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Saturday, 11 July 2015

EBLIP8: Grass, trees and a landscape

By Suzana Sukovic
The excellent EBLIP8 closed on Wednesday, but it opened many possibilities. One is strengthening an often tenuous link between academic and professional silos. And, once we started talking about connections, links were popping up everywhere. If Twitter #EBLIP8 is anything to go by, I wasn’t the only one who responded to this.

The conference was in the middle of Brisbane with its mild winter sun, but you could be forgiven for thinking at times you were in Canada with its mild summer. According to conference statistics, Canadian were not a particularly large group, but they were well-represented as presenters and participants in various discussions because they have a lot to contribute to conversations about the evidence-based practice. In comparison with Australia, Canadians have a well-established EBP and support structures of which most countries can only dream. What we do have in Australia is curiosity, the ability to experiment and innovate, and individuals with significant experience in applied research –- a good start for learning and community-building. 


Grass, bush and a maple tree

The most powerful aspect of the conference for me was thinking of how we can connect individuals and various groups with their different strengths and needs. Grass--tree, rhizome--root metaphors for organisation of information and knowledge, especially in digital environments, have been pretty well-known and very meaningful to me (see Wikipedia page and this explanation). I’ll use the metaphor to sketch a rough landscape of EBLIP groups as glimpsed at the conference (albeit, without drawing skills of some talented library folks).

http://www.inflexions.org/1000platos-1914-14.gif

Grass: An obvious example of a grass-root group is LARK. As LARKs know, face-to-face meetings and events have been organised only in Sydney so far (except the LARK meeting at EBLIP8), but our online group is comprised of people across Australia and the world. A short meeting at the conference with people interested in being involved with LARK showed there is a good will to collaborate and connect. Because LARK is flexible, agile and has an online presence, it can easily link with other groups and take the role of a connector. Its strength is in its lightness. It is a peer-to-peer group and it doesn’t belong to any particular organisation. It also benefits from an association with ALIA.
 

Bush: Like-minded people within the same organisation come together to foster evidence-based practice at their workplace. They have a root structure to be planted within their organisations, but they are small and flexible enough to easily fit into a grassy landscape. Library Research Group at Flinders University, for example, is one of few academic libraries with a thriving peer-support group. Their strength is in their ability to provide face-to-face support and organise team work. Similar groups are not wide-spread, but exist in schools and other organisations. 

ALIA Research Advisory Committee (RAC) has also worked on building research culture by writing the research column in Incite and presenting research workshops at conferences for the last five years. RAC members are scattered across Australia, but exist within the ALIA structure (see ALIA Research).


Maple tree: North American countries have a well-established structure for practice-based research, including defined research roles for academic librarians. A keynote speaker, Virginia Wilson, made us gasp as she was describing support for evidence-based practice at the University of Saskatchewan. Research is part of the academic library role with 20% of work time devoted to research for pre-tenure and 15% for tenured librarians. They have the Centre for of Evidence Based Library & Information Practice which, among many initiatives, provides the Researcher-in-Residence Program. It is open to international applicants if any LARK wants to apply to see what is happening on this maple tree.


There are many excellent examples at North American academic institutions, which provide supportive structures for the EBLIP. It seems, however, that strong institutional structures are largely absent outside universities.


Whole landscape

In the current and future EBP landscape there is space and place for all these groups. What is needed in Australia is a sense of purposeful connection – or landscape architecture -- to extend the metaphor. EBLIP8 has played an important role in providing aspirational models, raising awareness and igniting discussions and connections. There were many excellent papers for modelling and learning, but equally important were conversations, both face-to-face and on Twitter. The conference also provided an excellent forum for quick feedback on some of the ideas.

A fantastic boost for the Australian EBLIP and a hope for a well-designed landscape was announced during the conference. The project to build the basis the evidence based library and information practice, led by professors Helen Partridge and Lisa Given in partnership with ALIA and NSLA, received a Linkage grant from the Australian Research Council. With solid funding and experienced people involved in the project, the dispersed, budding evidence-based community in Australia is looking forward to some tangible outcomes.












 

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