Practitioner Research – The Workplace Scholar

| November 10, 2010

As you may recall, I spent last week working myself into a tizzy over my first public-speaking engagement. I desperately tried to hone my skills, mostly using public-speaking podcasts as my training mechanism. Friday night, I flew out to Milwaukee to present the following morning at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Information Studies Student Research Symposium.

The results were…okay. I was not the best nor was I the worst. My voice trembled uncontrollably for the first two minutes, but I rallied and my tone improved after that. I was not expecting perfection, and went in with the attitude that this was practice and a learning experience…and it was.

The biggest lesson I learned is that genuine enthusiasm for your presentation topic transcends talent—passion trumps speaking skill. My favorite presenter from the Milwaukee event, Shannon Barniskis, had both talent and fervor. Her presentation, “Public Practitioner-Researchers: A Call for Research Informed by Praxis” was an investigation of library science authorship. Shannon analyzed over 400 LIS journal articles from 2009, and found that only 2% were written by public librarians, a marked absence from the literature. She argued that practitioner research is valuable not only for in-house use but for the LIS community as a whole: public libraries have to work with the widest demographics and often with the smallest budgets. Unfortunately, the latter is what prevents most practitioner research. Public libraries are so tightly squeezed that librarians do not have the time or tools to perform journal-quality research. Also, many public librarians simply do not possess research skills—only a small portion of MLIS programs offer research methods coursework (which makes me ever the more grateful that UWM, my school, offers multiple graduate-level courses in LIS research methodology).

Shannon also touched on the simple lack of desire for public librarians to publish. This comes as no surprise—generally speaking, the people who are attracted to librarianship are altruistic introverts, lacking the cut-throat desire for a publication-stuffed CV. The few who do have the publication-bug, well, they become LIS professors.

If the goal is an increase of practitioner research, a tailor-made incentive must be laid out for librarians, and tugging at the selfless-librarian heartstrings is the best method. Librarians, with the lowest self-worth, need to recognize how important their work is and how publishing their work will help the field as a whole—the more work published, the more attention will be drawn to the library field which could result in political influence and monetary gain.