Monday, 20 June 2011

DREaMing of Research Methodologies

Finding out that I’d been selected to receive a sponsored place at the LIS DREaM launch conference on July 19th 2011 got me thinking about research methodologies within library and information science research. I have always been aware of the core methodologies used through interaction with research articles and yet it was only through my MSc dissertation that I came to understand the limitations of current research methodologies.

My dissertation supervisor gave me a clear choice when it came to planning my research project: quantitative or qualitative. Do I want to find out how many people do something in order to have some hard data or conversely do I want to find out why people act in the ways that they do? Well, really, don’t we need to know both? In a time of financial austerity, it becomes increasingly important to the profession as a whole that LIS research is used to prove our worth and value to society. This is tricky with libraries though; their primary value is not financial. A librarian changes lives in many ways, from the schoolchild who can find a new world of books in the local public library to the student being shown a vitally important subject database for the first time. This value is hard to capture and pin down in hard financial data, but we need to do it in order to justify ourselves in our post-recession society.

We need to start to think about our services in different ways. We need to become marketers. If we can find different methodologies to use within our research, we can begin to pin down the qualitative aspects of the profession and quantify them. We need to look to the methodologies of other disciplines and be creative. If a librarian helps a child to read and gives her a space in which to do her homework quietly, a link must be made between that librarian’s help and that child’s educational record. An investigation into the level of library resource use (both physically and virtually) of a group of final year undergraduates and their respective final degree classifications could provide some highly useful information.

The DREaM project also aims to develop a formal network of UK-based LIS researchers. So many of us now are finding relevant and interesting papers through retweets on Twitter; research information is being disseminated amongst so many informal channels that it can be difficult to know where to look for accredited LIS researchers. Hopefully a network will give all LIS practitioners a starting place to begin looking at professional research.

Attending a conference launch event based around the development of research excellence and methods has made me more determined than ever to think more creatively about the methodologies that we could apply to LIS research. We need to make the link between social and financial value more and more explicit at this point in time. For me certainly, I’m not entirely comfortable with valuing what we do in financial terms, but to some it is vital as a measure of need. We must all of us step out of our comfort zone!

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