Practicum Pause: an interview with Paul Grewal

During the winter 2014 semester, the McGill Library welcomed 5 practicum students from the McGill School of Information Studies (SIS). The SIS website outlines the practicum experience as

a 3 credit academic elective course in which master’s-level students participate in field practice under the guidance of site supervisors. Students benefit from the opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge base and learning in a real-world setting, while gaining experience and practicing professional skills. Site supervisors and their workplaces benefit from the energy, knowledge, and skills of an emerging information professional while providing students with a valuable mentorship experience in a real-world setting.

Library Matters took a practicum pause with all five students to talk about their work at the McGill Library and how their experience may help to inform Library units as they move forward with related projects. The second of five interviews features Paul Grewal whose practicum responsibilities included analyzing LibQUAL+ survey results after changes to the Library’s reference service model were implemented as well as conducting interviews with a sample of library support staff and librarians and examining qualitative data from this consultation process.

SIS practicum student Paul Grewal

SIS practicum student Paul Grewal

LM: Tell LM readers a little bit about your background.

PG: I did a BA in English Literature from Carleton University. I then took a break and went to England for two years. While in London, I tried following George Orwell’s footsteps and I became a bookseller in a bookshop. That was an amazing experience – I learned a lot. I love the city. After moving back to Ottawa and finishing my honors degree at Carleton, I moved to Montreal. I’ve been here for 6 years. Before starting my MLIS at McGill, I worked at a telecommunications company in Montreal where I was a team manager, business analyst and a systems specialist.

LM: What made you decide to get an MLIS degree at McGill?

PG: I have a lot of experience in libraries. I worked in a public library while I was doing my BA. I really enjoyed that job. Doing a MLIS degree was always in the back of my mind. When I moved to Montreal, I started working for a telecommunications company. They liked me so they kept giving me more and more responsibility.  It gave me a lot of experience but in the back of my mind I always wanted to work in a library. So after about 5 years there, I asked myself, “What about that plan? Right! It’s time to go back!”

LM: Can you give us a brief overview of your practicum at the McGill Library?

PG: My practicum was about the assessment of the Single Service Point model at the McGill Library. Before the implementation of one service desk at each branch, some libraries at McGill had a circulation desk and a reference desk. In 2012, library branches that had this system combined the two. Combining both desks is a trend in many academic libraries around North America. It’s been almost a year and a half now that this service has been in place so, it was time to go back and ask, “What can we do? Is there anything we can improve?” It was also time to review what happened during the implementation.  I was tasked with looking over the LibQUAL+ survey results distributed by McGill Library to about 1,500 library users. The survey examines user perceptions of the library.  I examined what people thought about the change before and after it was implemented to see if there was any difference. I also interviewed staff members by email to find out what their perceptions were of how services were offered here and how they could be improved.

LM: You mentioned reading a lot of background information. What did you tackle first?

PG: My practicum started in January and ended in April, so I had about 12 weeks to dig into the work. The first thing I did was examine the documents that were created around the implementation. There was a lot of project documentation that examined the different branches’ needs and how services desks worked before the change. I looked at all that documentation to understand where the project was coming from. After that I did several literature reviews in order to explore trends and models of service and learning. I then looked at research methodologies, especially for qualitative data analysis. I wanted to find out more about how to develop a survey and send it out to people. So I did another literature review. I also did a literature review on the LibQUAL+ survey because there’s a lot of literature on that and how it works. I looked at the Library’s actual results from LibQUAL+. As an assessment tool LibQUAL+ is fantastic but it also has its limitations. You can’t get detailed, nuanced data from it. Because of time constraints, I didn’t really have time to delve into actual individual data points. I then moved on to the actual construction of the email interview that I sent off to staff members. This happened over the course of a week. I then sent it out to 28 staff members and asked them to return it to me within a week. I had 13 staff members give feedback which was great because that’s almost a 50% response rate. People gave a lot of great constructive feedback on how to improve the service. I analyzed the data and looked for themes. I coded data by theme. Working with my co-supervisors  Lorie Kloda,  Assessment Librarian and Maya Kucij, Coordinator, Education Curriculum Resources Centre and Liaison Librarian, Faculty of Education, I drafted a set of recommendations and developed a final draft document.

LM: What learning moments, or skills or lessons did you take away from this experience?

PG: In school, we do a lot of focused literature reviews on certain topics. During my practicum I was able to develop that skill further. It was great to actually apply a review to a real life situation. You don’t really get to do that in classes. So that was really neat. I also learned about qualitative and quantitative data. I learned about this one instrument, LibQUAL+, that the majority of academic libraries use across North America, and that was really a key learning moment for me. There’s a lot of things you can do with the data to find out what trends are out there. Do people have a good view of a particular service? Do users they think we need to have more books? Overall the tool gives you a good sense of what people think but it doesn’t give you a comprehensive way to find out what can be done to improve things. I also learnt more about how to collect qualitative data.  I’ve actually done interviews before, but I’ve actually never done an analysis of the data. So it was really interesting for me to find out how to do the analysis and make a meaningful story out of the data.

LM: What do you wish you had known before you started your practicum?

PG: I wish I would have been more familiar with the SPSS analysis software before I started the project, so that I could have dug deeper into the LibQUAL+ survey data.

LM: Was there a new discovery that you came across in your practicum?

PG: I’ve conducted interviews based on surveys other people have done. And just seeing LibQUAL+, the methodology behind it, the great structure behind it was incredible. After diving into it, I realized I needed a lot more time to play with it than I thought I would initially need. So for me that was a big discovery.  LibQUAL+ is an amazing tool. Look what we can do with it. Look what libraries are doing with it – some make very important decisions based on it. I enjoyed looking at the actual way the tool worked and how much data you can get from it.

LM: What was your most memorable moment?

PG: I wasn’t sure what kind of responses I would get in the email interviews I did with the staff members. The way things were phrased was very open-ended. I received very consistent responses to certain questions. To be able to say that, “Okay yes, there are a lot of people who feel this way therefore I can make a recommendation based on that.” was reassuring. Real world realities, time and resource constraints sometimes force you to do things in a certain way. It may not be the most ideal. I think it would have been great to have conducted interviews in-person because sometimes you can get richer data from those types of interviews. You can, for example, follow up on a certain question right then and there. With email people sometimes have a long time to think. The responses I collected were consistent which is great but doing the interviews in person would have been different. Trying to figure out what I could actually do in the time that I had to do it, that was the interesting thing for me.

LM: What’s up next for you?

PG: We have a new baby, and he’s just 4 months old. My wife has been very supportive and helpful while I’ve been finishing off my degree, and so I would like to continue spending time with him. I’d like to find work. I am curious about all of the ways that libraries are changing and managing change and innovation.  I think that was the biggest takeaway from my degree.  Things are changing so rapidly, you have to keep on top of everything and try to keep people on board with that. Managing change can be turbulent sometimes. I would like to help people get through that change in a meaningful way. That would be my ideal. That’s what I’d like to be doing.

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