I’m in San Diego for the next two days for the California Academic & Research Libraries Conference. Day 0 was mostly preconferencing and connecting with colleagues.

Preconference #1 – Action research

The first preconference event was entitled, “Action Research: How to easily incorporate evidence-based research into your practice” and was presented by April Cunningham and Stephanie Rosenblatt. We began by defining action research and deliminating it from evidence-based research (i.e. action research is hyper-local and operates under different expectations of scholarship). You can learn more about action research at Stephanie and April’s blog, but here are a few takeaways that I found important:

    • With action research, your ultimate goal is not to publish, but to change or understand the efficacy of what you do, whether it’s reference, instruction, etc. Thus, the expectations (esp. as regards methodology and rigor) are not the same. This is not to say that the expectations are lower, but that you as a practitioner have more flexibility in your approach to assessment.
    • A mixed methods approach (qualitative plus quantitative) is the best approach. Moreover, you need to be aware of how one feeds or builds upon the other. For example, an “exploratory” approach would begin with qualitative analysis and use quantitative analysis to explain the results. An “explanatory” approach would do the opposite.
    • Understand your data before you begin your analysis. Depending on the type of data you have (nominal, ordinal, interval, ratio), there are good and not-so-good ways of analyzing that data. Case in point: if you only have nominal data, determining the average or standard deviation may be of little value to defining the data’s meaning.
    • Finally, we explored a number of different tools for analyzing data, including Tableau Public, LIWC, textstat, and a number of rubrics.

I do recommend asking Stephanie and April to speak about assessment at your institution. As a non-numbers librarian (read: humanities background), I found it to be a gentle introduction to data-based decision-making.

 Preconference #2 – Peer learning

This turned out to not be what I expected (I thought we would be discussing a particular digital platform), but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the session. First, I bit of background. During the economic downturn of the last few year, a group of University of California system AULs decided that they would begin to come together on a semi-regular basis to discuss their work environment. The design intent of these meetings was to understand each other’s leadership strengths and explore their shared leadership agenda. They asked of each other: what change do I want to see? to what level? and how?

One AUL listed the following as the benefits of the peer learning group:

    • sharing
    • creating a trusted peer group
    • accessing mutual strengths
    • having a mentor and being able to ask the essential questions

Another AUL listed the following as benefits:

    • the ability to reconnect
    • to retreat
    • to rethink & reflect
    • to access [human] resources
    • to finally tackle “that thorny problem”
    • being in a stress-free environment

Most of all, I was surprised at the level of “vulnerability” that was expressed. As an aspiring academic librarian, it was refreshing and empowering. We concluded the session with an open (but private) discussion about work/life balance, frustrations, and hopes about our current positions in academic librarianship.

The evening ended with friends, margaritas and Mexican food at a local restaurant. Day 0 = Success!