...understand the nature of research, research methods and research findings; retrieve, evaluate and synthesize scholarly and professional literature for informed decision-making by specific client groups
Meaning and Importance of Competency
Research plays a double role in the library and information science profession. On the one hand, helping users conduct research is one of the primary services that librarians provide. On the other hand, we, as librarians and information professionals, conduct research of our own for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we need to conduct research in our roles as employees of particular institutions or members of project teams or committees. We may be charged with evaluating programs, services, collections, or operations, or with allocating resources, securing funding, strategic planning, or analyzing and making use of various data. As library professionals, we also do research to contribute to the growth of our profession and to the collective knowledge. There are many opportunities for growth and purposeful change in our institutions and many areas for exploration and learning. Doing research can also be personally rewarding.
When undertaking a research project, one of the first tasks is to define the research problem or question. These can range from how well a program or service is working to how libraries can keep their doors open in times of budgetary setbacks. Then the researcher has to make a series of decisions about how to conduct the research. Some research, known as basic research, is concerned with theoretical or scientific learning; other research, known as applied research, focuses on solving real problems or applying and testing basic research findings in practical ways. The researcher must decide which approach is appropriate and necessary for solving the particular research problem. In addition, the researcher must decide whether to take a quantitative or qualitative approach, focusing in the former case on numbers and things that can be quantified or in the latter case on reasons, motivations, thoughts, and opinions of users—or whether to use a combination of both approaches. Many research studies incorporate both primary research, which involves collecting, generating, and interacting with raw data, and secondary research, which involves finding, collecting, and interacting with other primary research projects and reports (Peters, 2010a). This secondary research is an important element to include in a research report as a literature review. Research also has ethical dimensions, touching on concerns such as intellectual honesty, attribution, intellectual property rights, and the ethical use of human subjects.
There are many different research methods that are used in the field of library and information science. Some of the most popular include surveys, experimental and quasi-experimental design, qualitative research, and content analysis (Peters, 2010a). Some other methods include case studies, bibliometrics, focus groups, comparative librarianship, and historiography (Powell, 2008, pp. 172-174). Each research method has its own strengths and limitations. For example, since they are usually limited to the study of a single program or organization, case studies are characterized by “weak internal and external validity” and are “therefore not well-suited for testing causal relationships and generalizable findings” (Powell, 2008, pp. 172-173), while the qualitative data gathered through a focus group, while useful for learning about particular patrons’ views, may not represent the views of the entire user population.
Once data has been gathered through the use of appropriate research methods, the researcher must compile and analyze the data. Depending upon the nature of the data, there are various ways that this can occur. For example, in analyzing statistics around the usage of a downloadable media collection, a program such as Microsoft Excel can be utilized to manipulate the data in a spreadsheet, answer specific questions, and provide insights. Qualitative data collected through a survey might be coded for statistical analysis. A technique called triangulation, in which data are cross-verified by using multiple research methodologies, can also be employed.
A final and vital step in the research process is reporting results through a written research report. The research report is the way in which the researcher shares his or her findings with interested parties and with the profession as a whole. A research report should be written in a clear, straightforward, logical, and precise manner and in a standard format, such as APA Style. Writing is a craft and a skill that requires practice. One excellent resource on the topic of writing clear, persuasive, and effective research reports is Booth, Colomb and Williams’ The Craft of Research (2008).
Preparation and Evidence
To demonstrate my understanding of the nature of research, research methods and research findings and my ability to retrieve, evaluate and synthesize scholarly and professional literature for informed decision-making by specific client groups, I present evidence from two courses I took in the online School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at San Jose State University (SJSU). My first piece of evidence is a research proposal describing a library service to be evaluated that I completed for LIBR 285, Research Methods in Library and Information Science. My second piece of evidence is a research paper that I wrote for LIBR 281, Seminar in Contemporary Issues, on the rights, roles, and responsibilities of libraries and library professionals in observing and educating users about digital copyright.
First Piece of Evidence: Research Proposal, LIBR 285
In Fall 2010, I took the course “Research Methods in Library and Information Science.” The section I took, taught by Tom Peters, focused on the topic “Evaluating Programs and Services.” Over the course of the semester, students were introduced to the “fundamental principles, processes, values and roles of research for professional application in information organizations” (Peters, 2010b). Some of the goals of the course were for students to become critical consumers of research products; to learn the basic skills of planning, designing, executing, and reporting research; to learn how to evaluate and apply published research findings, conclusions, and recommendations; and to develop, plan, and produce a quality research proposal (Peters, 2010a). Since this particular section focused on evaluating programs and services, the research proposal that we were assigned to produce, and which I submit here as evidence of my mastery of this competency, was a proposal to evaluate a library program or service.
As preparation for completing the culminating research proposal, students had the opportunity to approach the topic of research from a variety of perspectives. In the first course assignment, we got experience critically reading a research report of our choice, identifying key points and missing or unclear information, and writing a clear, concise summary of our chosen report. The second course assignment, an annotated bibliography including both traditional and non-traditional items with brief annotations, aimed to help students find non-traditional sources on an emerging hot topic in the LIS field. In the third course assignment, students were assigned to perform data analysis on a raw data set, to make recommendations, and to identify gaps or shortcomings of the data set.
Taken together, these three assignments gave students a strong foundation of knowledge of the nature of research, research methods, and research findings in preparation for the fourth and final course assignment, the research proposal. In my research proposal, written for a specific, decision-making audience, I draw on and apply that knowledge of research and combine it with relevant evidence from the scholarly and professional literature, aiming to persuade the audience to move forward with the research project that I propose. My research proposal is therefore the course assignment which demonstrates both my understanding of the nature of research, research methods and research findings and my ability to retrieve, evaluate and synthesize scholarly and professional literature for informed decision-making by specific client groups.
For the research proposal assignment, students were asked to choose a real or imagined library program or service to propose to evaluate. I chose to write a proposal to evaluate a real service—a mobile application—at The Seattle Public Library (SPL), where I have worked since 2007. Students were instructed to write our proposals in such a way that the various stakeholders, e.g. administrators, board members, and funding agents, would support them; we were also instructed to write about the research methods and processes we would propose using to evaluate the program or service.
My research proposal opens with an introductory section which sets the context for my proposal. I discuss the recent explosive growth in mobile computing and SPL’s 2010 “Mobilize My Library” initiative, which led to its introduction of a mobile app produced by an outside company called Boopsie (p. 3). I then state the reason for my proposal: to serve as a blueprint for how SPL’s recently convened (fictitious) Mobile App Evaluation Work Group will carry out its charge to “evaluate the success of the app and identify areas in need of improvement” by “collecting and analyzing data related to usage of the SPL Mobile app and producing a report with findings, conclusions and recommendations” (p. 3).
The next section of my report (pp. 4-5) discusses the purpose and significance of the service evaluation. I argue that the research I propose to be carried out is important for several reasons. These reasons include the need for insight into which populations are using and being served by the app and which aren’t, how the mobile app is being used, possible usability issues, and the ways in which the mobile app is meeting the information needs of SPL’s user population. I also highlight the fact that the evaluation work group’s research will be useful to the wider library community: “As more and more libraries design and launch their own mobile apps, they will benefit from knowledge of the successes and failures of those who have gone before them” (p. 4).
After establishing the need and purpose of the proposed research, I include a brief literature review. I begin by acknowledging that “since mobile computing has become widespread only within recent years and is just beginning to be embraced by libraries, the literature on the topic is just beginning to emerge” (p. 5). I highlight a few notable contributions to the literature and focus on what I consider to be the most relevant document on the topic, a 2010 policy brief published by the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy entitled “There’s an App for That! Libraries and Mobile Technology: An Introduction to Public Policy Considerations” (Vollmer, 2010). This policy brief “summarizes the key issues around mobile technology in libraries, highlighting both the benefits and the drawbacks, and makes several recommendations for how libraries should make use of mobile technology” (p. 5).
I kept the literature review section of my report deliberately brief, assuming that my intended, primarily internal audience would appreciate brevity. However, in a more fully fleshed out proposal, especially one with wider implications and applications, I recognize that a more sophisticated literature review would be required. A successful and effective literature review is contingent upon effective and comprehensive retrieval, evaluation, and synthesis of scholarly and professional literature. And success in retrieving, evaluating and synthesizing this literature depends upon an effective and systematic search strategy, access to a well-developed collection such as is found in the library of a reputable research university, and strong critical thinking skills. Although, as librarians, we often think of researchers as users, as objects of our services—as when we enter a user’s “zone of intervention” during the Information Search Process and help him or her to “do with advice and assistance what he or she cannot do alone or can do only with difficulty” (Kuhlthau, 2012)—we too are researchers, we too are users. In this regard, developing our own research skills becomes imperative, so that we can be effective in conducting our own research, and so that we can be effective in serving researchers from across the entire academic and professional spectrum. Viewed through this lens, the literature review becomes a sort of litmus test for effective research skills.
Following the literature review, I include a brief research project timeline and then a substantial consideration of research questions and methods. I outline some general areas of inquiry, including demographics, barriers, and usability issues, and pose a number of questions to be investigated. I go on to discuss usage data collection and analysis, planning for a user survey, staff participation in survey data collection, proposed timeline, components of the final research report, and publishing and distributing the report. My report concludes by discussing potential outcomes of the research findings. I foresee some possible outcomes including requesting that Boopsie modify the app, a marketing campaign, discontinuation of the service, and ongoing research “to understand [the app’s] continued usability and effectiveness in the context of constant technological change” (p. 8).
The research proposal that I completed for LIBR 285 demonstrates my understanding of the nature of research, research methods and research findings. My proposal incorporates both primary and secondary research, both quantitative and qualitative research, a literature review, different types of research methods appropriately applied, and appropriate data analysis techniques. It recognizes that research is often performed as a team effort. Furthermore, on the basis of its having been written for a specific target audience and its inclusion of a review of relevant literature, my research proposal demonstrates my ability to retrieve, evaluate and synthesize scholarly and professional literature for informed decision-making by specific client groups. I am therefore submitting it as evidence of my mastery of this competency.
Second Piece of Evidence: Research Paper, LIBR 281
The culminating assignment in Mary Minow’s Fall 2011 Seminar in Contemporary Issues on the topic of Digital Copyright was an argumentative research paper. Students were instructed to select a topic relating to both digital copyright and libraries or information services and to take a novel position, producing original thinking on important topics or offering “solutions to the vexing problems created by the digital world’s collision with copyright” (Minow, 2011).
At the outset of my research project, I chose the topic “libraries, copyright, and Creative Commons licensing.” I did not have a specific thesis in mind at that point but knew that I was interested in exploring the issues that came up in the area where these three subjects overlapped. I formulated a few preliminary questions which included: What is Creative Commons? How can libraries use and provide materials licensed under Creative Commons? How can libraries use Creative Commons to distribute and encourage the use of materials they produce? What are some examples of how libraries are doing these things?
In formulating my thesis, that libraries and librarians should take an active role in educating their users about copyright issues and solutions, and subsequently in formulating my argument, I considered a wide array of scholarly and professional literature, including books, journal articles, legal codes, blogs, websites, and even the Creative Commons wiki. My information retrieval process included online searching (of library OPACs, research databases, and Google), citation analysis, and some browsing. My retrieval process turned up many relevant sources, in particular a number of articles from the professional literature which discussed the significance of copyright law to the provision of library services in a variety of settings. These articles, taken together, suggested a need for librarians to take a more active role in learning about and educating users about copyright issues and solutions, which led me to develop my argument in support of that thesis.
In considering the various sources that turned up in my research, I used critical thinking skills to evaluate their relevance to my topic and to my argument and to synthesize the various ideas they presented to formulate a precise thesis and a coherent argument to support it. Drawing on both primary sources, such as the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Copyright Act, and the various Creative Commons licenses, and secondary sources, such as Peter Hirtle’s Copyright & Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for Digitization for U.S. Libraries, Archives, & Museums (2009) and various articles from the professional literature, I examined the issues surrounding copyright and libraries and considered different views of the role of librarians in enforcing or educating users about copyright. This examination led me to form my own opinion, articulate it, and argue effectively for my position. In addition, my paper seeks, on the basis of extensive research and in accordance with the ethics, values and foundational principles of librarianship, to persuade a specific group—fellow librarians and information professionals—to accept my conclusion. Mary rated the paper “excellent” and recommended that I post or publish it. My LIBR 281 research paper therefore demonstrates both my understanding of the nature of research, research methods and research findings and my ability to retrieve, evaluate, and synthesize scholarly and professional literature for informed decision-making by specific client groups. I therefore submit it as evidence of my mastery of this competency.
For a long time, research is something that I didn’t give much thought to. I recognized its value and importance to society, but I saw it as something that other people—doctoral students, professors, physicians—do, not as something that I myself would have any reason to do, except in the course of completing a school assignment. I realize now, though, what a naïve view this was. Research is a critical part of what we do as librarians and information professionals. Our work benefits from research and the profession benefits from the research that we do. In the process of writing this e-Portfolio, which has coincided with my taking on a new role at work, I have discovered areas in which I myself would be interested in doing further research, such as information-seeking behaviors, information literacy instruction, developing staff training programs, the impact of diversity within our profession, the nature of leadership, driving innovation, creating organizational change, developing new programs and services, and bridging the digital divide. In addition, I now recognize the obligation that I have to contribute to the growth of the profession. Thus, I look forward to undertaking new research projects in the future in order to develop stronger research skills and contribute to the profession in valuable ways.
Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., & Williams, J. M. (2008). The craft of research (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Hirtle, P. B. (2009). Copyright & cultural institutions: Guidelines for digitization for U.S. libraries, archives, & museums. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library.
Kuhlthau, C. C. (2012). Information search process. Retrieved from http://comminfo.rutgers.edu/~kuhlthau/information_search_process.htm.
Minow, M. (2011). Research paper assignment. Unpublished assignment sheet, San Jose State University.
Peters, T. (2010a). First session, Tuesday, August 31, 2010: Intro to conducting and using research in LIS [PowerPoint slides]. Unpublished lecture slides, San Jose State University.
Peters, T. (2010b). LIBR 285-15 Research Methods in Library and Information Science Fall 2010 Greensheet. Retrieved from http://slisapps.sjsu.edu/gss/ajax/showSheet.php?id=2095.
Powell, R. (2008). Research. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 168-178). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Vollmer, T. (2010). There’s an App for That! Libraries and Mobile Technology: An Introduction to Public Policy Considerations. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oitp/publications/policybriefs/mobiledevices.pdf