Research challenges: The pathway to engagement and progress

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Research challenges: The pathway to engagement and progress

 

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Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Ph.D

Senior Research Scientist
OCLC Research

 

When I was invited to speak about the challenges of library and information science (LIS) research at the III International Seminar on LIS Education and Research (LIS-ER) I was honored but as an optimist wanted to also call attention to some of the opportunities that are available to LIS researchers. As Henry Kissinger once said, "A diamond is a chunk of coal made good under pressure."

Many of the challenges for LIS research can be attributed to the current research environment and some of these challenges are common to other disciplines within the academy as well. These include reduced funding opportunities because of more restricted national, international, and federal research initiatives; difficulty of articulating the scholarly value of the research based on a theoretical framework; not making the connection between the implications of research results and findings to the practical profession of LIS; limited relationships with scholars and research in other disciplines; the communication of research and outputs to traditional dissemination channels such as scholarly and professional presentations and publications and limited utilization of blogs, social media, and webinars; and inconsistent quality of the research data collection methods and analysis.

As a research scientist, I am interested in research data collection and analysis methods; therefore, I will identify several challenges but focus on the data collection and analysis challenges. A historical review of the literature indicates that the most widely used research methodology reported in a sample of 900 articles published between 1950-1975 was the survey or experiment on libraries (32 %), followed by historical methodologies (18 %), and information system design (17 %) (Powell, 1999). See Table 1 for the breakdown of the number and percentages of methodologies used by year (Powell, 1999).

Methodology 1950 1960 1965 1970 1975 Total* %*
Theoretical-analytical
11
17
11
36
52
127
14
Information system design
7
16
21
57
49
150
17
Surveys on the public
3
2
9
20
19
53
3
Survey or experiment on libraries, etc.
22
15
45
89
113
284
32
Bibliometric and similar studies
0
1
7
14
16
38
4
Content analysis
0
1
2
1
3
7
1
Secondary analysis
6
15
15
13
27
76
8
Historical methodologies
21
26
25
49
42
163
18
Descriptive bibliography
7
4
6
4
9
30
3
Comparative studies
0
2
6
4
7
19
2
Other and multiple
3
1
7
9
10
30
3
All papers*
76
96
139
274
315
900
100

Table 1. Number and percentages of methodologies used by year from Powell (1999).1

Chu (2015) analyzed 1,162 scholarly publications in the Journal of Documentation (JDoc), the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology (JASIST), and Library & Information Science Research (LISR) from 2001-2010 to identify the research methods used in the articles. She stated, "The LIS field is maturing in terms of research method selection and application in that a greater number and wider variety of research methods are used in all the research publications this study examines…Scholars are no longer limited to the research methods traditionally applied in LIS explorations (e.g., questionnaire and historical method)" (Chu, 2015, p. 40).

The researchers in Chu's JDoc sample of publications (N=367) used the theoretical approach (38 %) most often. Content analysis (14 %), questionnaire (13.8 %), experiment (13.4 %), and interview (13.4 %) followed. The theoretical approach was used more frequently in the JDoc sample publications analyzed by Chu between 2001-2010 compared to those analyzed by Powell (1999) between 1950-1975.

Chu (2015) reported that the research methods used in the sample of 554 LIS articles published between 2001-2010 were experiment (31 %), bibliometrics (23 %), questionnaire (14 %), content analysis (13 %), and theoretical approach (12 %). Although survey research (questionnaire) was not the most used research method in this sample, it almost is equally represented in this sample and in the JDoc sample.

The use of the questionnaire had increased in Chu's (2015) sample of articles published in LISR between 2001-2010 (N=241). She reported that content analysis (30 %), questionnaire (28 %), interview (20 %), theoretical approach (15 %), and experiment (9 %) were the most popular methods used in these articles.

Luo and McKinney (2015) reviewed a sample of publications in the Journal of Academic Librarianship (JAL) between 2004-2013 (N=346). Once again the questionnaire was reported as the most used data collection method (47.6 %) and content analysis was reported as the second most used method (27.2 %), which means it is the most used data analysis method used in this sample. See Table 2 for the methods used and percentages for the JAL sample.

Method Percentage
Questionnaire
47,6
    Test or Quiz
2,6
    Diary
0,6
Content Analysis
27,2
Semi-structured Interviews
14
Analysis of existing statistics
6,6
Citation Analysis
6,3
Focus Group Interview
5,7
Observation
4,3
Log Analysis
3,4
Task Analysis
2,9

Table 2. Research Methods in LIS Used in JAL 2004-2013 (Luo and McKinney, 2015).2

Greifeneder (2014) limited her analysis by examining 155 information behavior publications in 2012 and 2013 in JASIST (55) and Information Research (27) and in 2013 and 2014 in the iConference proceedings (48) and JDoc (25). She reported that the interview method was the most used (51 times), followed by surveys (34 times), and that content analysis was the most used data analysis method used (28 times) in the sample. This analysis was very similar to those previously reported by Vakkari (2008) and Julien, Pecoskie, and Reed (2011) for information behavior research. Greifeneder's (2014) findings are very similar to those reported by Luo and McKinney (2015).

She also reported that almost half of the studies in the sample used at least two methods or a mixed-methods approach. Mixed methods research includes any combination of research methods: qualitative, quantitative, participatory design, and action. Equal attention should be given to all stages of the research process and methods and the findings should be iterative and informative (Kazmer, 2016). However, "only 11 studies (7 %) combined more than two methods. 69 % of mixed-method approaches were a qualitative-qualitative combination and 31 % were a quantitative-qualitative combination. Not a single study combined a quantitative with another quantitative method" in Greifeneder's analysis (2014).

In addition to the limited types of data collection methods and data analysis methods used in LIS research, there are other challenges. Data collection and analysis for some qualitative research methods, such as interviews, observations, diaries, and participatory design can be expensive and time intensive both for data collection and analysis. Bias presents a threat to validity, particularly with interviews, if the interviewer over-reacts to responses or leads the interviewee. The data collected for log analysis, analytics, interviews, and questionnaires can be massive, inaccurate and/or incomplete. Sampling also can be a challenge, especially if you are trying to find specific users or potential users of a service or system. Evolving technologies also can be a challenge. Formats and media change and data storage platforms and systems may no longer be available, such as wikis or web pages.

After reading about the challenges of LIS research you may wonder why or if we should expend our time and energy on research. My answer is yes! These challenges create opportunities for us. Opportunities for engagement and progress.

Our research can influence practice by engaging users and potential users of library services and systems in user-centered research approaches to develop services and systems that integrate into their work flows and lifestyles. By building on theoretical frameworks and previous research, new models and theories will emerge. We, as researchers, also should concentrate on relationship building with LIS practicing professionals and researchers in addition to researchers in other disciplines and within other institutions.

I believe the African proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together," is quite appropriate.  Through collaboration and cumulative research, the scholarly record of LIS research will continue to grow and mature.

 

Bibliography

Chu, Heting (2015). "Research methods in library and information science: A content analysis". Library & information science research, 37 (1), p. 36-41.

Julien, Heidi; Pecoskie, Jen; Reed, Kathleen (2011). "Trends in information behavior research, 1999-2008: A content analysis". Library & information science research, 33 (1), p. 19-24.

Kazmer, Michelle M. (forthcoming). "Mixed Methods". En: Connaway, Lynn Silipigni; Radford, Marie L. (ed.). Research methods for library and information science (6th ed.). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Luo, Lili; McKinney, Margaret (2015). "JAL in the past decade: A comprehensive analysis of academic library research". The Journal of academic librarianship, 41 (2), p. 123-129.

Powell, Ronald R. (1999). "Recent trends in research: A methodological essay". Library & information science research, 21 (1), p. 91-119.

Vakkari, Pertti (2008). "Trends and approaches in information behaviour research". Information research, 13 (4). <http://www.informationr.net/ir/13-4/paper361.html>

 

Notes

1 The figures add to more than the total number of papers (and the percentages add to more than 100), since a paper may have more than one methodology.

2 Used in primary research articles.

Recommended citation

Connaway, Lynn Silipigni (2015). "Research challenges : The pathway to engagement and progress". BiD: textos universitaris de biblioteconomia i documentació, núm. 35 (desembre) . <http://bid.ub.edu/en/35/connaway.htm>. [Consulta: 21-09-2020].


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