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Thoughts on Library Research Recruiting

April 28, 2022

I’m currently in the midst of running my first research project, attempting to learn more about faculty publication choices across Pitt’s five campuses. Because I ended up not taking an optional research methods course in graduate school, and have mostly learned by teaching myself and by imitating others, this process has been an incredibly valuable learning experience for me. Being self-taught, however, does have its challenges.

I’m struggling, as I’m sure all researchers must, with recruiting participants. My team and I wanted to have hour-long interviews over Zoom, compensating participants for their time. Very few of the faculty we approached took us up on that offer. It’s unfortunate, because we believe these interviews are still the best way to coax out the data we’re looking for, but we need more participants if our data is to be useful at all. Therefore, I’m taking steps to revise our methods to something less taxing on faculty’s time.

I also started thinking about the research projects my colleagues at Pitt have done with our teaching faculty in the past (we often participate in Ithaka S+R studies). I thought about the teaching faculty at Pitt, who are incredibly busy and would need a good reason to take the time to speak with us. Even beyond formal research, are librarians trying to learn about how their faculty use libraries and their services at a disadvantage?

On the one hand, you have several librarians asking the same population (or sub-population) to participate in studies that may only be useful for the greater good. For smaller universities and college, I imagine that scarcity is even more apparent. Unlike students, faculty aren’t necessarily on constant rotation. I wonder if faculty get tired of getting requests for our studies. On the other hand, it is convenient that librarians doing this kind of work have a distinct population to recruit from—who they may work with or know and can be recruited with just an email—and don’t necessarily have to cast a wide net using listservs or social media. I’m not a liaison either, so I don’t have relationships with faculty that my colleagues might, but I suppose I have the option to ask them for an introduction here and there.

On top of these considerations, I also wonder if new stresses brought on by the pandemic, whose effects we’re still feeling after two years, make faculty less available for participation in studies. I’m thinking of Zoom burnout and anxiety surrounding teaching and childcare, specifically, but there may be other compounding factors.

Satisfying these questions would require more research that I, like my teaching faculty colleagues, do not have the time for, so for now I’m left to wonder and to continue working on revising my IRB.

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