Influencing Our Professional Practice by Putting Our Knowledge to Work

By Marshall, Joanne Gard | Information Outlook, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Influencing Our Professional Practice by Putting Our Knowledge to Work


Marshall, Joanne Gard, Information Outlook


THE HEALTH AND FUTURE OF ANY PROFESSION DEPENDS, TO A GREAT EXTENT, on the thoughtful self-evaluation of its members and the considered examination of their practices. Performing and facilitating evidence-based practice is one of the ways we can improve and refine our professional activities. Simply stated, evidence-based practice refers to making our professional decisions and basing our actions on the strongest evidence available as to what would work best for our clients. This evidence may be based on quantitative data and measures or on qualitative data and methods.

SLA's research statement (see page 42) is based on the idea of evidence-based practice. Medical librarians and school librarians in many countries--including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia--are also developing research statements and research bases focused on evidence-based practice.

The SLA Research Committee will evaluate applications for the Steven I. Goldspiel Memorial Research Fund grants in the context of SLA's research statement. Committee members are Eileen Abels, Mary Beall, Cindy Lenox, Sara Tompson, and Roberta Brody, chair.

The following describes the underlying ideas in the SLA research statement. It was contributed by Joanne Gard Marshall, dean and professor at the School of Library and Information Science, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill:

In 2001 I had the opportunity to chair the subcommittee of the SLA Research Committee that reviewed our association's research statement. The previous research statement was essentially a list of topics that could guide researchers in applying for the Goldspiel grants. It was also intended as a general message to researchers about the particular topics that special librarians thought needed to be studied. While the original statement had its uses, the subcommittee thought that it was time to delve deeper into the purpose of research in our field and the ways in which the knowledge base needs to expand in order for us to fulfill our potential as evidence-based practitioners. The resulting document discusses the role of research in the field, the current state of our knowledge base, and the origin and nature of evidence-based practice. Specific suggestions are made for what special librarians, researchers, and our association can do to implement this approach.

For those of us who took research methods in our graduate programs, we know that the topic often seems less than exciting. For many, the word "research" conjures up complex questions and impenetrable statistics and not the discovery of new knowledge that can be applied in a useful way to what we do on a daily basis. Yet when we examine the various professions and what has made some rise in stature (not to mention income), there is a high correlation between the state of research in a field and the status of a given profession. If we want to become the premier information professionals of the 21st century and beyond, we must support the creation, sharing, and use of our own knowledge base. If we can demonstrate that our services are based on the best evidence of what works, we can make the most convincing claim for our expertise in the increasingly competitive information service marketplace.

The idea of evidence-based practice comes from the health professions, where continued pressures to control rising costs have led to efforts to select the most effective and least costly treatments. In many ways, evidence-based health care can be seen as a way of incorporating old-fashioned research into practice. The idea makes so much sense that professionals outside the health care arena are adopting it, and librarians have an opportunity to learn from this trend. Adopting evidence-based practice may be easier for librarians than for some other groups, because we frequently work with researchers and their publications and hence understand the nature of research and how it is used. …

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