This was the second book I read for preparatory reading for my Msc and unfortunately I found this book rather annoying. To be fair it is intended as an introductory textbook, (probably at the undergraduate level) complete with homework questions at the end of every chapter! And I have already taken university courses in Behavioural Science research methods, psychological research methods, not to mention my Historical research methods class as part of my MA so feel like I have a decent understanding already. But what really annoys me about this book is the author’s insistent use of labels and frameworks. In all her examples there is only one way to do things.

She started the book with talking about the three “paradigms” of research, and how it was important to pick your paradigm before starting your research. I went to Evergreen and it instilled a deep hatred in me of the word, paradigm. She totally ignores the fact that different people have different learning styles and that one approach is not always the only approach. (For instance one must always start a literature review with tertiary sources, then secondary sources) She also comes across as slightly condescending, for instance when she takes a whole paragraph to say that it wasn’t’ a coincidence that the Delphi study is called Delphi cause of it’s association with ancient Greece, (surely saying, named after the oracle would have been sufficient!).

The book is entirely based around social sciences theory and approaches. Which I found rather surprising as all the research I do at my job is historically based. But the type of studies she was talking about did seem useful, such as how do students relate to electronic resources etc. When put in this context it seemed most useful, however there were some areas which just did make much sense, ethnography for example. When would you use an ethnographic study in a library setting?

She did mention a guy going to Papa New Guinea to look at the use of information there, and praised the three months he spent at SOAS in the missionary archives researching prior to going, now surely rather than going to find out what others wrote about them in the past, it would be better to search for resources to see what they were saying about themselves today. Granted, a bit of historical research in that case would be good, but an entire 3 months and that is the extent of preparation? My knowledge of anthropology is much more limited than that history, but it just seemed rather bizarre to me.

The example of homework for this chapter was to sit in a café and write about the gender differences you observe, to which I started thinking, whose reading, whose talking, what ratio of mixed groups, etc and her ideas were is there a gender pattern for picking up a tray at the counter? Selecting and paying for food? And selecting a seat? I thought ethnography was to find the social behaviour not physical behaviour, and what would a gender difference if there was one tell you about with those examples?

The historical research chapter was the worst, or perhaps I was just able to judge the worst. She made no mention of the different types of historical research, and their different focuses, social, cultural, intellectual, religious, political, economic etc! And seemed to have no clear ideas about how these would be used, rather she talked about the troubles with archives and note taking. She said how it was the historians job to “fill in the blanks” that weren’t part of the sources, rather than interpreting the sources that were available, not to mention she focused on giving an interpretation of an “event” with a particular “chronology”. I was quite surprised to see in her further reading section one of the books that we had used at SOAS. I could probably go on but feel bad as she’s obviously good at what she does, just her explanations are quite painful and she seems completely oblivious to the fact that what works for her isn’t the only way of going about doing something.

After the section on Research Methods, came Data Collection Techniques. Her preferences for interviews and questionnaires were obvious. However there were some notable discrepancies in her discussions. When talking about interviews she mentioned recording (audio recording only no mention about even the possibility of video was mentioned), she stated how “Audio recording brings with it a lot of security; people feel much better if they think they will leave the interview with a full recording…” (176) however she failed to state whether these people were the interviewer the interviewee or both. At first I thought she was referring to the interviewee but this did not make sense to me on the work I’ve done about oral history when recordings can often make the interviewee feel much more nervous and on the next page she also stated that it could have a “negative impact on the interview” (177). She then goes on to say how she “often attempts to discourage the use of audio recording” (177) despite saying earlier how the lack of it she found disastrous when her attempt to record something had failed; “To my absolute horror the tapes were blank” (176).

In her section on observation, she spends a lot of time setting up the role of the observer as a participant or not in their observations, but gives no actual information on how to be successful or what skills are need to be an observer.

In her section on Participant Diaries, she rewrites her earlier description of her failure in using this method of research. She totally fails to mention that she is repeating herself and simply retells the story in a slightly different way. Most ironically of all having described her use of this method as a failure, she then gives a list of “useful guidelines on constructing participant diaries” (213) these descriptions match almost identically with what she attempted, and failed with, in her example. If these didn’t work perhaps something different would have been appropriate here. For example, the first thing on the list is “An A4 booklet about 5-20 pages is desirable”. Now if it’s that short why does it need to be A4? If people are reluctant to have to carry around large books or folders, (as those in her study claimed) then surely a smaller pocket size diary would be much more appropriate?

After the section on Data Collection came the last section on Data Analysis and Research Presentation.

The research presentation repeated the outline she has mentioned earlier in the book, the data analysis was split into qualitative and quantitative analysis. The first I found rather vague, and the use of “story” to present findings came across the strongest, and there was little discussion of integrating the data or comparing it. The section on quantitative analysis was a brief overview of statistics and charts and tables.

My research methods class for my Msc isn’t till next year, I think if they have exams when they test us on the theory behind the research methods then this will be a good book for revising from, however as far as increasing my research skills I think it has done very little. I think the most useful part was on designing questionnaires. I felt there was very little in this book that made it unique for “information professionals” it reminded me a lot of general social science research methods. While attempting to be practical, the practical side of things was very much limited to the procedural side, things like “make a list” “book the room” and very little on good techniques used. I would have preferred a book that looked at the basic areas of research most likely to come up in a library setting and look at different methods one could go about tackling those, with specific details on good techniques for the different settings.

The example that is predominantly used in this book is the use of electronic resources by young people, a quick search of the bibliography shows that this is the subject of Pickard’s PhD, and the only subject of her own research that is quoted, (though is quoted in 4 different instances, her initial article on the subject, her PhD, and 2 subsequent articles). I suppose it is therefore no surprise that an example on how to do this research that she uses to illustrate in certain chapters is the strongest part of her book.

For an alternate review of someone who really liked it, go here
Though I have to say their review consists mainly of a brief overview of the book.
The Library in the 21st Century is very much a text book, but despite the rather heavy use of jargon I found it to be interesting and informative. Reading it through cover to cover quite quickly I gained a good overview of what seems to be the current issues in librarianship; the impact of digital technologies and competition from the web to libraries. It was focused on UK libraries which was nice. It gave a good background to the different types of libraries in the UK, repository (national), academic, public, school and workplace.

At times it appeared to get a little abstract, such as when discussing how the library was to supply it’s users with information and the barriers it had to overcome to be successful, but none of the theories it presented appeared to be too complicated and I’m sure those parts will make a great reference point when they are discussed on my course.

It, unsurprisingly, focused a great deal on the impact of electronic media, and ways librarians should capitalise and use this in their library. Digital and hybrid (mix of digital and physical resources) were discussed, as well as the problems of cataloguing digital objects.

Throughout the book the focus was on the library user and it seemed to be the success of the library was based on user satisfaction. This seemed to be quiet a marketing based approach to librarianship, which may miss out some issues, particularly in the place of preservation and heritage. Of course it also seemed to present a certain amount of homogeneity from the library users and seemed to indicate that everyone would want the same thing, and what everyone wanted would be what all the young people were doing nowadays, (being interactive web 2.0 stuff in general).

I feel like I should have taken more notes while reading it, but found it to be a very useful overview, hopefully no one else will check it out while I’m studying as it seems to be very expensive to buy (£35 cheapest on amazon). Horray for a decent librarianship collection here at work!


robot_mel: (Default)


RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags