Announcement re: Library Posts

Due to some weird feed issues, all my posts are going to a “mother blog” associated with the new media seminar I’m participating in this semester. So, the posts I have lined up here I’ve rescheduled to post after the seminar has completed. More on the research agenda (and other library related issues) then!

One Truth, Data Space, and The Limits of Organization (RA 1/2; 1/3)

Last week I posted about research agendas. And a few days before that I posted about reading Bill Viola‘s Will There Be Condominiums in Data Space. And in the following seminar I realized that since grad school I have rarely talked with anyone about my core area of academic interest around libraries.

I say “core area of academic interest” because I’m hard pressed to choose if I prefer this topic over the practical issues associated with libraries, the pedagogical issues of instruction, or the strategic approaches to helping libraries be what they need to be. But, at the end of the day, the one that I’d likely lose myself in is the “academic” one.

So, for my own record I’m going to spend a few posts outlining that area here. In part to help me wrap my head around it. In part to see if any of you share a similar interest. And in part to help me tease out if there are any research projects that should accompany this interest. And, then, if it comes up again in any other conversations, I have a place to point to and the beginning of a discussion in place.

The Grad School Interest

My particular lens on this interest has shifted, but to make sense of it, I’m going to start that the beginning: the interest that was the driving force through grad school. And that is a bit muddy as it stood.

A large part of my interest in graduate school was centered around how the role of people in the discover, creation, and organization changed what it’s possible for the researcher to know. I was actually interested in this in college, and talked with a few professors about what type of PhD would allow exploration of this idea, but everyone said it was too hard to pin down a subject like this (now I realize they might have meant too interdisciplinary).

So, in library school, I took the library school angle. I looked at how the structure we impose on knowledge (Library of Congress, in most academic libraries for example) create the false impression that there is one true way to look at things.

The case study I explored most closely was how feminist science is often shelved with works related to women’s studies, which is no where near the science books in LC classification. Therefore, a science researcher browsing the shelves won’t serendipitously happen upon a feminist critique, and the feminists won’t necessarily see the science books that might include a discussion of feminist approaches amongst others.

Now, obviously, we needed a linear, hierarchical system when we only had paper books and linear shelves to place them on. The catalog changed that a bit, allowing books to be linked by subject headings rather than call number alone, so that it was possible to come across book in other sections that still discussed a topic enough to warrant a subject heading, so that was an improvement. And online catalogs made it still easier to find books formally classified in another section that were still pertinent to one’s primary interest.

Today’s catalogs often search more metadata, sometimes pulling in information from other systems. Amazon and Google Books allow you to search the full text of a book. Summon and Google Scholar allow the full text of books as well as articles to be searched. The problem today is not missing relevant information due to the limitations of searching, but rather the overwhelming amount of information you’ll have to filter through to find the most relevant information for your interest.

Over time I let this interest wane, in part because the writing is on the wall that we’ll have better and better search mechanisms in the online world that will make these former limitations seem as quaint as horse drawn carriages seem today.

Perhaps the more interesting thing to look at today is how one deals with the information they find. Once I realized I could access articles electronically, I went through a phase where I’d spend a lot of time finding and downloading articles, then I’d print a huge number of them. Today I don’t print them, and I only download them after I’ve read through the abstract, etc, but my organization is not what I want it to be. And I haven’t figured out the best way to incorporate them into my research process (often reverting back to printing once I get down to work).

Because once you’ve found the information and have it in your office, home, or on your computer, then the question is how do you find it again? What limitations are part of each of our own systems that make it easier or harder to find just what we need?

I’m going to roughly categorize this line of thinking into two phases (this is part one) and in this phase, there will be three sections (this is section one). Part one section two up next!

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?