evidence-based practice reflections

My ‘2 cents’ for the next Coordinator, EBP

I was the first person to bring the role of Coordinator, Evidence Based Practice at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) library role to life. But now following a career pivot into research support services at the University of the Sunshine Coast, the search for the next EBP Coordinator has begun.

In the lead up to my departure from USQ, my supervisor Clare Thorpe, asked me what ‘words of wisdom’ I could offer to the next person. I give my answer in this post. Take these tidbits, my ‘two cents worth’ as lessons learned and suggestions for continuing the further development of EBLIP capability at USQ Library, or even in any other library, really.

Why give some ‘words of wisdom’?

The Coordinator of Evidence Based Practice is a unique role. Thanks to the forward thinking minds at USQ, this role is thought to be the first of its kind here in Australia/NZ or perhaps even abroad. Not just another data analyst role, the EBP Coordinator is a change manager/enabler, culture, capability and capacity builder, strategist, a technician, coach, negotiator, all rolled into one.

Evidence-based practice isn’t a ‘to do’ list. There is no one way to implement evidence-based practice, no magic button and ‘tah dah’, mission accomplished. Integrating evidence-based practice into the ‘way things are done’ and building the mindset, skills and capabilities in library staff takes time. Progress is messy and incremental. Existing theoretical frameworks would have anyone believe that evidence-based practice is something linear, happens sequentially and clearly visible. It’s not. And it doesn’t. 

The Coordinator for Evidence Based Practice is a challenging role. Passion is essential. Non-negotiable. At least to me. But I’m not on the recruitment panel. 

So that’s why I’m here giving out unsolicited advice to the next person. Passion. Mine’s still there. Just needed to be channelled differently, I guess. 

EBLIP/EBP is not a fad. EBLIP is over two decades in the making and it’s here to stay

University libraries are called upon to communicate their value and impact more than ever before. (By the way, I think this is a good thing. Contrary perhaps to opinion. It’s our time to shine.). The impression we give, what we advocate and the message we deliver, intentionally or unintentionally, is also becoming increasingly imperative to the future of our funding and indeed, our services, service models and functions. The responsibility then of this role to build EBLIP capabilities is not one to be taken lightly.

As I found out, specialist knowledge of evidence-based library and information practice can only achieve so much. Keeping up to date with the literature, same again. I had to become aware of EBLIP’s practical applications here and abroad. By ‘practical applications’, I mean a bit of the EBLIP process here, a bit there, an exemplar of process, another of evidence, etc. Together they are examples of EBLIP…..ahem, in practice. But as I said, EBLIP is messy. Creating a reporting solution for the Library’s frontline services for example, is only one piece of the EBLIP puzzle. So to some degree, I was a translator of EBLIP theory into professional practice. 

Have a strategic AND technical mindset

The EBP Coordinator role requires a mind for high level strategy in all facets and meaning of the word. From understanding the university context and landscape, keeping up to date with happenings in this EBLIP/value and impact/library stakeholder communication space in the LIS profession, to the application of EBLIP across the library and the solutions it creates to make better decisions and improvements.

Referring to Clare and I’s recent EBLIP maturity model, this role is involved with all three dimensions – evidence, process and engagement. The role’s uniqueness also involves not only being responsible for integrating EBLIP into the library daily professional practice and services (evidence and process), but also for building capability in the staff (engagement). With this in mind, when designing a reporting solution for example, automating as much as possible may be desirable and tempting. But you may like to hold back a little at least initially, to allow space for library staff to develop data skills first.

Though the role is not a simple analyst, I found that technical and analytical skills assisted with the design work. I wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty and learn new tools with colleagues. Understanding and using different tools and technologies will enable best decisions that serve an overall strategic outcome. Being in both mindsets – strategic and technical, is not easy. In fact, the challenge almost broke me and threatened the role’s success. However I do understand there is a plan in place to bring the technical ‘doing’ part to the EBP function. 

You’re welcome.

Stakeholder relationship skills are a must. Invest time and energy into this.

I’ll be honest. This role felt lonely some days. It works across the library and alongside teams and individual library staff. The advertisement does not kid about the need for “exceptional stakeholder engagement skills”. I’ll admit I’m not a total gun at this. But the successful person will likely work twice as hard at relationships than in other library roles.

People need to be taken along the EBP journey. So have conversations early and regularly. Let them in on your thinking. Welcome feedback and input. Every person has a story or experience to share. Listen.

You’re on every library team, but you’ll have to create your own EBP team made up of champions. This is not a ‘build it and they will come’ role. Stakeholder engagement will be key. 

‘Whole of library’ EBP initiatives are best implemented team by team, and person by person

From my experience in this role, a ‘whole of library’ approach didn’t work. Here’s why (as highlighted by the later EBLIP maturity model research and thinking around organisational EBLIP) – every team and individual will be at differing levels of EBLIP maturity. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is a challenge. One approach for one team may not work for another.

By all means have a strategic picture in your mind of where you’d like the library to work towards, but how this is achieved will likely need adapting as you work across the library. Be on the look out for opportunities to build EBLIP capabilities. Meet teams and individuals where they’re at. Be useful. Bring value.

Coaching and mentoring skills will be advantageous 

I love coaching, teaching and mentoring. I also enjoy taking care of others. Taking them under a wing. My coaching and mentoring skills proved useful in the EBP Coordinator role, particularly in building capability. Don’t have these skills? Maybe negotiation and influencing is your bag. That could work too. I suggest some investment in building and honing all these skills. But above all else, compassion and patience will go a long way.

It was honour and a privilege to bring evidence-based library and information practice from its theoretical frameworks to day-to-day professional practice and library services. And being the first to do so. The role afforded me opportunities to generate impact at both local and global levels.

But don’t just take my word on this. If you do have any questions about the role, please do get in touch with Clare Thorpe (Acting Director, Library Services).

I wish the successful person all the very best. Cheers.

Image by ALBERTO MIÑARRO from Pixabay

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