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Carol Tenopir answers questions from academic, special and public librarians on starting a research project

Apr 20, 2015

Carol Tenopir

Carol Tenopir answers questions posed during the April 16, 2015, webinar Building a professional identity - From research to impact. Carol based her presentation on the new ebooklet Librarians Do Research Too!

Could you elaborate on collaborating with faculty?

As libraries continue to shift emphasis from focusing on collections that can be found in other ways (for example, open access or at other libraries), personalized and unique services from librarians become more important. For faculty and students, this includes digitization, web guides, and instruction, but for faculty it can also include becoming a partner in research projects. As time allows, it may be by participating in a faculty-led grant contributing your expertise in finding information, or building databases or websites, assisting with data management plans, or digitizing historical resources, or researching information needs or … (Each person has to fill in this blank with their own area of specialty.) Collaboration may start with your Office of Research or with the faculty members themselves.

Do you think that doing action research is suitable for librarians?

Almost any kind of research is suitable for librarians; it depends on what you’re interested in. I am ecumenical when it comes to different kinds of research methodologies. With action research, you do something and see how it influences the community. In a sense we do that all the time. For example, if you’re trying out a new method of instruction and then you’re testing to see if it was effective or how it influenced your users or community. I personally do not do action research, but that is only because I have focused on other things in my career.

Do you have any advice for librarians working outside of academic libraries interested in getting started in research?

No matter what kind of library you’re in, the first rule is to find good collaborators. In a public library your mission is different, so I would look at community groups and research that would serve them. Ask yourself how you can develop services that would improve your citizens’ quality of life. In an academic setting, you might partner with other librarians or departmental researchers, but in a public setting the partners might be a museum or community center. Action research (mentioned above) is quite appropriate in the public library community if done well. You can offer a service that can have transformational effects on members of your community.

I am a solo librarian in a corporate setting supporting an R&D department. How do you build the case for time to work on research or similar career development goals?

I started as a corporate librarian at a pharmaceutical firm and then subsequently moved to an architectural firm. In a nonacademic setting, it’s critical to ensure that your research will improve the efficacy, efficiency and quality of the services at your corporation or organization. It can’t be a personal interest with no professional outcome to further the mission. It should be practical and tie into other services and aims, for example, research data management. Also like any other setting, it’s very important to have a good relationship with your boss.

Do you have any ideas for librarians working in a special library that caters to biodiversity?

Research data management is huge in biodiversity right now. In projects such as DataONE, the University of California DMPTool, and others, the role of the information professional has been key in making sure that biodiversity researchers know the value of data management planning, good metadata, and preserving/depositing their data. There is still a long way to go, as a majority of scientists do not yet do any of these (except when a grant proposal requires it.) You might start with education; check out the education modules on the DataONE website that are freely available to use or adapt. Offering to help researchers get their data ready to be preserved (finding a repository, assisting with metadata) can make you very popular!