Competency L – Research

…demonstrate understanding of quantitative and qualitative research methods and of the evaluation and synthesis of research literature

Introduction

Library and information professionals engage in research to evaluate programs and services, analyze circulation and collection data, manage and develop strategic plans, perform community and need-based outreach, and support evidentiary arguments when seeking funding and writing grant proposals. Depending on the purpose or goal of their research, librarians employ a variety of research methodologies and methods to collect and investigate data about users, technologies, and library programming and services.

There are two primary classifications of research: pure and applied. The pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake is considered pure research. Applied research is classified as “knowledge sought and gained for some specific real-world purpose.” (Tom Peters, LIBR 285 lecture, June 9, 2011) Librarians typically perform applied research to effect, augment, or implement need-based changes to library collections, services or programs.

Two branches of applied research used by librarians are primary and secondary research. Each research type can be utilized for various means. Primary research allows library and information professionals to directly “collect, generate, and interact with raw data.” (Tom Peters, LIBR 285 lecture, June 9, 2011) Examples of primary research include data sets of circulation or collection statistics, and census or community population data. Secondary research is the practice of engaging with primary research reports or articles. Examples of secondary research are literature reviews, annotated bibliographies, Pew Internet and American Life research proposals, and many other articles one might find in Library Journal or a LIS research database.

Librarians develop their research plan according to their purpose and goals, choosing to utilize either or both quantitative and qualitative research methods to analyze and evaluate data. Quantitative data are statistical in nature and help managers determine counts for specific elements of library programs and services; examples include circulation statistics, program attendance, and service usage.  Qualitative data comprise patron surveys, interviews, and unobtrusive patron observations. According to Powell (2008), employing multiple research techniques in a study (also known as triangulation) “tends to increase the validity and reliability of the data.” (p. 172)

Quantitative methods are generally applied when librarians seek statistical evidence to provide to stakeholders in order to support funding and grant-based requests. Quantitative methods are also used to determine number counts for library programming efforts like story-time or knitting clubs to estimate and determine usage as well as to fulfill patron needs.

One of the most frequently used quantitative methods for LIS research is surveys. (Powell, 2008, p. 171). Surveys can take many forms and utilize a variety of technologies including telephones, email, social media, and print-based communications. In LIS research, they are often used to obtain patron information to determine characteristic examples to define a given community. This data is often used to aid with collection development as well as help strategize and devise programming options.

Qualitative methods are often utilized when librarians seek information about the behavior, thoughts, emotions or attitudes of their patrons. Qualitative methods are often employed in natural settings to capture and observe situations as they occur. According to Peters (2011), they are often used to “generate theories [rather] than test hypotheses” (Tom Peters, LIBR 285 lecture, June 9, 2011). Whereas quantitative methods use numerical data, qualitative methods rely on verbal data.

Case studies are a popular example of a qualitative method implemented in LIS research. Generally limited to studying “a single individual, event, program, or organization”, case studies are most often employed to examine causal relationships and factors affecting library services and programs. (Powell, 2008, p. 172)

Whether a situation warrants qualitative or quantitative research, librarians engage and practice diversified research techniques to both facilitate and catalyze improvements to library collections, services, and programs.

Evidence

Libr 285: Facebook Proposal

My first piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency L is a research proposal I wrote for LIBR 285: Research Methods: Evaluating Programs in which I performed evaluative research to assess the need for improvements to KPL’s teen services and programs. My secondary research allowed me to analyze quantitative (local teen population and teen library usage statistics, census and community data) and qualitative (interview with KPL’s Director) data to assess areas for improvement to KPL’s teen services.

Employing both quantitative and qualitative data analyses, I concluded that KPL would benefit from using Facebook as a reader’s advisory tool to engage teens where they are to both promote traditional and transmedia literacies. Implementing this teen service would also provide a virtual library space for teens to discuss, share, and remix content in a participatory learning environment. My evaluation of current teen trends and this user group’s skyrocketing social media use provided further impetus to consider virtual teen space options.

This paper demonstrates my competency in performing research to evaluate existing teen programming and services as well as my clear ability to analyze both quantitative and qualitative data as a means of reinvigorating teen interest in reading. This vital service also promotes healthy relationships between teens and libraries, which fosters lifelong learning.

Libr 285_Data Analysis

My second piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency L is a research report I wrote for my LIBR 285: Research Methods class in which I analyzed a raw data set comprised of OverDrive’s “unabridged audiobook collection.”

This paper demonstrates my competency in analyzing primary research data to assess the parameters for what the given data is capable of measuring. Analyzing this raw quantitative data also necessitated source evaluation to determine any possible bias. Moreover, this paper proves that I am competent in assessing potential uses for quantitative data as well as understanding ways data may be manipulated to prove subjective arguments or theses.

Libr 285_Annotated Bibliography RA for YA

My third piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency L is an annotated bibliography I created for LIBR 285: Research Methods for which I compiled diversified information resources including both published and unpublished works in various formats including blogs, tweets, slide sets, forum posts, and articles. This bibliography demonstrates my competency in performing secondary research to benchmark how other libraries have implemented emerging technologies to serve teens. It also studies how Facebook can be implemented as a learning/discovery tool as well as both a reader’s advisory and advocacy tool to promote reading through social media.

Libr 285_Summary Analysis

My fourth piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency L is a paper I wrote for LIBR 285: Research Methods in which I critically analyzed a research report in terms of my understanding and assessment of key points including the research problem, the research methods used, the findings, the conclusions, and the recommendations. This paper demonstrates my competency in identifying research problems and methods within a research proposal as well as creating a synopsis tool to quickly identify key points, goals, and value of a specific research report.

Conclusion

Upon beginning Libr 285, my conceptual understanding of research as a process was rudimentary and consisted of the many papers I wrote during my eight years as an undergraduate and three years as a graduate student while studying a variety of communication arts. While my former research process often involved secondary research in the form of annotated bibliographies and literature reviews, I did not become aware of a distinction between primary and secondary research until the attending Tom Peter’s class in the summer of 2011. Learning about statistical analyses of data sets gave order and evidence to the experimental treasure hunts I enjoyed, and now provide me with a new basis for evidentiary support when seeking knowledge and understanding.

One current research interest I would like to pursue is the problem of how to promote quality literature reading among teens. There seem to be a significant number of studies analyzing the impact of technology on teens as well as how educators can use technology to promote library services, which clearly has value in our tech-centric time. However, I am concerned that the focus is shifting further and further away from facilitating the development of lifelong learners by focusing so heavily on how to use technology to make libraries fun for teens. I agree that library teen spaces should promote engaging atmospheres, involve teens in their development, and allocate time for weekly gaming and media events. Yet, I believe there is a present information gap between how/what we think teens read, and how/what they actually read. I also think that teens need a break from technology, and require a space to focus on just one activity. While I think that the examination of how we can use technology to encourage reading among teens is important, I would like to analyze teen reading habits, and focus on how books provide a crucial opportunity for teens to create their own environment.

References

McClure, Charles R. (2008). Learning and Using Evaluation: A Practical Introduction. In Haycock and Sheldon (Eds.), The Portable MLIS (179). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Powell, Ron. (2008). Research. In Haycock and Sheldon (Eds.), The Portable MLIS (168). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

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