I have officially finished library school! I posted my Masters dissertation off to Newcastle on September 5th in an embarrassingly large padded envelope, drawing a line under formal academic study for the time being. It’s a huge relief to be done and I’ve now had a few weeks to take stock and reflect on the whole process.
My initial thought is how much I have learned since starting the dissertation in January, both theory and practice. There’s nothing like an assignment to force you to read around the literature and see what other people are doing. I can now tell you all about hybrid and digital libraries, collection development, user studies, music library user studies and user format preference studies. I can tell you a little about mixed methods research methodologies and data analysis. This process has also greatly boosted my confidence in undertaking workplace research and was (I think) a successful first foray for me into quantitative and qualitative research. This type of research is becoming more and more important for librarians, especially in the academic sector, so having completed a meaty research study already is great.
My next thought is, I’ve now (well almost) got the piece of paper, was it worth it? And, possibly more importantly, will it help advance my career? This is an ongoing debate in librarianship, and now having done the course I think the piece of paper is valuable. As a seasoned library professional recently told me, work experience is crucial but librarians need to at some point study the theory of librarianship and information science. I tend to agree but on the other hand, it was very expensive and I feel this is a major barrier, especially when you can learn so many aspects of the work on the job. As far as career advancement goes, nearly every professional library job requires this degree so it’s great to be able to meet this criteria now. However this debate will continue to rage I’m sure.
A few random tips I jotted down along the way:
- Plan, plan, plan. A multi-pronged study like mine involving various partners and institutions only worked because of good planning and project management. Of course the plan went out the window after I had collected all my data but my Gantt chart was crucial up to that point.
- Listen to your supervisor, mine gave good advice and also was marking it so I had to swallow my pride at some points and take the suggestions on board.
- Take good notes and record citations as you go, it might be relevant later. I found this out when facing a major research challenge and re-read my notes out of desperation only to find a potential solution in a paper I’d read during my lit review.
New, very useful apps:
- Zotero – Absolute life saver this! It’s a reference management app, similar to EndNote but it’s free and more user friendly and doesn’t require logging into a Desktop Anywhere-type thing (a real hassle on Mac). You can download extensions for your browser and Word and save citations online with one click and then cite in your document. It even formats your bibliography for you!
- Picktochart – I used this when I couldn’t get Excel to do charts how I wanted. It’s an infographic website, very easy to use and helps to makes your data more visually appealing through its in-built design, colour schemes, icons, etc.
- I never found a good app solution for organising my research notes. Twitter friends suggested Scrivener and Evernote, but I stuck with my epic-ly long Word doc in the end because it would have taken to long to convert the notes retrospectively. Scrivener looked really good but was a bit pricey. I already use Evernote for my blog and other things.
The dissertation journey is not quite done as I’ll be presenting my research at the upcoming LISDIS (Library and Information Science Dissertations) conference in November and the IAML (UK & Irl) conference next April. Last but not least I graduate in December with my MA Information and Library Management – assuming I pass!
I thought doing an update about my dissertation might be timely since I’m approximately half-way through now. My title is “The Hybrid Music Conservatoire Library: A Mixed Methods Study of Leeds College of Music Library Users’ Format Preferences.” My aim is to investigate students’ resource format preferences at our library with the main outcome being making recommendations about any changes needed in what resources we buy/subscribe to (i.e. our collection development policy). Essentially I’m looking at what people say they want and what they actually use in terms of resource formats. This is why it’s a mixed methods approach since I’m combining qualitative (the former) and quantitative (the latter) methods.
I have just finished my fieldwork and am now into data analysis…a statement I never envisaged myself ever writing! This whole process of social science research has been completely new to me and I’ve found it a pretty steep learning curve. My other Masters dissertation was solely historical (and what I now know is termed) “desk” research. I read loads and did some original research using primary sources, but it was essentially a solo job of me working with my laptop and the sources. This time around though, I’m doing fieldwork with all that entails – getting permissions and consent, ethical considerations and checks, working with other people, relying on other people and external pressures/risks. It’s definitely been a challenge but I think it will stand me in good stead for the future since this type of research is being undertaken more and more by librarians today.
Data analysis is also a completely new skill and it hasn’t helped that there aren’t many examples in the literature of similar studies I can draw from – though that is also a good thing since my research is apparently fairly original! I’m using Excel for the quantitative data and have yet to look at the qualitative but I think Survey Monkey does a lot of analysis for you. My main hang up is comparing print loans to online usage, a problem for which I don’t think there is a satisfactory solution since different things are counted. For example does one print book loan equal one e-book page view, or 10 e-book page views, or 1 session/log-in? How many online audio track plays equals 1 CD loan? I feel it’s an apples to oranges problem, so I’m planning to just broadly compare them.
Here are a few reflections on my dissertation process from this mid-way point:
- Utilise your support structures. The main thing I’m learning is asking for help and support when I need it. Rather than stressing out because I feel out of my depth, I’m trying instead to get in touch with my supervisor or a colleague for advice. Seems like a no brainer, but I did have to be told to do this at one point – remember my independent working style mentioned earlier!
- Planning is essential. We had to include a research plan/timetable as part of the research proposal. I did mine as a Gantt chart and it has proved really helpful both in terms of making sure everything gets done on time and also giving me peace of mind to know I haven’t forgotten something and that I’m really making progress. Planning has also been key to managing the project when I’ve been relying on other people for go ahead or decisions to be made. The survey element of my research ended up being very problematic and I eventually developed two different options because external circumstances meant I wouldn’t know until the last minute which one would go ahead.
- Spend time on your research aims and objectives at the beginning, and then revisit them regularly. This was advice they gave at the study school and it has been so right. I revised and fine-tuned my aims and objectives a lot at the beginning and now I have been going back to look at them regularly when I think “What am I doing again?” or “Why I am doing xyz?”. They’ve been a helpful touchstone for remembering the big goals and how I set out to achieve them when I get lost in the nitty gritty of fieldwork. I have yet to post them up somewhere visible, which was also recommended – if only I had a home office!
What was your dissertation/research experience like? Please share in the comments!