Research skills: a must have for info pros

Reflecting on the progress of a significant work project, research skills are what I’ve drawn upon the most in ensuring the success of project outcomes. Research skills are probably the most important for any information professional. If you haven’t yet developed an understanding of how do undertake a research project or evidence-based practice, I urge you to get on it. Stat.

By ‘research skills’, I mean beyond (Google) searching, retrieving and analysing information from various sources. Research skills include the ability to define the problem and formulate the right questions, to be answered by the right target population, and then using corresponding research methods to gather data and information in order to inform an outcome or deliverable. Basically, to gather the necessary information, you need the right questions and you need to know who the stakeholders are around a particular issue or problem. Asking the right questions funnels and applies the answers directly to the problem.

I’m a Policy Officer in an archival institution. Part of my role is to undertake consultation with relevant stakeholders. The success so far of my work project I can attribute to my research skills I gained from completing the LIS Masters. If it wasn’t for my research skills, I wouldn’t have been able to draft key outputs so well grounded in the evidence I had gathered during the research and consultation phase of the project.

In the research and consultation phase of the project, I aimed to gain an understanding of the needs of relevant stakeholders in order to inform project outputs. What I needed to understand about stakeholder needs was closely aligned with the goals and objectives of the project. This provided the basis for my research approach – the questions I need to ask at this point, who I needed to ask, how I needed to ask them to gather the best possible data to work with. I wanted to ensure the project outputs were evidence-based and appropriately addressed stakeholder needs.

I decided on a two-stage approach. I undertook an online questionnaire and then followed it up with a focus group to help clarify findings. I knew I needed honest and accurate information. So I made the online questionnaire anonymous and tried to ensure that the target population was well-described in the invitation to participate. I designed the online questionnaire with questions targeted at the different aspects of understanding I needed. The focus group was very useful to me in clarifying some unclear findings from the questionnaire and steered me in a direction of better understanding. I achieved my goals for consultation through:

  • defining what I needed to understand, breaking it down then designing questions about the topic to obtain necessary data,
  • identifying the stakeholders, and
  • selecting suitable research methods and tools for the answers I needed from relevant stakeholders.

My research skills were developed over my LIS Masters course. In my first year, so intrigued I was with evidence-based practice that I completed an ALIA Folioz course in addition to my studies. In my second year, I undertook an independent research project. Though I opted for it not to be counted towards my Masters course credit points, I was fortunate to be guided by a lecturer in ensuring my research was grounded in the literature and that my findings would ‘stack up’. In my third year, I completed a research methods subject as an elective to lay the foundations for my research projects I was planning to undertake in my final year. I then completed two research projects to practice my application of different research methods.

Research skills are incredibly handy. I’ve even found them creeping into ideas about how my work team can better address stakeholder needs. Research skills can be applied to any number of scenarios in library and information practice. Students, research skills are not just for the academic arena. Research skills are a fixture of the information professional make up. I encourage you to not disregard an opportunity to learn about how to conduct research and you may be surprised like I am to find you will apply them more often than you think.

Research skills can be found in core competencies for the library and information professional.

  • ALIA Core skills, knowledge and attributes – you find research skills underlying seeking to understand how people look and experience information and identify needs of stakeholders (Information Seeking); design and deliver information services (Information Services, Sources and Products); you will use information to make decisions about resource management to library and information services (Information Management), and probably more.
  • Meredith Farkas identified high level competencies for the 21st century librarian such the ability to evaluate library services and understand the needs of stakeholders (Farkas, 2006)
  • Evidence-based practice is a theme identified by Partridge et al (2010) in a discussion about “librarian 2.0”.

Research skills are not only about retrieving and analysing information from a database, but also asking the right questions in a quest to better understand stakeholders relevant to the information service. The use of research skills in my work role is a living example of why they are important to being an information professional.

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