Thursday, 31 May 2012

Thing 5 Part 2 - Reflecting on Impact

23 Things for Professional Development: librarians' career development

Thing 5: Reflective Practice

I subscribe to THE in a personal capacity, so I get my own copy to read on the subway or at work-breaks.  But my reading isn't always totally up-to-date, and that's how I came to be reading Paul Manners' article, 'Ripping Yarns' in the audiology waiting room this morning, despite it having been published a fortnight ago.*

Now, Paul Manners is Director of the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, which 'supports researchers to develop the quality and impact of their engagement with the public'.  Impact and public engagement are therefore of paramount importance to him, and justifiably so.  And he believes that the REF (research excellence framework) process correctly asks researchers to identify the impact that their work has had, and the extent to which they have engaged with the public - which has, after all, helped fund their research.

Okay, where is this going?, you might ask.  We're librarians, not researchers.  True.  However, as I read on, I found myself asking, 'What am I?  And should I be demonstrating my impact, too?

I work as a music librarian full-time, but I'm also a musicologist.  Any research I do is done in my own time.  I have an academic affiliation, since I work in a conservatoire as a professional subject librarian, but research is not part of my job, unless it's a piece of small-scale research with a librarianly outcome - such as my recent 'Crowdsourcing the Celtic Bard' project, undertaken with the dual purpose of informing myself prior to writing a paper on a topic adjacent to but not the same as my own research interest, and to explore the merits and demerits of crowdsourcing as a modern research tool.  I gave that paper at the IAML (UK & Ireland) Annual Study Weekend at Cardiff last month, and it's due to appear in Brio, our professional journal, fairly imminently.

Thinking about impact and public engagement, I concluded that I would certainly expect to have an impact upon our readers, but 'public engagement' isn't something applicable to my librarianly role.  Engagement with the academic community that I support, most certainly, but not 'public engagement' in the sense that the REF process expects researchers to demonstrate.  Indeed, even 'impact' isn't a term we would normally use.  Nonetheless, it equates to effectiveness, when you consider the study and research support context in which  an academic librarian works.  If I am effective in my work as a subject librarian, then I would hope that my impact would evidence itself in students being better able to determine what exactly they need for an assignment; to find what they need (and know when to stop looking!); and to reference it appropriately.  Additionally, I need to ensure that the resources are there to support my academic colleagues' curriculum and research requirements, and that the catalogue is maintained to a high standard.  If I've done all that, I've demonstrated effectiveness.

So much for Karen the librarian.  However, Karen the musicologist, private researcher or otherwise, is very much concerned about public engagement.  My PhD topic was deliberately chosen to increase my expertise in a subject taught at our institution.  It was self-funded; I don't have an obligation to provide value-for-money now the graduation photo is on the wall, but since my own motivation was to undertake research in a subject that would be useful, then unless I share that knowledge, much of the effort has been in vain.  So, let's do a little reflective analysis on my success in that area.

I graduated in December 2009.  What have I achieved in the past 29 months, in terms of public engagement?  Actually, quite a bit!  I've done ten undergraduate lectures or seminars in three institutions.  Five research seminars within my institution, nine conference papers and seminar presentations outside my institution, two talks to historical societies, three 'proper' journal papers, three shorter articles and four book reviews.  (Some of it was on my research topic, some on librarianly topics or 'merged' papers on research and study skills.)  Oh, and I submitted my commissioned book manuscript on time, a month ago.  My research has given me something to write and talk about authoritatively, and I think I can safely say that I've found my voice. (I wish the same could be said for my singing voice, which sounds the untrained organ that it is!)   I've spoken to librarians, researchers, performers, and local historians.

So, actually, I think I've demonstrated substantial impact and public engagement.  It's reassuring to quantify it all.  When I first attempted a PhD, a quarter of a century ago, I used to wonder privately what use it would be to anyone else.  Indeed, I didn't finish it because I rashly started my librarianship career before writing up the doctorate, and the thesis was never written.  The 2009 PhD was a far better piece of work - and demonstrably more useful.  Not what they call a 'professional' doctorate, but a plain, ordinary research one.

I'm just metaphorically taking a breather right now, before deciding in which direction my research interests are going to go next. 

* Paul Manners, 'Ripping Yarns', in THE (Times Higher Education), 17 May 2012, No.2, 050, pp. 44-47.

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