In the spring of 2017, Lafayette College joined eleven other institutions to participate in Ithaka S+R’s qualitative study of Asian Studies scholars (Ithaka S+R’s capstone report, which includes links to the reports authored by the participating institutions, can be found here). As part of the project, Michaela Kelly and I conducted one-on-one semi-structured interviews with our faculty members on their research focus and methods, information access and discovery, dissemination practices, and the state of the field. Our resulting report identifies key areas where Asian Studies scholars at Lafayette can be better supported in their research endeavors including: continuing to engage with Asian Studies scholars in their new modes of research, facilitating conversations on data management and preservation, partnering with other institutions to build methodological support, and sponsoring faculty seminar series to help connect Asian Studies scholars with scholars in other fields on campus. Today I am writing to share further about the library’s experiences implementing one of the recommendations that emerged from the findings–developing a seminar series.

Engaging with Asian Studies Scholars at Lafayette College

Lafayette College is a private, liberal arts residential college with 2,400 full-time students and 215 faculty members. It offers the Bachelor of Arts degree in thirty-seven fields and the Bachelor of Science degree in nine fields of science and four fields of engineering. Given the small size of the college, the relatively brief history of the Asian Studies program it’s not uncommon for a single faculty member to be the only person working on a large geographic area and territory at the college.

Over the course of the interviews for the project, our scholars spoke of the value of having guest lecturers in their classes and leading study abroad trips with other faculty members and wished that there were a regular interdisciplinary seminar series with faculty members discussing their research. They argued that knowing what other faculty members do and how they ask research questions would not only help break the sense of research isolation that they feel but also help them become “more nuanced…and better contextualizing scholar[s].” (Research Support Needs of Asian Studies Scholars: A Local Report, p4) Participants acknowledged that one key issue to the seminar series would be sustaining them. They thought that the Library would be a natural place to host the faculty seminars since it already sponsors the faculty book author series and librarians have deep and broad knowledge of faculty members’ research interests.

Leveraging Our Findings to Develop the Seminar Series

The Library is, to a large extent, the collective knowledge center of faculty members’ scholarship and pedagogy on campus. Due to their active teaching role and their work with faculty members from across different disciplines, librarians have been able to build extensive knowledge of faculty members’ research and pedagogy and use it to connect faculty members from across the campus. When considering the project findings alongside the library’s mandate through internal discussions at the library, the faculty research seminar series emerged as strong potential strategy for extending the library’s existing efforts.

I approached the Dean of the Faculty, who helped establish the Asian Studies program, and the Director of the Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship (CITLS) about the forum, both of whom thought it was a good idea and agreed to co-sponsor. I also worked with the Chair of the Academic Research Committee (ARC) since the committee sponsors work-in-progress talks.

Fielding Our First Seminar

The first forum took place during lunchtime in the Library’s program room with lunch provided. In attendance were faculty members from different disciplines including Anthropology, Engineering Studies, English, Government & Law, International Affairs, Mathematics, and Psychology, librarians, the Dean of Curriculum and Research from the Provost’s Office, and a few students.

To maximize turnout, I wanted to pair researchers up, either by discipline or by similar research interests. For the inaugural program, I invited two faculty members that do research in inequality and social welfare but are in two different departments; one is tenured and the other recently joined Lafayette. The two presenters each spent 15-20 minutes discussing their research before opening up for questions and comments. To help them prepare for their talk, I sent them a list of questions that are loosely based on the Ithaka S+R study: What are your research interests? How do you develop and frame research questions? How do you manage and preserve data? What methods do you employ? What are some of the challenges you encounter? One faculty member went through the entire list while the other focused on her research questions, methods, and challenges.

Final Thoughts

The forum was well received and for future programs, I will continue to experiment with how to pair professors up with the help of the CITLS director and ARC (the committee has decided to sponsor the program with the library). The co-sponsorship will help avoid concurrent programming and ensure a good turnout. Encouraged by their professor, a few students attended the forum to learn about how professors do research especially how they develop and frame research questions. From now on, I will advertise the forum series to all students as well as faculty. In terms of the content, since data storage and preservation is an important issue identified in our study, I will need to find ways to make sure that the presenters share their practices.

With the success of the research forum, we are also looking forward to exploring other possibilities for working with project findings. As our experiences suggest, engaging with scholars on their research practices not only provides an opportunity to understand those practices more deeply, it also allows us to critically reflect on library services. More importantly, the findings become evidence that we can incorporate to further improve library programs and engage with scholars.