“Understand the nature of research, research methods and research findings; retrieve, evaluate and synthesize scholarly and professional literature for informed decision-making by specific client groups.”
In my time spent at a reference desk, I’ve helped students and University faculty research 14th century Chinese navigators, nursing procedures for disabled children, the Latin works of Cato, Seneca and Sallust, and the philosophical appreciation of beauty. However, my exposure to these subjects generally ended as soon as the library patron had a sufficient response to their inquiry. Going deeper than reference, true research allows librarians to actually develop a subject expertise, be it for their own intellectual purposes or in the service of a client group, patron or community need.
Research comes in many forms, all of which have their own procedures and terminology. It is incumbent on all library professionals to be well-versed in the full spectrum of research methodologies, and have the ability to judge the quality of research documentation to best advise users as to its worth. In scientific and experimental research, the practitioner relies upon scientific method, quantitative measurements, control groups and consistent standards to establish or verify hypotheses. It is key that experimental results be repeatable to establish validity. Interview and focus group-based research requires an additional set of standards – anything that involves the participation of human subjects requires strict adherence to ethical standards. These standards are laid out by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Human Research, available online at their website.
Qualitative and Quantitative Research
Often framed with a “vs.” or an “either/or”, these two approaches to research are important for an information professional to understand. The oppositional relationship suggested by the “vs.” is not entirely accurate; rather, each approach is appropriate under different circumstances depending on the target of the research. To generalize, qualitative research is the analysis or comparison of language and subjective materials, while quantitative research relies more heavily on numerical comparisons and data. A librarian needs to understand the differences between the two because he or she often needs to be the arbiter of the quality of presented research, and the ways in which bias can manifest itself in research differs between qualitative and quantitative research.
In a qualitative survey, which is less reliant on immutable computations and more influenced by the conscious or subconscious prejudice of the researcher, a librarian needs to recognize the educational and institutional background of the researcher in order to note potential bias in the resulting documentation. When appraising quantitative research, the information professional must be able to recognize selective use of data or the omission of statistical information that might have undercut a researcher’s argument. Only with this type of analysis can an information professional objectively recommend research materials.
It is not so much a matter of either qualitative or quantitative research being superior to the other – both methods can produce strong, verifiable research, and both can be prone to bias or manipulation. The librarian has to have the skillset to analyze both, and an appreciation of how their forms differ.
As I hope to publish articles on library history topics, historical research is an important skill for my personal career ambitions. Therefore I have honed my research skills through academic coursework in classes like LIBR-280, the History of Books and Libraries, and LIBR-285, Historical Research Methods, both under the guidance of Dr. Debra Hansen, and LIBR-220, Resources and Information Sources with Dr. Bill Fisher.
One ongoing subject of my inquiry is the life and work of John Vance Cheney, the Librarian of San Francisco from 1887-1894. While I passed on writing a thesis on his life in favor of composing an e-Portfolio, I have done extensive research into his background for a variety of projects, starting with a research paper on the early history of the San Francisco Free Public Library (submitted as an evidentiary item for Competency A) and continuing with a Thesis Proposal I wrote as a culminating experience for LIBR-285. After the completion of that proposal, I extended my research by spending a week reviewing his personal papers maintained in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
The cumulative year and a half I have spent studying his life has taught me numerous research skills I can now apply to other subjects. My quest for information took me to a traditional research hub like the San Francisco History Center, where I reviewed catalogs and other materials from the 1880s, and also inspired me to master a modern research tool, Google Books. Google Books provided me with digital scans of 19th century editions of the Papers and Proceedings of the American Library Association, with fascinating time capsule reports on the ALA’s first-ever West Coast annual meeting, proposed and hosted by Cheney and the San Francisco Free Public Library. I have also run queries in historical newspaper databases and across various archival repository databases (which led me to the Library of Congress).
The week I spent in Washington with his personal papers was decidedly traditional research; I handled his personal journals (deciphering his tight, small cursive handwriting), reviewed multiple versions of his unpublished autobiography (discovering interesting omissions from certain versions that were available in others), and found his resignation notice from Chicago’s Newberry Library. His journals informed me why he abandoned the practice of law and moved to California. His autobiography described a physical altercation he got into with his San Francisco Public Library predecessor, Frederick Beecher Perkins (which never made it into the newspapers), and detailed the fascinating devolution of his first marriage — due to his wife’s growing obsession with the occult and her deviant sexual behavior. The letter to the Newberry revealed major schisms in the leadership of the prestigious private Chicago library that ultimately drove Cheney out of the librarian profession. All of these things, of course, would have remained a mystery to me had my inquiries into his life progressed no further than his Wikipedia page, the starting and ending point for all too many casual researchers.
I have attached my Thesis Proposal, coursework for LIBR-285, Historical Research Methods, as evidence of my historical research skills.
Providing Focused Resources
In addition to honing my historical research skills, my education at San José State’s School of Library and Information Science has prepared me to provide documented contemporary research for clients or patrons whose purposes are outside my own. Professor Bill Fisher’s special section of LIBR-220, Resources and Information Sources (Sports and Recreation), was one such learning experience. That class dealt with methods for finding reliable sources in specific subject areas, in this case professional, collegiate, and Olympic sports. These are popular interest areas for both professional and amateur researchers.
One product I created as a part of my LIBR-200 coursework was an annotated Resource List on the topic of domestic and international Rugby, a globally popular sport with a limited US following. This required me to consider both local and foreign information sources in my documentation. I had to evaluate their quality and reliability, determine if their intended audience was research-based or the commercial market, and if the resource had any backing agenda. I am attaching that Resource List as evidence of my ability to evaluate and synthesize scholarly and professional literature for a specific client group.
My previous undergraduate degree in History and my graduate education with Dr. Hansen give me the skill to understand different types of sources (primary vs. secondary, etc.), and how to find different types of “hidden” source material. I am equally comfortable with online information retrieval systems as well as weathered, archived diaries. I can research my own inquiries, and, importantly as a librarian, I have the skill to assist others in their research goals.
My education has provided me the skills to find sources and information in a plethora of formats, given me the discerning eye to understand the good sources from the bad, and the professional competence to distill that information into a comprehensible document for a client, library user, or reader. The evidentiary items I have included for this competency make it clear that I understand the nature of research, research methods and research findings, and I have the ability to retrieve, evaluate and synthesize scholarly and professional literature for a variety of purposes.
Exhibit L-1: In High Immortal Rime: A Biography of John Vance Cheney, Librarian and Poet. Thesis Proposal | Available upon request
Exhibit L-2: Rugby Union: A Guide to Resources | Available upon request