Sometimes you just need a librarian. And sometimes, you just need a statistician.

by Christine Neilson
Information Specialist, St. Michael’s Hospital
Toronto, Ontario

Statistics has been on my mind for a variety of reasons lately. As a practitioner/researcher (emphasis on the practitioner part!) I dabble in library research when I can find the time, but I often feel inadequate when it comes to stats. Based on anecdotal evidence, I believe that I’m not alone. I’ve taken introductory stats classes and I know what a p value is, but I feel ill prepared to conduct statistical analysis beyond basic descriptive stats; averages, percentage, and that kind of thing.

The issue of different types of evidence aside, conducting meaningful statistical analysis – correctly – is a matter that has troubled me for a long time. There are a variety of statistical programs available but these tools can’t substitute for actually knowing what you’re doing, and thinking that they will can only lead to trouble. It’s similar to using bibliographic databases without knowing how searching works; thinking that a person should be able to sit down and immediately do an effective, efficient search when they don’t know what the process is, what the commands mean, and when it is appropriate to use which one. But the idea of contracting statistical analysis for a research project to someone else with serious statistical chops somehow seems like cheating. If I’m going to be a real researcher, my internal voice tells me, I should be able to do it myself. I want to be able to do it myself.

Unlike many of the contributors to the Brain-Work blog, I work in a hospital library rather than in academia, and one of my major roles is doing literature searches for health professionals who are conducting research. My colleagues and I provide consults for the do-it-yourselfers, but we encourage our clients to take advantage of our literature search services because we can search better and faster; this isn’t a slight against anyone, it’s simply a fact that we have different areas of expertise. As one of my colleagues likes to say, “Sometimes you just need a librarian”.

So what’s my problem then? We are asking our clients to let go a little bit and trust someone with a specialized skill set, shouldn’t I be able to do the same? If sometimes you just need a librarian, then sometimes you just need a statistician. I’ve been involved in a research team where statistical analysis was delegated to a research assistant with experience doing statistical analysis. A sensible division of labour? Sure. Am I a little relieved that someone who knows what they are doing is in charge of that piece? Honestly, yes. Deep down, do I still want to be able to do it all? You better believe it. But maybe – just maybe – striving for a moderate level of statistical literacy and letting people with more expertise do the heavy lifting might not be such a bad idea after all. I do need to be able to make sense of data analysis when I see it, but whether I like it or not, it is very unlikely that I will have the opportunity to develop real statistical expertise in the foreseeable future.

As I understand it, one of the barriers to librarians conducting research is the intimidation factor. I wonder if more librarians would feel better about the idea of doing research if we embraced the idea that one doesn’t necessarily have to handle every aspect of the endeavour by oneself. Because sometimes you just need a statistician.

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

Breaking the time barrier: Making time for research in a busy world

by Denise Koufogiannakis
University of Alberta Libraries

Finding the time to do research is a huge issue that many librarians face. Research studies have shown that librarians perceive time as a barrier to both doing research and being an evidence based practitioner (Turner, 2002; Booth, 2011). My own research found that time was a determinant of evidence use by academic librarians. It acts as both a barrier and an enabler depending upon an individual’s circumstances, particularly with respect to their work environment (Koufogiannakis, 2013). In general, though, we usually think and talk about time as a barrier, so the focus is negative, often without any solutions to the problem being proposed.

I think one of the biggest issues in relation to time being a barrier is the “culture of busy” that surrounds us. A culture of busy is one where we talk about being “busy” as if it were a status symbol, a badge of honour, a way to show we are important and successful. It’s a way of bragging, masked within a complaint. But it is not meaningful. Unfortunately, we talk this way a lot, including in the workplace.

Busyness also an easy excuse for saying no to doing something, when you don’t want to dig deeper. It’s is way too easy to simply say “I’m too busy,” or, “I don’t have time,” without giving it a second thought. Sometimes you actually face a different barrier such as needing to improve your research skills, or not feeling confident enough to do research, but it is easier to just blame a lack of time.

In librarianship, I think we also worry that doing research is an ‘extra’ and that our peers will judge us negatively for doing research, especially during a time when we all seem to be doing more with less – that others will say, “if you had enough of a job – were as busy as me – you would not have any time for research”. This is the culture and attitude that we need to try and break! Librarian contributions to our profession through research are very important in order to tie research to areas of practice and advance knowledge in our field.

“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau

I don’t want to dismiss librarians’ feeling that time is a barrier to doing research, but I do want to step back and ask that we start to think about what we might be able to do to make time, and how we can place time for research as a priority. Let’s reframe how we look at the time we have and where research fits within our overall landscape. We need to fight against the culture of busy that makes it much easier to simply say I don’t have time rather than figuring out how we can make time. Let’s start reframing our discussions in order to move toward a place where doing research is more important than being busy with a bunch of other “stuff”. Ultimately, this means looking at time as something that is ours individually to shape and take greater control over.

The premise that librarian research is important is key to all of this. If something is important then you will make time for it. It becomes about prioritizing all the things you have to do and not letting research always sink to the bottom. I’m not saying research has to be your top priority – for most librarians it is not. But if it is at all important to you and you want to do research, then you can prioritize it over other things, and find ways to make time for it.

How do we make this idea work in reality? It starts with being mindful about what you spend your time on, your priorities, what you want to achieve, and where research fits in that mix. Above all, do research that interests you, that you are passionate about, that you are curious about; research that will sustain and fulfil you. It’s also important to take a pragmatic approach to doing research – plan what you can reasonably achieve, schedule time for research just like anything else you do, set reminders, give yourself deadlines, aim for presentation or paper submission dates, and find someone who will push you along. If you are doing all or some of these things, research is going to become a normal part of your day, part of what drives you, and hopefully, something you want to keep doing and will make time for.

Let’s drop the busyness and take back our time to do research. Let’s make time because research is important to our profession. Let’s show one another that we can make time, and support one another in doing research so that it becomes a norm and something to be celebrated.

“You will never ‘find’ time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.” – Charles Bruxton


Booth, A. (2011). Barriers and facilitators to evidence-based library and information practice: An international perspective. Perspectives in International Librarianship, 2011(1). doi: 10.5339/pil.2011.1

Koufogiannakis, D. A. (2013). How academic librarians use evidence in their decision making: Reconsidering the evidence based practice model. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Aberystwyth University, Wales, U.K.

Turner, K. J. (2002). The use of applied library and information studies (LIS) research in New Zealand libraries. Library Review, 51(5), 230-240.

This blog post is based on a presentation given at the C-EBLIP Fall Symposium, October 14, 2014.

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.