Earlier this semester I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Empirical Librarians’ Conference at the F.D. Bluford Library at the N. Carolina Agriculture & Technical State University. This new, one-day conference was envisioned by Nina Exner and focused on two aspects of empirical research: conducting it and supporting it.
The keynote lecture was presented by Dr. Diane Kelly from the U.N.C. School of Library Science. She described how empiricism is:
• One way to create knowledge
• About accumulating evidence: there are no fixed truths
• Is a human invention
• Is a practice, like librarianship
• Is limited by the tools & instruments that area available

She went on to say that empirical librarianship is NOT synonymous with evidence-based librarianship (EBL). EBL uses rather than generates research. She reviewed a number of empirical approaches, including surveys, interviews, field studies and others. In evaluating the worthiness of research, one should consider the following: truth-value (internal validity), applicability (external validity), consistence (replicability), and neutrality (objectivity).

How does one become an empirical librarian? First, research is a practice and experience helps a lot. Just start. Research doesn’t happen the way it’s described in textbooks, so be prepared for surprises. Research is constrained in many ways, such as personal, pragmatic and professional. We all work within limits or boundaries.

After the keynote speech, the conference split into two tracks: those who conduct empirical research and those who support others doing empirical research. The session that followed the keynote talk consisted of 15-minute presentations on a range of topics. I presented “Data Sets for Business Faculty Research” in which I compared and contrasted the types of data sets used by business and economics faculty, including the scope of their topics and the sources and costs of data. Other presenters shared their experiences supporting student research, promoting information literacy, providing research support to students in online education programs.

After lunch, I attended 2 concurrent sessions in the supporting research track. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend Chelcie Rowell’s talk, “A Research-Driven Approach to Providing Research Data Curation Services” during the last concurrent session because I had to teach a library instruction session in Accounting 782 back in Farrell Hall.

The two presentations that were most memorable were “Supporting the Patron Research Life Cycle” by Lynda Kellam and “Well Begun is Half Done: Developing Outcome Statements for Successful Assessment” by Kathy Crowe and Amy Harris Houk. Lynda Kellam talked about efforts to introduce library resources to UNC-Greensboro students earlier in their academic careers and how we can help students make a habit of using academic resources for their research. A question that has stayed with me is “How do outreach and information literacy instruction change throughout a student’s career?”

Kathy Crowe and Amy Harris Houk conducted a session on learning outcomes. After defining and describing them, they conducted several exercises in which the attendees wrote and then shared learning outcomes for a series of scenarios. The session was so helpful that we invited them to present the session at BLINC’s April workshop.

Congratulations to Nina Exner on a successful conference. It was a content-packed one-day conference that I look forward to attending in the future.