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RAILS conference



I was invited to attend the RAILS (Research Applications in Information and Library Studies) conference held at Monash University, Melbourne, 28 – 30 November. The conference theme was “Engaging Research: Collaboration and Community” and it attracted around 70 participants from Australia and New Zealand.

In my presentation I provided a global context by talking about the United Nations 2030 Agenda and IFLA’s International Advocacy Program; and IFLA’s Global Vision project which has been undertaken to better understand how we can address the challenges faced by libraries in an increasingly globalised world.

I also shared some of my personal reflections as a library practitioner on how research and practice have worked by looking at some research projects that have been undertaken in Victoria and further afield over the past 20 years. There have been a number of significant research projects sponsored by the State Library of Victoria and Public Libraries Victoria Network since 2005 but only one of them has been conducted by an academic. As well as these Victorian examples, I noted projects undertaken in NSW and in Aarhus in Denmark.

I was interested to hear from the conference participants their views on the following questions:

  • Is there a disconnect between academic research and (public library) practice?

  • Do you think it is important?

  • If so, how could we bring research and practice together?

This surfaced some strong opinions about the nature of research and whether such projects qualified as true research. One academic suggested that the projects I had described would be better classed as advocacy projects. There was a sense of frustration that academic research often does not get accepted for conference presentation because it is considered to be too theoretical by program committees. There was agreement that there is a disconnect between research and practice, and indeed this has been the case for many years. Suggestions for improving this included having more dialogue between academics and practitioners; the need for a well-funded formal process to encourage better collaboration; and greater participation in conferences such as RAILS by practitioners.

There were three public library research projects that were described in the morning session. Matt Olsson has been analysing Australia’s adult public library non-fiction collections and has come to the view that collection development in public libraries is broken. This was supported by his assessment of collections using a conspectus model and he discovered that there is a great similarity in subject matter between all public libraries and that there is very little content that goes beyond general and personal interest. The next presentation by L. Willoughby, S. Wright, S. Musgrave and T. Denison explored the borrowings of a public library’s multilingual collections which highlights the narrow offerings in particular languages and the concerns about fair representation that have caused this particular library to not collect any history books in LOTE (Languages other than English). The third presentation by Dr Rebecca Giblin described the work being undertaken to investigate e-lending practices in libraries and the issues facing libraries and content aggregators dealing with publishers when the process is so opaque. The study looks at 536 culturally significant titles and matches them for availability and access. This ongoing work is very important in improving the knowledge and understanding of libraries in advocating for access to information.

My thanks to the Chair of the Conference Organising Committee, Steve Wright, for the invitation to speak and participate. The conference aimed to be intellectually stimulating and enjoyable, and it certainly fulfilled its brief in my view! It made me more aware of the views and concerns of academics and researchers and I hope that we made a small start to move things forward in a useful way.


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