Why should information professionals of any kind study research methods, especially empirical social science research methods? Why should they do research? Why should an introduction to research and research methods be required in the master’s program in our School?
Introduction to Research in Information Studies (INF 397C) is intended to acquaint students with doing, reading, and evaluating research. It aims to help students bring their own and others' research to their professional practice, no matter the setting in which that practice takes place. The critical spirit of inquiry gives the information professional, whether a librarian or not, the opportunity to serve clients better and to perform other organizational tasks. All information professionals must evaluate information services, products, and policies. Understanding how to perform research and to judge the research of others is essential to the success of such evaluations. In addition, information professionals must often write grant proposals and engage in other activities that demand research competencies.
The four major goals of this course, reflecting the role of research in the master’s program at the School of Information, are to:
- Introduce students to important concepts and techniques in empirical social science research, both quantitative and qualitative. Although we emphasize quantitative methods in this course for the sake of ensuring some level of “statistical literacy,” like many researchers, I take a catholic approach in my own work, using both qualitative and quantitative methods (what is commonly called methodological pluralism). The course will include discussion of qualitative and historical methods, and you will be encouraged to use those methods as appropriate.
- Enable students to be more discerning and informed readers of others' empirical research.
- Help students develop competencies in the planning, description, and completion of empirical research studies, i.e., proposal preparation, instrument design, instrument use, data analysis, and research reporting.
- Encourage students to do empirical research throughout their professional lives.
With these goals in mind, INF 397C examines:
- Creation of knowledge -- how we know and investigate; what "scientific" research is, especially in information studies. The course will explicitly engage the fragility of knowledge and explore how we must act in all sorts of professional situations when we are without the luxury of certainty.
- Evaluating the research of others -- how to develop and apply criteria to determine the value and applicability of research in various literatures to particular professional situations.
- Defining a research question -- how to develop and operationalize a researchable question. This step is key to the process of systematic inquiry.
- Collection of data -- how to use both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, including surveys (especially those that use standardized questionnaires), focus groups, structured interviews, historical research, ethnographic observation, oral history, and bibliometrics, to explore research questions.
- Analysis of data -- how to use descriptive statistics, some inferential statistics, and content analysis. One goal of the course is the development of the ability to apply basic statistical techniques to understand phenomena of interest to the information professions.
- Preparation of a research proposal -- how to conceptualize, plan, and communicate an investigation of a phenomenon in information studies; students will design an empirical data collection instrument in conjunction with the research proposal.
- Reporting research -- how to share the results of research. In the summer session, I do not ask students to perform empirical research and report the results; in the fall and spring semesters, however, I do.
Although the application of statistical techniques is among the competencies that students will develop in INF 397C, this class is not a course in statistics, nor are there any prerequisites for taking it. The only mathematical skills that you are presumed to possess are:
- Familiarity with and proficiency in the four major arithmetic operations -- addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
- Some measure of facility with fractions, ratios, decimals, percentages, and their equivalence
- Ability to read and generate simple Cartesian planes (x, y coordinates) and other graphic representations
- A command of basic algebra, e.g., you can determine the value of x if 4x = 12
- The ability to determine squares and square roots using a calculator.
See Spatz (2005) Appendix A, "Arithmetic and Algebra Review," Glossary of Words, and Glossary of Formulas; and Bartz, Appendix 2, "Basic Mathematics Refresher" (1988, pp. 395-427). These resources provide a review of useful, fundamental mathematical topics. Previous students, especially those with relatively little mathematical background, have found the appropriate parts of Rowntree's Statistics Without Tears (1981) useful.