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Katie Fraser's blog and website

I'm an academic librarian, working in the UK Higher Educational sector, supporting academics and students. Prior to this, I was a researcher, working with social and learning technologies.

My interests include the application of emerging and traditional technologies, research support in libraries, learning spaces, evidence-based practice and the professional development of library and information workers.

You can find out more about more about me from the links to the left. Note that the views expressed on this website/blog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other individual or organisation.

DREaM 2: LIS Research Methods Workshop

January 30th, 2012

LIS DREaM pack

LIS DREaM pack

This was the second of the LIS DREaM (Developing Research Methods and Excellence) workshops, this time held at the British Library in London.  As with the previous workshop, I’ll be focusing on my thoughts on applying the methods, as the workshops are so well documented. For those wanting to read more slides these (where available) are already up on the Workshop 2 webpage on via the individual talks linked below. Videos of the talks will be available in about a week.

User involvement in research – Professor Peter Beresford
Peter discussed the implications of doing user involvement in research (from commissioning it, all the way to designing studies). He didn’t strictly present this as a method, more focusing upon the ethical, methodological and pragmatic challenges of the approach, no matter what method it was used alongside.

In academic libraries I’ve found that involvement of users in research is increasingly popular: for example, with user involvement in design research in library design literature. However, Peter’s discussion of the origin of service user involvement in research among marginalised communities made me question how this research is targeted. Very often the users libraries involve in research are habitual library users: could encouraging less frequent users to conduct their own research into the library’s potential expand our user base and relevance?

Techniques from History – Dr Thomas Haigh
I appreciated that Tom split up historical research into several approaches which might be relevant to LIS research: intellectual history, social history, cultural history, institutional history & history of practice / labour. Although I’ve never been a real history fan, I’ve often found accounts of the intellectual history of a concept fascinating. A recent example was reading about the history of bibliometrics, which I found really illuminating with respect to where practice is today.

I’ll admit I was surprised how much of a social scientist I felt when listening to Tom’s talk! My research needs focus on developing services and making recommendations, and I think this is usually best served by talking to current service users, so I’m keeping this approach on the back burner for the time being. Still, it was good to learn about a method that’s entirely new to me.

Introduction to Webometrics – Professor Mike Thelwall
Mike talked about webometrics: specifically examples of using analysis of web links, the sentiment of comments on Twitter, and patterns of interaction on YouTube, and what could be learnt from gathering data on these ongoing interactions. This was the talk where I could most easily see the applications possible to my own work.

It would be interesting to look at patterns of linking to library sites and resources an academic library within its own institution using web links. However, you’d need to go beyond the public web data Mike studies: for example, looking within the virtual learning environment. Perhaps appropriately anonymised data could be negotiated to get access? Twitter commentary seemed potentially promising, but would allow limited conclusions regarding a single institution (too few comments to get much data). I wonder if you could get illuminating data by narrowing down to academic libraries via Twitter users posting @ university library accounts?

Making the bullets for others to fire (research and policy) – Professor Nick Moore
Lastly, Nick spoke about doing research which informs policy. While government policy on education and information affect academic libraries, the kind of research that I want to do is more aimed at institutional and sectoral policies. However, many of his suggestions about conducting research seemed relevant regardless, and his advice to be passionate, ahead of the curve (but not too far ahead!) and to build networks & relationships were universally applicable.

The techniques covered in this workshop were a little further out of my comfort zone than the first, so expanded my research understanding further, but left me struggling a little more to think of applications! As I’m moving jobs this week, I’m going to think quite carefully about how the methods from both workshops could be used in my new workplace. You never know how a new environment might provoke new questions!

DREaMing of a Library and Information Science research network

November 1st, 2011

This post is a copy of the original, hosted at the University of Leicester institutional blog at It is replicated here to preserve this blog as a central record of my professional development.

Last week I attended the first workshop of the AHRC-funded DREaM project. DREaM stands for ‘Developing Research Excellence and Methods’ and the project aims to create a network of Library and Information Science researchers across the UK. As an academic librarian with a research background I’m very enthusiastic about the potential for research to improve our practice, and I was delighted to be given a new professional’s travel bursary by the DREaM project, and to have my attendance supported by the Library. In return for my support from Leicester, I’ve been asked to think about how the methods discussed in each workshop might contribute to better understanding the community our academic library serves, and improving our services.

The DREaM workshops are being very thoroughly documented by the team running them: both slides and videos of the presentations are available at the Workshop 1 webpage. I’ll link to, rather than replicate, that content, and focus on my personal thoughts about each method from my own practitioner-researcher perspective.

Introduction to ethnography – Dr Paul Lynch
Ethnography is an approach used to understand culture, usually through immersion within that culture. Better understanding the culture of academic library users, students and staff, is clearly key to improving our service. My MA Librarianship dissertation used ethnographic interviews to look at how students viewed and understood library space, and I think there’s a lot more to be done on understanding how students use and want to use libraries.

In the workshop, Paul Lynch discussed the dual role of the ethnographer – as insider (participant in a culture) and outsider (observer of a culture). I suspect my ability to produce an ethnography of library users is limited by my increased distance from both student and academic roles, so this method may be out for me.

Introduction to social network analysis – Dr Louise Cooke
Social network analysis looks at the networks which exist within groups, and patterns in links between individuals, by asking members of a group to report on their own relationships. During the workshop I could immediately see the relevance of this method to my own work: a major part of my role is acting as liaison between the Library and academic departments, and recording the existence and nature of links between librarians and academic staff would be absolutely fascinating.

I could never use this method with my own departmental contacts: asking individuals to report on their relationships with yourself would be ethically unsound (and probably produce inaccurate results!) However, there is clearly potential to apply this technique elsewhere within the university: perhaps looking at networks between librarians, other academic support staff, and lecturer / researchers within one of the Colleges I don’t directly support.

Introduction to discourse analysis – Professor Andy McKinlay
Discourse analysis is a technique for analysing gathered data, rather than a method for gathering data itself. It involves analysis of what people say (or write) through understanding of the context in which it is said: the social norms embedded in that context, and how language is used to construct a way of seeing the world.

There’s clearly expectations, norms and values implicit in how users talk about the Library. One of the most common comments at from students walking into the David Wilson for the first time is ‘Where are all the books?’ I think that one sentence (and all its implicit assumptions about libraries) could keep a discourse analyst going for days! I could see focus groups, or even analysis of how students describe the Library to each other, on- and off-line, as a really useful way to surface these concepts, and work with, or think about changing them.

Unconference and ethics discussion
The workshop also included bonus research-related sections. In the middle of the day, an unconference session encouraged us to discuss what we wished: I outed myself as a methodological pluralist (i.e. one who believes there is no one best method for studying the world, and has dabbled in several!) and learned about the research interests and priorities of others in our emerging network. At the end of the day, Professor Charles Oppenheim led a section in which we debated ethics in a number of research-related scenarios.

Both these additional sessions really got me thinking about my role as a practitioner-researcher. There are a limited number of participants with dual roles in the DREaM network, but plenty of participants who have been on both sides of the divide at different times in their careers. I think there are lots of interesting discussions to be had about how practitioners use and carry out research, and I look forward to these workshops starting a few. Perhaps we can even kick off here: I’d be pleased to get feedback on some of my suggestions so far…