amount of time. To assist me in my future efforts related to these projects, I am doing the following activities:

  • Writing everything down: from the basic details of the project to the fully formed proposal, I am writing everything down. In addition to any assessment activities affiliated, I am also writing short reflections as well. This is helping me see how my vision of an event has changed.
  • Getting feedback: one of the most important things I have learned is that it is okay to present projects when they are not completely finished. Over this summer, I had the lovely experience of presenting at a conference with my coworkers on a project that was not completely finished. In doing this, we have received wonderful feedback that will make the rest of this project more impactful for the student body we serve.
  • Taking my time: I cannot stress this enough. If it seems like this is all a little extensive, that is because it is! One thing I have found my peace with is that I cannot hold myself to the expectation that I will be able to publish and present with the speed that my tenure-track colleagues can. In accepting this, I have realized that I can take my time to develop quality projects that will hopefully lead to long lasting research interests. That being said, I need to stay organized over a long stretch of time, and everything in this list serves that goal.

Final Thoughts and Acknowledgements

“…it is okay to embrace the unknown and go off the beaten path. Find what works for you in your life as a learner, professional, and researcher. “

In the short course of a year, I have come incredibly far in my journey as a researcher, but by no means is that journey complete. I am sure that over time my research interests will change, how I organize my work will change, what I require of myself may change. The one key takeaway to this series is that it is okay to embrace the unknown and go off the beaten path. Find what works for you in your life as a learner, professional, and researcher.

Finally, I want to thank Chelsea Heinbach, my editor, for all the wonderful advice and feedback that she has given to me in writing this series. 


Featured image by Pereanu Sebastian on Unsplash


Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

The expressions of the writer do not reflect anyone’s views but their own

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