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Evidence, Value and Impact: The LIS Research Landscape in 2010

Stephanie Kenna reports on the Library and Information Science Research Coalition conference, held at the British Library on 28 June 2010.

Having been involved in developing the concept of a coalition for research in Library and Information Science (LIS) since 2006, it was with both pride and excitement that I took my place in the British Library's auditorium on Monday 28 June. There was a buzz of anticipation. We were not disappointed.

The Coalition was established by a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the five founder members in March 2009 [1]. In August 2009 the Coalition Board was in a position to appoint Hazel Hall as Executive Secretary and to start work. In the past year a great deal has been achieved, including the organisation of this conference [2].

The aim of the conference was to consider perspectives on the library and information science research landscape with reference to: identifying LIS research opportunities; translating research outcomes into practice; growing research capacity amongst LIS professionals; and developing the future UK LIS research agenda. The day's programme was designed to appeal all LIS research stakeholders, ranging from the funders of LIS-related research activity through to those who publish LIS research output, as well as practitioner researchers and academics.

Details of the day, including links to summaries of the six main sessions and associated PowerPoint presentations and videos are available as well as the live blog [3].

The LIS Research Coalition and Its Support of LIS Research

Dr Michael Jubb, Research Information Network and Chair of the Board of Directors of the LIS Research Coalition

Michael Jubb [4] set the scene by explaining the background to the Coalition and then introduced the key messages and themes for the day.

He began by outlining the history of LIS research in the UK from the 1960s which saw the setting up of new library and information schools in universities such as Sheffield, Loughborough and Strathclyde, to join the longer-established school at University College London, the launch of a number of scholarly journals in the field and the shift from work place-based, practitioner-led studies to a more academic, scientific approach to LIS research. However, by the mid 1980s a report commissioned by the then University Grants Committee was critical of the state of library and information research and there were tensions between different groups of researchers allied to LIS: information scientists; computer scientists; researchers in the academic community; and practitioners.

The Research and Development Department at the British Library brought LIS researchers together and provided the main support for library and information research in the UK until the 1990s. Director Brian Perry played a key role in this and his death in January 2006 was the catalyst for discussions around the broad proposal of founding a new body or structure to look at some of the issues that had arisen both during his tenure, and since the move of responsibilities for LIS research from the BL to other bodies.

During these discussions, the tensions highlighted above became more pronounced, together with other concerns, including issues related to: the quality of LIS research; weak relationships between people in LIS and other research communities; and poor links between research and practice. The result of the discussions was a consensus that there was a need for some kind of structure to build a more co-ordinated approach to LIS research in the UK and the birth of the Coalition which continues to have a clear role for the future. However, because of the diversity of the landscape and the porous nature of the boundaries, it would not be appropriate for the Coalition to try to set a rigid research agenda for LIS research in the UK. Both the LIS research and practitioner communities should grasp the nettle and play their part in shaping that research agenda [5].

Michael went on to describe the Coalition's activities currently in place [2] and to outline some of the specific plans for the next year which include a proposed workshop for prospective authors with journal editors, the development of a practitioner researcher starter kit, and plans for creating interactive space on the Coalition Web site.

Finally, he addressed the key research challenge for the LIS community: that the value and the impact of LIS research, and of library and information services themselves, will, in 'difficult times' become increasingly important in order to justify funding for the community. While there has been a lot of advocacy work, the priority now is for really hard-headed studies of impact and value - a tough challenge.

In conclusion he stressed three key issues for the LIS research community and the broader LIS community:

To tackle either or both of the first two issues, there is a need for better engagement between researchers and practitioners. The Coalition can work to improve this situation, but needs, he reiterated, the engagement of the wider community.

Michael Jubb's presentation is available [6].

Opening Keynote:
Perspectives on the Evidence, Value and Impact of LIS Research: Conceptual Challenges

Professor Andrew Dillon, University of Texas

Andrew Dillon [7] outlined the major background shifts in the ecology of information. He emphasised the need to separate two types of research:

In doing so it is more likely that we shape technology so it serves people better.

He noted the historically acknowledged importance of keeping and managing information by referring to Newton. Newton stood on the shoulders of giants, but he was only able to do so because those giants left a carefully curated record from which he could work. This inevitably shaped his thinking and what he was able to achieve. However, only now are we able to judge the impact and value of those records: at the time it would have been impossible to predict their potential impact and value accurately.

In analysing the shifts that are taking place in the information space, Andrew observed that there is no discussion of IT design to reflect the changing demographics of the population. He took us through some of the statistics about Internet usage and discussed how the population is learning to access, use and interpret information delivered via the Internet. In particular, he noted that 99.99% of all new data are created digitally, and that of the 40 million US Internet users who claim that this is their primary source of scientific information, 80% check the veracity of information accessed. In order to do this, they must have learnt a new set of information-related skills.

Having used IT as an example, Andrew went on to emphasise that the problem is not owned by the computer science discipline, or by any other discipline. Disciplines do not live forever but questions and issues have a much greater longevity. Professions shift according to cultural and social forces. As the sub-disciplines of information shift, problems with communication between these sub-disciplines arise and there is boundary confusion. He identified the boundaries between LIS, Social Informatics, Information Science/Studies/Technology, Instructional/Educational Technology and Information Architecture/Policy/Management, noting that the boundaries themselves present questions about credentials and jurisdiction.

Andrew then moved on to highlight a success story for LIS research: information retrieval. LIS research informed computer scientists that information retrieval is not just a technical issue, but also a human issue. It is connected with how humans search for and use information, and this has helped to inform the design of digital information retrieval systems. However, he pointed out that our obsession with information retrieval places too little emphasis on longitudinal outcomes. Usability studies tend only to look at the instant response, not at how the information is then used and interpreted, or how the human interacting with the new technology adapts to it over time. He also noted that how people share information is again under-appreciated, and is very difficult to study.

Andrew's current concerns include the emergence of a new literacy that emphasises search over comprehension, and leads to a loss of 'deep' reading skills. One implication is that we still need to design systems that make it possible for people to be able to learn, and that the development of those systems must take human behaviour into account. Andrew highlighted studies that show people want information to be comprehensible, believable and timely, adding that when asked about what they require and value in the information that they need to use, people never mention the technology that delivers that information.

In conclusion, Andrew said that LIS research should be looking at how to build information systems that reflect the way people think and use information. Demonstrating impact and value is about identifying the human rules, remembering that technology is simply an enabler. He remarked that data are stored; information is experienced. Finally he turned to the problem of using hard data to demonstrate the value of LIS. For example, he expressed surprise that many people in this field can't produce hard data that demonstrate that reading matters. He cited a study that achieves this. It showed that the single strongest factor in predicting a child's success at college is whether or not the child grows up in a house with books. He challenged us to think of other studies we could point to as evidence of our value.

Andrew acknowledged that a lot of what we do is qualitative work, so it is hard to meta-analyse to judge impact, but we are not alone in that. He ended by describing ours as a discovery discipline, which is art and science, politics and economics, research and teaching. It is a social contract with our future.

Andrew Dillon's presentation is available [8].

One Minute Madness

Chaired by Hazel Hall, LIS Research Coalition

What is one minute madness? The chance for conference participants to present their ideas to their peers in an informal and fun way – in exactly one minute while the audience counts down. It also proved to be a great ice-breaker, chaired by Hazel Hall [9], and an imaginative way of presenting a snapshot of the UK LIS research landscape in 2010. The session covered practitioner writing, use of twitter wikis and blogs, access to personal data, community engagement in public libraries, the book of life, generic social outcomes, video on-demand and many more topics.

All presentations were formulated as a response to the question 'Evidence, value and impact: what's on your mind?' This could be a verbal sketch of a research project recently completed, in progress, being planned, or for which funding, collaborators and/or participants were sought. Equally, delegates might choose to voice particular opinions and/or concerns about the LIS research landscape. They were free to decide how to address the question: they could be humourous, serious, informative and/or entertaining – or even all of them at once.

With a single PowerPoint slide displayed for each presenter giving their names and affiliations and the titles of their presentations, their e-mail addresses and Twitter name (for those who had one), participants, both presenters and audience, joined in with great enthusiasm – and with only the occasional use of Hazel Hall's iPhone vuvuzula to mark that a speaker's 60 seconds were up.

Full details, including a video of the presentations, are available [10].

Breakout Sessions

The conversations generated by the one minute madness continued in the breakout sessions after lunch. These were designed to generate debate around issues related to evidence, impact and value in the context of LIS research. Delegates were divided into four groups. Each group attended two sessions, both of which were led by a facilitator supported by a PhD student rapporteur. In the first, each group identified a series of challenges on either: evidence; or impact and value. They reformulated these challenges into questions to be debated by one of the other breakout groups in the second session. After the breakout session debates concluded, the rapporteurs relayed the main points to Charles Oppenheim who incorporated the strongest messages into his closing keynote address.

The main challenges identified for discussion, and possible future action are detailed below.

Questions Related to Research Design

Questions Related to Communicating Our Research Activities and Output

Broad Research Questions to Address

Question on the Status of LIS Research per se

Suggestions or comments on – or even fully fledged solutions to – any of these challenges are welcomed [11].

Closing Keynote:
From Perspectives to Policy: How an Examination of Evidence, Value and Impact Can Inform the LIS Research Agenda

Professor Charles Oppenheim, Loughborough University

Charles Oppenheim [12] had the unenviable task of summarising the proceedings of the day in his closing address – starting out with a blank piece of paper. Charles started by asking 'Why do LIS research?' The responses he offered highlighted intellectual interest, greater engagement or empowerment at work – especially for practitioners, and a desire to influence policy and decision-makers.

He then went on to outline his perceptions of the landscape in which this research is conducted. He referred to scattered effort, low levels of funding, poor appreciation of the full range of available research methods, and a lack of recognition of completed work. LIS research is supported by a plethora of unco-ordinated funding bodies, which – understandably – leads to degree of confusion amongst a researcher community that struggles to follow all the different agendas and requirements. However, echoing Michael Jubb, he noted that the current economic context places pressure on LIS researchers and practitioners to produce research that justifies their existence. It also means less money is available to fund that research.

Turning to the key concepts that emerged during the day, Charles highlighted the terms 'impact' and 'human angle'. He reminded the audience that 'impact' is currently a buzz word, particularly for those who work in Higher Education and are preparing for the next assessment of research in the form of the Research Excellence Framework (REF). In the guidelines available to date, the presentation of case studies with a strong narrative is recommended as a means of demonstrating impact.

As far as the 'human angle' is concerned, LIS research focuses on how humans create, store, disseminate and use information. We can only be successful if we understand the ways humans interact with information, so we should not be concerned simply about information retrieval systems as technologies, but also about how humans wish to interact with the systems, reflecting Andrew Dillon's opening keynote. Charles re-stated that we need to understand enduring behaviours so we can help library and information services users meet their goals. Thus most LIS research necessarily involves overlap with psychology and sociology, as well as an understanding of history. This is especially important since experience shows that what is apparently articulated as information need by end-users, for example in survey responses, is often not what is seems.

Charles continued by highlighting future important research areas, derived from listening to conversations throughout the day. Included was the theme of information overload and the stress that it induces. The challenge here is to make it possible for end-users to access valuable information as relevant to a particular task from the vast quantity that faces them in their daily lives.

So, how can the LIS Research Coalition continue to support the LIS research community? Charles suggested it could take a role in disseminating anonymised 'lessons learned' from projects that did not deliver as expected; it should also continue to lobby and promote the value of LIS research as key in an information/knowledge economy, while ensuring that research ideas, researchers and research funding are connected together to best effect.

Charles Oppenheim's presentation is available [13].


So, what did the conference achieve? It identified the challenges that currently face the LIS research community together with the opportunities that are there for the taking. It highlighted the need for the research and practitioner communities to shape the future agenda together.

Delegates came from across the broader LIS community and from all stages of careers in LIS research but, sadly, very few from the public library sector. Those public librarians who did attend were however enthusiastic: in his review of the conference Michael Stead urged the public library community to recognise the value of LIS research, and recommended the involvement of the Society of Chief Librarians in the work of the LIS Research Coalition [14]. A key priority for the Coalition over the coming months will be stronger engagement with this sector.

Delegates valued the day, particularly for making contact with other LIS researchers, learning about on-going projects, and inspiring individuals' commitment to pursuing their own research objectives. For the LIS Research Coalition, the event provided a great opportunity to bring together information about LIS research in the UK and encourage dialogue across the members of the LIS research community. Discussions during the day have helped identify priority areas for investment of Coalition resources in the coming months.

It also put the LIS Research Coalition firmly on the map.


  1. The British Library (BL), Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), Museums Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and the Research Information Network (RIN). In March 2010 the Strategic Health Authority Library Leads (SHALL) joined as an associate member followed by the Committee on Library Co-operation in Ireland (COLICO) in June 2010.
  2. In March 2010 the LIS Research Coalition published a report to review the activities of its implementation from August 2009 to the end of February 2010
    For details of more recent activities, visit the Coalition's Web site http://www.lisresearch.org/
  3. Conference 2010: LIS Research Coalition
  4. Dr Michael Jubb, Director, Research Information Network (RIN)
  5. Further details of the work that went into the establishment of the Coalition between 2006 and 2009 can be found at
  6. Review of the work of the LIS Research Coalition – presentation at LISRC10 by Michael Jubb, April 2010
  7. Professor Andrew Dillon, Dean and Louis T. Yule Regents Professor of Information at the School of Information, University of Texas
  8. Perspectives on the evidence, value and impact of LIS research: conceptual challenges, presentation by Andrew Dillon, April 2010
  9. Dr Hazel Hall, Director, Centre for Social Informatics, School of Computing, Edinburgh Napier University
  10. One minute madness: LIS Research Coalition
  11. Breakout sessions at LISRC10: LIS Research Coalition
  12. Professor Charles Oppenheim, Emeritus Professor and former Head of the Department of Information Science, Loughborough University
  13. From perspectives to policy: how an examination of evidence, value and impact can inform the LIS research agenda, presentation by Charles Oppenheim, April 2010
  14. LIS Research Coalition Conference 2010: not really a writeup, more a springboard for rambling | Optimus Librarian

Author Details

Stephanie Kenna
LIS Research Coalition

Email: stephanie.kenna@lisresearch.org
Web site: http://www.lisresearch.org/
Twitter: @LISResearch

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