LIS research - A DREaM come true?

The current state of LIS research, and the benefits of cross-disciplinary research projects, were discussed at the latest DREaM conference.

The LIS DREaM (Developing Research Excellence and Methods) conference, which took place at the British Library in July 2011 was opened by Professor Hazel Hall, Executive Secretary at Library and Information Science Research Coalition, who provided a review of the DREaM project to date and information on plans for future events.  Hazel highlighted the objective of the DREaM project being long term collaboration that can have real impact. The challenge for DREaM is to facilitate the mainstreaming of its work beyond the 12 month funding period.

LIS research in context

A historical view of UK LIS research was provided by the opening keynote speaker, Professor Blaise Cronin, Rudy Professor of Information Science at Indiana University. Cronin noted that LIS research tends to talk to itself and as such is not effective in communicating its findings and value to other disciplines.  Cronin acknowledged the weaknesses in LIS research and that it needs to show value across multiple disciplines to have any real impact. Cronin noted that barriers were being broken whereby LIS research was now being cited across other disciplines and identified a correlation between this new audience and the growth in co- and hyper-authorship across a variety of disciplines. This was a thought provoking presentation which identified that if LIS education is to remain dynamic, there is a requirement for LIS faculties to acquire staff from a variety of disciplines.

Current research projects - in one minute

The One Minute Madness session allowed delegates to talk for one minute about current LIS research being carried out. The variety and scope of projects presented is again testament to LIS research as a diversifying domain. From Bethan Ruddock’s research on how library management systems can make book recommendations to David Haynes’s research on the use of social networks in the workplace to Paula Goodales examination of online narratives. While only one minute is allowed per presenter, each provided a concise description of their research.  The ability to present in one minute also requires that the researcher has a clear understanding of their research question and the scope of their project. This speed dating approach introduces the audience to each research area and allows the researcher the opportunity to pitch their research to a captive audience. It would be madness if the impact of these projects is no longer than one minute.

Cross-disciplinary research

Four concurrent breakout sessions followed and my choice was to participate in the session entitled “Stepping out of the comfort zone by collaborating across disciplines” lead by Professor Sara Rankin and Gina Czarnecki. Rankin, a specialist in Leukocyte and Stem Cell Biology, and Czarnecki, an artist, writer and filmmaker have been working together on the Palaces project. An unlikely collaboration one might think but what Rankin and Czarnecki ooze is the desire to educate. A collaboration between art and science, Palaces seeks to promote education and advancement in stem cell research through the creation of a collaborative sculpture made from teeth. Rankin and Czarnecki described a compelling story of how their paths crossed, a common interest was realised and they began to work collaboratively. While neither come from a LIS background, they are both skilled information providers.  This is an inspirational project that will have a real and genuine impact through education on advancements in stem cell research as well as the creation of a public sculpture. This session also provided some practical insights into the funding process for multi-disciplinary collaborative projects. Given the current cutbacks in arts funding, most of the funding came from the science arena.

Gaining respect and courting the media

The closing keynote was delivered by Dr. Dylan Evans, currently a lecturer in Behavioural Science at University College Cork.  Evans having come from linguistics, through psychoanalysis, to philosophy is no stranger to cross-disciplinary research. Adopting a philosophical approach, Evans makes an analogy between libraries and the information silos of the mind. While Evan’s himself exudes confidence in multidisciplinary research and appears to have no 'uncomfort' zone, he emphasised the need for LIS to embrace the skills and knowledge of other disciplines in carrying out collaborative research. A self-confessed “media whore”, Evans pointed to the fact that LIS researchers need to 'flirt across disciplines' in order to obtain the respect and support of other disciplines.

Impactful research

The conference allowed for a time of privileged reflection on what constitutes LIS research; where the disciplinary boundaries lie; and how we can harness multi-disciplinary research relationships that will provide for real and lasting impact. The challenge remains to achieve this objective which requires the cooperation of not only the LIS community but of 'outsiders'.

In the DREaM, there are no outsiders. Long live the DREaM.

The next LIS DREaM event takes place in October 2011.