Ideas for the COVID-19 Pandemic Related Research in Librarianship

Earlier this week I had an opportunity to talk to librarians at the University Library at the University of California at San Diego about the trends and methods of research in academic librarianship. They asked wonderful questions, and one of them was about the kinds of research that librarians may consider doing during the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly disrupted our lives in significant ways, but there may also be new research opportunities arising from it. Conducting research related to the pandemic can help library professionals better understand our user needs and provide more meaningful and effective responses to this public health crisis.

A few months ago when the pandemic just broke out, the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology published a commentary titled “Global health crises are also information crises: A call to action” (Xie et al ,2020)“. In this article, a group of information researchers discussed specific things that information scientists can do to “help individuals and society as a whole survive global health crises like COVID‐19, deal with the aftermath, and be better prepared for the next crisis”. They recommended the following research directions:

  • Misinformation/disinformation particularly during global health crises
  • Health literacy—including eHealth literacy
  • Information behavior during lock downs
  • Vulnerable populations—a case for accessible and usable solutions
  • Information dissemination, sharing, and integration among multiple forms of digital data
  • eHealth tools
  • Predictive methods
  • Digital archiving
  • Ethical considerations

I think it would be helpful for library researchers to put out a similar “call to action”, encouraging librarians to investigate research topics related to the pandemic as well. Some of the potential topics may include:

  • Usage of library services during the pandemic, how it changes from before – especially the use of online library resources and services
  • Library needs of users during the pandemic – e.g. for academic libraries, how do their students and faculty would like the library to provide support to assist them as they study from home? for special user populations, especially those suffering from the digital divide, what can libraries to ensure equity when providing services during the closure of physical library locations?
  • Librarians’ well-being – what are librarians’ health and safety concerns with regards to working during the pandemic if they have to return to work?
  • How librarians can help address misinformation related to the pandemic – what can the library do to better help library users become more critical consumers of information and avoid being victimized by misinformation?
  • Libraries’ response to the pandemic – did the library have a crisis management/communication plan, how did the library make decisions on their responses to this crisis?

Information behavior during the “Infodemic” – Ideas for academic librarians

This COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed an information crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the society not only needs to fight the pandemic, but also the “infodemic,” which it defined as “an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it“. This “infodemic” could add another layer of challenge as college students strive to navigate the turbulent time.

College students are likely to fall prey to the spiraling misinformation during the infodemic. Standford researcher Sam Wineburg and his team have repeatedly found that college students were not well-equipped with the ability to critically evaluate online information, and they struggled to effectively evaluate online claims, sources, and evidence. Their research indicated that college students could be deceived by easily manipulated features of websites, such as official-looking logos and domain names, and they tend to read a webpage vertically, staying within a website to evaluate its reliability. In the meantime, high production values, links to reputable news organizations and polished “About” pages were likely to sway students into trusting the contents of the site without much skepticism.

Academic libraries have been increasingly involved in helping college students battle misinformation. Here are a couple of recent articles that explored academic librarians’ efforts on this front: “Academic library guides for tackling fake news: A content analysis” by Sook Lim; and “News Credibility: Adapting and Testing a Source Evaluation Assessment in Journalism” by Piotr S. Bobkowski and Karna Younger.

Yesterday, I read about the following study on TIME magazine, and thought this might be something that academic librarians may find useful as they guide students’ information behavior during the “infodemic”.

A new paper in Psychological Science explores not only why people believe Internet falsehoods but also how to help them become more discerning about what they share. One of the leading reasons misinformation about COVID-19 gains traction is that it’s a topic that scares the daylights out of us. The more emotional valence something we read online has, the likelier we are to pass it on.

That’s in keeping with earlier research out of MIT, published in 2018, showing that fake news spreads faster on Twitter than does the truth. The reason, the researchers in that study wrote, was that lies are “more novel than true news … [eliciting] fear, disgust and surprise,” just the things that give sharing its zing.

Political leanings also influence sharing. A 2019 Science study, from researchers at Northeastern and elsewhere, showed that neither the left nor the right has a monopoly on sharing fake news; mostly people are just choosing content that fits their ideologies.

To dig deeper still into sharing decisions, Rand and colleagues developed a two-part study. In the first, they assembled a sample group of 853 adults and first asked them to take a pair of tests. One, known as the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT), measures basic reasoning processes. The other measured basic science knowledge. The sample pool was then divided in half. Both halves were shown the same series of 30 headlines—15 false and 15 true—about COVID-19, but they were instructed to do two different things. One group was asked to determine the accuracy of the headlines. The other was asked if they would be inclined to share the headlines.

The results were striking. The first group correctly identified the truth or falsehood of two-thirds of the headlines. The second group—freed from having to consider accuracy—reported that they would share half the headlines, equally divided between true ones and false ones.

The study did find that people who scored higher on the CRT and basic science tests were a little less indiscriminate. The solution, clearly, is not to force people to pass a reasoning test before they’re admitted online. The second part of the study provided a better answer.

For that portion, a different sample group of 856 adults was again divided in two and again shown the same set of headlines. This time, neither group was asked to determine the accuracy of the headlines; instead, both were asked only if they would share them. But there was still a difference: one group was first shown one of four non- COVID-19-related headlines and asked to determine whether it was true or false. That priming—asking the subjects to engage their critical faculties—made a big difference: the primed group was one-third as likely as the unprimed one to share a false headline.

Thinking critically—especially about the truth of a headline—reduces the spread of fake news.”

Library Responses to COVID-19: What I Observed

The COVID-19 pandemic has been quite disruptive to many aspects of our lives. As we all struggle to manage the new reality, our libraries are also doing their best to continue providing services to their communities during this trying time. I have been following library responses to the COVID-19 crisis on social media and here are some of my observations and experiences.

  • American Library Association (ALA)’s Pandemic Preparedness page has a lot of great resources that could help libraries better understand how to respond to the crisis.
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  • Libraries establish specific pages that list COVID-19 related resources that are reliable and trustworthy, such as the one from Portland State University Library.
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  • A creative librarian from Hoover Library at McDaniel College put on book displays in his/her own home, reminding people that these books are all available through the library’s eBook collection.
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    (image source: Hoover Library’s FaceBook Page)
  • Storytimes have gone virtual! A police officer from Puyallup, WA, a frequent guest at Puyallup Public Library’s storytime, recorded a virtual one for kids.
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    (image source: Puyallup Police Department FaceBook Page)
  • Libraries’ 3D printers have new uses now – they can print face shields for health care providers.
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    (image source: blogto.com)
  • Although the physical location is closed, some libraries still continue to provide curbside delivery services to help patrons check out materials. Woburn Library even made TikTok video to promote this service to their community!
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    (image source: Woburn Public Library FaceBook Page)
  • Libraries are considering turning bookmobiles into free WiFi trucks – what a thoughtful idea!
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    (image source: vice.com)

Despite all the challenges the pandemic has posed, it does provide opportunities for libraries to highlight their wonderful online resources. My local library, San Jose Public Library, has done a fantastic job in that regard. Since the closure of the library building three weeks ago, they have been sending a weekly email to stay in touch with everybody and encourage people to use their online resources.

Week 1, an email containing Frequently Asked Questions that really helped keeping us informed and putting our minds at ease. It’s a relief to know that all of our book will be automatically renewed till after the library reopens.

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Week 2, an email emphasizing SJPL’s online sources specifically oriented to K-12 kids and educators, such as tutor.com and a bunch of EBSCO databases.

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Week 3, an email reminding us that if we don’t have a library card already, we can apply for an eLibrary Card online, so that we can freely use the library’s online resources.

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The most recent week, an email giving us a summary about how people are actively using the library’s online services such as virtual reference, which has been extended to 24/7, and participating the Spring into Reading program, an program that encourages people to use the library’s eBooks and other eResources.

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These emails always bring a smile to my face. 🙂

Our libraries and librarians are the best!

Assessing Scholarly Communication Services: A National Forum in May 2020

I’m a member of a great project team that’s working to put together the National Forum of the Assessment of Scholarly Communications Programs. The project is funded by IMLS and led by wonderful librarians from Sacramento State University and San Jose State University.

The forum will be held online via Zoom on May 4th and 5th. Attendees of the forum will include experts from library assessment that will present and lead discussions on how existing assessment techniques can be implemented for scholarly communication services. The forum will result in a report with recommendations for standards and a comprehensive set of best practices in assessing the range of services that comprise scholarly communication program.

My role in this grant project is to provide methodological expertise in the data gathering and analysis. I have been closely involved in designing and implementing the data collection instruments to gather input from librarians and campus stakeholders that will inform the project goal. We used the Research Lifecycle from the University of Central Florida to frame our data collection instruments, and the data has truly opened my eyes to the wide variety of practices in scholarly communication programs and their role in the campus research enterprise. Can’t wait to hear more from librarians and campus stakeholders at the Forum!

Image result for research lifecycle at university of central florida

New course on health literacy and public library

I taught a new seminar course this summer, discussing the role of public libraries in supporting the community’s health literacy through the provision of consumer health information. I have done some research in this area and have grown increasingly interested in what libraries can do in meeting the community’s health information needs. The Public Library Association has listed “Health” as one of their initiatives, and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine is also actively working with public libraries in the development of consumer health information collections/services/programs. Event ALA’s Libraries Transform Campaign includes “health” as an area where public libraries can make a difference.

In this class, we looked at how public libraries can provide consumer health information from the following perspectives: the public’s health information seeking behavior, health reference services (e.g. key health information resources, evaluation criteria, health reference interview), consumer health collection development, programming, outreach and collaboration, outcome evaluation and needs assessment, and professional development of public librarians. I asked students to do field research and here are some highlights of their observations how consumer health information is provided in public libraries:

  1. Targeting special populations – e.g. a resource center for veterans where health and wellness is a focus
  2. Targeting a particular health issue – e.g. a desert library has a resource center dedicated to cooling, hydration and other heat-related health concerns
  3. Various fitness programs – e.g. yoga, zumba, Taichi
  4. Workshops covering a wide array of health topics – e.g. healthy lifestyle, mental health
  5. Health-themed book displays in the library;  online resources (databases, curated list of free websites) also have a designated “health and wellness” section
  6. Strong partnerships with community health stakeholders in the development of programs and services

It was really an interesting course to teach despite the huge amount of work. My next step is to identify public librarians who have gone through MLA’s Consumer Health Information Specialization training and interview them, and their perspective and experience will surely help enrich student learning next time I teach the class.

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:

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Doing the cabbage toss on the last day to review what we have learned

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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 (d.school) 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 https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1YRjYMYb6EGqv – 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.

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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.

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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!

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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. 🙂