Institute for Research Design in Librarianship – Raising the Bar of Research in Academic Librarianship

The Institute for Research Design in Librarianship (IRDL) is an IMLS-funded grant program that provides professional development for academic librarians to enhance their research confidence and research competency. Since the summer of 2014, a group of 20-25 academic librarians are selected to participate in the program each year. The program consists of a 7-day bootcamp of research methods (lectures, exercises, consultations) and a support network (e.g. monthly check-ins, mentors) in the following year to help librarians complete their research projects. I’m truly proud to be involved in this project as a lead instructor, and have come to the beautiful campus of Loyola Marymount University in the past six summers to engage in a great experience of teaching research methods with academic librarians from around the country that are talented and motivated to conduct research to improve practice and to enhance the research culture in the profession.

We just concluded the final IRDL bootcamp of the six-year grant program last week. Again I was impressed by the librarian scholars’ variety of research interests and their drive to conduct quality research to raise the bar of LIS scholarship. A few examples of their research topics – how IL instruction can improve student curiosity, how resilience training incorporated in IL instruction may impact underrepresented students’ retention in STEM programs, how film makers/producers seek information in their creative process, what is the techno-stress level of librarians working in digital scholarship, how librarians teach with/about secondary data in their IL instruction, how academic libraries are providing almetrics services, whether scavenger hunt through augmented reality improves students’ perception and satisfaction with library use, and how academic libraries can help students tackle their non-academic needs. I enjoyed my consultations with each one of the scholars as they tried to flesh out the proper research design/methods for their projects.

Although the grant program will end after this year, IRDL has left great legacy. Over one hundred academic librarians have participated in the program and they will become the leaders and influencers in the realm of research and scholarship in academic librarianship. I look forward to seeing them continue to flourish and make impact in the profession as they infuse quality research with their practice.

Finally, a couple of memories from last week:

Doing the cabbage toss on the last day to review what we have learned
The spot on LMU campus where we often took our walking breaks – the view is gorgeous

A Crazy Week of Conferencing

I traveled to two international conferences consecutively last week, which was hectic but rewarding. The first conference I attended was the the 2019 Asian Conference on Education and International Development, where I presented my research on how public libraries provide programs to help mitigate summer learning loss among k-12 students (see slides below). This was my second time going to a conference on education, and I really enjoyed all the pedagogical innovations shared by the presenters. Particularly the use of gamification in classroom was intriguing – I have begun to think, in online classes, how could I apply elements of game playing to motivate and engage students?

My second conference was the Design Thinking Global Workshop organized by Guangzhou Library in China, where Chinese public librarians met with Design Thinking experts from Aarhus Library in Denmark, Chicago Public Library and Singapore National Library and experienced the application of Design Thinking in library service/program development. I gave a presentation (in Chinese) on impact assessment and discussed the basic process of measuring the impact of a project (see slides below)- after all, once the library implements a project using the Design Thinking approach, they won’t know how well the project is doing, or how impactful the project is, until proper assessment is conducted.

After the whirlwind of the past week, I’m just glad that it’s spring break this week so I can breathe a bit while catching up on work!

Design Thinking and Research Methods

Lately I have been reading about Design Thinking (DT) and its application in libraries. Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO explains that “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” In essence, it’s a design methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. The Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford ( proposed a five-stage Design Thinking model – Empathise, Define (the problem), Ideate, Prototype, and Test. This model actually shares a lot of characteristics of the research process – I often tell students that our research methods course aim to equip them with practical problem solving skills via a valid and reliable research process, that is, a process of arriving at dependable solutions to problems through the planned and systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of data.

Here’s how the DT process and the research process overlaps:

The first two steps of DT are emphathize and define (the problem), which focuses on determining the problem that needs solving through observing, engaging and empathizing with the target population people to understand their experiences and motivations, and then analyzing the observations and synthesizing them in order to define the core problems in a human-centred manner. This is similar to the research question formulation stage of the research process, where we determine the objective/problem of our research study (e.g. to provide better library services to international students) and develop the question our research seeks to answer (e.g. what are the library needs of international students).

Then, the third step of DT is ideate, where ideas are being generated to identify solutions to the problem. In the research process, in order to generate ideas to solve the problem (e.g. figure out how to provide better library services to international students), we need to choose a proper research method (e.g. survey), devise a meaningful data collection instrument (e.g. the survey questionnaire), and collect data from the appropriate population (e.g. a representative sample of international students).

The fourth step of DT – prototype,  is an experimental phase that seeks to identify the best possible solution. The prototypes are investigated and either accepted, improved and re-examined, or rejected on the basis of the users’ experiences.  This sort of mirrors the data analysis stage of the research process, where we analyze the collected data and synthesize it to answer the research question (e.g. describing the library needs of international students), and such an answer will tell us what we should do to solve the problem (e.g. based on the needs of international students, what changes we should make to current library resources/services/programs, and what new elements we should add).

In the final stage of DT – test, rigorous testing is conducted to examine the efficacy of the solution, and alterations and refinements are made to continuously improve the solution. In research, especially applied research, it is not uncommon to conduct evaluation of the actions we take to solve practical problems as a result of a research study (e.g. after we implement changes/additions to library services for international students as informed by our research study, we evaluate the efficacy of these changes/additions and to make further refinements if necessary).

So, looks like I can include some readings on DT in my research methods class now. 🙂

For those interested, here are some useful resources on DT:

IDEO Shopping cart example

A Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking

Design Thinking for Libraries Toolkit


Chinese College Students’ Health Information Seeking Behavior

My research collaborator, Dr. Yanxia Shi, from Shanxi University in China and I have been working on a project (funded by the National Social Science Fund of China) that looks at the role of libraries in contributing to the enhancement of the citizenry’s health information literacy. We recently published a paper in the Journal of Academic Librarianship that examined how Chinese college students seek health information and what the implications are for academic librarians. The impetus for us to study college students came from a tragic incident – in 2016, Zexi Wei, a 21-year old Chinese college student died after receiving experimental treatment for synovial sarcoma at the Second Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps. He learned about this treatment from a promoted result on the Chinese search engine Baidu (the equivalent of Google in China), and ultimately discovered that the hospital had misled patients by providing fraudulent information about the treatment’s success rate. Wei’s death prompted Chinese regulators to investigate Baidu’s advertising practices, and drew widespread attention from the public about the ill-regulated practices of online dissemination of health information.

This tragedy has made us more vigilant about the ubiquity of questionable medical/health information in Chinese cyberspace, and caused us to wonder – how do Chinese college students seek health information? What are the criteria they use to evaluate the information? What can academic libraries do to help them become more information literate and health literate? Our findings were quite illuminating, and now that more and more Chinese students are coming to study in the US as international students, I think this study might yield insights for academic librarians here in the US to improve their programs and services for Chinese international students.

Elsevier (the publisher of JAL) is allowing free access to our article till Mar 14, 2019 – so feel free to check it out if interested. 🙂

Public Libraries and Health Literacy

A major research interest of mine is to look at public libraries’ role in promoting health literacy. Recently I published an article titled “Health information programming in public libraries: a content analysis” in Public Library Quarterly, examining the purpose, content, type and audience of health and wellness programs provided by a large urban public library system in California. To further my research along this line, I’m collaborating with a professor at Shanxi University in China to explore how public libraries are meeting older adults’ needs related to health and wellness. While everybody else was enjoying their Thanksgiving holiday, I flew to China to collect data for this project.

We conducted focus groups at Taiyuan City Library. In China, the way public libraries is set up is quite different from the US – in the US, for instance, in the city of San Jose with a population of 1 million, there are 24 branch libraries dispersed geographically and there’s not much difference in terms of the magnitude of collections/services/programs/facility; but in China, in the entire Taiyuan City with a population of 3.4 million, there are only two public libraries – the Taiyuan City Library and the Shanxi Provincial Library. Both libraries are magnificent six (or five) floor buildings equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and designs. Here are a few photos of Taiyuan City Library:

Spacious interior – the grandeur of the lobby is impressive.


Touch screens everywhere – for accessing the library catalog, for reading e-Magazines and eBooks, for reading library news and announcements, and for scanning QR code to access library resources on one’s mobile devices, etc.


Young visitors – we ran into a group of preschoolers visiting the library. From what I heard, the city library has become an popular site for school field trips!


The way Chinese libraries develop and provide library programs is also quite different from the US. For instance, in the US, there are many activity-based or instructional programs geared toward older adults (e.g. Taichi class, line dance/ ballroom dance class, instructional workshops on how use eBooks, etc.), which connect people with library resources through participatory experiences. But in Chinese public libraries, programs primarily take the form of lectures given by experts on topics of interest to older adults.

Although I did not get to take a break during the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s certainly worth it. Besides successful data collection, I learned a lot observing how libraries in these two countries operate. 🙂

Promoting Evidence Based Library and Information Practice – OK-ACRL Conference Trip

Last week I attended the 2018 OK-ACRL Annual Conference, and the conference theme was “Elementary, My Dear Data: Evidence-based Library Practice”,  seeking to promote evidence-based library and information practice (EBLIP) among OK academic librarians. I was invited to give a talk about the very first step in the EBLIP process – formulating the question or articulating the problem that needs to be answered/resolved through the application of evidence.

EBLIP advocate Denise Koufogiannakis defines EBLIP as a process that involves “methods for resolving daily problems in the profession through the integration of experience and research” and “asking questions, finding information to answer them (or conducting one’s own research) and applying that knowledge to our practice”. The evidence-based movement originates in medicine in the early 1990s. Evidence-based medicine (EBM) focuses on merging what is learned from the research literature with what is observed in daily practice, all to produce a better-informed outcome for patients. Over the years, the movement has migrated to librarianship and EBLIP.

Interestingly, librarians’ conceptualization of what constitutes “evidence” differs quite a bit from medical professionals. In EBM, evidence is strictly rooted in the published research literature, and methods such as meta-analysis or systematic reviews are conducted to appraise the evidence to determine its applicability in informing practice. Yet, my own research and reading about EBLIP has shown that librarians hold a more generous and inclusive view of what may be considered “evidence”. As indicated in the picture below, the sources of evidence in EBLIP span across a wide spectrum.


Still, I would strongly encourage librarians to give priority to research evidence in their evidence-based practice. It is worth noting that currently the quality and quantity of the published literature in librarianship have not reached a level where we can conduct meta-analysis or systematic reviews to meaningfully draw on the research evidence to support decision making. Thus, librarians may consider more actively engaging in producing original research evidence and publish it – on one hand, the original research generates the evidence needed to address practical problems; on the other hand, once the original research gets published, it helps grow and enrich the existing literature, and ultimately moving the profession toward a future where the literature can become a vast and reliable source of quality research evidence.

Anyways, I’m glad that OK-ACRL chose EBLIP as their conference theme – hopefully more academic librarians, and academic librarian organizations will take notice and embrace EBLIP. Although the conference trip was short, I had a wonderful time enjoying the warmth of OK librarians, the scrumptious food and the gorgeous views on the campus of University of Central Oklahoma (UCO). I met librarians who read and appreciated my articles, alum from our SJSU iSchool, and even an MLIS student who has family living in the small CA town where I live. What a memorable trip!

Here are a few photos of the beautiful UCO library:





Information literacy and critical thinking

Recently I read a book titled “A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age ” by Daniel J. Levitin. It has some really practical implications for information literacy instruction. I particularly enjoyed how the author illustrated the deceptive ways that statistics can be manipulated and how he advocated “Bayesian thinking” to circumvent common cognitive pitfalls and exercise critical thinking more effectively. Librarians can definitely draw upon this book for examples to use in their information literacy classes.

Another relevant resource is this TED talk “Fake videos of real people – and how to spot them“, in which computer scientist Supasorn Suwajanakorn shows how he used AI and 3D modeling to create photorealistic fake videos of people synced to audio. It’s jaw dropping – those fake videos look incredibly authentic and I couldn’t tell the difference at all. This technology further complicates the information landscape what’s already littered with counter knowledge, false information and fake news. Maybe librarians can use this video to show their students what a dire situation we are in when it comes to online information, and critical thinking is thus indispensable in order to survive/thrive in such an information climate.

Time magazine published a thoughtful article on this topic as well – “A real fake news crisis“. This article equates the widespread misinformation online to “a public health crisis” and recommends the approaches that professional fact checkers use to sift through the internet, such as lateral reading and click restraint. When librarians devise their information literacy lesson plans, this article can be a valuable reference.