28 June 2015

Expanding my LIS research methods toolbox

Credit: Andy McGee, 2011. https://flic.kr/p/9Sb4Ut. 
Licence: CC BY-NC 2.0.

I'm hoping to register tomorrow to attend a workshop that is coming up as part of the 8th International Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (EBLIP) Conference, which is being held here in Brisbane at the Queensland University of Technology.

The workshop is called Quantitative vs Qualitative Research Methods: Determining the Best Method for Evidence Based Research and it's being delivered by Dr Sandra Hirsh, the Director of the School of Information at San José State University. According to the blurb, the workshop
will provide participants a thorough understanding of the difference between qualitative and quantitative research, including how to choose the best method for performing effective evidence based research. Participants will also learn about various techniques within each research approach, expanding their ability to determine not only the best approach, but the best and most practical technique for performing their evidence based research. 
My reason for wanting to attend this session is that I have a research project in mind. I've undertaken substantive research projects previously for an MA by research way back in the 1990s before I was even a librarian, and then again for my MLIS (metadata nerds and insomniacs are welcome to check out my dissertation in VUW's institutional repository, Gaining Expertise in Creating Metadata: An Exploratory Study!). But it's been a long time since I did research methods coursework and I'm wanting to avoid falling into the trap described in a really good In the Library with the Lead Pipe article a few months back urging librarians to #DitchTheSurvey:
This article is a call to arms: it is time to ditch the survey as our primary research method and think outside the checkbox [....] Our field is ripe for rigorous research, but our over-reliance on the survey is limiting the depth of that knowledge. With the survey method dominating most LIS studies, we strongly recommend that librarians increase the diversity of their methodological toolbox. Determine the methods that will most appropriately answer your research question and even go so far as to seek out questions that can be best answered by less frequently employed practices.
I was considering applying for an ALIA Research Grant Award (maybe next year - no way I will meet the 30 June deadline for this year now!) and initially I was tempted to stick with the tried and true survey, despite the fact that my topic would likely be better suited to qualitative methods like interviews or focus groups. I'm hoping that attending Sandra's workshop will help me expand my toolbox as the authors of the article mentioned above suggest.

I haven't talked much about my idea for a research project with anyone except a couple of trusted colleagues. It seems a good idea to me but I'm uncertain about committing to it as I know that it will be a substantial piece of work that will likely have to be done in my own time. (This is not because my place of work would be unsupportive of the research - in fact, my supervisor has specifically asked me to include in my performance plan some activities that are just for my own interest and development - but it's hard to see how that would work in practice.) I've been pondering whether the project would be a good chance for me to collaborate with someone from another institution. It might mean the workload of doing the actual research work could be shared (though often collaborating takes more time!); it might also ensure that I'm not caught up in my own bubble-view of the problem that I'm interested in exploring.

I'm sorry to be missing what is sure to be another highlight of the EBLIP conference, Kim Tairi's keynote on research practitioners and role conflict. As Kim writes in her abstract, "one of the trickiest things to do is be an active researcher and a practitioner. Embedding research into your work life with the competing pressures of a professional role is often a juggling act." I'm looking forward to seeing Kim's slides after the event to pick up on some tips about keeping those balls in the air!

References
Halpern, R. et al., 2015. #DitchTheSurvey: Expanding Methodological Diversity in LIS Research. In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Available at: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2015/ditchthesurvey-expanding-methodological-diversity-in-lis-research/ [Accessed June 28, 2015].

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