Sabbatical report

So my long-awaited research sabbatical finally came to an end last month. This was my first time going on sabbatical and it was…well, it was a lot different from what I envisioned when I first applied for leave in fall 2019. You know, back when the phrase “global pandemic” had yet to enter my lexicon. That’s not to say it was a bad experience and of course it’s an enormous privilege to be able to do something like this at any time, much less during a devastating economic and public health crisis. But the pandemic-related restrictions on travel and social interaction that have been in place to one degree or another since March 2020 meant that any goals I had for using my more flexible schedule to become more active in these areas had to be set aside. On the one hand, this meant I had no choice but to focus on my projects and be as productive as possible, which is not a bad thing. On the other, it made the experience of being on sabbatical much more isolating and burnout-inducing than it might have been otherwise.

I might do a future post on some of the challenges I faced and how I dealt with them but for now I wanted to focus on some of what I was able to accomplish during this time.

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Reflecting on “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study”

As I’m working on some new and exciting research projects, I’ve found myself going back to a few of my earlier works and reflecting on how my thinking has changed in the time since I wrote them. I thought I would share some of this here partly because I still get asked about some of these articles from time to time and partly because I think it’s valuable to show how things can change as you grow as a scholar.

So today I’m taking a look at “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study,” which was published in College & Research Libraries in 2019.

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Gone fishing

I’m off for the holidays and won’t be posting any new content until January but I thought I’d pin a thing here highlighting some favorite posts from this past year, organized by general topic, in case you missed them.

Thanks for reading and see you in the new year!

Research in fiction writing

It’s significant that popular books on creative writing don’t talk about research

Research is a process, writing is a craft (except when it’s a process)

The true as the enemy of the good: Creative license and the ethical use of information

Research in fiction writing: What I learned from Five Things posts on Terrible Minds

Why I want to learn about the role of research in fiction writing

What I learned about creative research at the Writer’s Digest Conference

Research as a subject of study

They just keep moving the line: Peer review and the follow-up to “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study”

Information literacy, teaching, and librarianship

In defense of “finding and evaluating information”

The annotated bibliography as establishing shot Part 1 | Part 2

The role of excitement in teaching

Title policing in libraries

Information literacy skills: Wherefore art thou?

Neil Gaiman’s famous quote about libraries: A critique

That time I participated in a Banned Books Read-Out and what I learned

Information literacy and identity negotiations

Libraries, information literacy, and pop culture

Libraries in pop culture: The Station Agent

The Circle and information literacy

Video games and failing better

Information literacy and identity negotiations

So while I’ve been on sabbatical, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about writing pedagogy. Most of this has been in the area of creative writing pedagogy but a few of my sources are from the writing studies field more generally or another area like composition. I recently got through Writing and Sense of Self by Robert Edward Brooke, a self-described composition specialist. The book describes the workshop model through the lens of identity negotiations, which was useful for my creative writing-related research but actually made me think more about my information literacy teaching as well.

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Creative information-seeking: What I learned from my literature review

Image by Steve Johnson from Pixabay

I spent some time recently reviewing some of the literature on creative information-seeking from the library and information science field as part of my project on the role of research in fiction writing. I wanted to understand what our field already knew about how creative populations find and use information as part of the creative process so that I could use that knowledge to inform my own work.

At the end of the day, I learned a lot of interesting things but I also felt a lot of frustration with what I was finding. Sandra Cowan has a great article that captures her own frustrations with research on this topic, many of which echoed my own feelings.(1) If you’re able to access that article, I highly recommend taking the time to read it if you have any interest in research on creative information-seeking. In the meantime, here’s a summary of my own thoughts, which is maybe a little more rant-like than I intended. Oops.

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ACRL Framework: The “Scholarship as Conversation” frame is a problem

I’ve spent the last couple of months working on a book project related to some of my ideas about the contextual nature of research. The basic premise is that context matters in the research process, that information literacy instruction needs to do a better job of incorporating the importance of context into what we teach students, and that the ACRL Framework supports our doing this.

There are lot of ways in which making the case for that last part is easy. True, the Framework is a product of ACRL and therefore its main focus is clearly on academic and scholarly situations. But the word “context” comes up a lot in the Framework. Certainly more than it did in the ACRL Standards. And the Framework goes out of its way to acknowledge that research takes place in a variety of environments, not just academic ones. I’d have to look, but I’m pretty sure the workplace and personal research are both name-checked. Creative research not so much, but no surprise there given that creative research tends to be a big blindspot when it comes to scholarly discussions of information seeking in general. Despite this, I think Nancy Foasberg was right when, in an early comparison of the Framework and the Standards, she said that if the Standards largely ignored the importance of context, the Framework insists on it.

Then there’s the “Scholarship as Conversation” frame.

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Sabbatical on the horizon: Thinky thoughts

Image by Roman Grac from Pixabay

My sabbatical is only about a month away and my plans for it are starting to come more into focus. Of course, when I submitted my proposal a year ago, I had no way of knowing how much the world was going to change between then and now. So even as my overall plan has stayed the same, my vision of what my sabbatical will look like has had to change quite a bit and my feelings about it are a little more mixed than they might have been if the pandemic hadn’t happened or if the United States had gotten it under better control by now.

The truth is, this sabbatical was always going to bring with it things to be excited about and things that would be challenging. But there are a couple of items in each category that have been on my mind as the start date approaches.(1)

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Thinking about gaps in knowledge

Image by calimiel from Pixabay

In writing recently about how to define research, I had a weird thought. For the purposes of my work, I like to describe research as a formal or informal process conducted in order to fill a gap in knowledge, build on existing knowledge, or create new knowledge. 

The thought I had was about that “gap in knowledge” part. I actually thought this came from the ACRL Standards but it turns out that was a misconception of my part. The Standards skip over identifying the need for information altogether and instead locate the start of the research process as determining the extent of information needed. Which I guess makes sense since the Standards were mostly concerned with academic research, where an information need almost always comes in the form of a research assignment. 

Wherever I originally got it from, I noticed recently that “knowledge gap” is something that comes up a lot in the scholarly literature on curiosity. Basically, curiosity is when you feel compelled to fill a gap in your knowledge with information. The question among curiosity researchers seems to be how big the gap needs to be or how great the desire for knowledge needs to be before someone will actually go to the trouble of seeking information to fill it. 

What’s interesting about this is curiosity researchers are pretty clear that “knowledge gap” refers to your own personal knowledge. There’s something you don’t know that you want to know, so you seek information about it. This is also what I was thinking of when I inserted the language about filling a gap in knowledge in my definition of research and it’s a big part of what makes me think that curiosity plays an important role in the research process that we don’t often talk about in information literacy. 

But in information literacy, we do talk about gaps in knowledge. What I’ve started wondering lately is what gaps in knowledge we’re talking about: gaps in personal knowledge or gaps in fields of knowledge? 

I always thought it was the first one but that might be another misconception on my part. Maybe this whole time we’ve been talking about gaps in a field of knowledge. Rather, gaps in the literature in a field of knowledge. 

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