Submitted by Becca Billings, MLIS
University of Alabama at Birmingham Lister Hill Library
Greetings, wonderful folks of ALHeLA! As librarians, we are always expanding our knowledge of our many and varied resources and tools in order to share them with our students and faculty as they attain their research endeavors. Many universities purchase an array of great tools for specific parts of a project, like EndNote or Mendeley to create and manage their library of references for writing a paper, or Covidence and DistillerSR to help researchers fulfill their screening steps when conducting a systematic review. Most faculty have a favorite tool that they ask students to use as well, and in many instances, these faculty call on the librarians to cover the training.
No matter how many times I schedule a class or consultation on EndNote or another tool, I feel like it will never end! Part of me feels like I could do something differently to save time and energy. I believe as librarians, and I don’t think I’m the only one, many of us think it’s our responsibility to learn how to use all of our tools in order to better serve our patrons. During my most recent instruction session with the UAB School of Nursing, I found myself needing to cover a variety of different reference manager tools and screening tools for students in the PhD program, but instead of attempting to teach the students how to use each possible library tool, I, along with my colleague, Dorothy Ogdon, developed an instruction session called “Practical Planning for Managing Research Materials.” I found it to be a somewhat liberating experience to focus on such a different angle of library resources, not how to use each one, but choose each one, and wanted to share a few things.
I think that it was a good experience to teach students on how to plan for their research projects before they actually start them, which encourages students to really think about what tools they are already comfortable with, what each tool is made to do, and how to incorporate a tool appropriately into their work at the right time. By focusing more on the planning part of a research project workflow, rather than focusing so much on how to use every possible tool that they could use within the process, I think it helped put resources into a different perspective for students, and helped them understand that they have options! If they don’t feel comfortable with a specific resource or database, there is something else available for them to try instead. It also allows them to ask the right questions like, “Is this tool useful for my group that has members outside of my university?” or “Will I have access to this screening tool when I leave my university, or am I confortable with purchasing an individual subscription when I graduate in order to still have access to my work?”
During the instruction session, Dorothy and I first talked about the importance of planning a workflow and how to document your project so losing your work is less likely. Steps for the planning, implementation, & end-of-project stages were all discussed. We also focused on research steps that might occur in various projects and how to work with group members and how to select the best tools in each stage to use. We broke up this part by focusing on what to ask before selecting citation management tools with specific attention given to EndNote, F1000 Workspace, & Mendeley, & later focused on considerations to make for screening tools like Covidence, DistillerSR, & Rayyan. Each of these databases, while not instructed on how to use, were given a pros and cons list based on our experiences with using the technology. More resources were provided as well to give students a chance to make their own decisions.
Once the presentation portion was covered, we allowed students to get hands-on experience with both F1000 Workspace, a citation manager, and Rayyan, a free screening tool. We created a practice project so that students could get a better idea on how to use the tools and what limitations they had. We got some good feedback and the students really seemed to appreciate a different approach to library instruction that wasn’t black and white but gave them options to make their own decisions. It is the librarian’s job to provide our students and faculty with the resources to make their own decisions, and I think teaching this session reminded me of that purpose rather than knowing absolutely everything myself. If you’re interested in seeing the PPT slides and the activity handout, please let me know!