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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2013

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Identifying Liaison Opportunities through Content Analysis: Academic Library Trends in the Ecological Society of America's Conference Program

Jamie L. Conklin
Science and Health Sciences Librarian
Lovejoy Library
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Edwardsville, Illinois

Copyright 2013, Jamie L. Conklin. Used with permission.


Science and technology librarians need to continually invest time into professional development activities to gain new skills relevant to the faculty and students they serve. Many academic libraries face diminishing budgets and have few travel dollars available for attendance at library and subject-specific conferences. This study determined that a content analysis of a subject-specific conference would be a useful substitute for attendance. I analyzed the 2012 conference program of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) to identify trends shared by ecology faculty and librarians, as well as the most frequently occurring trends and topics. The analysis categorized the 470 sessions by trends identified in the ACRL 2012 Top Trends in Academic Libraries and found that the most frequent trend was communicating value with 51 sessions, followed by higher education with 23 sessions, data curation and staffing with 17 sessions, and information technology with 16 sessions. Some frequently discussed topics included climate change, ecosystem services, plant communities, forests, food webs, and invasive species. Content analysis proved useful for identifying possible collaborative areas with ecology faculty for the benefit of librarians and faculty, as well as pinpointing specific areas and resources for collection development, instruction, and reference.


Science and technology liaison librarians face the challenge of keeping up with trends and special interests both in the library profession and in the professions they serve. Traditionally, they attend library conferences, such as those held by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), American Library Association (ALA), or Special Libraries Association (SLA). These conferences provide opportunities for liaison librarians to learn from their peers in the traditional areas of instruction, reference, and collection development, as well as to gather ideas about emerging areas. Because liaison librarians better understand how scholars communicate with one another and how professors teach and develop their curricula, emerging areas now include publishing services, data management, and integrated information literacy instruction (Williams & Jaguscewski 2012).

Both liaison librarians and faculty attribute increased satisfaction of liaison work to more contact with each other and more services provided by the librarians to their departments (Arendt & Lotts 2012). How can science and technology liaison librarians identify possible services to provide to faculty? One method would be to talk directly to faculty about their research and teaching needs. This may prove problematic since some faculty members are unaware of the types of services liaison librarians provide (Cooke et al. 2011; Yang 2000). Another approach would be to actively search for possible collaboration opportunities, such as those shared by others at library conferences, and bring those ideas to faculty.

In addition to seeking ideas at library conferences, librarians could join subject-specific organizations and attend their meetings. Some libraries encourage this; for example, librarians at Texas A&M who have substantial collection development responsibilities receive funding to attend a subject-specific conference each year (Hankins, Melgoza, Seeger, & Wan 2009). Liaison librarians attending subject-specific conferences gain insight into developments relevant to their departments, the ability to talk knowledgably with faculty, and information about important authors, trends, and sources in subject-specific areas (Tomaszewski and MacDonald 2009). The library profession benefits, too, in that new knowledge is transferred between disciplines, thus making the field more dynamic and supportive (Tysick 2002).

Due to cuts in travel funding, many librarians do not have the resources to attend conferences. If they do, it is impossible to attend all the useful programs or to catch all the trends being discussed. Librarians need a cost effective method to determine what hot topics are being discussed at science conferences that relate to libraries and possible liaison opportunities. The ACRL-STS Liaison Program provides one solution. Librarians serve one-year terms in which each librarian attends a subject-specific conference, writes a report, and shares it online or through a poster session (ACRL 2012). In this paper, I aim to show that another possible solution would be to perform a content analysis of subject-specific conference programs.

This paper describes an analysis of the 2012 annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), providing a method of identifying trends common to both ecology faculty and librarians. ESA, founded in 1915, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering ecology through scientific methods, public awareness, and communication with policy makers (ESA n.d.). Currently, ESA has more than 10,000 members spread throughout 25 special interest sections and seven regional chapters. ESA holds an annual meeting in August to discuss a specific theme, such as the 2012 theme of "Life on Earth: Preserving, Utilizing, and Sustaining our Ecosystems."

I chose the ESA conference program because I am the subject librarian for the Department of Biological Sciences, which includes a specialization for Ecology, Evolution and Environment. Several faculty regularly attend or have attended the annual ESA meeting. In addition, the ESA program is readily available online and contains descriptions of conference sessions.

The specific research questions for the study include:

  1. What trends do ecology faculty and librarians have in common?
  2. Which of these trends were discussed most frequently at the ESA 97th annual meeting?
  3. What ecological topics were discussed most frequently?

Literature Review

Content analysis is a research technique that "provides new insights, increases a researcher's understanding of particular phenomena, or informs practical actions" (Krippendorff 2013). This is done through analysis of text, which can include images, recorded sounds, and other materials with meanings, in a systematic way that must be both reliable and valid. Content analysis grew as a quantitative practice in the newspaper industry but has since expanded to include qualitative analyses in sociology, psychology, and many other disciplines (Krippendorff 2013). The availability of computer software for content analysis has made it easier to work with digital texts, apply codes, retrieve coded portions of text, and perform statistical analyses. QDA Miner, ATLAS.ti, and NVivo are several examples of available software packages.

Content analysis is a valuable research method for information studies and has been used by librarians for various purposes (White & Marsh 2006). Many content analysis studies involve the analysis of library literature to identify trends and research methods over a period of time. For example, Aharony (2012) analyzed keywords in the top ten library and information science journals and found that the main themes discussed in 2007-08 included information technology, methods, and social information science. Miller (2011) looked specifically at research articles from 2000-10 that focused on biology patrons in universities. She found that most papers revolved around education and collections while very few studied reference; none involved management or professional issues.

Dinkelman (2010) took another approach with content analysis by analyzing biology course syllabi to determine expectations of biology students in regard to their assignments. While most syllabi mentioned a lab report or exercise, very few mentioned the library as a resource for completing them. Library professionals have analyzed job descriptions to determine which skills are required to succeed in the profession or what is required of successful candidates. An analysis of job vacancies pointed to new roles of academic librarians, including consulting about repository services, curating records and research, building collaborative print and electronic collections, and mediating information (Goetsch 2008). Meier's (2010) analysis of science and technology librarians' job responsibilities indicated an increase in job tasks, as well as evidence of multitasking.

Librarians have used content analysis to analyze library conference proceedings to determine topics discussed, intended audiences, and presenter information. None have focused on analyzing subject-specific conferences for library collaboration purposes. Wilson (2010) analyzed Canadian library association conference proceedings, categorizing the sessions by library sector, library group, and topic. Results indicated most sessions targeted librarians in public libraries; the most discussed topics dealt with management issues. Garner et al. (2008) analyzed twenty years of North American Serials Interest Group conference proceedings. They found that the most frequently discussed topics included technology impact, the serials industry, serials management, and scholarly information issues. Fourie (2012) analyzed the 10th International Conference on International Medical Librarianship with the goal of discovering future research opportunities. She identified 16 themes and then used those themes to suggest further questions for research.


I conducted a content analysis of the conference program for the ESA 2012 annual meeting held in Portland, Oregon. I obtained the conference program from the organization's web site and then imported it into the content analysis software QDA Miner. Next, I coded the conference sessions by type. The types were contributed oral sessions, organized oral sessions, organized poster sessions, poster sessions, special sessions, symposia, and workshops. Field trips and meetings were eliminated from the study. A brief definition of each type is shown in Table 1.

Table 1. ESA Session Types Defined
Contributed Oral Sessions Collections of abstracts around a common theme
Organized Oral Sessions Sets of case studies or themes representing a broad sample
Organized Poster Sessions Equivalent to organized oral sessions but in poster format
Poster Sessions Collections of abstracts grouped around a concept and presented in poster format
Special Sessions Catch-all category that includes lectures, panel discussions, and film screenings
Symposia Presentations of new results focused around a research problem or theme and with broad appeal
Workshops Interactive training sessions

Next I coded each of the 470 sessions for a specific topic that correlated with a library trend. Because one objective was to identify common trends for librarians and ecology professors, I used the library trends identified by ACRL in its published 2012 Top Trends in Academic Libraries. These include communicating value, data curation, digital preservation, higher education, information technology, mobile environments, patron driven e-book acquisition, scholarly communication, staffing, and user behaviors and expectations (ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee 2012). I eliminated patron driven e-book acquisition as a code because no sessions at the ESA conference touched on this trend. I list the definitions used for the coding of the trend topics in Table 2.

Table 2. Content Analysis Codes Defined
Communicating Value Communicating with stakeholders, engaging the public, reforming policy, and performing assessments
Data Curation Managing, sharing, and disseminating data
Digital Preservation Preserving content online
Higher Education Teaching methods for undergraduate and graduate students
Information Technology Using social media, gaming, augmented reality, and web-based and other technological tools
Mobile Environments Using apps and mobile devices
Scholarly Communication Pursuing open access and other publishing models
Staffing Preparing for ecology careers, mentoring, becoming leaders
User Behaviors and Expectations Making access to information convenient for users

I coded the sessions for more than one trend when applicable. For example, a session exploring a new method of teaching an ecological topic in an undergraduate class that included an assessment tool was coded both for higher education and communicating value. I completed the coding over a period of two weeks. Eleven days after the completion date, I randomly selected a 15% sample and recoded it to test intracoder reliability. Recoding provides a consistency check and assesses the quality of the coding frame (Schreier 2012).

The reliability of coding can be determined using several statistical measures. To determine the reliability of my two coding sessions, I used QDA Miner to calculate percent agreement and Scott's pi, which was 97.1% and 0.902 respectively. Percent agreement, the number of codes in agreement divided by total designated codes, is a simple measure that does not account for chance agreements (Provalis Research 2004). Scott's pi factors in these chance agreements. When calculating Scott's pi, I set the criteria that the segments must overlap 90% between the two coding sessions and common absences were counted as agreements. Coefficients above 0.90 are almost always considered to be acceptable indicators of reliability (Lombard, Snyder-Duch, & Bracken 2004).

In addition, I performed quantitative content analysis by using WordStat to identify the most frequently used words and phrases in the conference program. I first pared down the program to include only session titles and abstracts. This eliminated presenter names and affiliations, room assignments, and session codes from the analysis. I also excluded prepositions, pronouns, and other words built into the WordStat English exclusion list. Data were manipulated to include plural and singular forms of a word, as well as present and past tense verbs, in one category (e.g. plant and plants). After performing the word count, I used WordStat to create a dendrogram to display the co-occurrence of those keywords that appeared more than 100 times in the conference program. Finally, I used WordStat's phrase finder function to identify the most frequently occurring phrases.


The analysis included 470 sessions. The most frequent session type was contributed oral sessions, followed by poster sessions (Table 3). Workshops, with 36 (73%) coded for trends, had the highest number of topics relevant to librarians and ecology faculty alike. Although there were only three organized poster sessions, all of them related to library trends.

Table 3. Frequency of Session Types and Trends
Session Type Count # Coded for Trends % Coded for Trends
Contributed Oral Sessions 196 15 8
Poster Sessions 120 11 9
Organized Oral Sessions 55 13 24
Workshops 49 36 73
Symposia 24 11 46
Special Sessions 23 5 22
Organized Poster Sessions 3 3 100

Ninety-four sessions contained at least one of the nine ACRL trends used for this study, while 28 sessions contained multiple trends. Table 4 shows how frequently sessions were coded for multiple trends. In total, the nine trends were assigned 131 times. The sessions with four and five trends assigned were both titled "Education: Tools and Technology" and included creative ways to use technology in classroom instruction and informal learning within the community.

Table 4. Sessions by Number of Trends Assigned
Number of Trends Assigned Number of Sessions
0 376
1 66
2 22
3 4
4 1
5 1

The most discussed of the nine ACRL trends was communicating value, which was assigned to 51 (10.9%) sessions, while the least discussed were mobile environments and user behaviors with one session each. Higher education, data curation, staffing, and information technology had similar representation between 16 and 23 sessions. Figure 1 shows how often each of the nine trends was coded.

Figure 1. Frequency of ACRL Trends in the ESA Program

Figure 2 shows the most frequently found words in the program and their co-occurrence with other top keywords. The most frequent words include forest (514 occurrences), community (491), plant (489), and ecosystem (477). The dendrogram depicts these words with the longest bars on the left-hand side of the figure. The dendrogram demonstrates some key topics prevalent in the ecological literature today: climate change, invasive species, ecosystem services, tropical forests, and population dynamics.

Figure 2. Co-occurrence of the Most Frequently Occurring Keywords

Climate change with 149 occurrences was by far the most frequent phrase in the conference program (Table 5). While the phrase listing is useful in identifying ecological topics, it is not perfect. Note that "invasive species" occurs 28 times, while "invasive plant" occurs 26 times. The instances of these two separate phrases could be added together for a total of 54 occurrences for the more general topic "invasive species." The term "invasive" was the 11th most frequent word in the program with 279 occurrences. I used QDA Miner to generate a keyword-in-context table for the term "invasive" and found that the term is used to qualify many different nouns (Table 6). This table is a partial sample of 21 of the 279 occurrences for the word "invasive."

Table 5. Twenty Most Frequent Phrases in the ESA Conference Program
Phrase Frequency
Climate change 149
Ecosystem service 86
Plant community 71
Food web 51
Community structure 51
Case study 41
Ecosystem function 38
Microbial community 38
Global change 36
National park 36
Tropical forest 33
Life history 33
Community composition 32
Plant species 30
Temperate forest 29
Invasive species 28
Pacific Northwest 27
Population dynamic 27
Function trait 27
Invasive plant 26

Table 6. Sample Keyword-in-Context for the Word "Invasive"


Because only 94 of 470 (20%) sessions were coded for library trends, one could argue that attendance at the 2012 Ecological Society of America meeting would not have been worthwhile. However, 36 of 49 (76%) workshops did relate to library trends, indicating that librarians in attendance could have gained some useful hands-on skills and knowledge.

While the number of sessions by trend is insightful, further analysis of the sessions grouped by each designated trend proved helpful in identifying topics of importance to ecologists. Although the session titles and abstracts provided only summaries of discussions, they did contain enough information to infer the main points. The following discussion describes the insights gained from further analyzing the sessions by assigned trends.

Communicating Value

Communicating value represented the most frequent trend in the ESA program with 51 (10.9%) sessions. One reason for this is that ecologists have chosen multiple outlets for spreading the word about the importance of what they do. Approximately one third of these sessions discussed engagement in citizen science projects, another third discussed public policy, and the final third discussed communication with stakeholders. Some of the sessions overlapped with these topics, and an additional eight sessions discussed tracking student assessment and retention. ESA has a policy section, which is perhaps another reason for the frequency of this trend.

Similar to librarians stating the case for information literacy instruction, ecology faculty are focused on student assessment and retention to show academia the contributions they are making. Session titles on this theme included "Modeling to Learn: Using an Authentic Assessment to Evaluate Student Understanding of Science," "Teaching and Assessing Student Process Skills in the Undergraduate Classroom: Approaches and Tools," and "Reforming Early Undergraduate Instruction Influences Long-Term Retention and Attrition in STEM Majors." Partnerships between librarians and ecology faculty would prove useful for assessing students' understanding of scientific literature (e.g. parts and purpose of a primary research article) and the research process. In addition, librarians and ecology faculty could brainstorm ways of showing how to assess student progress for university reporting.

Ecologists also emphasize public education, mainly through citizen science projects and community collaborations. Citizen science projects, also known as public participation in scientific research (PPSR), rely on volunteers for data collection usually over a broad geographic area or long time span. Scientists create citizen science projects both to help answer their research questions and to educate the public participants about science. ESA sessions discussed best practices for starting citizen science projects, impacts of projects, and the use of such projects to reach underserved communities. Example projects involved invasive species, climate change in a redwood forest, seabird surveys, and phenological monitoring. Such projects have been shown to increase participants' knowledge of scientific concepts, engagement in the scientific process, skill development, and positive attitudes toward science (Bonney et al. 2009).

The act of using ecological research to inform public policy was discussed in multiple sessions. ESA assists its members with this process through its publication "An Ecologist's Guide to Policy Engagement," which was featured in a session during this conference. Other sessions covered topics such as public funding for science, ecologists' role in policymaking, communication with policymakers, and barriers and incentives to policy involvement. Many policy sessions linked directly to ecologists' research in sustainability as they recognize the need to direct changes in the way people and communities interact with natural resources. One symposium discussed translational ecology, which entails taking scientific data and translating it for use by the public and policymakers. Another discussed the Intergovernmental Science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which was formed in April 2012 to connect scientists and their ecosystem research to government officials and other stakeholders.

The final piece on communicating value centered on reaching out to stakeholders to form strategic partnerships. Ecologists reported on their experiences partnering with ranchers, farmers, urban gardeners, faith communities, and the fishing industry, among others. Such partnerships helped with the efforts to conserve a horned rhinoceros, watershed management, sustainability of Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, coastal hazard mitigation, and many other projects.

The sessions revolving around this trend not only open up new possibilities for librarians in helping ecology faculty, but they can also help librarians pursue new areas of research and outreach. For example, science librarians could apply the citizen science model to engage the public in information literacy efforts. The ACRL communicating value trend emphasizes the communication of the library's value to the academic community. However, the ecologists embrace a much wider scope by communicating with a range of stakeholders, from those in business, farming, education, the general public, and more. They also actively pursue policy issues related to their work. Perhaps science and technology librarians could work with ecology faculty to develop the skills required to inform public policy and form strategic partnerships. Finally, the ACRL trend for communicating value states that libraries are currently working to communicate academic libraries' environmental value. Since ecologists are heavily invested in sustainability initiatives, science librarians can work with them to further this goal.

Higher Education

The second most frequently mentioned trend in the ESA program was higher education with 23 (4.9%) sessions. Whereas the ACRL trends specifically mention online education and the globalization of education, I took a broader approach for the ESA program by including any session related to higher education. Similar to the communicating value trend, the higher education trend may have a higher frequency due to an active Education section within ESA.

The sessions revolving around this trend touched on student-led discussions, inquiry-based projects, problem-based learning, skill retention, and ecological and data literacy. Some topics with a close connection to libraries included plagiarism in ecology, the effectiveness of college biology textbooks, critical thinking, and collaborations with the humanities. All of these topics lend themselves to natural partnerships with ecology faculty and provide ideas for bolstering information literacy instruction within the ecology discipline. Although none of the sessions mentioned the use of eBooks or primary research articles as course readings in place of the traditional textbooks, this would be another discussion that science librarians could have with ecology faculty.

Data Curation and Digital Preservation

Ecologists collect, manipulate, store, share, and manage data on a regular basis, so it is no surprise that they speak of data curation at their annual conference. Seventeen sessions discussed the data curation trend, several of which were in the form of how-to workshops. Sample sessions included "Data Sharing in Ecology: Breaking Down the Cultural Barriers," "Managing Ecological Data for Effective Use and Re-Use: A Workshop for Early Career Scientists," "Big Data and the Future for Ecology," and "Creating Effective Data Management Plans for Ecological Research." Nadrowski et al. (2012) presented on a data gathering platform called BEFdata for collaborative projects. They point out that much ecological research has been easily managed with spreadsheets, but that as more ecologists collaborate, they need more structured data standards to handle the larger data sets.

Librarians knowledgeable in metadata can assist ecologists with this transition to larger data sets. Science and technology librarians, who do not already partner with faculty to assist them and graduate students with data management plans, may find this to be a possible liaison area to develop. In addition, there are now ample opportunities for attending workshops, webinars, and conferences focused on e-science and big data as scientists and librarians alike recognize that "librarians and information workers have a vital role to play in helping their research communities design and implement a plan for data description, efficient storage, management, and reuse" (ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee 2012).

Five sessions centered on the digital preservation trend. One made use of The Victor E. Shelford Papers digitized at the University of Illinois as an ecological history source. ESA has developed its own EcoEd Digital Library to serve as a "forum for scientists and educators to locate and contribute peer reviewed resources for 21st century undergraduate ecology education" (ESA 2001-2011). Some sessions focused on ways to submit and use content. Science librarians can partner with ecology faculty to develop useful digital collections, whether they highlight important people, ecosystems, or ecological research.


Seventeen sessions related to staffing, and 11 of those were workshops. Many of those targeted either graduate students or early career scientists. Topics included leading effective meetings, mentoring, managing data, promoting career development for minorities, and writing grant proposals, syllabi, and teaching statements. In comparison, the ACRL staffing trend indicates the need for librarians to train in "data curation, digital resource management and preservation, assessment, scholarly communication, and support for faculty instruction and student learning" (ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee 2012). The ESA program reiterates the need for science librarians to increase their knowledge in some of these ACRL staffing areas. It also points to opportunities to collaborate with ecology faculty to develop course syllabi that provide effective instruction in library and information use.

Information Technology

Whereas library conference programs abound with technology-related programs, the ESA program had only 16 sessions related to information technology. This low number could indicate that ecologists are only just beginning to see, or to at least report on, the advantages of technology for their work. Possibly, librarians could discuss their experience using technologies, including social media and web-based tools, with ecology professors about some of their potential uses.

Several sessions highlighted the use of social media, including a workshop titled "Social Media for Collaboration, Outreach, and Impact." Facebook was mentioned in two sessions for outreach purposes. One session used Facebook to promote science to the public, while the other relied on it as a method to reach minority high school students. One set of presenters shared their experience relying on user-uploaded photos to estimate the range size of anemone fishes. No sessions reported on the use of Twitter or blogging, two other social media outlets librarians use and could discuss with ecology professors.

ACRL identified next generation interfaces and content as a top trend for libraries, and ecologists share this trend with next generation fieldguides. One organized oral session featured Merlin for online bird identification, the Electronic Field Guide project, and BugGuide. In addition, LeafSnap, the only mentioned mobile app in the program, was featured in this session. Librarians can direct ecology students to these guides and start a dialogue with both professors and students about online versus print guides. Librarians could also take an active role in the development of these next generation field guides by using their metadata and cataloging skills.

The other prominent technology trend ecologists shared was the use of crowdsourcing and gaming to attract the public and students to their work and to encourage their involvement. Examples of these programs include "Crowdsourcing Ecological Research: Using the Trails Forward Simulation Platform and Video Game to Address Conservation Issues" and "The NGame: Improving Student Learning of Complex Ecological Concepts Through Game-Based Learning." Similarly, librarians have turned to game-based learning to teach information literacy skills and to orient students to the library. Librarians could partner with ecology professors to develop games for students completing research projects requiring references from the literature.

Infrequent Trends

The scholarly communication trend appeared in only two sessions. The ACRL scholarly communication trend discusses new publishing models, including open access to content, digital repositories, and e-textbooks. Although the ESA program mentioned the mobile app LeafSnap, it was the only instance of using mobile technologies for learning or research purposes. Science librarians could discuss these two trends and their relevance to ecology with faculty, tailoring the information to specific faculty interests and needs. Since ecology faculty is not concerned so much with library user behaviors and expectations, it is not surprising that it was not widely represented in the program.

Collection Development, Outreach, and Reference

The analysis of the ESA program identified many possibilities for collection development, outreach, and reference. Although science and technology librarians will want to order materials specific to the research interests of faculty and students at their universities, the dendrogram of top words and the most frequent phrases presented above provide some direction for collection development ideas, as well as ideas for sample searches in tutorials or instruction sessions.

In addition, the ESA program highlighted many creative online projects for collecting and sharing data and for collaborating on ecological research and educational goals. These resources show how ecologists are finding solutions to network with others in their field and, in some cases, with the public. They also may prove useful to librarians creating research guides in ecology or looking for ideas to engage their ecology faculty and students (Table 6).

Table 6. Ecology Resources in the ESA Program
Resource Description Web site
ARKive Multimedia site for information on endangered species
California Environmental Legacy Project Media site for connecting the public to California's natural landscapes
California Phenology Project Site for long-term phenological monitoring data
CAMEL Multimedia site for climate change education
ConservationBridge Educational site for conservation research
DataONE Data archiving site for environmental research
Ecological Reflections "An archive of art and science collaborative efforts"
Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN) Data sets for primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs)
JournalMap Search engine for finding ecological research by location
National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) Open access data collection site for ecological research
Nature's Notebook Citizen science site created by the USA National Phenology Network
National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) University of California, Santa Barbara, research center for collaborative projects using existing data
Open Science Network in Ethnobiology Open access curriculum and course guides for ethnobiology
TOCC Plant Atlas Online atlas of plants found on the Tohono O'odham Nation in southern Arizona {}
TRY: Plant Trait Database Collection of global plant trait datasets


This content analysis of the 2012 ESA program illustrates the library profession trends that coincide with the ecology profession. Communicating value, higher education, staffing, digital curation, and information technology represented the most frequently discussed trends at the meeting. In addition, word and phrase count analyses indicated that some of the most frequently discussed ecological topics included forests, plant communities, climate change, invasive species, and ecosystem services.

This study demonstrates that a content analysis of a subject-specific conference can be a useful exercise for science and technology librarians, whether or not they have the funding to attend a conference. It can assist in determining the important trends and information sources of a particular field, leading to ideas for collaborations with faculty. It points to areas in which science and technology librarians may want to pursue further professional development. This content analysis has shown, too, that science librarians could benefit from the ecology profession, such as by studying and perhaps applying their citizen science models to the library and information profession or by learning from ecologists how to communicate with policymakers.

The content analysis of the 2012 ESA program identified the following opportunities for ecology liaison librarians specifically, as well as science and technology liaison librarians more broadly, to engage their faculty:

  1. Partner with faculty to assess students' understanding of the research process and their understanding primary research articles and other scientific literature. Also, work together to achieve assessment of student progress for university reporting.
  2. Discuss with faculty the possibility of using eBooks or research articles instead of traditional textbooks.
  3. Survey faculty on their data management needs and address those needs, whether they be for training graduate students, storing and managing data, or others.
  4. Suggest the possibility of creating a digital collection that would be useful to students or to scholars of their particular interest.
  5. Provide examples and offer assistance to faculty in using technology for their research or teaching, including crowdsourcing, game based learning, social media, and online field guides.
  6. Create or update research guides to include the ecological resources listed above that may help students and faculty with their research. Use this as a starting point to find out which sources faculty would want to add to the guides.
  7. Use the most frequently occurring words and phrases for collection development and for ideas in demonstrating searches during instruction.

A limitation of the current study is that I coded the ESA program by myself. Future projects with multiple coders would lead to more reliable results. It would also foster discussion among the researchers that could lead to more insights. In any case, the content analysis of the ESA program provided many insights without monetary cost with the exception of time.

This study leads to possible future studies that use content analysis methods for subject-specific conferences. For example, content analyses of other conference programs could show trends appearing in the biology, chemistry, computer science, health, math, physics, or other sci-tech professions. Comparisons among different conferences would allow science and technology librarians to use this information to tailor specific services to their liaison areas. Comparisons could also be made through time, such as by analyzing the ways in which the ESA program has changed over the past few years. Perhaps one could study the conference programs of several consecutive years to project future trends of importance to science and technology librarians.


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