November 21, 2017

Researcher: What You Got? | Office Hours

Michael StephensLet’s take some advice from sex columnist Dan Savage to improve connections between research and practice.

A recent opinion piece from Singapore’s Straits Times recently made the rounds on Facebook. “Prof, no one is reading you” by Asit K. Biswas and Julian Kirchherr explores the idea that most scholarly output disappears into our databases, CVs, and tenure dossiers, without much readership. “An average academic journal article is read in its entirety by about 10 people,” the op ed piece says, calling for professors to seek exposure of their work in mainstream media. Research, the authors argue, used to sway policy and inform practice across multiple disciplines. Now, not so much.

I’d argue there is definitely a disconnect between LIS professors’ scholarly output and the practice of librarianship. Of course, there are some valuable, noteworthy studies—funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and other entities—that have influenced libraries and librarianship. But what of the plethora of articles published annually by professors like me, deep in the tenure track, building a record of research? Are they mired behind paywalls where no one will see them unless they actively seek them out?

What learners need

Take a look at the newest Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, (Vol. 56, No. 2), now an online journal available by subscription and through the usual aggregator databases. I’m struck by the pertinence and usefulness of the articles. For example, “Competencies for Information Professionals in Learning Labs and Makerspaces” by Kyungwon Koh and June Abbas. Their literature review presents a quick trip through the history of Maker spaces and touches on emerging competencies for library staff. Koh and Abbas suggest key competencies needed for successful job performance in learning labs and Maker spaces, including the ability to learn, adapt to changing situations, collaborate, advocate for the learning lab or Maker space, and serve diverse people. The discussion of the findings points to interesting ideas, mapping most of the competencies to coordinating competencies from associations such as the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), American Association of School Librarians (AASL), and Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). The “ability to learn” and “ability to adapt to changing situations” are not currently mapped to any competencies promoted by one of our associations. If you’ve read this column over the years, you’ll recognize those as rallying cries for our profession.

Koh and Abbas argue, “Knowledge on what users need and how they learn should be a key takeaway for LIS students. The focus of LIS programs needs to be user-centered.” Amen. My takeaway is the further revamping of curriculum, away from resources, toward user populations’ needs and views. What hiring or strategic planning librarian wouldn’t benefit from this study?

Putting it out there

Savage’s Lovecast podcast features a segment called “What You Got?” highlighting recent studies from sex and relationship researchers. Savage gives scholars a few minutes of airtime to report on how their findings might relate to listeners. What a brilliant way to get the word out about research! Maybe a similar segment could find its way to Steve Thomas’s “Circulating Ideas” podcast, a show I always enjoy.

Conference planners, too, should seek to bridge this divide, inviting academics and practitioners to the same panels and building tracks that allow interested librarians to sample bite-size versions of recent findings. Most Januaries, the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) meets in the same city as the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting. Let’s mix it up, spend a day together talking about studies such as the Koh and Abbas piece. I would also recommend that Midwinter include a researcher stage (or podium or corner) on the show floor from which researchers could present their work. We should also advocate for more open access journals that make it easier to tweet, post, and share links to pertinent research.

Make it happen

A warning to scholars seeking to crossover: be mindful of writing style. I review manuscripts for a handful of journals and more than once have zoned out trying to make it through a statistics-heavy, stuffy analysis of a research project that could have been made so much more interesting with a story-like narrative that still fits within the academic template. Maybe that’s one reason I’ve always been drawn to qualitative research: its descriptions of experiences and phenomenological explorations. I feel lucky to have been able to weave my own research into my presentations at state associations and elsewhere.

I invite LIS researchers to send me some of their research from which practitioners might benefit. We’ll revisit the idea of “What You Got” with those findings in a future column.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens ( is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA



  1. Warren Cheetham says:

    Readers may be interested in checking out a brilliant service that started in Australia – The Conversation:

    From their website:
    “The Conversation is an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public.”
    “We will:
    •Unlock the knowledge of researchers and academics to provide the public with clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.
    • Support and foster academic freedom to conduct research, teach, write and publish. “

  2. I think this is a great idea, and I think it would help to give a plug to Open Access efforts, which are trying to bring research to more than just the people and institutions who can afford high academic journal subscription fees. So: let’s encourage researchers to explore publishing at OA publications and let’s encourage publications to go OA and let’s encourage new OA publications to start up!