Today marks the end of the #23researchcam programme. The last Thing involves the ultimate research tool – the library! As a lifelong library user, and a librarian, I thoroughly approve of framing libraries as such, and I feel very strongly about the importance and centrality of a good library to the research process. I take my responsibility as a supporter and facilitator of learning and research very seriously, and I’m likewise always incredibly impressed by the knowledge, dedication and passion of my fellow librarians, within and outside Cambridge, in academic and non-academic library sectors.
This is really crucial: a library is not just the shelves of books or collections of electronic resources made available to its users. A library is made by the people who work in it – their expertise, deep experience, and enthusiasm and support are vital for the creation and continuation of a flourishing research community. I frequently have conversations with users who are surprised by the services offered by my library, the areas of responsibility of its staff, and our knowledge of obscure resources. I’m sure my fellow librarians can all recall a number of conversations that begin, ‘I didn’t know the library did this!’ To give you the idea of a typical library assistant’s week, this week my work has ranged from typical enquiry-desk duties (answering users’ questions, issuing and returning books and so on) to meeting fellow ‘Data Champions’ (bioinformaticians, psychiatry PhD students, and other researchers) as the start of a programme teaching and advising researchers in our department about research data management, and from developing a search strategy for a systematic review to meeting library users for a series of one-to-one literature search support training sessions. I’ve also been tweeting about resources, editing our library website, and teaching myself how to use a new project management tool.
I have also had the good fortune to experience fantastic libraries from the other side of the enquiry desk, as a user of public libraries and school libraries throughout my childhood and beyond, and of academic libraries as an undergrad, MPhil and PhD student. I still have very fond memories of the librarians who ran my local public library (especially their Saturday morning children’s programme, and their extensive nonfiction collection which formed the basis of many school assignments in those years before the ubiquity of the internet). I spent long hours in the excellent Fisher Library at the University of Sydney during my undergrad years, poring over its various medieval language dictionaries, and borrowing books and journals for which I seemed to have been the sole borrower since the early twentieth century. During my MPhil and PhD, I was privileged to be a user of the English Faculty Library here in Cambridge, which remains my standard for academic libraries, and the example of whose staff I always try to emulate in my daily work. I am incredibly grateful for the existence of those – and other – libraries, and in particular for their staff, without whose support I would not be where I am today.
This post is getting pretty long and rhapsodic, so I’ll try and wrap things up with a couple of reflections on the 23 Research Things programme as a whole. I’ve found it to be a positive experience overall. I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on my own practice and knowledge, and my increased awareness of resources and spaces likely to be used by the students and researchers I support. In some cases, this has led to me making changes to practice, while in others it has affirmed my belief in my current approaches to certain resources and platforms. It’s also been great to see so many participants from different backgrounds taking part in the programme and learning from their experiences. If I had one issue with the programme, it’s a fairly minor quibble, but I think it’s worth raising: some Things required signing up with specific resources, including some that I was not interested in using (Linkedin springs immediately to mind) and was unlikely to be persuaded to use. I think if a similar programme were to run in the future, it might be better to focus on activities and resources that can be used without requiring a login. Of course users would be free to create accounts with those resources if they appealed, but removing the requirement to sign up on specific platforms would certainly be preferable to me. I understand that, at bare minimum, participants would still need a Twitter account and a blog on a platform of their choice, but I feel that a login on other platforms is unnecessary (or could be avoided by creating a set of guest accounts, which is what I provide for participants in certain training courses I run).
Overall, I’ve enjoyed participating in 23 Research Things. I’m really happy that Georgina and the team at the Moore Library took the effort to put something like this together – so thanks very much for all your hard work! I’m keen to hear what my fellow participants thought of the programme, and look forward to hearing what they do with their newfound knowledge of resources and research skills in the future.