Rob Challis on his Harry Galloway Prize winning dissertation

Rob Challis, winner of this year’s Harry Galloway Prize, describes his award winning dissertation.

‘I completed the MSc in Information Management at UWE on a part-time basis between autumn 2013 and spring 2016.  I had been working in Library-related roles at the University of Bristol for more than 13 years when I started the course, and – finally! – I decided to seek a professional qualification following a very rewarding experience working on two library building projects.

The seed of my dissertation topic was a suggestion from one of the UWE librarians to look at how library discovery tools are used in subjects such as Law and Business Studies, where the most important resources are commercial databases that do not interface well with them.  I was working in the Wills Memorial Library at the time (home to the University of Bristol’s Law collection), and this led me to think more widely about how Law students find their way in a digital information “ecosystem” dominated by two key databases – particularly in the later stages of their undergraduate degrees.

I approached the topic by conducting a series of “think aloud” activities, in which student participants from the University’s Law School were asked to describe their thoughts and decisions in real time, as they completed a series of information-seeking tasks.  The data from these sessions were supplemented by follow-up interviews with the participants.

I found that Library tools were used in a very limited way (primarily for finding known print items), and that the majority of “authoritative” sources were sought and obtained directly from commercial Law databases.  Equally interesting, however, was the participants’ use of non-authoritative – and sometimes avowedly “unreliable” – sources, obtained freely from the web, as a convenient way of orientating themselves within complex subjects.

Although my dissertation focused very much on information-seeking behaviours, an optional MSc unit on Designing the User Experience had a significant influence on my approach.  UX principles informed both the design and performance of my research activities, as well as the interpretation of the resulting data.  I continue to use these principles in my current role, implementing reading list software at the University of Bristol.

I‘m delighted to follow in the footsteps of my classmate Sophia Richards (2014 winner) in winning the Harry Galloway prize.  Undertaking the dissertation has been one of the highlights of my professional career so far, and it’s really pleasing to have it recognised in this way’.

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