Chapter 15 of The Portable MLIS (Powell, 2008) discusses various research methods that can be used in the context of libraries. More importantly, Powell points out that LIS programs have not always considered the teaching of research methods as a priority. He points out that “a research methods course is required in slightly less than 40 percent of the LIS programs accredited by the American Library Association.” (2008, p. 177) He does say that signs indicate this need is being addressed more thoroughly than it has been, both by LIS programs and by libraries themselves, but there’s a lot of work to be done.
Powell thinks this is great news, and I found myself agreeing with him. I would much rather spend my time thinking of innovative ideas while the thankless grunt work of analyzing their potential and the aftermath of their application falls to some less fortunate soul. That does not mean, however, that I fail to see the value in these activities. As Powell explains, research activities are vital to the future of libraries. We owe it to our profession to thoroughly and scientifically analyze its inner workings, as only then do necessary changes and adjustments become apparent. Without firm research to back them up, ideas are nothing but guesses, and no library system is so wealthy, so safe, and so confident of its user base’s loyalty that it can afford to implement changes without assessing the likely results.
We also owe it to our patrons, for they come to us expecting a high standard of scholarship and knowledge about the information we curate. They expect us to have a solid justification for every book we stock, every service we offer, and every recommendation we make. They also expect that we will be able to guide them in their search for knowledge, and we cannot do that if we lack the scientific training necessary to conduct that search. They see the library as a place for research, and they will demand that we are familiar with those activities so that we may show them the way.
Finally, we owe it to ourselves; if we are to become the best librarians we can be, we need to receive the training needed to conduct critical evaluations of processes and resources and to decide on the best way to push our libraries forward. Ideas are great, but each has its own set of conditions that allow it to flourish. In order to correctly define the conditions we live under, and identify those ideas best suited to our particular situation, we must be able to design, conduct, and evaluate thorough, situation-appropriate, scientifically sound, research studies.
Powell, Ron (2008). Research. In Haycock, Ken & Sheldon, Brooke E. (Ed.). (2008). The Portable MLIS: Insights from the Experts. (pp. 168-178) Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.