Documenting research experiences in the Australian library and information sector: A survey of practitioners’ views

Embracing a culture of research and scholarly enquiry enhances opportunities for library and information science (LIS) professionals to contribute to the development of Australian society and the knowledge economy. Supporting the conduct of research by LIS professionals in the course of their daily work has the potential to impact social change and community wellbeing in a more sophisticated and overt way. Research can inform decision making, aid continuous improvement, assist in strategy and planning, and raise the profile of both the LIS service and the profession more broadly. In addition, practitioners benefit from improved critical and analytical thinking, the development of new knowledge and skills, career advancement, and professional recognition from their peers.

A vibrant research culture is not the norm in all LIS workplaces, despite strategies in recent years to build the capacity of Australian LIS practitioners to undertake research. To fully embrace a research culture in the field it is important to first understand how research is currently experienced by the nation’s LIS professionals. This paper presents findings from a survey of 291 Australian LIS professionals exploring their experiences with research in their work roles. The paper demonstrates the research capacity of LIS professionals by identifying their research interests, experiences, support needs, barriers, and concerns.

Findings indicate that Australian LIS professionals believe research is important, with survey respondents reporting high levels of interest in research despite low levels of activity. Over 80% of respondents considered research to be important to their professional practice, and were interested in doing research in the future. However, less than half of the practitioners surveyed indicated they undertook research related to their employment within the last six months. Almost one quarter of respondents had never undertaken research.

Experience with finding relevant literature is ubiquitous among LIS practitioners, with 88% of survey respondents being moderately to very experienced. Experience with skills related to quantitative or qualitative investigation or dissemination of research outcomes were much lower, at fewer than one in four experienced in these areas. For example, only 16% of practitioners surveyed had experience with publishing research findings. The top three skills respondents identified as requiring the greatest support were applying for research funding, writing ethics applications, and publishing research. Lack of time to engage with research, lack of authority to enact change to procedures or policies, and lack of support by administration were cited as the top three barriers to engaging in research practices.

This survey was undertaken as part of a larger project funded by the Australian Research Council, and supported by the Australian Library and Information Association, and National and State Libraries Australia. The Libraries and Information Science Research Australia (LISRA) Project aimed to encourage and enable research culture and practice within Australia’s LIS profession. The findings from this survey specifically, and the LISRA project broadly, will help Australia’s LIS practitioners to embrace a practitioner-researcher approach to practice. This will ensure LIS practitioners will be able to be make research-informed decisions to ensure LIS services remain relevant to changing community needs.

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