Target Audience: Staff of non-profit and charitable organizations in BC (Community Scholars Program), non-profits working with seniors or interested in this area (Supporting Seniors Journal Club)
Introduction: The Simon Fraser University (SFU) Library’s Community Scholars Program provides staff of charitable and non-profit organizations in British Columbia (BC) with access to the latest research and knowledge in their fields, as well as the opportunity to have discussions and connect with other non-profits through Journal Clubs. The Supporting Seniors Journal Club focuses on topics specific to seniors (or older adults) and those working with seniors.
Community Scholars Program – The Community Scholars Program (CSP) at SFU Library provides access to 20,000 journal titles and e-books to up to 500 members of the program, referred to as Community Scholars. This program started in 2016 and offers a unique opportunity to those who otherwise would not have access to the vast amount of scholarly research published behind publisher paywalls. Community Scholars (i.e., members of the CSP) are staff of charities and non-profits in BC in a variety of sectors, including social and legal services, the arts, human rights and social justice, housing, physical and mental health, and sustainability and conservation. Staff members from any non-profit in the province can apply to join this program, which would provide them with a variety of supports from CSP librarians, as well as access to the CSP database which contains articles from seven academic journals. In addition to providing research access and support, the CSP also coordinates local Journal Clubs, including the Supporting Seniors Journal Club.
Supporting Seniors Journal Club – The Supporting Seniors Journal Club (SSJC) is a group of Community Scholars (i.e., members of the CSP) who work with seniors in the community and are interested in accessing and discussing the latest research and knowledge with one another to enhance their practice. The Journal Club, which started in 2018, gathers every other month to discuss selected research articles from the CSP database that are relevant to the work they are doing. An important part of the SSJC is the reflections from participants about how their own experiences affirm, counter, trouble, or otherwise relate to the chosen readings. The SSJC provides an opportunity for Community Scholars to dive deeper into research, make stronger connections with the research and other non-profits, talk with others about how the research relates or disconnects with their work and the realities of their communities, and to share ideas with others.
The SSJC is one of two hosted by the Community Scholars Program - the second is a Journal Club on Housing and Homelessness. “It’s just like a book club, except with academic articles”, says Kate Shuttleworth, the Community Scholars Librarian at SFU. As a librarian and a coordinator for this program, Kate conducts research and identifies relevant articles for the Supporting Seniors Journal Club based on what is identified as important and relevant by the group. She also provides learning opportunities for members to conduct research on their own; CSP librarians host online workshops webinars for program participants or Community Scholars on topics such as how to use the CSP portal and search the academic database, how to find open-access research elsewhere on the internet, and how to use citation management programs such as Zotero. Kate says, “The aim of the Journal Club is to strengthen the Community Scholars connection to the research - and to one another - by taking a deep-dive into some of the most relevant articles. By discussing the work with other non-profits professionals, they can make deeper connections between the research and the work they're doing, and hopefully come away inspired or energized and with new connections, ideas, and relationships in the non-profit world.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, SSJC meetings took place at the offices of member non-profits in the Lower Mainland. Members from other areas across the province were also able to call in and participate in the discussions virtually. Kate says, “This was in keeping with a purpose to bring the journal clubs to the Community Scholars – to make them something that members own – and to extend the geographic reach of the Club.
Program Impact: Many non-profits and charitable organizations in Canada do not have access to closed-access peer-reviewed journals published by researchers around the world who are studying social problems and solutions relevant to their work. CSP has responded to this issue by providing these organizations with free access to academic publications. In addition to access to the publications, Journal Clubs such as the SSJC, have provided non-profits with the opportunity to connect with one another, connect with the work that is happening in universities, and collectively discuss it.
“We have heard from Community Scholars that they are using the research they're connected with through the program in interesting ways. For example, they will refer to research articles when applying for grants, to develop their expertise in an area, to strengthen their programming, and to gather evidence to support a change in services,” says Kate. “We've also heard from non-profits that a huge barrier is having the time to engage in research and use the search portal to find and then read relevant articles to support their work. The Journal Club may be another demand on people's time, but we're hoping it's a positive one. Since the librarian helps with selecting the article for each meeting, we're hoping this lowers the barrier by taking care of the search part of the equation. If someone has a good experience attending a Journal Club and having a great discussion about a piece of research and connecting with others facing similar scenarios, it might encourage them to try a search in the Portal or ask for help from their librarian the next time they're faced with a question that might be answered in the research.”
Due to the positive uptake in the SSJC, some members have expressed interest in starting a Journal Club within their own organizations. CSP encourages Community Scholars to start their own Journal Club and is committed to supporting these new Journal Clubs through introductions, training (i.e., webinars), and assistance in finding articles for their meetings.
Operational considerations: The Community Scholars Program and Supporting Seniors Journal Club at SFU Library have partnerships with Vancouver Island University, the University of Northern British Columbia, Thompson Rivers University, and the University of British Columbia. In addition to Kate at SFU Library, librarians from each of these institutions also assist in supporting local Community Scholars.
The coordination of a Journal Club requires finding a location, or if hosting virtuallly, having the appropriate application and subscription for hosting a large group and ensuring all members have access to the needed technology. Coordinators must set a recurring date and time when members are available, and have some level of research skills to identify relevant articles or be a member of the CSP and access the librarian support they provide. Providing snacks and refreshments is also recommended for in-person meetings.
The CSP comes from a unique agreement with SFU Library (which hosts the Community Scholars Program) and the seven academic publishers (who have agreed to extend access to their resources to the 500 Community Scholars). This agreement permits the program to provide members with access to a database of academic journals and subsequently use these articles within Journal Clubs. Members of CSP can start a new Journal Club within their organization or community, using support from CSP librarians. For organizations that are not members of CSP, they can search for open-access academic articles or identify closed-access articles through another stream. BC non-profits and charities not yet members of the CSP are welcome to apply to join the program, and can do so by completing the application form.
Challenges: For Community Scholars (i.e., members of the CSP), many of the challenges associated with research, such as access to a database and knowledge of how to find relevant publications, are mitigated with support from librarians who can help with finding relevant research. This allows the Journal Clubs to focus mostly on the learning, discussing, and connecting processes. Unfortunately, there is a membership capacity (500 members) for the CSP. Seats belong to individual persons – not entire organizations – that said, five staff members from each organization may join and members can share research from the program with their team members/coworkers. Additionally, the ability of the CSP to support individual members and Journal Clubs is dependent on the capacity and resources of individual CSP librarians, including their time. The CSP is funded through grants and does not have sustained funding.
For those who are not members of the CSP, finding current and relevant research that is open-access and free can be challenging for a Journal Club. Finding current and relevant research often requires an understanding of academic databases and the research process takes time. Non-profits are often very busy and may not have additional time to do academic research.
How has this program adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic?
To adapt to COVID-19, all Journal Club meetings have shifted to virtual. Members from across the province were previously able to call in to Journal Club meetings, as mentioned, and so the infrastructure for this shift was already in place. Community Scholars Program continues to support Community Scholars and Journal Clubs in the same ways (i.e., research support from librarians, workshops with members), however, these are now all done virtually.