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Research Focus: The Long and Winding Research Road

by Vikki Terrile on 2022-02-10T11:13:22-05:00 in Research Focus (Blog Posts) | 0 Comments

When I started my journey to a doctorate degree in 2015, I was still working in public libraries. Back then, I'd been doing outreach (bringing programs and services from the library out into the community) at family homeless shelters in NYC for ten years and I knew this was what I wanted to research for my dissertation. As is often the case, my road to a PhD hit some bumps (the college I started at closed, I switched to working in academic libraries) and when the dust settled, I figured my work around libraries and homelessness was over and I started thinking about other dissertation topics. Here's some of what I came up with and wrote mini-proposals for:

  • how curriculum libraries support pre-service teachers and their pedagogy
  • the embodied information behaviors of traditional craftspeople at living history museums
  • the library use histories of community college students

I was semi-excited about each of these ideas and then I...wasn't. There's a lesson here: if you're not passionate about what you're researching, you're going to have a tough time with it. And did I ever! But I'm a big believer that if you listen to your instincts, the universe will (eventually) work itself out for you and as I was dragging my feet about my research and muddling through COVID and all its challenges, I had the opportunity to create and co-teach a graduate class for pre-service librarians on Family Homelessness and Libraries. As I was working on the syllabus and looking for articles for the students to read, I found that I was still just about the only person who had written anything about library services for families experiencing homelessness. At that moment, the giant light bulb over my head turned on and I knew what my dissertation needed to be about.

Fast forward a year and I have completed a pilot study that explored how public librarians in the U.S. who work with families in homeless situations understand and make sense of this work. The librarians I interviewed talked about how important this work is, but also that it can be really, really hard, and that their coworkers and administrations don't support them (librarianship as a whole doesn't support them, either). My dissertation proposal is taking some of what I learned in that first study and exploring how youth-serving librarians in the U.S. (and hopefully some families in homeless situations, too) understand the library as a place or a symbol, you know, as "THE LIBRARY." There's been so much written in the last 10-15 years about libraries as place, as community hubs, as all of these weighty symbolic things, and I want to understand how these symbols have impacted how librarians and families (who are often not well-served by libraries) see "the library" and their place in it.

Parallel to my dissertation projects, I launched a survey study to ask homeless shelter providers if and how they receive library services from their public libraries. It's early in the study but I've gotten back some interesting results and I'm excited to write this up and to use it to support my dissertation research.

I can talk/write about this research for hours (and I have, so I'll stop here) but it's a reminder that this is the kind of excitement and commitment that makes good research. It's what we as students, educators, librarians, and curious humans should strive for in what we do and learn and share with the rest of the world.



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