Friday, August 23, 2013

Comp L: Research

Demonstrate understanding of quantitative and qualitative research methods and of the evaluation and synthesis of research literature.


Being able to conduct research is an important part of the LIS profession, and not only to be able to help library patrons do research. We can use it to improve services, provide better information, fill in knowledge gaps, or for personal or professional edification. In the past, much in LIS literature was anecdotal, episodic, and not well-tested. As our profession grows, LIS professionals are doing more and more research to test some of the myths and assumptions that have been held for a long time. Powell and Connaway (2004) explain why research is so important to LIS: “The profession needs to advance beyond its heavy dependence on descriptive data and establish principles and theories on which libraries and information systems and services can be based” (p. 6).

Essentially, research can be boiled down to three major steps: identify a question, determine the kind of data that would answer that question, and finally collect and evaluate the data. There are several major types of research; which one a researcher uses is determined by the question and the kind of data they need to answer it.

Quantitative and qualitative research
Quantitative research usually has large, random, statistically significant sample sizes. It is concerned with what. The data collected is often numerical data that can be expressed statistically or in mathematical models. For example, an LIS professional might make a website survey that asks patrons to rate features on a 1-5 scale (called a Likert scale). This gives a set of numbers that can now be statistically analyzed. The responses could be tabulated to see which features are the most well-liked or disliked by website visitors. The advantage to using this kind of research is that the results are easy to interpret and communicate to others. The disadvantages are the difficulties in doing scientifically valid research, the possibility of bias in question formats, and that some things we may want to measure cannot be reduced to a simple number.

Qualitative research, on the other hand, is concerned with howand why. It deals more with texts, objects, and human interactions such as interviews, observations and focus groups. For example, instead of a survey with responses on a scale of 1-5, the responses could be free-form text. Data collection tends to be in notes, videos, and pictures. The research is usually based on smaller, targeted sample sizes and is more subjective.

Primary research
This is original research done when a person has to find new information about a topic or issue. In LIBR 251, Web Usability, I learned how to properly conduct this type of research in order to test product prototypes. There are many different methods to use for conducting primary research, including surveys, observations, interviews, directed activities, and self-reporting. Sometimes conducting primary research includes writing a research plan, especially if it is a large project. In this plan, the researcher must estimate the time and cost of the research, how subjects will be found, and write a script with neutral questions. Primary research may be used in an LIS setting in many ways; for instance, if library staff wants to know if patrons will find their new website easy to navigate, they can conduct a small study using observations and interviews.

Secondary research
This is taking primary and secondary sources and doing research from those sources. Primary sources are the resources directly connected with an event, object, or person (i.e., public records, photographs, newspaper articles). Secondary sources are resources about the event (i.e., biographies, journal articles, or monographs). In LIBR 285, Research Methods – History, I learned how to do secondary research in order to write a research proposal. Secondary research normally includes a review of the current literature to find gaps in knowledge, so both primary and secondary sources are important to this kind of research.


Evidence 1 is a quiz (called Quiz2) I took in LIBR 251, in which I had a short amount of time and space to describe a research plan for making an online test-taking tool. I would recruit research subjects for the study through school. Then, I would use several different research methods to gain insight into the test-taking procedures of the subjects: shadowing, directed storytelling, and collaging. These various methods would give me insight into the most common actions, as well as the most effective and ineffective actions. This research would help me discover which features would be important in a test-taking tool. Finally, I explain how I would organize and analyze the data collected during the research. This evidence proves I could conduct a large primary research project and use the results to develop a product.

Evidence 2, also from LIBR 251, is a paper I wrote on the prototype testing I performed for a computer program I use at work (called Drewieske Final Project). Pages 7-9 describe the research methods I used to test the program on actual users. Since this is a work computer program, several of my co-workers agreed to be the testers for my prototype.  Because I was working with such a small group of users, quantitative research methods would have been impractical. I decided to use observation and guided storytelling for my research methods. To do this, I had the users talk their way through my new version of the program – a paper prototype – so I could capture their thoughts, opinions, and questions as they worked. They had to describe each action and why they were taking that action. For the next part of the testing, I pretended to be a customer asking questions so they could test the program in an authentic situation. I used the results of the first test sessions to formulate the next testing session, in which I used a PowerPoint prototype to make it more realistic. I learned valuable information from each testing session, analyzing the results of each session to decide what I could use to improve the product and what should happen next. I was only required to do two testing sessions, but I conclude my paper describing how the research from these sessions would lead me to further improve the prototype. For example, one user commented that the size of the text onscreen was a little too small for him to read easily. That is a problem that could definitely be fixed in the next round of user testing. This evidence shows I can use primary research to collect and analyze data and apply it to the improvement of a program.
Evidence 3 is my research proposal from LIBR 285 (Drewieske_ProposalFinal). I have also included the  the annotated bibliography I wrote early in the semester for the proposal (Drewieske_AnnotatedBibliography). This is an historical research proposal to study the effects of the Anglo-Norman language on the British merchant class after the Norman Conquest in 1066. When I began the project, I had a vague idea that I wanted to explore and write about the English language after 1066. In order to narrow that topic down and find gaps in scholarly knowledge, I researched many books, journal articles, websites, and primary source documents. (I realized a few weeks into this project that I had chosen an incredibly difficult topic to research, as all the primary resources were essentially in another language!) I had to use all my search skills to find articles that would help me with this topic, because it covers history, linguistics, and sociology. In the end, I believe the literature review in my research proposal is as exhaustive as it can be for someone who cannot read the primary source documents. The research plan in the proposal describes exactly what research I would be doing and why it is important. The annotated bibliography shows how my research improved over the course of the semester, as I wrote it early on and only had eleven sources, some of which were not entirely relevant. By the time I wrote the research proposal, I had found many more articles that were relevant to my topic. This evidence proves I can retrieve, evaluate, and synthesize literature on a particular topic in order to find the gaps of knowledge. I am also able to use this to write a comprehensive research proposal, explaining how more research will be carried out.


The evidence I used for this competency was some of the most difficult work I did while at SJSU, but was also very rewarding. A lot of preparation goes into primary research, and the test subjects almost never behaved the way I expected, but I learned so much from each of them. This is clearly a very valuable skill to have if I ever need to work on improving a library service or product. Even just a short test with a few people can bring insight on how to make it better. The secondary research from LIBR 285 was even more challenging, but incredibly useful for any career path. Being able to find and analyze information on a topic will always be an advantage, whether or not I need to write a research proposal in the future.


Powell, R., & Connaway, L. S. (2004.) Basic research methods for librarians (4th ed.). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

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