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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 3: Research Methods Workshop

April 27th, 2012

Edinburgh's Royal Mile

Edinburgh's Royal Mile

This was the final LIS DREaM (Developing Research Methods and Excellence) workshop, back at Craighouse Campus in Edinburgh. I’ve been using these blog posts as an opportunity to point towards resources on the talks from this event, and also reflect on how I can use these methods within my own work, and this post will do more of the same. Materials from this workshop are available online.

Horizon Scanning – Dr Harry Woodroof
Horizon scanning is the process of trying to spot incoming threats and opportunities for the future. Harry pointed us towards a couple robust techniques which he recommends for this. The first was DSTL‘s approach: scanning scientific websites and journals to identify future technology trends and using sentiment analysis to pick out innovations which experts had spoken about in glowing terms. The second was the Horizon Scanning Centre‘s approach: conducting a ‘scan of scans’, using the Sigma Scan database to identify existing horizon scans and provide a meta-review of their contents.

I think all of us could benefit from a little horizon scanning, and the resources and techniques Harry recommended could be applied on a smaller scale (e.g. using the Sigma Scan database to identify a few of the most relevant scans for a particular question and looking for common themes). As I’ve just become a subject librarian for Politics and Public Policy I’m also interested in tracking down the book he mentioned on experts and the limitations of their predictions in horizon scanning (set in the political sphere).

Repertory Grids – Dr Phil Turner
Phil introduced us to repertory grids as a way of recording personal understandings of a particular domain, and then talked us through the practicalities and some applied examples. The technique works by asking your interviewee to identify some examples of a particular category, asking them to comment on how two of these examples are similar to each other, but different from a third, and then seeing how all the examples score on these ‘constructs’. This gives a idea of core concepts associated with the category, and how the examples cluster together or are different from each others according to these constructs.

Phil’s example looked across several interviews to identify shared constructs, and then tested how further examples (in his case, treasured objects) were rated on these dimensions. I could see myself applying this approach in the work with learning spaces I’ve been discussing (across De Montfort and Northampton Universities) where we’re particularly keen to look at the meaning of spaces for students. One I’ll mull over and discuss with the rest of the research team…

Data Mining – Kevin Swingler
The final research method discussed was data mining. This term covers a whole stable of different methods used to create models from data, which can make predictions or be used to classify further data. Kevin talked us through the careful checks that need to be applied to data to ensure it is appropriate for the creation of such models, and potential pitfalls and ways of avoiding them.

The techniques covered weren’t a million miles away from the statistical methods I’ve used in Psychology (my original academic discipline) but slightly more focused on use of the model, rather than modelling the underlying processes. The talk inspired some spirited discussion of how much data we have sitting around in libraries that we never try and do anything with (for example, predicting demand based on existing usage figures). Maybe it’s something that could be explored more fully across multiple library services, using a similar approach to the Library Impact Data project.

Impact of Research on Practice – Professor Hazel Hall
Our last session of the day was facilitated by Hazel, and was designed to get us thinking about the links between research and practice in a more active way. We were split into 6 groups, 3 of researchers and 3 of practitioners (broadly specified). Each group focused on an aspect of the link between research and practice and what could be done to improve it. Then the groups were paired up (one researcher group with each practitioner group) and asked to come up with 3 ways of improving application of research to practice based on our shared discussions.

We had quite similar ideas across the groups, implying that we were all reasonably aware of and agreed upon the issues, and even potential solutions. Therefore, for me, the most interesting part of the discussion was about incentives: how do we ensure that researchers are incentivised to fully include practitioners in their research and dissemination strategies, and how do we incentivise practitioners to draw upon research in their practice? I think a big factor is the infrastructure in which both groups work, and it’s made me think about impact (particularly in professionally-focused research) from a whole new angle!

The next and last event in the DREaM series will be a conference. Unfortunately I’m not able to attend in person, but I’m looking forward to participating remotely: having seen the quality of information sharing at the previous DREaM events, I’m quite looking forward to that. It’s certainly been a fascinating set of events to participate in, although, as I said on the feedback forms, one where I think that appraising its true impact is going to require a long-term perspective.

Library day in the life – Day 1 – 30/1/12

January 30th, 2012

Devices on the train

My portable device workstation set up on the train to London

Today I was down at the British Library in London for the second Library and Information Science Developing Research Excellence and Methods workshop (see The workshops are funded by the UK;s Arts and Humanities Research Council and aim to create a network of researchers (in both academia and practice) to spread knowledge of research methods throughout the library and information community.

It makes quite a nice activity to record for Library Day in the Life: it’s quite different from what people seem to think I do, but using evidence to develop practice and developing services is pretty everyday in my role. However, elements were also quite different to what I normally do: the workshop crosses different library sectors (public, academic, health libraries etc.) and there’s some blue skies thinking that’s beyond my usual ‘how can we do this better?’ remit.

However, the question I get asked most by non-librarians is how (and even if!) library services are responding to changes in society and technology, and this workshop a good way to illustrate that development is something that gets a lot of attention.

You can find out more about the LIS DREaM Workshop contents on my dedicated post at

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!