Research as a Library School Student

When I arrived at grad school, I was certain that I would not do research. I had chosen a course-based program for a reason – I wanted to learn from professionals. I majored in French in undergrad, and I felt like all the research I did was so based in theory. I loved the learning the language and cultural, and while my senior thesis on intertextuality in Leila Sebbar’s book Shérazade was interesting for me, there was no “real-world” application. I was reading and writing, but not doing. This is why I loved my internship at the academic library. I made Libguides and videos, I answered questions at the reference desk. I felt like I was having an impact on my community through interactions and instruction, however minor it was. Consequently, when I graduated, I believed my days of research were absolutely behind me.

I entered library school with the same belief. A good friend did an independent study and I couldn’t understand why she would put herself through that. However, I was torn. I knew that if I wanted to work in an academic library, I would likely have to do research. I’ve heard it varies significantly from institution to institution, but “publish or perish” seems to exists in some form in most university libraries. And more than the obligation of research, I do like to be connected and aware of the field. I love attending conferences. Meeting librarians who are passionate about their work makes me passionate about my own.

Some kind of switch flipped in me a few months ago. I went from almost aggressively denying any interest in research, to reading every article I could on tips or research as a library school student. Maybe it was impending graduation and the desire to beef up my CV. Maybe it was seeing how rewarded my friends and peers seemed when engaging in scholarly communication. The recent guest post from Librarian Parlor on HLS about kick starting research in grad school came at the perfect point in this process. I had been waffling about whether I should do an independent study and this post felt like a sign.

But what to research? I spent days scrolling LISA and LISTA for recently publish articles; I finally opened and browsed the ACRL journals I get in the mail. But researching just of the sake of researching seemed against the point of what I wanted to do. I wanted to find something I was passionate about, learn more, then give my two cents. (You know, research.)

Stars seemed to align for me again in my Information Literacy course, when a guest speaker came in to discuss Universal Design for Learning (UDL). I had attended a workshop on accessible facilitation and UDL through the Office of Students with Disabilities at McGill. The guest speaker’s talk was very similar to the workshop I attended, and it got me thinking about what this meant specifically within information literacy. All these questions popped up in my head. How does this fit with the ACRL Framework? Where could active learning come in to play? What UDL resources are available for librarians? The more I thought, the more I realized that I was slowly developing research questions.

However, I still felt this nagging doubt. This voice in my head that said, You’re just a student, what could you possibly add to the conversation? And while I wanted to do research, I still was (and admittedly am) against entirely theoretical conversations. I don’t want to make all these statements and hypotheses that have no real world implication. It would be great to look at the relationship between UDL and the ACRL Framework, but how does that help me when I’m teaching a group of undergraduate students about Boolean operators?

It was at this point that I heard the word praxis thrown around. Another seemingly pretentious, research-driven word, it essentially means theory in practice. I’m not the only HLS writer who was intrigued by this concept. It’s about looking at how theory can actually be applied. It felt like the heavens had opened for me. This was it! This was the element I was looking for in research that didn’t make it feel quiet so theoretical.

I found a supervisor to work with me on my research, wrote my proposal, and here I am. About to begin my last semester of graduate school, research topic in hand. Past-Carrie would likely be shocked at this decision, but also excited about my growth, and how far I’ve come in three (very short) semesters.

I still don’t know if I’ll end up in an academic or a public library (I’m applying to both). I don’t even know what country I’ll be living in a year from now, if I’ll stay in Canada or head back to Minnesota. There are so many unknowns in my life right now, and my decision to do research shows me that what I want can and will change.

Here’s to a 2019 full of uncertainty, embracing that uncertainty, and job offers for all!

Cover image by Pixabay via CC0.

Carrie Hanson is a MISt Candidate at McGill University’s School of Information Studies in Montreal. She currently works as a student librarian in a public library and is involved in numerous student associations. Connect with her on Twitter @icarriebooks

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