LIS DREaM Workshop 2: British Library
The second in the LIS DREaM (Developing Research Methods and Excellence) workshop series was held at the British Library conference centre in London. Anybody who talked to me is probably aware I was delighted by this, as the lengthy sleeper train journey was replaced by strolling out of my flat at 9am. If we ignore my journey-related opinions though, this second workshop proved to be a stimulating day, and this post will briefly outline my thoughts on the speakers.
There are some great resources on the DREaM website that relate to each session, and loads of discussion on Twitter under the #lis_dream3 hashtag – I’ve provided links below, and you can find interviews, summaries and videos of each presentation there. Well worth checking out if any of the topics grab your attention.
Peter introduced us to user involvement in research. His background as a health service user, campaigner, and academic researcher meant that he was able to give an extremely considered overview of an area of research that is full of ethical and methodological difficulties. In particular, I found the idea that users may actually be “all consulted out” particularly relevant to my own research, which relies on user input through interviews, surveys and focus groups. If research is so strongly user-centred, then surely it’s essential that service users are able to see their input reflected in outcomes and policy.
It’s also well worth checking out We Are Not Stupid, from the Shaping Our Lives network, for a great example of research instigated, undertaken and published by users. I really believe that users want to be involved in improving services, and this is a great example of how user-led research can act as a democratising force.
History, in the view of Thomas, is the study of things that change over time, and their presentation in a narrative form. He outlined the emergence of historical work in the information sector, and in particular the changing landscape of library and information studies in higher education. I guess it would be fair to say that the theories that I’ve been developing for my own work are historically informed, rather than historical, and accordingly I took away two important points. Firstly, the idea that we must try to understand what people in history thought they were doing, rather than place their actions into modern modes of understanding. Secondly, the need concentrate on a particular historical approach, in order to make a manageable research topic.
I was already familiar with Mike’s work, having attended a talk on the Toolkit for the Impact of Digitised Scholarly Resources last year. As he explained, some of these metrics can be extremely useful in mining information from publicly available web resources, and work extremely well in conjunction with qualitative methods. His comments on sentiment analysis of social network communications, though, were extremely interesting. Since the launch of Google Ngrams I’ve been thinking a lot about the quantitative analysis of large literary datasets, and was fascinated to see one emerging strategy for allowing systems to ascertain meaning in large datasets. Indeed, this may help to address some of the concerns that have been expressed about quantitative literary analysis.
Nick’s talk about his involvement in high-level policy research made for an interesting end to the day. He presented an extremely honest account of his time with the Policy Studies Institute, and provided a great deal of useful advice for early career researchers such as myself – don’t be too generalist, don’t ignore criticism, and don’t get too far ahead if you want policy-makers to listen!
Nick also gave one piece of advice that any researcher should keep in mind: “express your research in one clear, unambiguous sentence.” It chimes with discussions that we’ve been having in the UCL Department of Information Studies that culminated in the creation of the #tweetyourthesis hashtag, which saw research students from around the world summing up their research in less than 140 characters. For anybody who’s interested, our attempts are here on the UCL DIS blog, and there’s been plenty of discussion about both the benefits and potential downsides of sharing your research in such an abbreviated manner. Me? I’m all for it: since starting my PhD I’ve kept a document on my hard drive that sums up my research in one sentence. It’s proven invaluable, and gives me a way to refocus my own thinking when I begin to lose track of myself. I’d recommend anybody starting their research to do the same!
Overall, then, it was an extremely useful and thought-provoking day. One last comment on the transport issue – my flight and hotel are already booked for Edinburgh in April, and combined they cost as much as coming by train. Lesson learnt there!