By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—Courtney Block, the instruction, reference and user engagement librarian at IU Southeast, has won a spot at the 2016 Institute for Research Design in Librarianship (IRDL).
Block is one of only 21 applicants accepted into this year’s institute, which received hundreds of applications from 37 states.
The institute takes place from June 6-16 on the campus of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Calif.
The IRDL is a three-year grant-funded project that brings together a diverse group of academic and research librarians who are motivated to conduct research but need additional training and other support to successfully perform the steps required. During the nine-day session, participants receive expert instruction on research design and small-group and one-on-one assistance in writing and revising their own draft research proposal. Over the coming year, Block and her cohort will continue to develop their own research projects along the guidelines learned at the institute, and share the results with co-investigators.
“At its base, the institute will help me be a more confident researcher so that I can contribute to the scholarly research about libraries and librarianship,” Block said.
Block’s proposal analyzes the usage and perception of library spaces, with an eye to making them more fluid and receptive to the needs of current and future users.
“We must have a dynamic view of space that injects new meaning and value to the library,” she wrote. “The ability to add value in a sustainable way, demonstrated via actual user need, is a crucial factor in the future of libraries.”
Block proposes gathering data via surveys, focus groups and usage metrics to generate an accurate picture of how libraries are actually used, and to identify areas ripe for transformation.
“This research will identify ways to make the library more effective as a physical space for students and faculty alike,” Block said.
Looking beyond the library as a repository of books, Block foresees a flexible environment that adapts to user needs for information gathering while remaining true to its other core functions. Drawing on her experience in the public library system—prior to coming to IU Southeast, she was public services manager at the Charlestown Clark County Public Library—Block predicts that libraries will come to include more services as well as spaces that are designed with change in mind, be it something as simple as movable electrical outlets, furniture and stacks.
It is well known that academic libraries profit from research conducted by librarians, with benefits ranging from improved operations to better service for faculty and students. Yet often librarians do not have the opportunity or background to pursue an academic project.
The IRDL helps academic research librarians overcome these hurdles and form the nucleus of a network of collaborators dedicated to sustained innovation in librarianship.
In her role at IU Southeast, Block believes that focusing on the human experience inside the library is the best way to demonstrate the relevance of the library in a world that is growing overwhelmingly digital.
“To continue existing in the physical world, libraries must create valuable physical spaces,” Block said.