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Chapter 15: Research

As an English teacher (particularly of students enrolled in SU Project Advance courses), I devote a great deal of energy to teaching responsible, effective research methods for developing  and supporting  inquiry, analysis, and argument in student writing. This chapter provided an eye-opening perspective on the whole concept of research.  Powell opens the discussion by attempting to differentiate between “true” and “library” research (p. 168), a distinction which is difficult to discern because the two forms are closely related.

What Powell does, then, is categorize and describe “early studies that were methodologically sound and that made important contributions to the development of the LIS profession” (p. 169). Some of these methods, such as surveys, ethnographic studies, and content analysis were very familiar to me, as the such are used in many fields of study. The part of the essay I found most interesting and useful, however, was the last section, which discusses research reports and the rationale for using research to improve and grow libraries and librarianship.

In searching for articles on social networking and libraries (as part of the broader assignment to which this blog belongs), I was struck by the vast number of publications devoted for library science.  As I began reading sample essays in order to choose one for my reader response, I noticed that many pieces reference each other, which means that research in the field is constantly being read, analyzed, and applied by scholars and other professionals in the field. That’s very different from the research I currently read and use in teaching literature, and in many ways library-oriented research feels more like a living organism with immediate applications. The essay I ended up using for the assignment in fact used surveys and previously published research to determine the best course for introducing social networking and libraries to college students who already use Facebook or MySpace. While the conclusions in the essay were admittedly preliminary, they could definitely be used to serve the purposes menioned in Powell’s chapter, such as improving service to those who use the library (in this case, college undergraduates) and in the growth of the profession, which in Powell’s words “needs to build on the most current knowledge–knowledge that is based on solid research, not merely assumptions, rules-of-thumb, and past practices” (p. 176).

I was surprised, however, by Powell’s statement that “[r]esearch in LIS is still relatively young” (p.177). It seems ironic that libraries–the very source for accessing many research materials–would not be taking full, historical advantage reseach to improve the resources and access they provide. However, it is encouraging that all trends point up, and that vital research is going on everywhere in the field, particularly related to technological advances.

Powell, R. (2008). Research. In Haycock, K.  & Sheldon, B. E. (Eds.), The portable MLIS : Insights from the experts (pp. 168-178). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

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