For me – as for many other attendees, the ‘one minute madness‘ session at last Monday’s (28th June 2010) LIS Research Coalition conference at the British Library conference centre was the highlight of the day. Over 20 brave souls stood up and presented on a research topic (from completed, funded projects, to PhD work in progress, to projects just getting off the ground) in 60 seconds. Not only did they all keep to time, but I – rather to my surprise – learnt a huge amount and can actually remember a lot of it! As Charles Oppenheim noted in his highly entertaining closing remarks, this should be the way forward for PhD vivas… I’d add all conference presentations to that. Although, having said that, I was glad Andrew Dillon had longer than a minute, as his informative and thought provoking keynote address was a great start to the morning, following on from Michael Jubb’s overview of LIS research in the UK over the last few decades, and outlining the work of the LIS Research Coalition to date. He rightly singled out Hazel Hall’s amazing work over the last year in promoting the work of the Coalition and in implementing its plans.

During the afternoon, delegates were split into breakout groups to firstly identify questions that needed answers (on the topic of either evidence or value and impact), and secondly, to come up with answers to the questions posed by a different group. I think many important issues were aired during these sessions (and I – of course – took the opportunity to put in my own twopence worth), but I felt rather that the group was better at identifying issues and challenges than answers! That may just have been the control freak lecturer in me wanting my seminar students to knuckle down to the task and come up with solutions! There is also a certain going over old ground on these occasions (as I couldn’t help pointing out, the same issues have been coming up over and over again in a number of research projects (including a study I did in 2006) and the literature for well over twenty years), but as Andrew Dillon had remarked earlier, culture change is a slow process. Having said that, now that the Research Coalition is in place, I have much more confidence that things will move forward than I would have done a few years ago.

Much tweeting and blogging of the event was done during the day (including by me), so you can get a sense of the day in a number of ways – follow the tweet trail (#lisrc10); check out the day’s live blog; and read/watch the sessions, all available from the Coalition conference website; read other reviews of the conference. The organisation of the day, the co-ordination of the reporting of sessions etc. and the enthusiasm were all excellent, so I’m looking forward to where we all take it next…

David Horner and I gave a lunchtime seminar to colleagues yesterday on our new paper, “The Portable Panopticon: morality and mobile technologies” which we will presenting at ETICA in Spain in April. It seemed to go well with some good questions and comments from colleagues at the end. Katie Piatt has blogged it (thanks for the photo, Katie) and made some interesting observations and suggestions about how we might adapt to the widespread diffusion of smart phones and the potential ethical issues that might raise.

Slides Here

Abstract of the paper below:
“James Moor has argued that we need ‘better ethics’ for emerging technologies. What he means by ‘better ethics’ is: firstly, that ethical analysis of technologies should not be a post hoc activity but rather something dynamic which is done in tandem or anticipation; secondly, that the ethical response to emerging technologies and the formation of appropriate technologies requires collaboration between ethicists, technologists, policy makers and so on; thirdly, more sophisticated ethical analysis will be required. Moor argues that emerging technologies, whilst the product of new technological paradigms, need to be matched by analyses forming new ethical paradigms. Broadly, we need frameworks to identify radical emerging information and communication technologies and appropriate frameworks for identifying and analysing new moral issues. In this paper we argue that the development and widespread use of mobile technologies constitute if not a revolution then a subrevolution that may have widespread social and ethical impacts. We define mobile technologies as the set of hardware, software, and network infrastructure that greatly extend the conventional functionality of the mobile phone. Current and emerging applications include video, photography, high-speed internet access, social networking and GPS location services. We aim to present this suite of technologies within the framework of Moor’s three stage model of technological development. We locate mobile technologies in the ‘permeation’ phase of development when we might first begin to detect the lineaments of novel ethical challenges. We argue more specifically that one of these challenges is a new and important phenomenon: what we describe as the ‘portable panopticon’. The concept of the panoticon has been broadly used to designate the potential for centralised surveillance and all that that connotes for privacy. We suggest that with mobile technologies we face a more distributed threat to personal privacy. What differentiates this threat from conventional conceptions of the panopticon is its decentralised nature. This arises from a combination of the increased power and functionality coupled with the widespread, individual ownership of these mobile devices.”

Interesting piece in the latest Computer Weekly which reports on research from Gartner about the “4 roles that will define IT departments of the future”. They are:
1. Litigation support manager
2. Enterprise information architect
3. Digital archivist
4. Business information manager

Those last 3 look a lot like the work currently done by many library and information professionals. If Gartner is right, perhaps the future for the LIS profession is brighter than many are predicting.

LIR (Library and Information Research) has just published issue 102, including a short piece on how to write a research proposal, which may be of interest to LIS students and practitioners. I wrote the article based on my experience of teaching research methods (and of writing proposals of course) for the last seven years, and it contains practical tips and worked examples of the nuts and bolts of proposal writing – such as how to form and articulate aims and objectves. The piece is designed – in part – to provide support to those wishing to apply for the LIRG (Library and Information Research Group) annual research award.

Legal Information Management have just published my paper titled, The Future of Information Work: Designing Library and Information Courses for the Digital Age. It is based on a talk I gave at the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) annual conference in Dublin earlier this year. While the paper describes some of the work we have done in Brighton developing our new courses, it also reflects on some of the broader issues facing the profession. You can view an abstract HERE.

Anyone interested in where LIS teaching may be heading might also want to look at these blog posts:

Information Wants to be Free

The Lone Wolf Librarian’s blog

A paper, co-authored by Juliet Eve, Margo de Groot and Anne-Marie Schmidt, entitled ‘Supporting lifelong learning in public libraries across Europe’ has been selected as a winner of one of Emerald’s Awards for Excellence 2008. The paper was published in Library Review last year, and reports on the results from a European Union funded project to support lifelong learning for adults in public libraries across Europe.

The paper can currently be accessed from the Emerald website, and is also available via the University of Brighton repository; other documents relating to the project can be found at the PuLLS (Public Libraries in the Learning Society) website.

Tuesday July 29th saw the Library and Information Group’s (LIRG) AGM and annual address, held in London. As well as the usual AGM business, including the awarding of our annual prizes – the Research Award and the student prize for best dissertation – we had a presentation from last year’s Research Award winner, Jackie Chelin (and colleagues), followed by a set of linked presentations around the theme of the ACRL’s 2007 Environmental Scan, a horizon-scanning of issues relating (in particular) to academic libraries, published in January this year. ACRL is the Association of College & Research Libraries, a Division of the American Library Association. Further details on the Scan and the afternoon sessions are available on the Researchmatters blog.

Over the last few weeks I have been conducting an online survey of UK SMEs and how they use the Internet/Web to communicate, share information and market themselves. The survey was carried out amongst 2 groups of SMEs: Those operating in the Internet/new media sectors in the South East of England (Digital SMEs) and a more general group of SMEs operating across the UK and a range of sectors (All SMEs). Over 500 companies completed the survey and there are some interesting findings:

  • More than 95% of all the respondents maintained a Web site;
  • Apart from email, instant messaging is the most used (46%) tool for internal communications amongst Digital SMEs;
  • Over 40% of Digital SMEs use Skype for communicating with clients and suppliers;
  • Digital SMEs are active in their use of Web services such as Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs as tools for marketing their services;
  • Digital SMEs are approximately 4 times as likely to use blogs and wikis for communicating with clients and suppliers than the group, All SMEs.

You can download a PDF copy (600kb) of the executive summary from the link below:

One of Information Matters bloggers, Juliet Eve, has recently set up a ‘sister’ blog, ResearchMatters. The blog is designed to do two things: firstly to highlight and reflect upon research issues within the library and information world, with a particular focus on research into practice; and secondly, to suppport students taking their research methods module and completing their research dissertation as part of their MA in Information Studies. Useful research texts, resources etc. may also be of more general interest to anyone interested in LIS research.

On Thursday 12th June, I was invited to be a keynote speaker at SINTO‘s (the Information Partnership for South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire) AGM and Members Day, held at Sheffield Hallam University. The subject of their Member’s Day was Research into Practice, so I was very pleased to be asked to talk about this issue, as I like to get up on my soapbox about it as often as possible (see article, co-authored with Noeleen Schenk, who undertook the research with me, in CILIP’s Update in June 2007). My talk was based on research carried out in 2006 for the AHRC, one of their sector interaction studies to examine the impact of funded academic research on practice in the library and archive worlds. An overview of the project and findings was published in Library and Information Research, and a copy of the article can be downloaded from the University of Brighton’s institutional repository. The Update article, and my presentations on the topic over the last couple of years, have in part been an examination of the highly persistent culture gap between academics and practitioners in the LIS world (and not just in our area; similar studies in education and marketing reveal identical issues), and a ‘call to arms’ to do something about it – both on the part of academics, and practitoners. Sadly, there is usually an aspect of the ‘preaching to the converted’ at these events, as those already engaged with this issue are those who come to seminars on it.

To quote my own article:

‘Practitioners, why don’t you ask researchers to help you find solutions in the same way you might ask a colleague? Can you really afford not to engage with research and the wider debates and demand to be treated as a professional?

Researchers, what is wrong with seeking out practitioners in the same way you seek out fellow researchers to discuss your research and test ideas? Can you really afford not to disseminate your ideas and research results as widely as possible?

National organisations, we need a co-ordinated research policy and strategy, which emphasises relevance to practitioners as one of the criteria for funding research, and sends out a key message to the profession and the wider world: without a thriving research culture, we will not become a thriving profession. ‘

This is not to say that there are not some excellent examples of good practice out there – some academics are highly committed to multiple forms of dissemination, and some practitioners not only find time to research, but ensure they publish it too. Organisations like the Library and Information Research Group (of which I have been a committee member since 2001) do a lot of good work in promoting academic/practitioner partnerships and research in all its forms (for example, the student prize for best dissertation, and the LIRG Research Award). However, what emerged (again) at the SINTO Member’s Day was the lack of co-ordinated, national leadership in this area. This issue is being taken forward by LIRG and a number of other organisations. This is a continuation of the discussions initiated by the British Library, at the seminar they organised in November 2007, papers from which were published in a Special edition of LIRG’s open access journal, Library and Information Research.

The other keynote speaker was Ian Rowlands, from UCL, one of the researchers on the JISC/BL study into the ‘Google generation’. What particularly struck me from Ian’s talk was the finding from a market research study that (contrary to popular rhetoric, though in line with similar results emerging from a variety of research) only 20% of this generation are ‘wired up’, with 60% designated as ‘average Jo/es’, and another 20% have already become ‘digital dissidents’ (possibly in reaction to their ‘Crackberry’ – first time I’d heard the phrase – parents). This seems to me to be highly significant, and a potential warning for those developing services and policy on the back of the rhetoric, rather than the research.

Which brings me full circle, to the need for research to support library theory, policy, and practice. It’s nice to see that the Public Library Group conference, currently hotly debating issues of leadership and governance, has apparently highlighted the need for research and evidence to support practice, according to the Out of the Stacks blogger, Abigail Luthmann, who won a sponsored place to the conference this year, and is a former graduate of our MA Information Studies degree (shameless plug!).

The Members day was rounded up nicely by two excellent presentations on current research – firstly, by Lix Brewster who has just won the SINTO Bob Usherwood Prize, awarded to a student at the University of Sheffield, for the ‘postgraduate dissertation that makes a significant contribution to improving professional practice or understanding related to co-operation and partnership working across sectors in the SINTO area’. This is another good example of promoting practice-focused research. Liz won the prize for her work, Medicine for the Soul: bibliotherapy and the public library. The study investigates the experience of bibliotherapy in the public library from the staff perspective. A PDF file of this dissertation is available from Sheffield University’s database of student dissertations. Bob himself (who always showed exemplary practice in disseminating his own research and has been a long-standing contributor and champion of this issue) was chairing the day. Secondly, two enthusiastic and committed information advisors from Sheffield Hallam’s Learning Centre presented the results of their work introducing information literacy skills to first year undergraduates – and promptly got badgered by Bob and myself about when and where they were intending to publish it…

To round up the day, a panel discussion attempted to debate some of the issues raised – not terribly successfully, but there was definite support for national leadership in this area. As happens so often, I did not feel terribly inspired or confident about an imminent change of culture, but I did leave Sheffield cheerful (as I always do when I get out of the office and chat to colleagues about research), and with an emerging research idea…


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.