The Institute for Research Design in Librarianship (IRDL)

This June I had the privilege of participating in the inaugural Institute for Research Design in Librarianship (IRDL) at Loyola Marymount University, and I would like to encourage any and all VREPS members interested in conducting original research to look into this opportunity. IRDL is part of a three year IMLS grant funded project to provide a learning opportunity and support system for librarians who want to improve their research skills. In response to a documented lack of research preparation in library school curricula, Kristine Brancolini and Marie Kennedy conceived of the institute to be a research design boot camp and an opportunity for library researchers to develop personal learning networks.

Participants applied between December 1, 2013 and February 1, 2014 with proposals for research projects that they were interested in pursuing. Throughout the institute, participants applied what they were learning to their research project so that they could pursue it after returning to their institutions. The institute was all-expenses-paid for participants and took place between June 16th and 26th on the Loyola Marymount campus in Los Angeles. Participants lived in on-campus apartments and spent their days in conference rooms and computer labs in the library.

The institute’s curriculum covered both qualitative and quantitative research methods, data collection, and data analysis as well as the process of formulating a research question, writing a literature review, designing study instruments, and navigating the publishing process. An additional focus of the institute was on personal learning networks and the tools and platforms for achieving and maintaining meaningful professional relationships in online spaces. The instructors included Lili Luo and Michael Stevens (both Assistant Professors at the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science), and Greg Guest, Lead Instructor at Social Research Solutions.

The daily routine of the institute combined instructional sessions, lectures, and writing sessions during which participants had time to consult with the instructors and one another about their projects. Breakfast and lunch were catered on weekdays and doubled as opportunities for the participants to bounce ideas off one another. Some evenings included reading assignments or exercises related to the next day’s curriculum but, for the most part, participants were free to use the hours after 5pm as they liked.

The participants’ projects varied widely but it was impossible for me not to notice how underrepresented visual resources were among the research topics. I would highly recommend IRDL to any VREPers out there who have in mind a project or a study they would like to pursue. My project, a comparative study of user- and cataloger-assigned subject terms for images, was something I had been interested in doing since library school and IRDL offered me the perfect opportunity to finally develop and pursue it with my institution’s support. Among the other projects, the topics of information and data literacy, library instruction, and assessment were heavily represented.

IRDL is aimed towards academically appointed librarians and curators with little to no research experience with the aim of reconciling the lack of research design taught in library school with the research and publishing expectations present in most promotion and tenure processes. The application process involves writing an application form, cover letter, an abstract, a description of the project you’d like to pursue, a CV/resume, and a letter of support from your library director or dean.

The institute as a whole is an intense experience with long days and an enormous amount of material to absorb in a short amount of time but I found the experience and the content helpful and empowering. In addition to the crash-course in research design, the institute offers an extraordinary system of support among participants and instructors to help you move forward with your project once you’ve returned to work. To track social media discussions about IRDL on twitter and the participants’ blogs, see the IRDL blog, which links to much of this material.

Aside from the ability to design and publish interesting and meaningful research, I found that the institute enabled me to bring a critical eye to library literature that I wasn’t capable of before. This has made me a more rigorous reader and a more thoughtful researcher because it requires me to constantly review what I learned at IRDL and put that education to work by thinking about others’ projects.

If you’re interested in learning more about the experience or want to discuss a potential IRDL project, please feel free to email me (hmm88_at_cornell_dot_edu). I am happy to help and always eager to hear about other peoples’ projects!


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