Chirag Shah Awarded IMLS Grant to Fund Research in Early Careers Development

LIS Assistant Professor Chirag Shah has received a $272,996 Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian (LB21) grant to fund research in early careers development.  According to the IMLS press release, 32 LB21 grants were awarded out of a total of 106 applicants.

Chirag ShahWhile much has been made of the collaborative nature of information systems’ content creation (wikis, blogs, etc.), the seeking and retrieval of information can also be enhanced through collaboration, one scenario of which might include networked expert reference.  This grant will fund Professor Shah’s Early Career Development research project, titled "CIS3: Collaborative Information Seeking Support and Services in Libraries," in which he will investigate the need to introduce and support collaborative information seeking for people working in information intensive domains like libraries.  When asked about the project, Shah said, “This research will fundamentally change the way people working in many different domains view and support information seeking by moving the focus from the individual, whose information-seeking behavior and needs are today well documented, to the group, whose unique challenges in collaborative information seeking remain largely unexplored.”

Collaboration is a desirable, useful, and often a necessary component of complex projects, and such work generally requires collaborative information seeking and sense-making. This applies of course to more sophisticated, involved projects, such as engineering infrastructure for example, but think also about a family planning a vacation, co-authors working on a scholarly article, an engaged couple designing their wedding, or a recruitment committee working on a new hiring project. All of these situations require people coming together with intention, looking for and sharing information, and making sense out of it to reach their common goals.

Despite the importance of collaboration in many situations, people lack support for collaborating on information seeking tasks. The proposed project will create systems and services that encourage and sustain collaboration in information seeking, especially in the context of libraries. Through a series of studies, system development, and evaluation, this project will meet three goals: (1) investigate characterizations of information behavior for people working in collaboration for information seeking, (2) develop systems and tools to support this behavior, and (3) create library services that provide sustainable support for collaboration within and between libraries and patrons.

Shah will employ a user-focused approach to investigate information seekers’ behavior while working collaboratively, with a focus on the obstacles faced and the help needed. He will then develop frameworks, models, and systems for encouraging, supporting, and sustaining that behavior. The results and implications of creating collaborative support for information seeking could go beyond helping individuals in library settings; it could allow us to develop services that connect a librarian with a patron, a patron with a patron, a librarian with a librarian, a library with a library, and even a library service (such as virtual referencing) with an external crowdsourcing information seeking site (such as Yahoo! Answers or Wikipedia Reference Desk).

In the IMLS press release announcing the grants awards, IMLS Director Susan Hildreth said, "The Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program continues to support the professional development and education of librarians.  This is especially important now as libraries continue to change to better meet the needs of their users. The list of projects funded by this program just this year demonstrates the myriad ways in which they do that. From Geographic Information Systems and early childhood literacy, to preservation of the cultural record and data analysis, to e-government and information literacy of college students, this year's grant recipients are ensuring that the skills of their staffs keep up with advances in technology."

“Arguably, a robust future for our country will in large part depend on efficient, effective collaboration in multiple contexts and environments,” said Shah.  “Opening up this new research territory is meant to unleash the power of collaboration throughout society – in the school, university, library, museum, research lab, workplace, government, and community.


The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. Through grant making, policy development, and research, we help communities and individuals thrive through broad public access to knowledge, cultural heritage, and lifelong learning. To learn more about IMLS, please visit

The Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program supports projects to recruit and educate the next generation of librarians, faculty, and library leaders; to conduct research on the library profession; and to support early career research. It also assists in the professional development of librarians and library staff. All members of the library community are invited to play an active role in ensuring that the profession is prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Read more about the program on the IMLS web site at