New book on research skills, arriving next month

In late September 2017 a book I worked on will be published:
Luo, Lili, Kristine R. Brancolini, and Marie R. Kennedy. 2017 (In press). Enhancing Library and Information Research Skills: A Guidebook for Academic Librarians. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

I’m especially pleased with the writing I did in Chapter 6, on disseminating research findings. The acquisitions editor said the chapter was a goldmine, and yes, flattery will get you everywhere! Here’s a couple of paragraphs from the start of the chapter, in a section titled, Telling Your Story:

Once upon a time you had a great idea for a research project. You honed your idea until it had an actionable research question, then you selected an appropriate methodology, gathered and analyzed data, and arrived at some findings and possible future research. All of those steps make a story waiting to be told. This chapter is designed to help you decide to whom you want to tell your story and where you want to tell it.

You should think of disseminating research results as having a conversation. If you follow along the academic literature surrounding your research topic, you will notice that in the past, a certain author had something to say about your (or similar) topic. Advance a few years and then a new author references that initial author, adding to or challenging the initial idea. Broaden the scope of that idea and add in more time, and there are multiple authors in the literature who have thought about and commented on a topic similar to yours. Those new authors are responding to ideas of the past, modernizing them, and thinking about them more expansively, effectively creating an asynchronous conversation. Now that you have researched in that area, it is your turn to contribute to the conversation.

If you are looking for a handbook on how to get started with or advancing your skills in library research, consider picking up a copy. It’s full of practical advice and positive vibes.

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Sparklines (and a depressing trend)

Last year I was lucky enough to take a one-day class with Edward Tufte, about presenting data and information. The course itself was wonderful and I got to chat with him for a little bit about challenges in presenting social network data. He signed copies for me of his books that came with the course. All in all, it was a visually inspiring day. In the class I learned about using sparklines (in Microsoft Excel) to show data trends. Within one cell on an Excel spreadsheet one can insert a mini graph that summarizes multiple cells of data.

I took the idea home and decided to track the costs of the library’s e-journal publisher packages over the years, to look at how it has changed. I’ll paste here the trend visualization for some of our packages from 2009 to present. What the sparkline allows you to do in this case is to get real depressed in a quick glance! It is clear that our package costs have escalated over the years, with a rare dip and hardly any leveling off. I don’t aim to solve that problem in this blog post 🙂 but wanted to show off how a small visualization of data can help the viewer quickly understand a general trend.

A sparkline in Excel, showing trends in e-journal package pricing trends

I wonder if you’ve used sparklines in your own work? I’m interested to think about how to apply this with different kinds of library data.

Posted in e-resource mgmt, images, library | 2 Comments

Rolling with the punches while doing research

I recently picked up Allison‘s journal article because I was excited to read about the completed research project of one of the IRDL Scholars. Her project used the mechanism of vignettes to solicit feedback from library patrons about the words they use to describe the services that libraries provide. I wanted to look at the vignettes she ended up using, as well as read through her entire research design. She’s a good writer and it was an easy read, but that’s not what I want to draw your attention to: it’s the transparency of her process.

As I was reading through, I was nodding along during the introduction and literature review, and then arrived at the section on research need. There she states, “To reach faculty who were too busy to schedule focus groups …” and that’s where I thought, “Uh oh, something’s gone wrong.” My guess is that her original intent was to conduct focus groups with faculty but had no luck scheduling them. I understand, everybody’s busy. She didn’t throw in the towel, however, she came up with an alternate plan that she details in this section. Excellent.

I kept reading and ended up in the sub-section of methods, about sampling procedures. Again, “Uh oh.” Here she states that, “it proved more challenging than anticipated to find common times when dividing the groups by student status, so the author decided to mix the statuses in favor of getting more students in each session.” Wow, that could have totally thrown a researcher off her game, but in the article she stated the problem and how she resolved it. Now I’m really impressed. I read on.

In the results section she notes variation in her desired size of the focus groups (“due to illness and no-shows”). Yep, real talk. In the discussion section she states, “At the outset of this project, the author had hoped that user-centered design could help determine the best terms to use across a variety of demographics and disciplines.” So yeah, her original intent didn’t pan out. She continues, “While these results may not provide that, they do serve as a useful guideline when considering how to market and name services.” Heck yes, they do. She comments throughout the discussion about the stated preferences of the focus groups (preference for specific terms rather than general), and how that can affect decision-making in the future. She rolled with it, and we’re all the better for it.

She concludes by saying that, “While the results do not reveal an exact glossary or menu of terms, they do indicate some words to avoid, highlight principles to employ when naming and marketing services, and serve as a guideline for improved advertising and outreach efforts.” That’s actionable. Thanks, Allison, for being transparent in this article about your research design and thought process throughout the project.

Benedetti, Allison. 2017. “Promoting Library Services with User-Centered Language.” portal: Libraries and the Academy. Volume 17, Number 2. 217-234.

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Creating Quiet

When I do deep thinking or writing I have to have a certain environment for myself, or it’s just not gonna happen. I’m not one of those people who can have the radio on in the background, or be in a coffee shop environment where there are visual distractions. My best work is done in a still, quiet work space. Creating this work space for myself has been a challenge since I work inside a bustling academic library on a university campus. This post is to share with you how I’ve organized my sound set-up for thinking/writing.

First: I close my office door. Office doors that close are a luxury, I know. Shoot, even having an office is pretty great. I’m lucky.

Second: I close my email. I’ve already blocked the time in my Outlook calendar, so nobody is going to try and schedule a meeting with me during my reflective time.

Third: Sounds. This is my favorite part to tell you about. I have a Marsona white noise machine (the DS-600A model) that creates a great sound baffle for my office. That machine kind of blocks the background noise in the library. On top of that I wear noise cancelling headphones and tune in to one of three resources, depending on my mood:

  • Calm. I have a subscription to the service for meditation purposes but you can listen to a variety of nature sounds for free on the website.
  • FM3 Buddha Machine. I have the app on my iphone and you can listen to a sample at
  • Rain. I’m still experimenting with this newest edition to my collection of neutral sounds. They also have an app you can download.

Once I’m locked in sound-wise, the environment is perfect for me to just drift away with my thoughts or writing.

I’m interested to learn if you have sounds or an app that you like to listen to in your own writing environment. Please share in a comment below.

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Celebratory organization looks a little different these days

The other day in the office I opened the wrong file cabinet and was confronted with so many hanging folders. I hadn’t been in that file cabinet in a while and looking at those folders reminded me of the way I used to celebrate finishing a project. When I finished writing an article I would print out a copy of the final version and slip it into a file folder and put it in the front of a hanging folder. I’d then print copies of the articles I had cited in that article, and put each in its own folder, with the author’s last name, first name, and date of publication. I alphabetized by last name and put all those articles in the hanging folder, too. I’d put a label on the hanging folder with the title of the article. Gosh, so organized. Gosh, so much paper.

Over the last few years, without intending to, really, my celebratory organization has migrated itself into an online format. I’ve been using EndNote for this purpose. Now when I write an article I’ll create a group with the title of the article, and drag into the group all the references I cited in the article. To each reference I’ve been attaching a clean PDF of the article, and if I’ve marked up a copy with notes or highlights I’ll attach a second PDF with the marked version. I’ve also got a group called “Marie’s writings” where I’ll make a reference for each article, and to that reference I’ll attach a PDF of the publication agreement and a PDF of the final published copy. All neat and tidy, and gosh, no paper or hanging folders.

Also, if anybody needs hanging folders, I have a few empty ones now.

yellow hanging folder

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