REVIEWS: Library and
Information Science Research
In this issue:
K., et al. (2000). Research methods for students and professionals: information
management and systems. Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia: Centre for Information
Studies, Charles Sturt University. ISBN 0 949060 89 5. xvii + 325 pp/.
Williamson, K., et al. (2000). Research methods for students and professionals: information management and systems. Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University. ISBN 0 949060 89 5. xvii + 325 pp/.
There is a close relationship between the title of this book and what LIBRES projects as its aims and objectives. Indeed, if the book is worthy, it should make a useful contribution to the understanding of library and information research by those who contribute to and read LIBRES.
The lead author, Williamson, has called on colleagues to contribute chapters to this book. This provides an authentic overview of the many research methods discussed. Each of the three chapters in Section 1: Introduction to research methods describes in useful detail things like the role of research in professional practice, the major traditions in research, establishing research questions and hypotheses and other stages involved in the research process. There is an imbalance in the coverage in this section and this is indicative of the content of the remainder of the book. The authors hope to overcome this with extensive reading lists at the end of each chapter, which are useful but as Clayton (2000 and reproduced below) remarks in another review, they tend to be repetitive.
The book's division into four sections seems to have begun well though falls off in the level of detail as the book progresses. Section 2 covers Research methods and Section 3 Research techniques and the duplication of coverage in each of these could have been avoided with some judicious editing and reorganisation of the sections. Clayton (2000) has also commented on this. Yet the coverage of the various methods the information student and/or professional might wish to consider is extensive and whilst the coverage of each is a little superficial, it provides a useful overview to a number of methods which information professionals ought to consider in their research projects. The topics include case studies, action research , ethnography and historical research. The author has also gathered an overview of methods useful to information systems researchers. This is a useful addition to the research methods literature in our field. It is in this section of the book that we are tempted to move away from the almost stereotypical methodologies we have followed for so long in tried and true works of the likes of Busha & Harter (1980) and of others. The realization that information studies are as much a social as a pure science encourages us to attempt to use a more sociological and qualitative approach beyond the use of the interview and questionnaire.
Like Clayton (2000) I find the delineation between methods and techniques confusing and wish the author had not bothered as the interrelationships between them are many. An example is the treatment of the Delphi Method as a component in the methodology section and later as a technique. As well, a vital discussion on bibliometrics has been omitted as has content analysis. True, there are more useful titles that cover these areas, but their impact as research methodologies in our field demands that they are covered.
Data analysis is not treated in much detail in Section 4. We could return to a text like Busha & Harter for better coverage but times have moved on since their title and there are now a number of useful software products which might have been described and evaluated for their usefulness in data recording and calculation, although mention is made of NU.DIST. Indeed section 4: Data analysis is quite sparse, almost an afterthought. A potentially useful Chapter: Evaluation of published research is almost a title in itself and whilst welcome, requires more attention than it has been given.
For the new researcher in information science/studies, be that person professional or student, the book is a useful text and is recommended for that purpose. It does not go into detail, but it does give an overview of the many research methods and techniques we might consider adopting in our research work ahead.
Busha, C.H. & Harter, S.P. (1980). Research methods in librarianship: techniques and interpretation. San Diego: Academic Press.
Clayton, P. (2000, June). Review of Research methods for students and professionals: information management and systems. AARL, 118-119.
Research Methods for Students and Professionals: Information Management and Systems Kirsty Williamson with Amanda Bow [and others]. Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University, 2000. ISBN 0 949060 89 5 xvii + 325p
According to Ross Harvey, in his introduction, this book is intended to produce 'critical consumers of research. It also goes some way towards producing researchers…' As such, it must be warmly welcomed by a journal such as Australian Academic & Research Libraries which not only publishes the results of research (and would welcome submission of more research reports), but also relies on the existence of a discriminating, research-literate readership. Australian schools of library and information studies, archives, records management and information systems - all of whose students will benefit from this text - have not always given research training appropriate prominence. The publication of an Australian text with such aims, which recognises the convergence of these professions and includes many examples of Australian research, is certainly timely.
The strengths of this work include its coverage of a very wide range of methods, clear and straightforward explanations of often quite complex issues, and simple, useful diagrams. My notes made while reading through it include words like 'excellent discussion', 'useful' and 'appropriate'. The final chapter, on 'Evaluation of published research', was especially welcome. Despite Harvey's note that multiple authorship had led to some 'stylistic variation', I was not aware of this - no doubt the result of tight editorial control.
Of course, no one text can meet the needs of all. This one states up front that it omits discussion of bibliometrics and content analysis, which is unfortunate since these are of special interest to our professions, and more importantly also omits ethics 'in any detail'. I should have thought it was essential to cover ethics in some detail in any research methods course. The discussion of statistical procedures is easy to follow but so brief that I rather doubt the reader will 'be able to understand the concepts of statistical analysis', one of the chapter's objectives. Busha and Harter (Research Methods in Librarianship, 1980), or Sproull (Handbook of Research Methods, 1995), provide the details which, in my experience, students new to statistics actually need.
A half-hearted attempt is made to differentiate between research methods and research techniques 'on the basis that a technique for data gathering (for example, focus groups) can be used with a number of different methods.' Methods covered include surveys, case studies, experiments, action research, ethnography, historical and Delphi (each with different authors), and techniques are sampling, questionnaires and interviews, focus groups and, again, ethnography. Williamson herself notes that 'To describe what distinguishes a "research method" from a "research technique" is not always an easy task.' Putting Dephi into one box and focus group into another exemplifies this difficulty, let alone the two, separated, chapters on ethnographic research. I would suggest that this distinction be reviewed when a second edition is contemplated, and that in the meantime readers simply ignore it.
Personally, I always find chapter 'Objectives' ('At the end of this chapter you will be able to…') and 'Discussion questions' overly textbooky, although many students and publishers seem to like them. 'Further readings' are much more useful - but surely some annotation of each title suggested might better encourage the student to follow these up? And separate lists of references for each chapter, again unannotated, are both less convenient and more space consuming (as many titles are repeated) than a single listing at the back would be. I would also have liked to see short details on each of the contributors, not all of whom I knew. But the inclusion of a Glossary with brief, helpful definitions and an index provides some compensation.
Despite these minor reservations, this is a worthwhile, well written text which should, and undoubtedly will, join postgraduate reading lists across the country. For many, it could well be a first choice.