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Interdisciplinarity

“Interdisciplinarity involves the combining of two or more academic disciplines into one activity (e.g. a research project). It is about creating something new by crossing boundaries, and thinking across them. ” –Wikipedia

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Interdisciplinarity has become a favored model of scholarly inquiry and interdisciplinary research is spreading all over the landscape in all disciplines.   In a recent annual conference of the Medical Library Association held in Seattle, WA,  a number of librarians shared accounts of their experiences as they took leadership in advancing interdisciplinary research in their own institutions.  Having sat in many of these presentations, the issue piqued my curiosity and wondered how many LLU faculty are engaged in  ‘interdisciplinary research.’

Returning from the conference, I decided to take on a small research project.  The objective is simply to identify interdisciplinary connections LLU faculty researchers have made with other researchers in other academic disciplines within the university.  For the purpose of this small study, interdisciplinary research is defined here as research done by a faculty member from one discipline in collaboration with other faculty member from one or more academic disciplines.

Scope:  My liaison responsibility to the School of Nursing dictated the scope of this small study.  I decided to focus on LLU nursing faculty research emerging in published journal articles with multiple authors.  These are articles by LLU nursing faculty who conducted research and published collaboratively with other faculty from other academic disciplines.

Keywords:  Pubmed uses ‘interdisciplinary studies’  to represent the concept of interdisciplinary research;  CINAHL uses ‘Research, interdisciplinary,’ and OVID, ‘interdisciplinary research.’  However, these terms are used in the databases to index articles about interdisciplinary research; rather than research done collaboratively by researchers across one or more disciplines.  I quickly discovered there was no easy way to search these databases to isolate articles of diverse multiple authorship by discipline.

Process: Three major databases were searched: Pubmed, CINAHL, and Ovid Nursing.  The search consisted of two phases:  a quantitative phase in which articles of multiple authorship were identified, and a qualitative phase in which subject themes were identified to show the focus associated with located articles.

Given the database handicap mentioned earlier, it was necessary to search by affiliation using ‘Loma Linda University School of Nursing,’ and then systematically hand select article citations with multiple authors; and only those with co-authors from another academic discipline.  The inital search yielded 23 article citations from Pubmed;  98 from CINAHL; and 28 from OVID/nursing.  In OVID, the equivalent tag for ‘affiliation’ is ‘institution.’  ClearlyCINAHL appeared to be the winner, with 98 citations retrieved.  However, OVID had 5 entries that were absent in the CINAHL result.  A total of 103 citations were retrieved from all three databases.  No date filter was applied to the search.

Multiple authorships:   All 103 citations were quickly scanned for multiple authorship; found  only 14 from Pubmed; 45 from CINAHL, and 17 from Ovid/Nursing.  After eliminating duplicate postings across these results, only  47 unique total citations with multiple authorships were identified.

Analysis of results

Author affiliations:   Two general patterns of collaboration by affiliation emerge from these results:
1) Inside affiliation—faculty researcher  collaborating with another faculty within LLU, and  2) Outside affiliations–faculty researcher collaborating with faculty from another institution.

Results of data show the majority of research collaboration to date have been among nurses from within the school of nursing (inside affliliation), with a few (primarily faculty who are also graduate nursing students in another institution) collaborating with other nurses from those institutions; fewer still are those who engage in ‘interdisciplinary research.’  Of the 47 citations of multiple authorship, only article citations by 5 nursing faculty may be classified as interdisciplinary.  These were studies conducted in collaboration with the Schools of Public Health, Allied Health, Religion, and Medicine.    Thematic focus of these research are on the subject of caregivers and caregiving, spirituality, men’s health, and basic science concepts in neonatal intensive care.

A similar database search in the future may show improved results.  There is emerging research on campus that is interdisciplinary by nature.  A growing number of nursing faculty are teaming up with Ph.D. students in other disciplines who are conducting doctoral research in areas that intersect with nursing.

Discussion

This study describes the process employed to locate citations of articles that imply nursing faculty researchers to have made interdisciplinary connections with another faculty researcher.

Searching the databases for interdisciplinary research (studies conducted across disciplines) is problematic.  Database indexers typically tag author affiliation only for the first author and do not take the time to check and tag institutional affiliations of other collaborating authors.  Hence, access points for institutional affiliations are incomplete, and non-existent for added authors.

The relatively small citation count retrieved for nursing challenges us to think about what librarians can do to help promote interdisciplinary research on campus.  For instance, how can we make it easy for a faculty to identify faculty from another academic discipline who share similar research interest?  When  ordinary databases fail to deliver, what can the Library do to augment this handicap?   How can liaison librarians support interdisciplinary research in the schools they serve?  And above all, how do we librarians promote interdisciplinarity among our ranks?

Nelia Wurangian-Caan
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Send comments to:
nwurang@llu.edu

Nelia Wurangian-Caan is Associate professor, Loma Linda University, and is Chair of Technical Services at the Del E. Webb Memorial Library, with liaison responsibilities to the School of Nursing since 1997; graduated with a Master’s in Library Science (1982) from the University of Western Ontario–London, Ontario, Canada; and is a Distinguished Member of the Academy of Health Information Professionals (AHIP) since 1995.   

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