The Importance of a Research Agenda

I’ve been having conversations lately about the importance of a research agenda.

To me, it seems very closely to the discussion of goals that pops up from time to time. Some of my professional friends swear by goals, others swear by taking opportunities as they arise. (My answer, in that debate, is much less about a specific goal and more about choosing activities and opportunities that mesh with my mission.)

Similarly: do you have a single, clear focus for your research projects, or do you take opportunities as they arise? So far, in my professional life, I’ve had a broad topic that I’d classify as my “research agenda” but I also publish on the things I’m doing in my work to help share the ideas that have worked in my experience. I also take opportunities that arise, as well, often writing or preparing talks based on a request someone has made (which is often rooted in either my research agenda or the work that I’m doing).

That means my publishing and presenting is all over the map. I have dealt with instruction, design, and technology most often, because I try to build in a chance to write or speak into any new project I take on and a lot of my work has been in those two realms. I also have written about epistemological connections to library issues, which is closer to my research interest. I have been asked to write on issues related to feminist theory and information ethics, probably due to my academic background in those areas and how I wrote on related topics throughout library school. There doesn’t appear to be a focus in my work but that’s largely because “work” is too broad of a bucket. Some professional involvement is about (essentially) reporting, some is about my research agenda, and some is basically responding to an information need that I’ve been requested to fill.

I’m not sure I’d want it to be more focused than that. I like framing the work this way. It does make me think that perhaps some kind of indicator on a CV could help committees understand more of what they are looking at and the research and professional areas of interest of a given individual.

What do you think? If you’re in libraries: does your research agenda match your job? How much do you feel the pull to stick to your specific research agenda?

New Media for the Fall Semester

I am thrilled to be involved in the Virginia Tech New Media Faculty Seminar this semester. This interdisciplinary group includes staff, faculty, administrators, and grad students from across the university. I’ve been a fan of “New Media” since I first learned it was a thing, and have been desperate to get back into the classroom despite my schedule since getting to Virginia Tech. This seminar seems like a nice balance: the intellectual rewards of participating in a class without having to schedule the time to write papers or study for exams. (I need that time for my own writing at this point, since I’m on the continued appointment track!)

Anyway, we’re kicking off with an excellent reading list using the New Media Reader, starting with Inventing the Medium by Janet H. Murray  and Vannevar Bush’s As We May Think. We also started off the class with some of the classic 1968 videos from Douglas Engelbart:

And the much more recent 2007 Michael Wesch’s

When we had the opportunity to introduce ourselves I talked about how I’ve always been an early adopter (at least in terms of software and communication technology). And a large part of that is because I find that it changes how I view information, and to some extent the world. Libraries/Information Studies seemed like a really good fit given that. I’m really interested in exploring how the changing information/communication/media landscapes impact peoples’ access to information, their ability to learn and contribute back, and, ultimately, their understanding of the world. Library work gives me a concrete “lab” in which to explore this, and the information I find then can be directly fed back into my library work to make the library more relevant. Of course, that’s just one of my major interests in my profession. As any professional knows, there are many reasons I do what I do.

By the end of class, I realized that the LIB100 course I’d taught a dozen or so times was actually more a new media course than an information literacy one. Yes, we learned how to use library resources and navigate the web, but the focus of my sections were always on how the information or media environment was changing, and what that meant for the students going forward. The research was always designed around New Media topics. In fact, we watched the very same Wesch video shown above. We talked about domains, the history of the internet, when they got their first cell phones and how it changed their lives. (Fun fact, computers, internet, and cell phone all were creeping backwards with each class. Every class, though, remembered playing Oregon Trail in elementary school. Only their generation had a color version of the game.) We talked about the evolution of news and how that change impacts the news they have access to. I always thought the class had a Science, Technology, and Society spin to it, but now I realize the particular flavor it had was actually New Media.

So, at this point, I’m seeing this seminar as tied both to my own intellectual interest as well as to my professional field, which is a pretty nice synergy. All participants in the seminar are expected to blog as part of their involvement, so expect New Media related posts throughout this semester. It should be fun, and as I said above, still relevant for the library crowd over here. Happy fall semester, y’all!

The Dog Days of Summer

I seem to remember a time in which summers were calm, and academic years were busy. And I remember the point in which the summers got busier and we all joked about how we’d get through the busy summer and have a restful one again in the future. And I remember the tipping point, where it was clear the summers were always going to be as busy as the academic year.

This is the year in which I realize the summer might be busier than the academic year. I’m working on a small writing project and a big one (more on that later). I’m gearing up for ALA, with a packed schedule as always. I’m working on Barbara Stripling‘s advisory committee, and trying to get some projects off the ground there. And that’s just the work outside of the day job.

At work we’re doing all kinds of exciting things. We’re doing some renovations this summer and will have some really nice space afterwards. We’re doing some work across the organization to identify values as well as to help articulate vision and mission. We’re building a communication team to lead the efforts on getting the word out there about the good work we’re doing. (And out there is not just to the field, but more importantly, to the Virginia Tech community.) The librarians are discussing and evaluating the liaison model, what it means to purchase materials, and how to meet new and emerging needs. We’re beginning to do some really interesting exploration of literacies and pedagogies and the role of the library in those spheres.

It’s so much exciting work, that I swear, not a conversation goes by without a mention of, “hey, there’s an article in that!” If only there were time to write them all!

So it’s busy, but it’s a good busy. Only, if this is a summer lull, I can’t imagine what the fall will bring!