#citylis Student Perspectives: David Phillips on his Emerging Research in Libraries & Information Science Workshop Paper

Student Perspectives is our series of guest posts written by current #citylis students.

This post is by current #citylis student, David Phillips.


On Friday August 19th I was one of five presenters at the inaugural Emerging Research in Libraries & Information Science workshop, which was organised by Siobhan Morris, current Library Graduate Trainee at the Institute of Historical Research. The event was designed to provide a platform for those carrying out research in LIS to share their ideas with fellow students and practitioners, so as a part-time MSc Library Science student at #citylis who is currently halfway through my dissertation project I thought this would be a great chance to pull together what I have done so far and get it out there.

The programme for the afternoon was neatly split into two sessions, titled ‘The Changing face of Libraries’, and ‘Impacts of Technology’. First to present was Anne Welsh, on her ongoing PhD research at UCL: Cataloguer as Distant Research Collaborator: Implications of the Use of Catalogue Data in Humanities Research. Anne is examining poet and author Walter de la Mare’s Working Library (held in Senate House), and how it may have impacted on his own work, and she discussed the different ways in which catalogue data, such as that held on the de la Mare collection, could be used by researchers, including quantitative and qualitative analysis, and the use of software such as Voyant Tools.

An idea I found particularly interesting was the potential importance of readers’ annotations in books, and how this could be described by cataloguers in their records. Tools such as Annotated Books Online have attempted to address this within the digital humanities, but Anne argues that annotations could also potentially be much better described within catalogue records themselves as a useful resource for researchers. Overall Anne demonstrated that library catalogues have the potential to not only lead researchers to the books they need, but also to be an invaluable source of information in their own right when properly utilised.

Next up was Joanne McPhie, who spoke on: The Evolution of the Librarian: developments and experiences at Brunel University. Unlike the other presentations, this was not about a piece of Masters or PhD research, but about Joanne’s experiences in her first professional post as a Subject Liaison Librarian and the work of her team at Brunel University Library, following the completion of her Masters course at UCL last year.

As someone who is soon to finish a LIS Masters course myself, I found it very interesting to hear about the kind of work that Joanne has been involved in at this stage of her career. She covered lots of important current issues including Open Access and the library’s role in the research process, research data management, digital literacy, and the potential impact of the Teaching Excellence Framework on academic libraries. I thought this really demonstrated the range of knowledge and awareness required by modern LIS professionals, and how the skills provided by LIS courses can provide a firm grounding for this.

First up in the ‘Impacts of Technology’ session was fellow #citylis student Tom Pink, talking about his ongoing dissertation project: Has the Internet Changed the Way We Think? The effect of the network on user behaviour. This was a fascinating look at Tom’s work so far, examining theories on the impact the internet may have had – with some arguing that it has made us more distracted and less empathetic, and diminished our memories. Tom acknowledged that some writers in this area seem to use such claims as an easy way to generate headlines and sensationalist stories, for example using stereotypes linked to the idea of ‘digital natives’, but that there has also been a lot of serious academic research into the issue. I particularly liked the idea of history repeating itself in the reactions to big changes in the way information is recorded and consumed, going back to Socrates’ dismissal of writing versus memorisation, and continuing with the printing press, the phonograph and so on.

What is apparent though is that the effect of the internet on users is certainly an area of importance for LIS, and one that we should consider when thinking about the ways our users access and consume information, and Tom linked this in with Joanne’s earlier mention of digital literacy programmes being delivered at Brunel. For the next stage of his research Tom will be carrying out a focus group with library staff to draw out opinions and thoughts on the subject.

The penultimate presentation came from Emily Nunn, entitled: Researching Open Access: thoughts from a LIS PhD. Emily’s research is concerned with non-academic users of OA research, with a particular focus on Medicine and Education, and has emerged directly from her MA dissertation project at Sheffield University, which I thought was a great example of the different opportunities that can arise from completing a LIS course. Emily discussed her work so far, being one year into her PhD, covering lots of interesting issues around the development and growth of OA, and the potential implications and opportunities for those outside the academic community.

The idea of the ‘informed patient’ is a key area Emily discussed (see her excellent blog post on this here), with one of the obvious arguments for OA being that people have a right to access academic research that could potentially have a huge impact on their health. However she also wants to take a critical approach to arguments such as these, and examine the other kinds of barriers that may exist even when OA is in place – such as potentially negative reactions from doctors when research is presented to them that they may not agree with. Emily will next be carrying out interviews with stakeholders in the areas of Medicine and Education, as well as people working for OA journals.

Last (but hopefully not least) was my presentation about my ongoing dissertation project: Robots in the Library: gauging attitudes towards developments in robotics and AI, and the potential implications for library services. I aimed to give a brief overview of my work so far and to summarise some of the background reading and research that will go into my finished literature review, including academic theories on the future of AI and robotics in general (shout-out to Floridi), and examples of surveys which have tried to gauge how the public feel about such developments.

I then showed several recent examples of ‘robots in the library’, such as Bob the robotic security guard and Xiaotu the Library chatbot. I was particularly trying to demonstrate how this kind of technology is described and labelled – by its creators and those working with it, as well as those responding in the media and online – and also to show some of the issues that have arisen so far, such as the AI chatbot which was able to ‘learn’ inappropriate content from its users. Also I wanted to highlight that robots are not necessarily just being designed to replace jobs that humans do not want to do, or because they can do certain jobs more efficiently, but also that they have been introduced to provide new services and educate library users in different areas – such as Vincent and Nancy, brought in by a public library in the USA to teach users how to code.

It was rightly pointed out by other attendees at the workshop that on one hand automation in LIS already has a long and established history (e.g. the retrieval robots at the British Library’s Boston Spa site used for its document supply service), but also that there is arguably not enough funding available for libraries to see the wide-scale roll-out of the kinds of experimental robots/AI that I have used as examples. It was very interesting and useful to see this kind of debate being triggered, and this will certainly help to shape how I proceed with constructing my survey and focus groups, which are going to be the next stage of my research to see how library staff and users feel about automation.

It was definitely a good experience (as well as being a little bit nerve-wracking!) to present my research at this kind of event, as it allowed me to focus on and evaluate what I have done so far, as well as to gain some valuable feedback and identify areas I still need to look into. I also really enjoyed hearing about everyone else’s work, and seeing all the connections between the different research and the kinds of topics that are taught and discussed on the course at #citylis. The workshop as a whole provoked lots of interesting debate and comments, both in the room and on Twitter (see #ihrLIS), and it was good to see some familiar faces from #citylis attending and taking part.

Thanks very much to Siobhan and the rest of the team at the IHR Library for organising and hosting such a great event!


You can follow David on twitter.

If you are a current #citylis student or alumni and would like to contribute a post – perhaps you have been on interesting library visit too – please contact our Editor, James Atkinson.

About James

Information Assistant (Academic Services) in the Library at City, University of London.
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