Two Years Post MLIS: What I’m Glad I Learned and What I Wish I Knew

by Megan Kennedy
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library
University of Saskatchewan

I graduated from UBC iSchool (SLAIS) nearly two years ago. In many ways my time at SLAIS feels like it was just yesterday and in many others, library school feels like a distant memory – time really does fly! I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on some of the things I learned in library school that I am so glad I did (whether or not I was glad at the time is another thing) and some things I wish I had known before jumping into an academic library career.

Things I learned in library school:

  • My least favourite courses I took during my MLIS were Foundations of Bibliographic Control and Cataloguing and Classification; to say that I loathed these classes is not an exaggeration. For many boneheaded reasons, I didn’t believe that I would actually need to know about any of it, there were cataloguing librarians for that kind of stuff. All I can say to my past self is, “HA! You are so wrong and you have no idea”. The foundations I learned in these courses have become some of the most important and frequently called upon skills I have in my arsenal. Granted, I am definitely not constructing and enhancing bibliographic records or creating cataloguing systems, but knowing how these things work facilitates more effective and systematic information retrieval on my end (a.k.a. permits me do the thing that librarians do best which is to find-all-the-things!).
  • Love it or hate it, there was a lot of group work in library school. We’ve all had groups that were awesome to work with – collaboration was free flowing, people were eager and able to meet up regularly (but not everyday) to discuss the project, everyone agreed instantly and got on with their work, etc. On the other end of the spectrum is group work that was…less awesome (perhaps to the point of testing your already fragile sanity). Whether or not I always agreed with the pedagogical constructs of group work, I can see how this is was excellent preparation for real life librarian work. The work that we do as librarians does not happen in a vacuum, often our work requires careful and extensive collaboration with one (or many!) stakeholders and colleagues whom have their own schedules, priorities, commitments, and visions for a project. Learning to navigate the choppier waters of group work, rather than always coasting on serene waters, has made me a more effective collaborator in my current work.
  • Project management was an interesting course because unlike some others (see my first point), I saw an immediate practicality. Perhaps not always the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a librarian’s role, but managing projects (big and small) is becoming more and more important and it is not necessarily a natural skill everyone possesses. Teamwork, communication, management of time, costs, people, risk, etc., these are all things that fall under the “project management” umbrella and all can have a huge impact on the success of a project. My biggest takeaway from this course was gaining an understanding of the scale of work required to see a project through to completion and compartmentalizing tasks into manageable chunks in order to get it done – I do this even with small projects (like managing my daily workflow).

Things I didn’t learn but wish I knew:

  • Meetings. There are a lot of them and some will be more useful than others.
  • Emails – see above.
  • Imposter syndrome is a real thing. My imposter syndrome mostly relates to research because, frankly, I have no idea how to go about getting started with the whole process. I feel like it should be as easy as “have a great idea, research it, write about it” but I know that getting from A to B to C is definitely not that simple. I took one research methods course during my MLIS but the “use it or lose it” element of this learning has indeed meant I lost it. Luckily, I am surrounded by fantastic colleagues carrying out interesting research of their own who kindly let me pick their brain – also the great resource that is C-EBLIP!
  • Finally, mentors are the best and you really should have one (or maybe even a few!). I have learned A LOT about being a librarian from the people I’ve worked with thus far in my career and I’m not sure there is any MLIS course that could ever give me that unique experience.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Looking back, looking around, looking forward

by Margy MacMillan
Mount Royal University Library

Margy MacMillan


Part of my retirement preparation has been to dispose of mountains of paper – articles, reports, illegible notes, etc. Skimming the articles, most on research in information literacy, I noticed a trend. The reason I noticed this trend in the library literature was because of a trend in current SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) work that has made me question a lot of my practices. A major theme in SoTL now is “students-as-partners”:




“Students as partners goes beyond the student voice and involves students as co-creators, co-researchers, co-teachers, co-producers and co-designers in learning and teaching.”

– McMaster Students as Partners Summer Institute

The aspect of the trend I find most interesting is having the students involved in generating the questions. In other words – doing research with students, rather than to students. Interesting thought . . . and certainly easily transferable to other communities, public library settings, etc.

The trend I noticed in the library literature in my piles and files, as you’ve probably guessed, was an almost complete lack of research based on questions generated by library users as co-inquirers.  This may, of course, be more reflective of what I’ve been searching and reading than the actual state of library literature, so I want to be clear, I am more questioning my own work than the field in general.  So:

What kind of questions would the people who use our libraries like to ask?
What kinds of questions would the people who DON’T use our libraries like to ask?

Think about it. And then think about this:

What kind of agency would it grant members of our communities to ask them to develop questions?

Would it change how members of our communities feel about their library?

If I was at the start of my professional career instead of at the end, or if I could time travel back and do it all over, this is how I’d like to approach evidence-based practice.

There is growing evidence of the benefits of a students-as-partners approach for both the students and the other researchers (see below for starting points).  There are also strong parallels to these benefits, especially around diversifying research questions and creating agency, in the more established literatures of participatory research, community-engaged scholarship, and other approaches that are what Helen Kara (2015) describes as transformative methodological frameworks. In Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide, she includes many examples of projects using feminist, decolonized, emancipatory, and participatory methodologies that serve as a rich source of ideas for the kind of work we could be doing more of. A common feature of transformative practice is “a move from oppressive to egalitarian practices, thereby supporting a wider shift from oppressive to egalitarian societies” (p. 39). I highly recommend this book, especially for those of you engaged in the #critlib discussions, as I think it bridges critical library practice and research.

Applying some of the perspectives from critical theory to our research practices as well as to other aspects of our work may seem a daunting task. Researchers risk exposure, the often solitary rewards of spending time with the literature to answer your own questions may be lost in work with others. This may be even more the case in work with people outside of academia or the profession, who may not share the same language, research conventions, or agreed ‘standards’. But wouldn’t the resulting possibilities and perspectives be worth it for libraries? Wouldn’t the greater involvement be worth it for our communities?

sunset on the Cristalino River in Brazil

Some references and starting points….

Bell, A. (2016). Students as co-inquirers in Australian higher education: Opportunities and challenges. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 4(2), 1-10. doi: This is part of a theme issue on students as co-inquirers in SoTL –

Kara, H. (2015). Creative research methods in the social sciences: A practical guide. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

Light, A., Egglestone, P., Wakeford, T., & Rogers, J. (2011). Participant-making: Bridging the gulf between community knowledge and academic research. The Journal Of Community Informatics, 7(3). Retrieved from

Marquis, E., Puri, V., Wan, S., Ahmad, A., Goff, L., Knorr, K., Vassileva, I., & Woo, J. (2016). Navigating the threshold of student–staff partnerships: a case study from an Ontario teaching and learning institute. International Journal for Academic Development, 21(1), 4-15.

Matthews, K. (2017). University of Queensland Institute for Teaching and Learning Students as Partners site –


This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

The importance of spending time outside

by Aoife Lawton, National Health Service Librarian at Health Service Executive
@aalawton on Twitter

"We spend more minutes in our virtual worlds than outside" - Dublin streetscape

“We spend more minutes in our virtual worlds than outside” – Dublin streetscape

This is a photo I took in the summer of 2016 on a sunny day in Dublin, Ireland. I regularly commute using a Luas[1] tram that brings me from the centre of Dublin city to my office in the health service, which is located opposite Dublin’s main train station, Heuston. This photo struck me for three reasons. Firstly, 2016 was a year when we celebrated (if that is the right word) 100 years of a historical event called the Easter rising. The Easter rising was the beginning of Irish independence from British rule and led to Ireland becoming a republic. The question posed by Dublin City Council on this sign asks its citizen, ‘How will you remember?’ referring to the 1916 centenary. Librarians have played their part by capturing the digital record of Ireland in 2016 through the leadership of the National Library of Ireland. Contributing to a nation’s cultural heritage and overseeing its preservation is a pivotal role for our profession.

Secondly, underneath this call to action lies a mural which captures a 21st century phenomenon. It states that we are all spending more time in virtual worlds than we do outside. This makes me wonder, following on from the previous question, how will we remember life one hundred years from now? Will our descendants look back and wonder what we were all doing spending the majority of our lives in virtual worlds rather than the real world?

Do we need to go outside? Is fresh air important? If you experience writer’s block or your research needs a fresh approach, moving outside might just do the trick. For example, I got off the Luas to take this photo, which led to me writing this blog piece. Taking in the outside environment, and maybe even looking at your place of work with a fresh lens, will lend itself to new ideas. The benefits of fresh air are well documented and contact with nature in urban areas can promote health[2].

Finally, the background of the photo shows a derelict building built in the 1970s, a time of mass construction in Ireland. Unfortunately, many of the buildings constructed during this time were lacking imagination, long-term thinking, and planning. This building used to house the Motor Taxation office, which was one of several such offices. In 2013, a new office opened and all other branches closed. The new office is for the whole of Dublin processing 620,469 registrations in 2015[3]. This function has moved online, with the majority of Dublin motorists (75%) buying or renewing their tax online[4]. A new office exists in a nearby street which caters to people who prefer to do their business in person and those who do not have the means, or perhaps digital literacy, to access this service online.

It is a sign of the times, everything is moving online – including people. Buildings are changing their function and their purpose. Relocation, reinvention, and repurposing are on the agenda. This resonates with libraries and librarians. Our buildings are being repurposed[5] and many of our access points have already moved online. Some library branches are closing with centralisation of functions[6] replacing them. We are moving with the times and changing our buildings and our functions.

I took three messages from this photo which I took while outside. For writers and researchers practicing evidence based librarianship, I would encourage you to gain insights from the outdoors and to take photos. They inspire.

[1] The word Luas is an Irish word which translates as ‘Speed’ in English.

[2] Van den Berg, Agnes E., Terry Hartig, and Henk Staats. “Preference for nature in urbanized societies: Stress, restoration, and the pursuit of sustainability.” Journal of social issues 63.1 (2007): 79-96.

[3] Based on statistics available from Central Statistics Office See
[4] See

[5] See Somerville, Mary M., and Margaret Brown-Sica. “Library space planning: a participatory action research approach.” The Electronic Library 29.5 (2011): 669-681; Ross, Lyman, and Pongracz Sennyey. “The library is dead, long live the library! The practice of academic librarianship and the digital revolution.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 34.2 (2008): 145-152; Brown-Sica, Margaret. “Using academic courses to generate data for use in evidence based library planning.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 39.3 (2013): 275-287.

[6] See Chitty, Teresa, and Jenny Ellis. “But where is the library…?: Reframing the library at the University of Melbourne in a shared services environment.” (2016); Owen, Gareth Wyn, and Gareth Wyn Owen. “Delivering a shared library management system for Wales.” Library Management 37.6/7 (2016): 385-395.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

The conundrum of leadership

by Jaclyn McLean, Electronic Resources Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a leader. What leadership is. What a strong leader would look like. How I could be a leader from right here where I am today. So naturally, I have been doing some reading about leadership. And watching some videos about it, too. I’ve found a few philosophies about leadership that resonate with me, and many others that didn’t, which only serves to demonstrate the individual nature of leadership. There seems to be a need for hope, for optimism, in the world today. For me, thinking about the leader I could be and focusing on the positive, rather than letting my energy be drained by the state of the world around me, has made me feel like I’m doing something positive. These are some of the people whose ideas about leadership are inspiring me:

Susan Cain [link:] wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, a book that showed me that introversion is powerful. It is not something that needs to be cured. It is not the same thing as shyness. Some of the most powerful leaders in recent history would describe themselves with the characteristics of introversion.

Drew Dudley [link:] reminds us that leadership can be as small as a moment when you have an impact on someone else’s life. That as long as we make leadership about changing the world, we’re giving ourselves the excuse not to expect it from ourselves or each other.

Roxane Gay [link: ] has the bravery to say and write the kinds of things I think but am not always brave enough to say. She says, in Bad Feminist: Essays “When you can’t find someone to follow, you have to find a way to lead by example.” If you haven’t read any of her writing, consider it [link:]. Or follow her on Twitter and observe how she engages with critics. She leads by example.

Simon Sinek [link:] tells us that leadership is a choice in his Ted talk. He talks about trust and cooperation, about choosing to look after those to your right and your left, to sacrifice so others may gain. When you do, others will sacrifice for you. And that is leadership.

Tina Fey [link:] reminds us to be part of the solution. To say yes rather than no, to stay open to possibility rather than shutting it down for yourself and others.

Looking to these sources (and so many others who stretch my thinking (watch Leroy Little Bear [link:])), I’ve been building my personal definition of leadership for several years now. Right now, it looks something like this. Leadership is the accumulation of small victories. It is situational, vulnerable, authentic, generous, flexible, and driven by the heart. Leaders admit when they falter or fall down, and they get back up again. Being a leader is about the small actions, about treating others how you’d like to be treated, by setting expectations for others and meeting them yourself. The idea of leading with the heart reminds me of Selinda’s recent post [link:] on this blog. Providing affective research support is one of those small actions that can have a large impact.

So that’s what leadership looks like to me right now. What does it look like to you? What kind of leader do you want to be? What can you do to make someone else’s life a bit better today?


Author’s Note: In writing this post, I came face to face with the unavoidable truth that many of those we hold up as leaders, or as exemplifying leadership qualities, are white men or women. If you’d like to read more about that bias, I would point you to this article, “Think Leader, Think White? Capturing and Weakening an Implicit Pro-White Leadership Bias” from PLos ONE [link:], and ask you to look for role models and leaders from outside your own cultural community. Or think about how to encourage leaders from all communities. Michelle Obama has some advice [link:]. Thanks for reading.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Should I stay or should I go? Thoughts on conference travel and protest in academia

by Shannon Lucky, Information Technology Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

Over the past week I had many conversations with colleagues about this upcoming conference season and what we, as Canadians, are going to do about travelling to the U.S. The response from universities and academics around the world has been swift and damning of the American administration’s decision to ban citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from travel to the U.S., but there isn’t much consensus about what else we can do. Back in the Fall, I was delighted to be accepted to speak at a large American conference at the end of March, but now I’m not so sure I want to go. I’m thinking twice about the politics and practicalities of my choice; whether or not I feel both safe and right to participate in academic conferences in the U.S.

The impact of this ban was immediately felt in academia where travel for conferences, teaching, workshops, and research is the norm. Post-secondary campuses are full of people from all over the world and limiting the ability to travel for work and personal reasons – either for fear they won’t be allowed into the U.S., or fear they won’t be able to get back to their American home if they leave, is chilling. The ban doesn’t affect my ability travel. I am a Canadian citizen, I am white, English is my first language – I am in a place of privilege. But I worry about my colleagues who are not.

Writing for a blog about evidence-based practice, it isn’t hard to see how engaging in any way with a U.S. administration that uses ‘alternative facts’, led by someone making decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had” (Fisher, 2016, July) is troubling. The fallout from this executive order is unpredictable and shifting day to day with little clarity about what it really means. As I am writing this, the ban has been temporarily halted (who knows what will have happened by the time you are reading) and it is this instability that is causing so much of my anxiety.

I have been weighing my options, reading everything I can find online, and asking colleagues what their plans are for traveling to the U.S. for work. For some people, there is no option – the risk of being blocked at the border (or not allowed back in if they leave) is too high. It’s fair to questions the intellectual integrity of events where Muslim colleagues are explicitly excluded. Over the past week, more than 6000 academics have signed a pledge to boycott travel to international conferences in the U.S. until the travel ban is lifted. I have also read online comments proposing that academics petition international conference organizers to move their events outside of the U.S. in protest. Many of the people interviewed for a CBC story about the travel boycott found supporting it was a complicated decision, a feeling I am also struggling with.

My knee jerk reaction is to stay away, take a moral stance and protest with my dollars. But I also think about my colleagues who have no choice but to live and work in that climate – what message am I sending them by staying away? What about scholars from those six countries studying and working in the U.S. who cannot leave the country with confidence they can return home?

The impetus to DO SOMETHING is strong (and I will confess that I am a little afraid of what could happen while I am there), so I want to sign that pledge and boycott with all of the people on that list that I respect. However, I haven’t signed because I also believe that smothering academic discourse by refusing to participate isn’t the answer, and withholding my registration money from liberal institutions and cheating myself out of the experience of being at the conference (and the CV line for having presented) does no good either. I have thought about asking if I can teleconference in for my talk or pre-record it, but that isn’t entirely in the spirit of an academic conference and it might be more technology than the organizers are prepared to deal with. I don’t know what to do.

I sit solidly on the fence today as I write this, and so do many of the people I have asked about this question. I imagine there are Brainwork readers struggling with the same decisions and weighing their own options. Have you made a decision about what you are planning do in the next few months? Do you have any advice to offer? I would love to hear it.


Fisher, M. (2016, July 17). Donald Trump doesn’t read much. Being president probably wouldn’t change that. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

The hidden challenges of a Workplace-based Doctorate

by Tegan Darnell, Research Librarian, University of Southern Queensland

There are those things no one tells you about being a parent. Usually people say ‘Congratulations!’ like being pregnant is some sort of remarkable achievement. Nobody tells you the truth. The nurses don’t tell you that you will be so sleep deprived that you will drive straight through red lights. No one will admit that there will be days when you truly want to leave your kids at the park. Certainly no one tells you to start saving for electronics (I recommend you start saving now). It is the same with starting a Doctorate while working full time.

I expected late nights, intellectual challenges, and workplace negotiations. These things turned out to be less difficult than I expected. With this post I expose some of the hidden challenges I have come across when attempting a major research project while working full-time in a professional position. The things no one told me…

Ethical complexity

Considering the volume of literature published over the past thirty years or more that has lauded the benefits of situated action research to the learning organisation and its relevance to professional learning, I assumed that it would not be difficult to present a case for an insider-researcher model. A research model where the researcher is participating in a project with the people they work with is still considered very risky in the world of academia. My confirmation of candidature process included two revisions and took over seven months. It appears that there is still much work to be done before I can confidently apply for Human Ethics approval.

Existential crises

OK, so, some of this was to be expected. The questions that have arisen as I start to critically examine my professional practice are complex: why do we consider ourselves a profession? is there actually any role for the profession as it exists today at all? why did I end up in this particular profession (and am so passionate about it) when I appear to disagree with so much of what it does?  I could go on. As it is, let’s just say that I am having many sleepless nights wrestling with these questions. This leads nicely into the next challenge.

Headspace shift

One minute you are trying to help someone troubleshoot referencing management software and the next minute you are trying to abandon the idea of the value of referencing at all. One second you are making vegemite sandwiches “cut-in-four-triangles-with-the-crusts-cut-off-please”, and the next you have to sit down and write about how the benefits of situated action research outweigh the risks to participants. It takes me about twenty five minutes every time I have to do a mental shift from “Where are my shoes, Mum?” to “Zuber & Skerritt (2002)”. These interruptions mean that you need more time than you expect, and you need to do some of the next thing.

Extreme time management

When adding a PhD into the mix of full time work and the rest of your life, you’ll probably have to schedule your meals, your sleep, and even your toilet breaks.  You will probably have to schedule time with your spouse and your children – I know I do. As a parent of 2 biological children and 3 non-biological children, with a spouse, a farm, a parent with a disability, and house renovations to contend with, I also schedule myself into Time Out. This usually involves some sort of gore film or video game, whilst telling everyone to *ahem* go away (in a less than civil fashion). Self-care is incredibly important to add to the whole mix.

Surprising reactions

Don’t expect everyone to be happy for you or supportive. There will be those who will tell you to your face that you won’t be able to do your job properly, or, that you can’t possibly commit to research, work, and be a decent parent. Then there are people who tell you that they would have studied if only it wasn’t for their spouse/mother/child/dog problem, and then look at you just waiting for you to withdraw from study.

There are moments when I wonder just how crazy a person has to be, but then I remember that I am me, and I think, “BA HA HA! Pretty crazy!” and it all makes sense. ;P

Dependence on ‘angels’

You will need one or more of these. Angels are the people who make you dinner, do your grocery shopping, repair your toilet, and buy you coffee. Sometimes they remind you to eat, or go to bed. Sometimes they tell you that you are awesome. Sometimes they tell you not to do any study over your Christmas break. The very best ones will tell you to “pull your head in” or that your writing doesn’t make sense. As much as it is your research, you can’t do it without the care, kindness, and goodwill of others, so at some point you will have to just accept it and stop feeling rubbish about it.

Just as someone telling you when you have a child, “Your boobs will never look the same”, I can honestly say about doing an advanced work-based research project: “Your job, workplace, and profession will never look the same”. And just like being a parent, when people ask you “Is it worth it?” I can honestly say, “Most of the time.”

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

How I’m Building Reconciliation

by Jaclyn McLean
Collection Services, University Library
University of Saskatchewan

On February 9, 2016, the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice hosted Ry Moran, Director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) for the Dean’s Research Lecture . Over the past few years, I’ve followed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but hadn’t really thought about what reconciliation meant to me. Ry’s lecture pulled some threads together that hit home, both professionally and personally. It felt like a punch to the gut, a personal call to action that I had to record.

Before I was a librarian, I was a historian. And I remember the last time I felt violated by the horrors humans inflict on each other. I also remember how far away those people and situations felt, and how relieved and privileged I felt to grow up in the time and the country I did, where I didn’t have to worry about institutions or individuals that went out of their way to make anyone “less than”.

Once I decided to study history, after a brief foray into early Canadian history, I focused on nineteenth & twentieth-century Europe. A course in European capitals of modernity found me in Berlin the same month the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe opened.
Interior Memorial Mar2016
An image from the interior of the Memorial, looking out.

It struck me then, and continues to now, the physical scars on the city of Berlin (and across Europe), and the mostly invisible scars on the people – scars imposed within a decade or so. Thinking about reconciliation in my own country has me right back in the thick of primary source research as documents from East Germany were released, and new information about the Holocaust came to light. A fuller version of history has been assembled from these primary source documents, survivor testimonials, and other sources. Much as these sources have contributed to healing in other countries, I hope we will be able to do the same. As the NCTR examines and figures out how to release the documentary evidence they’ve gathered, I hope we will, in the future, live in a country that has accepted its history. And that kids learn about it in elementary school, and researchers in all disciplines add to the conversation and as a country, we move towards reconciliation.

I grew up and went to school less than 60 kilometers from the last Residential School in operation in Canada (Lebret, in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan). And I didn’t realize it was there. I went through the public school system in Saskatchewan, the province that had the most Residential Schools in operation, and learned nothing about them. I studied Treaties and the making of this nation in my post-secondary education, and still nothing was discussed about Residential Schools.

Today, it clicked for me. I’ve studied and researched oppression and systematic attempts to eradicate culture and religion, and felt deeply those injustices. I have stood in memorials, in my own country and others, to people I never met, who died in conflicts that happened long before I was born, and felt their stories speak to me.

I’m so grateful to those who fought very hard to bring to light what’s happened in my own country in our recent memory, and begun to take us down a path to reconciliation. I’m proud to work at a University that is now an official partner of the NCTR , and will be looking for ways to bring my curiosity as a researcher, but also as a citizen of Canada, to how I can make reconciliation. In the face of the bravery of the survivors of Residential Schools, how can I not be brave enough to face my own ignorance and take the gift being offered to me, to learn. I look forward to continuing my learning, and am starting with the 10 Principles of Reconciliation (see pages 3&4), and the 94 Calls to Action. Where will you begin your journey to reconciliation?

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Digging Deeper: Decoding the Research Process

by Margy MacMillan
Mount Royal University Library

Archaeological Dig
Ben Salter, CC-BY

Recently colleagues Brian Jackson and Madeleine Vanderwerff proposed a great article on Decoding the Disciplines as the basis for Mount Royal University (MRU) Library’s Instruction Roundtable discussion. ‘Decoding’ is an extension of the threshold concepts discussions in higher education, aimed at making tacit disciplinary knowledge and problem-solving processes more explicit and more teachable. The process might be described as an archaeological excavation of one’s automatic disciplinary ‘moves’, led by a questioner with the relentlessness of a two-year old. Question follows question to dig through layers of assumptions, bringing the almost subconscious decisions we make as part of everyday work into the light.

The approach seems promising for exploring library processes to make them clearer to students (how DO you know what terms to search with?) and/or new librarians (how DO you decide which materials to acquire? which committees to volunteer for? how severely to weed your filing cabinet?).

The same technique can be turned to digging into research processes. ‘Decoding’’ sessions are most commonly and much more productively led by someone outside the subject’s discipline with some experience in the technique. However no one who fit that bill was handy over the holidays, so I enlisted an internal cranial archaeologist:

How do you decide what to research?
I see something interesting going on.
Do you mean interesting to you or interesting to other people?
Both I hope. But it has to start as something I’m interested in.
What do you mean by interesting? Can you be more specific?
Sometimes it relates to something I’ve been thinking or reading about for a while, often it’s something counter to expectations. Sometimes it’s an idea to transfer something from one context to another.
What do you mean by ‘counter to expectations’?
If I observe students doing something that’s contrary to what the literature reports, or if the results in an article surprise me, or are different from what I’ve observed – or if something I expect to go well bombs completely, or something small I change in a class turns out to have big results…

At this point the conversation went in multiple, intranscribable directions, from how I know something contradicts the literature to how I know an activity has bombed or succeeded and almost every thought in between.

One of the insights that arose from doing just this brief exercise is how many of these ‘moves’ might be mysterious or difficult for first-year students when we ask them to “do some research”. How would they know what was ‘interesting’ and would they consider ‘interesting’ to themselves or their instructors? How could they build on, transfer or contradict ideas from the literature when they are just beginning to read it?

I encourage you as part of the New Year’s new beginnings to sift through automatic actions, dust off disciplinary assumptions, and get down to the foundational strata of your own processes.

The following questions all good starting points for solo pondering, but there may also be opportunities for deeper decoding with others on your campus. I’m hoping to join an MRU group this year.

How do YOU decide what to research?
How do you decide what questions to ask?
How do you decide what methods to use?
How do you decide what data to use?
How do you decide when to stop expanding the literature review to include one more small-but-extraordinarily-significant subconcept (if you know, please tell me)?
How do you choose what journal or conference to disseminate results in?
How do you decide which of the reviewers’ contradictory comments to address?

Middendorf, J., & Pace, D. (2004). Decoding the disciplines: A model for helping students learn disciplinary ways of thinking. New directions for teaching and learning, 2004(98), 1-12. (Available from This is an excellent entry point to the concept, but there’s quite a bit out there in the literature, spanning many disciplines.

Salter, B. (2008). Archaeological dig. Retrieved from CC-BY.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Reflections from the C-EBLIP Journal Club, Feb 23, 2015

by Carolyn Doi
Education and Music Library, University of Saskatchewan

For this iteration of the C-EBLIP Journal Club, I decided to feature an article from outside the LIS literature that deals with the topic of reflection, creative processes and digital technologies in the classroom:

Kirk, Carole, and Jonathan Pitches. “Digital Reflection: Using Digital Technologies to Enhance and Embed Creative Processes.” Technology, Pedagogy and Education 22, no. 2 (July 1, 2013): 213–30.

This paper caught my attention for several reason. The discussion of creative processes and incorporation of technology in the classroom is particularly interesting to me and these are topics that often come up when I discuss teaching strategies with other librarians. I was also looking forward to exploring the idea of reflection, both in the classroom and as part of the research process. This is something we have discussed in our institution and in particular through our own Library Leadership Development Program.

The authors of this paper are both scholars at the School of Performance and Cultural Industries at the University of Leeds who have shared the results from a teaching and learning project called Digitalis (, which “investigates ways in which digital technologies can be used by teaching staff to facilitate reflection on creative practices within performing and creative arts disciplines” (p. 213). The study used action research methodology led by members of a cooperative inquiry group who incorporated reflection and digital technologies into their own teaching practice. They took this a step further and also incorporated reflection as one of the four project phases (planning, action, collection and reflection).

The study featured modules in five areas of study: performance design, dance, music, theatre & performance and museum studies. In each module, students were asked to reflect on their learning and experience, assisted by different types of digital technology. In one example, students in a second year compulsory Dance Choreography course were asked to use a flip camera to capture thoughts, ideas and observations, which were used in combination with written reflection and posted to a private blog. The other modules used varying types of reflective processes. Methods of digital capture included flip cameras, audio recorders and digital still cameras. Digital reflection mechanisms included blogs (on Blackboard), PowerPoint and Photo Story 3.

In some cases, the technology may have interfered with the process of critical reflection as some students ended up “concentrating too much on slick production values to the detriment of critical thinking” (p. 224). The paper mentioned that ease of use was an important factor in getting students to feel engaged in the reflection activities. One recommendation that came out of the paper was that digital reflection technologies should be introduced incrementally, as opposed to all at once.

We discussed the value of incorporating technology into the classroom, and also of the importance of not letting the technology ‘get in the way’ of the learning process. Some in our group remarked that they were still surprised that the incorporation of technology in the classroom still might be a barrier for some students.

The paper reports that students found digital reflection to be advantageous when ‘looking again’ at material which would otherwise have been lost in the creative practice. The digital capturing acted as a way they could benchmark their own impressions of the event, and allowed the performer to experience being an audience member of their own performance.

We discussed the benefits of reflection in two veins: 1) for integration into the classroom and 2) for integration into our own practice. Some questioned the viability of incorporating reflection (especially non-written reflection) into library instruction as we are often faced with the challenge of limited classroom time where it would be difficult to follow up with students. Librarians who teach in disciplines outside of the arts felt that they might just not be able to get their students to try a less conventional reflection method such as video capture. The article prompted some to think about video capture as a means to document and reflect on one’s own teaching practice. Others were thinking about incorporating reflection into other aspects of practice or research, or are currently embarking on projects that do incorporate an element of planned reflection.

The journal club is always an engaging gathering and it’s been interesting to see the various opinions and perspectives that emerge out of the group discussions. I look forward to many more discussions around the journal club table in the coming months!

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Reflecting on Our Biases

by Denise Koufogiannakis
University of Alberta Libraries

Reflection is an important part of evidence based practice. The principle has been embraced by those who aim to practice in an evidence-based manner because being an evidence based practitioner is not just about the evidence itself, but about the process of how and why we use that evidence. To date, reflection has generally been inserted into the evidence based process towards the end of the cycle, prompting one to look reflectively back on what was done in order to reach a decision. One reflects on such questions as: what evidence did I find and use; what evidence was lacking; what happened during the decision making process; did the chosen implementation work; what did I personally learn; what would I change next time? Reflection has also largely been considered an individual and private act that a professional undertakes for self-improvement.

I’d like to propose that we begin the process of reflection earlier in the process, specifically as it pertains to the biases we have in relation to a particular question or problem at hand. And, since library decisions are frequently made in groups, we should make reflection on our biases a shared act with colleagues who are also engaged in finding a solution to the problem. As we strive to incorporate evidence into our decision making, it is important to be aware of the biases that we all bring to finding, interpreting, weighing, and using evidence. We work in organizations, large or small, with others – we all have different perspectives, motivations, and desires. Decision making as part of a group is not easy! We need to be conscious of how the biases of each group member and the collective dynamic might influence the process. Through reflection and openness, we may be able to limit our biases and therefore make better decisions.

In practical terms, what this means is being upfront with our colleagues, and where a group has been tasked to make a decision or put forward recommendations on a specific new initiative or review of an existing area, that we have conversations about our biases from the very start. This requires that each person reflect on how they are considering and approaching the problem or question, what their initial reaction was, what they hope will be the outcome, and any other preconceived notions they have related to the issue. It also means that collectively, the group discusses and acknowledges the various biases, and consciously moves forward with the intent to address all biases so that they do not adversely affect the final decision. Doing this may be a bit risky for each individual, but it creates a climate in which trust can be built, and the group can proceed with an open and transparent approach to their decision making. It means that in all likelihood, more sources of evidence will be sought and considered, potential solutions will not be dismissed out of hand, and a sound approach will be chosen.

Here are some common biases people have, and without being aware of them, they may adversely affect our decision making:
• overconfidence bias – when people think they know more than they actually do
• confirmation bias – when people gather information selectively in order to confirm what they already think
• framing bias – when people make different decisions depending upon how information is presented
• representative bias – when people rely on stereotypes and predict outcomes based on past situations
• anchoring bias – when people rely too heavily on one piece of information
(Robbins, 2005; Greenberg and Baron, 2008)

For more on biases within the workplace, I recommend this brief overview by Rykersmith (2013) who provides a list of 5 biases in decision making, based on the research of Lovallo and Sibony (2010). While taken from business, the advice soundly applies to decision making within libraries, and provides ways for us to spot these biases and overcome them.

Recognizing your own biases or those within your group is important. Here are some questions to ask yourself and your group, in order to identify possible biases and discuss them.
• What is my natural inclination with respect to this problem? Do I already think I know the answer for what is best?
• Am I picking and choosing evidence that only suits my predetermined notion?
• If I have passionate feelings about this topic, why is that? Is there an important ethical or professional principle that needs to be considered within the decision?
• Are there other people with opposing views that I find difficult to discuss the problem with, and this is clouding my judgement?
• Am I reacting due to my own motivations/desires? Is a potential change going to impact me personally and therefore I am afraid of it?
• Am I easily influenced by one particular piece of evidence? Why might that be? Why did that piece of evidence impress me?
• Do I stand to gain or lose based on the outcome of this decision? Is this potential change influencing me?
• Have I gathered the types of evidence that would help, or just what was easy? Have all possibilities been considered? Have all perspectives been represented?
• Is the evidence sound or just based on anecdote and sentiment?

Once a bias has been brought to light, it is much easier to deal with and proceed with a higher level of consciousness. Such reflection is sure to bring us closer to better decision making.


Greenberg, J., & Baron, R. A. (2008). Behavior in organizations (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Lovallo, D., & Sibony, O. (2010). The case for behavioral strategy. McKinsey Quarterly. Accessed 15 Feb. 2015

Robbins, S. P. (2005). Essentials of organisational behavior (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Rykrsmith, E. (2013). 5 biases in decision making – Part 2. The Fast Track Blog. Accessed 15 Feb. 2015

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.