Librarians as Practitioner-Researchers: Constructive Concept

by Kristin Hoffmann
Associate Librarian, University of Western Ontario

Librarians as practitioner-researchers: constructive concept or limiting label? Last summer, my colleague Selinda Berg and I had an invigorating conversation about this question. We presented our reflections at the 2014 C-EBLIP Fall Symposium, and this post is my part of that presentation. Selinda’s part will be published here later this spring.

We want to share our conversation about librarians as practitioner-researchers because we see a link between researcher identity and research culture. Academic librarians, particularly in Canada, are in the process of establishing and shaping a research culture for ourselves. Part of establishing a research culture is having a clear sense of who we are as researchers and what it means to us to be researchers. We hope that our conversation can spark similar conversations for others.

Peter Jarvis developed the concept of practitioner-researcher in his 1999 book The practitioner-researcher: developing theory from practice. Rebecca Watson-Boone (2000) and Virginia Wilson (2013) have examined the concept specifically for librarianship.

I want to share two reasons why I believe that “practitioner-researcher” is a constructive concept for librarians.

1. We are both practitioners and researchers and so we need an identity that encompasses both of those roles, rather than trying to manage or embody two distinct identities.

The practitioner-researcher concept is a truer and better representation of who we are and what we do as academic librarians than either practitioner or researcher on their own. We often talk about the challenge of how to “fit” research into our workdays, and I think part of that is because we are separating our researcher selves from our practitioner selves and trying to create a separate place for each of those identities. Embracing the identity of practitioner-researcher can help us truly affirm the importance of both roles and the interplay between them.

2. Embracing the practitioner-researcher identity can bring us to a fuller, and unique, understanding of both practice and research.

Previous discussions of practitioner-researchers first emphasize the practitioner role, and research is seen as something that informs practice: we are practitioners who also happen to be researchers, therefore we are practitioner-researchers.

However, our knowledge and understanding of our practice can also inform and enlighten our research. This may be a much more powerful and constructive concept for librarians. To illustrate this, I offer an example from my own research.

In a recent project, I worked with the sociological theory of strategic action fields. Very briefly, this is a theory that provides a framework for thinking about stability and change in social institutions. Since libraries are a social institution, applying this theory to librarianship can help us come to a deeper understanding of change in librarianship. Why do some things change in library-land, why do other things never seem to change even though we wish they would, and what might it take for those changes to happen?

My research looked at librarian-vendor relations and why there seems to be so much enthusiasm for librarians to stand up to vendors and yet so little apparent meaningful change in this aspect of collections. The theory of fields was the tool I used to analyze this situation in an objective, systematic way.

It was through the process of applying the theory of fields to this collections-related example that I really came to see myself as a practitioner-researcher. My research with this theory was deeply informed and influenced by my practice as a librarian. Because I’m an “insider”, intimately familiar with librarianship, I could see aspects of the theory that a so-called “pure” researcher couldn’t – I had unique insight from practice that informed my research.

The theory of fields sociologists came to their theory as researchers; their book (Fligstein and McAdam 2012) makes no mention of practice or how their ideas might shape or be shaped by real-life situations. Librarians who talk about implementing change management might have approached my topic as practitioners. I was seeing it as a practitioner-researcher.

My practice directly informed my approach to this research project. And, yes, my research also informed my practice: having a rigorous and systematic theoretical framework to apply to my practice gave me new insight that has influenced how I understand my profession.

In summary, therefore, practitioner-research is a constructive concept because:
• embracing the practitioner-researcher identity can bring us to a fuller understanding of and a unique perspective on both practice and research; and
• we are both practitioners and researchers and need an identity that encompasses both of those roles.


Fligstein, N. and McAdam, D. (2012). Theory of fields. Oxford: Oxford U Press.

Jarvis, P. (1999). The practitioner-researcher: developing theory from practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Watson-Boone, R. (2000). Academic librarians as practitioner-researchers. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 26(2), 85-93. DOI:10.1016/S0099-1333(99)00144-5

Wilson, V. (2013). Formalized curiosity: reflecting on the librarian practitioner-researcher. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 8(1), 111-117.

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.

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.

C-EBLIP Fall Symposium: Librarians as Researchers

by Virginia Wilson
Director, Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice

First of all, I want to let you know that the Summer of Virginia as it pertains to the Brain-Work blog is just about over. Starting next week, you’ll be treated to weekly posts from our brilliant cast of contributors. But before I concede centre stage, I’d like to talk about the C-EBLIP Fall Symposium: Librarians as Researchers.

The Symposium is coming up on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 and will be held on the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) campus. The day-long event will consist of an opening keynote address by Margy MacMillan from Mount Royal University, single track sessions, and lots of time for networking (yummy food and social events, too). You can find the program here: Registration (which will open soonopen now!) is complimentary, but we will be asking for you to fill out an online registration form for catering numbers and stuff like that.

So, a bit of background…the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (C-EBLIP) held its grand opening in July 2013. Just over a year old, the Centre is under the umbrella of the University Library, U of S. C-EBLIP’s mandate is to promote evidence based practice and to support librarians as researchers. We’ve done a lot of activities over the past year internally to support that mandate. But I’ve always felt there should be some outward facing activities originating from the Centre, mostly because I’m a big believer of the work being better when it’s not done in a vacuum. The Symposium is one such activity. The Symposium is open to any librarian interested in the topic of librarians as researchers. With free registration, you just need to get here.

There have been recent initiatives aimed at developing a Canadian librarian research culture. I’m thinking particularly of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) Librarians’ Research Institute (LRI). The LRI was held for its third year this past June at Carleton. Previous LRIs were held at the University of Regina, jointly presented by the U of R and the U of S, and at the University of Windsor. I attended the inaugural event and was very impressed with the content, the use of peer mentors to facilitate the institute, and the overall concept and drive behind the institute. Essentially, we’ve got a lot of librarian research expertise in Canada and we need to bring that together, share that knowledge, and move a librarian culture of research in Canada forward. I’m hoping that the C-EBLIP Fall Symposium will contribute to this goal. Bringing together librarians from across Canada to share research, experiences, thoughts, and potential roadblocks can only help to continue the conversations that are taking place about librarians in their researcher roles.

I’m really excited about the initial response to the Fall Symposium. Librarians as researchers seems to be a timely topic, and it’s one that I’m immersed in with my role as the C-EBLIP Director. I believe that librarians have so much to offer in the area of LIS research. We have the opportunity to research our practice, to take questions that come from our place on the ground and move them forward to provide ourselves and each other with evidence to take our practice to the next level. If the Symposium unfolds as I think it will, we’re going to have a day that will inspire and ignite us all and that will provide a feeling of support; the idea that no matter where we are, there are others like us who are doing the same type of work. And hopefully, the connections we make at the Symposium will be lasting, so we can jot off an email or pick up the phone and connect with a Symposium attendee for information, support, or maybe just a laugh.

If you have any questions about the C-EBLIP Fall Symposium, please do not hesitate to be in touch with me:

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.