While it would seem that the multiple benefits of designing and initiating a comprehensive research framework would assure widespread participation across the library field, there are many potential barriers. The first is likely the fear of the process becoming burdensome. How will libraries feeling the weight of recent cutbacks free up staff to participate? How will the research process fit into the already heavy burden of completing numerous required surveys? How can the process meet the differing needs of small and large libraries, urban and rural libraries, academic and school libraries, contrasting geographic locations, and purposes that vary from serving specific academic needs to urban outreach? What will be the best way to “get the word out” across the library field?
These questions grounded both advisor conversations. As participants wrestled with defining program audiences, intended outcomes, program types and multiple variants, they also sought common ground and methods for mitigating differences. Their thoughts included:
- Build on existing research. Identify related fields, such as social sciences, that have already undertaken related research;
- Employ multiple research methods, from brief iPad surveys that could be used at professional meetings to preparing detailed case studies. Give everyone a way to participate;
- Encourage libraries to opt in at their own comfort levels, serving both to provide information based on individual strengths and to pose the questions most important to them;
- Keep the research framework accessible to all types of libraries through prioritized questions, common and shared language, and ease of responding;
- Incorporate practical tools within the research materials, so that participating in the research provides useful instruction and guidance;
- Use electronic formats, adding questions to current research and standard reports and entering data in a single, easily accessible place;
- Divide up research targets: national survey; early adopters; best practices; profile of a library programmer; collaborative program components;
- Engage the full spectrum of library-related professional organizations to feature sessions at regional and national meetings, articles in publications, and highlights wherever possible;
- Invite commentary and participation from such related organizations and agencies as IMLS, the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Academies, American Association for State and Local History, National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Council for Public History; and
- Engage some key partners and early adoptors for some early wins.
Given the many demands already facing libraries today, the NILPPA research framework should place a minimal burden on participating libraries by being as flexible as possible, providing multiple options for involvement, and catering to a broad range of library types, sizes, and budgets.
The ALA staff is committed to keeping the planning process as open and transparent as possible. Libraries will be well informed of its progress and purposes even before their participation is requested. As the research framework takes shape, input is welcome from across the field. There is clear recognition that the data collected and the findings reported must resonate with the needs of all library types. Although this project is complex, the results will provide welcome guidance for ongoing programming, based on evidence that library programming is already a vital and growing service across the country.
How much time would you be willing to dedicate as a participating library staff or volunteer to the NILPPA project? Would you respond to surveys? Interview library users or non-users? Invite researchers to undertake a long-term study of your institution?
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