I was delighted to be asked to apply for a travel to bursary to attend the final DREaM event at the British Library, having heard about the conference from Professor Hazel Hall whilst presenting at and helping to run the iDocQ information science colloquium held at Edinburgh University in June. It was impressive to see such an international turnout for the conference, with delegates attending from various European nooks and crannies, the United States, Australia as well as my slightly less impressive trip down the west coast mainline from Glasgow.
The day began with Professor Hall’s introduction to the conference and the goals of the DREaM project more widely, where the notion of building a solid foundation in both qualitative and quantitative research methods around a “cadre” of core information science researchers was introduced. The deep and broad infrastructure was impressive with project events previewed, amplified, reviewed and archived through multiple digital and physical conduits.
The numbers stood out as well with 33 official contributors and 213 onsite delegates representing 12 countries from 4 continents (or 5 depending on your geo-political stance!) and an online footprint of over 80 blog posts and over 800 tweets, which is now surely an underestimation if the regular updates on the conference ‘Tweet Wall’ were anything to go by. However, and perhaps most importantly, a research skills audit carried out between the first and third workshops of the DREaM project indicated a growth in theoretical knowledge amongst cadre members, as well as a greater appreciation of various methodological approaches and the resources required to carry these approaches out.
The main themes of the day, examining the value and impact of LIS services, were also introduced by Professor Hall and then picked up and discussed in the opening keynote speech by Professor Carol Tenopir, who examined the issues of service value and impact within the context of the LIB-VALUE project being carried out at the University of Tennessee, of which Professor Tenopir leads the reading and scholarship and journal collections specialisms. She began by discussing how the LIB-VALUE project has tackled the thorny issue of defining value through reference to models that break the term down first as an economic concept that views value variously in terms of an exchange-use value dichotomy (Machlup), second as a three-part concept with economic (private), social (public) and environmental aspects (Kingma) and third as a distinct three-part concept with implied, explicit and derived components. The trick is to then ask the correct sort of questions that allow one to probe these various aspects of value as defined in theory.
Throughout her excellent talk Professor Tenopir examined the use of tools for estimating derived value such as Return on Investment (ROI) and Contingent Valuation (CV), whilst emphasising that their utilisation does not preclude the use of qualitative elements that can help provide a contextual human element to service quantification. Professor Tenopir made one further point in particular that resonated with me; that a reading study cannot simply focus on readers but must also examine readings as well. Not all readings are carry an equal weight in the considerations of the reader you might say and the purpose of individual articles and their perceived utility will vary considerably. A simple point you might think, but one worth re-emphasising when one is tempted to reach only for the relatively simple implied values of usage statistics and download numbers.
Professor Tenopir’s talk was followed by a one minute madness session, an always concise and entertaining (for the audience at least) way to present on a variety of topics. This session was no different, and we were treated to a variety of topics ranging from research into augmented reality in special collections, to a study examining non-users’ perceptions of a public library service and an open invitation to engage in collaborative research with fellow information scientists down in sunny Australia. It was testimony to the hard work and practice that had gone into preparing for the session that many of the participants, in line with many a good action movie, finished rather impressively with that one important second to spare.
Following a lovely lunch Dr Louise Cooke introduced the audience to social network analysis and the importance of understanding networks and their development. Dr Cooke had carried out a social network analysis of the DREaM cadre network and her research highlighted how, as the project progressed, the cadre developed from a vulnerable network to a stronger one showing increases in both network density and research awareness and interaction between cadre participants.
This was followed by a panel discussion that explored some aspects of what the future holds for the DREaM project. The four participants covered topics ranging from accreditation standards, the importance of face to face meetings to the development of the DREaM cadre network, the exploration of longitudinal research that transcends political and research funding ‘short termism’ all the way through to what constitutes the LIS discipline and finding a balance between creating academic silos and encouraging interdisciplinary research.
Dr Ben Goldacre was then called upon to present the LIS Research Practitioner award to the North West Clinical Librarian Systematic Review and Evaluation Group. Dr Goldacre, well known author of Bad Science and all round geek aficionado, gave a passionate talk delving into issues such as academic publication bias, the situation concerning drug companies withholding vital information about their products and how one would go about teaching a group of primary school children to conduct a systematic reviews using a jar of balls.
Some of the main points that Dr Goldacre made concerned the nature of published and unpublished information from drugs trials, the fact that this potentially conflicting information was to be found scattered all over the place and that trials registers have been a bit rubbish in sorting the situation out. His idea is to create Alltrials, essentially a website that pulls in data on trials from every source that can be found, puts that information side by side so that if there are inconsistencies then you can say “hey, that’s a bit weird isn’t it?” But there is still quite a bit of work to go, so if you want to help him or have any ideas then let him know, his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Having dropped in on the final DREaM event I found it to be an excellent opportunity to meet new people as well as meet up with some (comparatively) old faces and learn a lot from those presenting on the day. After saying my goodbyes it was back on the train to Glasgow, however I seem to have overshot my office and find myself now in a warm, sunny and remote corner of Ardnamurchan in the Scottish highlands. So I think I will finish up there, turn off my laptop and enjoy the views.