Evidence-based

Monday, 1 April 2019

Having knowledge and experience in evidence-based practice is another important part of what library professionals do best and why librarianship is one of the most trusted professions in Australia.

The goal of evidence-based practice is to create better outcomes based on scientifically relevant research, most likely quantitative in nature. It is an approach where decision-makers rank evidence according to how scientifically sound it may be to help guide their choices.

The practice as a movement began to emerge in medicine during the early 1990s and became popular in nursing and other allied health fields, education, research, management and many other disciplines.

Libraries have been using the concept for a long time. Having worked in academic and research libraries over the past 15 years, I have gained an appreciation of how library users rely on the expertise of information professionals to help them identify and critically assess the information available to them and to gather evidence for research.

Educating library users in information and digital literacy forms the basis for evidence-based research. A good example of this is computational analysis in the form of data and text mining. Using specific software, which is often platform based, researchers can extract data, identify trends, search for patterns and better understand the relationships of terms within and between documents or datasets. Analysis can be focused on word frequency, words that occur near each other, common phrases and other patterns. This technique teaches researchers to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively use that information as evidence for what they are trying to achieve.

At the Australian Parliamentary Library and the Reserve Bank of Australia Library our clients depended on the expertise of librarians to support their research. We did this by providing evidence in the form of quality impartial and factual material to clients who relied on the quality of information to inform better policy and decision making. An example from my time working at the Reserve Bank is the task of supporting research into how financial markets reacted word by word to releases such as interviews and speeches made by regulators and policy makers. By using data and text mining techniques we provided datasets from media channels for researchers to process. The resulting patterns of key words were used to demonstrate evidence of activity reactions in various markets. Other specialised libraries such as law and health support and teach evidence-based practice and play a vital role in providing quality information to their clients.

Serving as a director of the ALIA Board, I have gained knowledge and understanding of the different sectors and found that this process of evidenced based research occurs across all libraries.

As a leader of a collection management team, I make frequent financial decisions based on evidence from a variety of sources. To give one example, renewing subscriptions to expensive datasets or ejournals involves gathering data to support decision making in several forms. Anecdotal evidence is collected by surveying and soliciting feedback from different user groups. Hard usage data is obtained from a combination of our systems and the vendor’s platform which reveal how often the material is accessed, what time of day and the geographic location of the user. All of this when analysed and presented forms the basis of justifying expenditure and promoting the library’s resources. In a similar way, new resources can be trialled, measured and analysed to the support procurement decisions.

Turning all this back on ourselves as leaders in the profession, our own use of evidence-based practice is essential to promote our libraries and to advocate for our future. Survival for libraries is all about demonstrating and marketing our value and the most effective way to argue for our own future growth is to present hard evidence. In the modern world of fake news and a 24-hour media cycle – gathering, analysing and presenting an argument based on a variety of strong evidence can be used to influence decision makers by using anything that can be usefully measured. Surveys and feedback, usage statistics and engaging champions are all ways of building evidence to mount a case for our future.