The second workshop in the LIS Coalition’s DREaM project (Developing Research Excellence and Methods) was held at the British Library on 30th January 2012. It is part of a series of three on research methodologies delivered by leading researchers and academics and attended by around 30 research-active library and information service (LIS) professionals.
The day started with a thought-provoking session on “User involvement in research: making sense of a radical new development (action research)” by Peter Beresford of Brunel University. He looked at the different types of user research including: involvement of service users through consultation; collaborative or partnership approaches (where the researcher works with users to develop the research framework); and user-controlled research (where the users define the agenda, commission and / or conduct the research themselves). He suggested that a different method is needed to evaluate the quality of user-involved research beyond the classic hierarchy used for instance by the NHS where values of neutrality, distance from the research, reproducibility of results etc. all rate highly. User involvement could be seen as undermining these values despite the richness and insight that they can bring to a research project.
Thomas Haigh from the University of Wisconsin provided an overview of the use of techniques from historical research applied to the LIS domain. This proved to be particularly interesting when considering the history of the profession and the services they provided. Thomas gave a fascinating insight into the way in which schools of librarianship and information science departments drew together and how there is now a strand that can be seen as a part of Informatics.
He contrasted the United States where, for example, health informatics and chemical informatics have pooled their common experience and concepts resulting in the emergence of the iSchools, and Europe where informatics is derived from computer science and where LIS departments are becoming more closely allied with computing.
Mike Thelwell provided an introduction to webometrics and demonstrated some of the exciting work at Wolverhampton University to develop tools for harvesting data from the internet to create metrics such as connections between websites, and to analyse the sense of the content of websites, especially user generated content in comments pages, for instance.
Nick Moore’s paper rounded off a day of excellent sessions on research methods. He gave a masterful insight into the history of policy making in the UK and the development of information policies around the world. This highlighted the work of the Policy Studies Institute and provoked a reflection on how the lessons he has learned in a long and distinguished career could be applied to future research. He ended on a forward-looking note by asking participants to identify what they thought were the important research issues coming up. Ideas converged around the following themes:
- Who owns information? The current models of publication and intermediation of information are breaking down. User access to the publishing media means that there is an explosion of user generated content (UGC). Do the current economic models still apply or will they break down as they have in the recording and digital video sectors? How are intellectual property rights going to be managed – indeed are they still relevant?
- Privacy research about personal data and the way it is handled by information systems. Changing attitudes to privacy and issues such as the “right to be forgotten” are emerging research themes.
- Evidence-based policy is becoming topical again. Many remember the late 1990s when evidence-based policymaking was popular. However Nick Moore did point out the tendency of established interests to pressurise researchers into policy based evidence-making (i.e. doing research to provide the evidence that supports a pre-determined conclusion).
Overall an interesting and worthwhile day which demonstrated the diversity of research and research approaches that can be applied to the LIS sector.