24 Appreciating the Beauty of All Disciplines | Michelle Twait

Library science is a field that blends the disciplines of communication studies, social epistemology, education, public policy and management.  I was drawn to this profession, in part, because it asks one to be a generalist, to appreciate the beauty in all disciplines.  As someone who teaches students about the process of research and information evaluation across academic disciplines, it not surprising that my own research crosses disciplinary boundaries.

The terminal degree for an academic librarian is a Master’s degree in Library Science (M.L.S.).  Students leave graduate school with varying degrees of research experience and most, myself included, discover their research calling after they begin their careers.  For me, the coursework in educational psychology created the spark that ignited my research agenda.  I recognized a gap in library and information science research and have, since then, explored the ways that educational psychology can inform the work of teaching librarians.

My focus at the University of Minnesota was learning and cognition.  A course called “Problem Solving and Decision Making” changed the way I look at students’ information-seeking behavior.  I wanted to learn more about how students make decisions while seeking information.  How does prior knowledge affect those decisions?  What role do motivation and volition play?  How does a student’s sense of self-efficacy influence his or her approach to research?  My ideas for future research include:

  • An exploration of libraries’ roles as centers of constructivist learning
  • A study of cooperative learning and information literacy instruction
  • An investigation of students’ relevance judgments through the lenses of information seeking behavior and consumer behavior (this is the focus of my sabbatical proposal – see Appendix C)
  • An analysis of information seeking behavior and social networking sites (e.g. MySpace and Facebook), including what information is sought and who or what is consulted
  • A comparison of students’ level of attention and selectiveness based on the various settings and the different contexts in which students seek information

In short, I enjoy exploring the relationship between cognitive processes and student research behaviors.

My research reflects an ongoing theory-practice dialogue within the scholarship of teaching and learning.  I believe that improving my teaching requires a better understanding of student learning.  I hope to be an academic whose work offers scholarly insight combined with practical applications. At the same time, I have not forgotten my first love: history.  I continue, as time permits, to research the role that libraries played in the lives of working women during the Progressive Period.  I am also exploring the links between the reform politics of the day and the simultaneous expansion of public libraries.  This research attempts to clarify how women’s trade unions, settlement houses, and female laborers used libraries and information.

Since arriving at Gustavus, I have presented posters or oral presentations at several conferences, including the Association of College and Research Libraries Conference, LOEX (Clearinghouse for Library Instruction) Conference, and Minnesota Library Association Conference.  I have had three articles published and one presented paper published in the conference’s proceedings.  Other papers are in various stages of preparation.  In March, I submitted an article about my 2008 Interim Experience course, “Library as Place.”  It has been accepted for publication in a future issue of College & Research Libraries News.  This May, I submitted a proposal for a chapter of a book that will focus on one aspect of library-related qualitative research. My most recent project is with Minnesota State University-Mankato cataloging librarian Jessica Schomberg.  She and I are in the process of examining the relationship between students’ mindfulness and library anxiety and how this might influence the relevance judgments they make during online catalog/database research.

Librarianship is a profession that values and embraces collaboration.  This is often embodied in the work done at regional and national levels in professional associations. A few of these activities are highlighted below.

In fall 2003, I was invited to join the MINITEX Electronic Information Resources (MEIR) Task Force.  MINITEX is a consortium of public, academic, state government, and special libraries in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.  Members of the task force were asked to review, revise, and reissue a request for proposal (RFP) for general and scholarly information databases that would be made available to all citizens of those three states.  Once we had completed the RFP, we reviewed vendor proposals, tested products through trial access to the resources, and attended vendor presentations.  Balancing the needs of these different constituencies proved to be quite challenging and I learned a great deal through the process.  Today, Gustavus benefits from this work through the Electronic Library for Minnesota (ELM) program.  We have access to a suite of EBSCOhost databases that provide thousands of full-text journal articles, all subsidized by MINITEX.

The external reviewer for my third year review, Susan Barnes Whyte, suggested that I become more involved at the national level.  Shortly after the review was completed, I was invited to serve as an intern on two American Library Association committees, both of which are part of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL, a division of the American Library Association).

One of these committees, the Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship Committee, is charged with annually selecting a doctoral student in the field of academic librarianship whose research demonstrates originality, creativity and interest in scholarship.  After reviewing the applications, the committee members evaluated them based on several criteria.  The committee then met in person to debate the merits of each candidate’s work.  The conversations were often spirited and I enjoyed actively participating in these discussions.  After serving for one year as an intern, I was invited to be a full member of the committee.

The second committee, the Professional Education Committee, is part of the Instruction Section of ACRL.  The committee “encourages the development of professional education for library school students and librarians with instruction-related responsibilities.” I have participated in the two major projects of the committee: updating a list of instruction courses offered by graduate schools of library and information science and maintaining a list of continuing education programs for instruction librarians.  After serving as an intern and then as a full member, this spring I was invited to chair the committee.  My term as chair began in July 2008 and I look forward to providing leadership that will help the committee achieve its goals and advance its mission.

 Other scholarly activities. As part of our assessment plan, the library has conducted focus group research for several years.  We have typically recruited students, though sometimes faculty, for these user studies.  Barbara Fister and I designed and implemented a longitudinal study where we followed students over their four years at Gustavus.  Each year (2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003), we asked them about course assignments, library instruction sessions, and general research habits.  This research improved our understanding of students’ needs, perceptions, satisfaction, and expectations.  We added and adapted services and resources based on our findings.

This past year, I helped design and administer a survey on continuing education needs and practices on behalf of the Professional Education Committee of the Instruction Section of ACRL.  After compiling the results and assessing the data, I summarized the results in an article for the Instruction Section newsletter.

I continue to have an emerging research agenda, which has evolved in conjunction with my growth in other areas.  While working to establish this pattern, I have tried to find balance among a heavy teaching load, scholarship, and service.  In doing so, I have made a broad range of contributions to the College, Library, and professional communities, and my efforts in this area have been sustained, significant, and gratifying. I feel confident that my commitment to writing, presenting, and participating in professional organizations will continue to produce positive results.