Conclusions reached about library research
After a semester of research and reading, what have I learned about library research?
- That one semester does not allow me fully to explore the validity of the course's opening question about the quality of extant library research.
- That I nonetheless gained a visibly large amount of context in my field of library research and investigation.
Answering the question
This semester, and this investigation, began with the assertion that library research, in general, has been weak, inconsistent, and often non-rigorous. What have I learned to answer this question?
I experienced an eureka moment this semester as I was reading a grounded theory study entitled "LIS learning culture" by Dow (2011). In the study Dr. Dow examined the learning cultures of various academic disciplines, and she hypothesized that the distinctions across disciplines directly impact student perception of that discipline.
The study cited Belcher who claimed that each discipline or "academic tribe" (in Dow, p. 32) has its own intellectual schema and that research within those disciplines follows the tribal guidelines for that research.
Research often reflects a "hard-soft" distinction (p. 33): the paradigm of "hard" research builds new knowledge on top of old and current knowledge. This is evidenced most frequently in the sciences.
In contrast, humanities have no established, rigid paradigms, and so content, research methods, and research topics vary widely (p. 33).This reality constitutes soft research.
Social sciences (generally the realm within which library sciences abide) fall somewhere between the sciences and their hard research paradigm, and the humanities and their less regimented, freer research patterns.
Another distinction across the discplines is whether or not valued research within the discipline has practical applications. "In this dimension, humanities, hard sciences, and social sciences cluster together away from eduation, engineering, and agriculture" (p. 33).
In which camp does library research fit? The very name of the discipline, "library sciences," reflects the conflict between the hard-soft, regimented-free research distinctions. We library scholar-practitioners must master and grow within both the hard and the soft realms of study. The nuance of educational librarianship adds increased complexity due to the demand for application to the human environments concerned.
The original accusation of weak library research was posited by Connaway & Powell (2010) largely because they perceived an inexorable bias in library research toward applied research. Their preferred definition of research was that of basic research: "pure, theoretical, or scientific research ... primarily interested in deriving new knowledge" (Connaway & Powell, p. 2). This is the hard research concept. Connaway & Powell chose to contrast the hard, basic research with applied research.
According to Dow and her sources, however, whether one values basic over applied research is not an issue of truth but rather of academic discipline.
According to Dow's study, those disciplines which value and depend on application of research view the scholars of that academic culture as "consultants to [the discipline's] practitioners" (Dow, p. 33). Basic research would be less useful in those contexts.
Scholars in applied areas publish more technical reports than scholars in pure areas, presumably because they provide better formats for disseminating scholarship to the groups and individuals served by the applied areas. (Dow, p. 33)
By combining Connaway & Powell's (2011) writing with that from Dow (2011), I perceive two theoretical frameworks concerning research:
- Research has multiple realities depending on the academic discipline in which it is produced;
- Value-based concepts of research are constructed according to discipline-specific values and purpose.
Based on those theories, I conclude the following:
- Within the broad field of library science, scholars and practitioners should expect to find and to engage with both basic (hard) and applied (less regimented) research.
- Scholars and practictioners within this field can direct their career and learning paths in either direction, based on personal preference. But they should respect both concepts of research, and they should proceed understanding the justification and warrant for both forms of research and practice.
To value one form of research over the other is not wisdom, but rather a limited perspective, formed by personal preference.
Conclusion: There exists within library science two contrasting paradigms of research. Both are valuable, and both are relevant.
Within library science research, there are examples of both weak and strong work. However these qualities are not dependent on the nature of the research
but rather on the innate structure of the studies done and the writing used to share that research. This reality is true across disciplines.
Library research can appear weak based on personal bias, but library research is generally the equal of any other academic discipline's research: profound, robust, and relevant.