Thursday, February 1, 2018

Connecting Research to Practice and Practice to Research: A Brief (Fun!) Introduction, by Abigail Phillips

scrabble letters spelling data across the face of an open book

Back when I was in library school, I had few expectations concerning what I would learn or how it would apply to my previous experience work in libraries. (I didn’t plan on beginning this post the way it happened, but here we are.) I started my MLIS program in what was then the School of Library and Information Studies at Florida State University with the goal of becoming a librarian, learning whatever I needed to learn to become that librarian. I wish I could say that I had an interest in LIS scholarship beyond what an instructor required me to read as part of a course. But I didn’t. That’s why I think it’s a bit funny that I ended up with a PhD in Information Studies.

Looking back, I didn’t even have a solid understanding of what “research” meant, how it worked, or why it is important for practice. Our field is not alone in an often perceived divide between research and practice. Between academics and practitioners. In my postdoctoral fellowship, I work within education where there are similar discussions about this division. Now that I spend the majority of my day researching, writing, and reading about LIS and related fields, I have an improved perspective on the impact of research on practice and practice on research. I’ve also taught MLIS and professional development courses where I’ve introduced research principles, approaches, and examples in practice. For instance, the following two paragraph could be one example.

In an IMLS-funded study I’ve been contributing for the past year and a half, we’ve worked with school and public librarians to develop an understanding of what supports they need to provide STEM-oriented Making in their libraries. We began by observing librarian practices as they went about everyday responsibilities in their libraries and then used what we learned to develop professional training materials, potential library design hypotheses, and a framework for library teen program development.

What we observed in the library, supported by our understanding of LIS, education, and learning science scholarly literature, aided us in developing early findings and possible directions for additional research. Later formal interviews with the librarians participating in our study helped clarify the needs, constraints, and opportunities within their daily jobs that may not have been as clear during observations. A mixture of research methods, librarian supplied materials (such as program flyers and school newsletters), and participation in library program development added to even more data to analyze and make sense of for sharing.  

With an example of research supported practice in mind, I want to return to talking about the divide between research and practice. Others have explored the communication challenges between LIS researchers and librarians, describing librarians as indifferent to conducting or participating in research, unknowledgeable about conducting scholarly research, and focused instead on the day-to-day activities of library work (something I completely understand as a former public librarian). The piece I read suggests that researchers make more of an effort to publish in practitioner publications. This makes sense on the surface, but usually the tenure push is for publishing in traditional peer reviewed journals.

It is part of the culture and norms of academia that hinders communication between LIS researchers and those in the field. But the question I have is whether or not librarians will actually read articles in trade publications or see the value. Thinking back to my librarian life, I had little time or energy to read about research or discussion seemingly unconnected to my work. This post will not end with an answer but instead, encouragement more continued conversation.

There are no easy answers here. I think about this a lot, but even I struggle sometimes communicating to librarians the research I do and how it relates to real world librarianship. This should be an easier conversation because we both, researchers and practitioners, benefit from sharing discoveries, practices, and understandings.

Abigail Phillips, PhD is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences at Utah State University. Her research interests include digital youth, cyberbullying, empathy, libraries, librarianship, information ethics, and making. She can be found by email:, Twitter: @abigailleigh, or website:

No comments:

Post a Comment