Four texts on disability studies stacked in front of bookshelves
LibParlor Contributor Reflection

When Research Gets Personal

LibParlor Contributor, Katie Quirin Manwiller, shares how she found a research project and research community by finding a topic personally important to her.

Katie Quirin Manwiller is the Public Services and Assessment librarian at DeSales University. She is interested in accessibility in librarianship, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and campus outreach. She also enjoys crocheting while listening to cozy mysteries. You can find her @librariankqm and katelynquirinmanwiller.com.


How do you get motivated to start a research project? I have always been eager to actively engage in librarianship, and dreamed of making meaningful contributions to our profession. But, I spent my first few years as an instruction librarian with no clear path to make it happen. Eventually, my personal connection to accessibility in librarianship provided the enthusiasm to get started on a project, with some surprising impacts.

Struggling to get started

My staff position does not require professional development and my colleagues do not actively participate in research or LIS organizations. Most of my early ideas for research or publishing related to what I was doing in my position, like creating an information literacy lesson plan menu for faculty of freshman English courses. This work was done entirely in collaboration with my colleagues, who had no interest in presenting with me on the topic. I successfully presented on this project by myself, but I was hesitant to write and publish something on the topic. I worried I did not have the skills or time to do so.

In addition, my early ideas were not enticing enough for me to push beyond my insecurities and lack of workplace buy-in to begin a research project. Being overwhelmed with where to start and unenthused about potential topics outweighed my professional ambition to publish.

Finding my motivation

My missing motivation appeared while at the ACRL 2019 conference. The work my fellow academic librarians presented in the sessions both intimidated and encouraged me. Many of the sessions I attended at ACRL discussed diversity, inclusion, and equity within librarianship, and I felt inspired to take on a project that would have a meaningful impact on our profession.

During the conference, I was barely able to manage my chronic illnesses. I tried to stay engaged by following the ACRL2019 hashtag, and was surprised to find tweets from fellow spoonie librarians struggling through the conference. This was an extremely meaningful moment for me. It not only introduced me to a community of librarians like me, but also made me realize that the experiences of librarians with invisible illness and disability were a valuable contribution to the discussion of inclusivity in the profession.

It started with a tweet

A screenshot of the tweet. The tweet says "Hey fellow spoonie librarians - anyone interested in collaborating on something about invisible illness & disability in LIS? I'm getting some post ACRL2019 ideas and would love to work with others. DM if you are!"
The tweet that started it all!

I was physically exhausted but mentally energized. Here was the topic worth the effort to initiate a research project. Invisible disabilities are very real, but those who manage them have to constantly disclose their disability for accommodations. Inclusion at LIS events for folks with invisible disabilities usually means using a microphone, if that. It made me wonder how else librarians struggle to manage invisible illness and disability because of our profession. So, I sent a tweet.

I knew I wanted to include other librarians with similar experiences to expand on my basic ideas and collaborate with me as a novice professional researcher. I turned to library twitter, and it did not disappoint. Many librarians were eager to participate, even if they could not take on a research project at that moment. About a month after the conference, our research group had our first Zoom meeting to discuss ideas and hopes for the project. We primarily wanted to learn more about the experience of academic librarians with invisible illness and/or disabilities and what barriers faced them in librarianship. We settled on a survey that will (hopefully) present the perspectives of a wide range of librarians and lead to improvements in accessibility and inclusion within our profession.

When research gets personal

“I was motivated to undertake this research project because it is personal, because I have first hand experience with the issues we research, and because I will likely benefit from the outcomes of the study. But the personal is, well, personal, and has affected me beyond my role as a librarian.”

Six months in, I still feel excited for our research project and have been able to incorporate it into my regular schedule. It has been easy to maintain the dedication necessary to manage the project, but the emotional impact of the work has been harder to adjust to. I was surprised to find myself profoundly impacted by the material. I was motivated to undertake this research project because it is personal, because I have first hand experience with the issues we research, and because I will likely benefit from the outcomes of the study. But the personal is, well, personal, and has affected me beyond my role as a librarian. Before the project, I understood myself as chronically ill with a range of ability depending on the day, month, or year. The material and theory I studied during the literature review process led me to rethink the simplicity of that identity and reckon with the idea of myself as disabled. It has caused me to rethink my identity and accept my limitations in a way I have not been able to before. 

My advice for you

A topic within librarianship that matters to you personally might be just the motivation you need to finally start a research project or attempt to publish professionally. Try asking yourself questions about your interests to find your research path. Reach out to your community within libraryland, whether it’s twitter friends, local colleagues, or your graduate schoolmates. Consider how those relationships have helped you find your niche in librarianship or develop your identity outside of the LIS world. Seek partnerships that make you feel confident as a researcher and excited by your shared interests.

“A topic within librarianship that matters to you personally might be just the motivation you need to finally start a research project or attempt to publish professionally.”

In my experience, the personal provides plenty of the enthusiasm needed for a long project but can become more than a professional project. Be prepared for the research to have an impact on your life outside librarianship. It will likely enrich your professional experience in many ways, but it also might just change your outlook beyond the LIS world.


Featured image taken by the author


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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