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LibParlor Contributor Series

An Ocean In Between The Waves: An Early-Career Academic Librarian’s Foray into Research, A LibParlor Series, Part II

Justin Fuhr is back with his second post, discussing some challenges he faced in getting started with research and the support he found along the way.

Justin Fuhr is a librarian at the University of Manitoba. He’s interested in relational practices and building community in academic libraries. You can read his reflection on connection at ACRLog. He’s also examining researcher profiles and identifiers at his institution with one of his colleagues. When he’s not working, he and his wife are looking after their two young kids, he’s singing in a men’s choir, or playing disc golf. Find him on Twitter.


If not for the words/In the minds of the gone/No beauty for anyone

Daniel Romano, “(Gone Is) All But a Quarry of Stone

Like I said in the first part of this series: research is fraught with challenges and overall, librarians don’t receive much training in the area. It’s really up to each of us to figure it out. There’s help out there though. I’ll describe several challenges I found during my first research study, my first as an early-career librarian, and the different supports out there. 

Am I Doing This Properly?

In my limited experience, I constantly second-guess myself while conducting research. I’m talking about all aspects of a research project: developing methodology, gathering data, data analysis, translating my analysis into something others will understand, writing. Imposter syndrome is real, folks. 

One thing about that though is that it’s not only imposter syndrome. It’s also that I didn’t take enough training in the practical aspects of research. I took a single research methods course while completing my MLIS. The course was excellent, taught by the very knowledgeable Dr. Tonyia Tidline, and I learned plenty about theoretical frameworks to provide different perspectives during research, ethics, ways to gather data, types of data analysis, and so on. However I’ve had to do a lot of background reading and self-guided learning to figure out how to do pieces of my research, and to verify I’m doing things correctly. I had to fill in a lot of blanks. I still do. 

I find reading LIS literature helpful to find methodologies to use to explore research questions or otherwise use as inspiration. It’s also helpful to read other work to know how to structure your eventual publication and to find articles as exemplars for your own. Reading about research is also helpful. For myself, I read about inferential statistical analysis and survey design to help with those aspects of my study. 

I ask my mentor and colleagues a lot of questions about research. They are so gracious and supportive and have imparted so much advice to me. As I was developing the methodology and preparing to start my research project, I relied on my coworkers’ advice to make sure I was going in the right direction. Having a supportive community of peers you can fall back on is so helpful, not only for practical advice, but also for reassurance and support. I can remember asking for lots of advice as I went through the research ethics process at my institution. When I got my application back with loads of revisions, it was my coworkers that reassured me that this was normal. 

There are also programs available for librarians, such as the Canadian Association of Research Libraries’ Librarians’ Research Institute and Loyola Maramount University’s Institute for Research Design in Librarianship. I haven’t attended either, but I have heard rave reviews of both on how useful they are to demystify research and provide a venue for developing your research project. 

Collaboration

If there was one piece of advice I could’ve used before beginning my research study, as fulfilling and validating as it was to work on it solo, it would be to work on a study with others. Try to find either a research partner or multiple colleagues with whom you can work. 

Not only will you have help with all aspects of the project, including many of the tedious parts like getting ethics approval, data analysis, and paper writing, you’ll have people to bounce ideas off of, have more than one opinion on how to do things, and have someone to talk through things. 

I’ve just started on my second and third research projects, each with one of my colleagues. The experience of getting research ethics approval and planning the project has been night and day compared to when I was working by myself. Of course it is easier said than done to find a collaborator. Not only do you need to know people with similar research interests, but your workload and timelines need to match up and you need to be willing to work together for potentially years. 

At the outset of the project, make sure to get on the same page with your collaborators: who will act as the principal investigator, who will work on what, who will create a timeline, and so on. This will keep everyone on the same page and your roles defined in advance. 

Connections

I can’t stress how important relational practices and connections are in your professional life. For me, they’re a  lifeline, keeping me grounded when things go haywire in the ever-changing world of Library Land. The different relationships I have with my colleagues are so important to me. 

In terms of research, it is so helpful to have peers that you can ask questions, look things over with, or just to get validation that you’re doing the right thing. It’s nice to have people to celebrate with when things go right, and to be supportive and empathetic when they don’t. Connections with colleagues leads to collaboration down the road, whether intentional or not. This is how I am working with my coworker on a new research project. We co-taught several workshops on researcher profiles and she approached me to work on a project to assess the workshop’s effectiveness. I can’t speak highly enough of the value of planting your garden well in advance.

Mentorship is a connection that is really important to me. I have a professional mentor who works at my library and shares advice on career growth, leadership, and research. I find that my mentor provides an informed perspective, to offer another viewpoint when I can’t see one. She has considerable research experience and thoughtfully imparts her expertise to me. She has been helpful in answering my random questions about conference submissions (is it normal to present on the same research study at two different conferences?) and what research funding to ask for (Software? Data analysis? Ipads?!) I can’t speak highly enough of someone who can give you confidence throughout your work and research, to provide support and positive reinforcement, and celebrate your research successes. 

My library doesn’t have a formal mentorship program, but I inquired to admin whether I could be set up with a mentor and through talking with my peers, found someone graciously willing to be my mentor. Sometimes you have to make opportunities for yourself and put yourself out there. You could find someone at your library, a peer you look up to, or look to association mentorship programs, such as the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians’ (CAPAL) Research & Scholarship Mentorship Program

Another option is a research community of practice. There may be local communities of practice at your institution, through local associations, or at the national/international association-level, for example CAPAL’s Research and Writing Community of Practice, a CAPAL initiative that I’m a part of and can’t recommend highly enough. I’ve drawn inspiration for my own writing and research from meeting with members of the CAPAL Research and Writing CoP. 

Developing Your Research Interests

Is it just me, or can it be challenging to know what you’re interested in? It takes time to work out what pieces of librarianship you want to explore. Interests also change, especially in the early stages of your career. Sometimes a research interest leads to larger projects, other times it burns out and I move on to something else. I think about my research interests as simple twists of fate, where one thing leads to another, and culminates in larger projects.

I completed a literature review of research data management during a research methods class in grad school. I submitted it to the Journal of the Canadian Health Libraries Association for their student paper prize. I didn’t end up being awarded the prize, but the editors asked if I wanted to go through the review process to have it published. I did, and it was published. This led to more research on competencies in research data management and training initiatives and I wound up completing the study described in this series and having another article published. A simple twist of fate. 

What’s next? As I mentioned before,  I’m working with one of my coworkers on a project to assess our continuing series of workshops on researcher profiles and persistent identifiers. We’re also looking into how widespread the adoption of various profiles and identifiers are at our institution. 

I am also in the beginning stages of another project on relational practices in academic libraries and building community among academic librarians, based on the innovative and inspirational work of Veronica Arellano Douglas, Joanna Gadsby, Symphony Bruce, and others working in the area of relational-cultural theory in academic libraries. I’m planning a content analysis of job postings of Canadian academic librarian positions to measure the frequency of relational practices, things like creating teams, mutual empathy, sustaining relationships, and building connections. 

Think about what aspects of the profession you’re passionate about. If you’re having trouble thinking of anything or getting your research off the ground, don’t worry – I was there too. Keep doing what you’re doing and opportunities will present themselves. 

Remember that your research matters. But also remember to take it in stride. If not for the words/In the minds of the gone/No beauty for anyone. Plant your seeds, grow your garden, and I am sure you’ll thrive and flourish. 

Acknowledgements

Endless thanks to my supportive colleagues at the University of Manitoba Libraries who helped with my first research study, especially Mê-Linh Lê and Maureen Babb for giving survey feedback, Marie Speare and Janet Rothney for data analysis recommendations, Meg Miller for analysis interpretation, and Nicole Askin for giving feedback on a draft of my article. Janet also very kindly reviewed a draft of the literature review that paved the way to the research study described in this series. And thank you to my wife and my colleagues for the constant encouragement, some of whom don’t fully recognize how supportive and encouraging they really are: take one day at a time/everything else you can leave behind


Featured image by Thomas Vimare 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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