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Sunday, 12 July 2015

Towards a teaching library: connecting academia and the profession

By Suzana Sukovic

The disconnect between academics and professionals in the library and information sector has puzzled me for many years. Like many others, I am interested in both and, surely, they have a lot in common. In Australia, LIS is a relatively small field, struggling for many years for its rightful place in the increasingly complex knowledge landscape. It would be reasonable to think that academia and practice could gain more ground if we worked together. But, somehow, the connection has remained elusive. On the other hand, listening to what has been happening in other applied fields, I’ve heard a lot about medical students in hospitals and academics’ ‘clinical days’; architects-academics whose main claim to fame are their building projects; engineers-academics who are valued industry consultants and I’ve seen many teachers-to-be in real classrooms. It seemed logical that we should have something like ‘teaching hospitals’ and ‘training schools’, and that our academics could be industry consultants on a regular basis as well. The concept of a ‘teaching library’ has been on my mind for a while, but EBLIP8 has finally promised a right environment to put my thoughts together and present a paper. Lively discussions with the audience after my presentation, conversations during the conference and comments on Twitter have clearly indicated that it was a good time to start this conversation. It may be that LIS needed a high-pressure situation, which came with digital technologies and many new players, to learn more from our disciplinary neighbours. In any case, many people at EBLIP8 seem to think the same as me about the ‘teaching library’: ‘Really, why not?!’Annotated slides are available here.

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).

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.


Thursday, 2 July 2015

#DH2015 with a woman’s touch

Digital Humanities 2015, University of Western Sydney, 29 June-3 July 2015

By Suzana Sukovic

It was a great day, Digital Humanities. After 15+ years of following, I thought I moved on to other things. But, you moved on too, and here we are again... More importantly, you haven’t quite become a well-established field yet. Actually, there is so much going on to keep many different people interested. And that makes you, DH, still interesting.

I have to say I’ve been having my doubts about all the DH inclusiveness talk for quite a while. Last week Scott Weingard posted a very interesting analysis on why women are so well represented in the audience and so poorly on the speaker’s podium. To simplify his more complex argument, male DH movers and shakers (and they are the majority) aren’t keen on all the talk about culture and other soft topics. They don’t like strange names that aren’t clearly male or female either. That’s what Weingard’s quantitative and digital analysis indicates – and, in machines we trust. 

The real shakeup, however, came with the announcement of the keynote address this morning. Deb Verhoaven from the Deaken University started lightly and inconspicuously before she launched into a DH version of the “misogyny speech”. Funnier and friendlier than Julia Gillard’s speech (for a reason), Verhoaven delivered the same poignant message about a “parade of patriarchs” seen at DH during the previous sessions. I hope that someone made a recording and will share the speech and the reaction in the audience. It nearly ended with a standing ovation. 

It was an unexpected moment of inspiration followed by Genevieve Bell’s fantastic keynote address. Who knew that a talk about the history of robots could be so interesting? History, culture, perceptions and human hope to breathe life into things, combined with funny situations when an anthropologist met a full room of engineers in the Silicon Valley 20 years ago, came together in a fascinating talk about people and machines. Most likely accidentally, Bell illustrated Weingard’s point that women like to talk about culture. And the audience was delighted – just look at the Twitter stream #dh2015.

The second plenary session was shared by a panel on the Indigenous Digital Knowledge. Hart Cohen, Peter Radoll, Susan Beetson, Julia Torpey and Peter Read (convener) discussed the use of technology in ways meaningful for Indigenous people. Peter Read referred to the project A History of Aboriginal Sydney* to discuss possibilities of a 3D presentation of spaces significant in Aboriginal history. He asked the audience to think how imagination and technology can open uncovered perspectives and lead to deeper historical understanding. Peter Read said that all his life he studied place and people and now wonders about uncovering emotions of the past.

It seems, after all, that the Program Committee had a good sense of the Other when they planned plenary sessions today. Listening is also a good sign of a healthy, vibrant field.

There were many excellent papers delivered in English with many accents by both (all?) genders. I can’t do them justice, but glimpses of a great range of papers and a sense of engagement can be seen on Twitter and notes by Geoffrey Rockwell.

*The website has been recently transferred to another server which caused some glitches. They will be corrected soon.