Research in the library and information science field is lacking in quality, quantitative work that promotes innovative practices for improving our field. Library research has been accused (rightly) of being heavily dependent on local observations with limited access to objective facts, (Connaway, Powell, 2010). There is a lack of research that builds upon prior research projects, making much of the research in the LIS field a “one off”, and often too specific to the author’s own library or institution to be useful to the field as a whole.
Here, I will look at two articles (“Reference for the remote user through Embedded Librarianship”, by Connolly-Brown, M., Mears, K., & Johnson, M. E. (2016), and, “The impact of physically embedded librarianship on academic departments”, by O'Toole, E. E., Barham, R. R., & Monahan, J. J. (2016)), and discuss whether they feature a clearly stated research issue and a strong methodology, and whether they summarize data from other sources or if the writing calls upon new research being conducted. I will also discuss whether the articles are logically organized, and if they seem credible, two important pieces to keep in mind, as confusing, dogmatic, and questionable research does more harm than good for our already research-dry field.
Clearly state your research objective
O’Toole, et al. (“The impact of physically embedded librarianship on academic departments”), clearly states at the end of the introduction paragraph, “The purpose of this study is to explore the impact of librarians who are physically embedded in academic units. The overarching research question is: Does embedding a subject librarian within a department lead to increases in interactions, collaboration, and integration with faculty and students? To answer this question, the researchers carried out a natural experiment, a study of the effects of a change not planned by the researchers,” (2016).
While this is a clearly stated research objective, the methodology of a “natural experiment” sets off a tiny alarm bell, as one of the most severe critiques of LIS research is its tendency to focus on local observations in the author’s own library. And, as the article continues, it reads as more of a “who’s who” in the library, rather than hard evidence that shows that embedded librarianship is an improvement upon the old librarianship model. The authors feature The Art Librarian, The Biology Librarian, and The Education Librarian; they discuss each librarian's background and education, and how they “embed” services for their department. There are several soft-hitting research questions, ranging from whether students and faculty are more apt to approach librarians when they are in their “embedded” (e.g., visible) locations, to if the reference and circulation statistics increase after an interaction with an embedded librarian. An attempt at statistical analysis is pushed for, which seemed to solely include the marking of a graph after an interaction.
In contrast, Connolly-Brown, et al., (“Reference for the remote user through Embedded Librarianship”) does not feature an easily discernible research question, jumping from a brief introduction into how enrollment in online courses has grown considerably in the past few years (and so, too, have library services also expanded their online and digital offerings), to a lengthier background section (which, to its credit, does offer a more robust and understandable definition of what an embedded librarian is and the goals of the position), and right into features and benefits of technology in a library setting and how the technology can be used to best benefit their users. If there were to be a research question, it should be noticeable in those first two paragraphs. Instead, Connolly-Brown (2016) seems to focus its efforts on the technology that can be used to support the efforts of an embedded librarian whose main users are online students.
What are you talking about, and how did you get here?
Embedded librarianship (essentially, being visible and approachable as a resource, whether in the online or physical setting - something I would argue most librarians already strive for; O’Toole (2016) is ostensibly vague about the definition, even going so far as to claim there is no clear definition) is a worthwhile topic, and one that could be suitable for an objective, statistical analysis; this particular research article could better serve librarians as a piece in Library Journal, or another accessible avenue that is widely read by professionals in the field.
Despite the lack of any research question, I actually prefer this article to the O’Toole article, if only because it focuses on distinguishable services that can readily be put into action to the serve online library users and students. The services featured include everything from remote reference (e.g., live chat services), research guides, and how to use social media effectively. A list of actionable items is more useful than a biography of subject librarians and their personal techniques for remaining visible in the library. But, just because I prefer the Connolly-Brown article, if only for its usefulness, does not make it a solid research effort. It is lacking in any noticeable research question, statistical analyses, or a methodology.
Unfortunately, after a thorough analysis of both articles, and in consulting Connaway and Powell, it is difficult to consider either of these articles credible “research” by the formal definition. Despite the interesting and relevant topics, neither article holds up to the scrutiny of research standards that should be adhered to. Busha and Harter (as quoted in Connaway), proclaim that if,
Connolly-Brown, M., Mears, K., & Johnson, M. E. (2016). Reference for the remote user through Embedded Librarianship. The Reference Librarian, 57(3), 165-181, doi: 10.1080/02763877.2015.1131658
Connaway, L. S., & Powell, R. R. (2010). Basic research methods for librarians. (5th Ed.) Santa Barbara: CA. Libraries Unlimited.
O'Toole, E. E., Barham, R. R., & Monahan, J. J. (2016). The impact of physically embedded librarianship on academic departments. Portal: Libraries & The Academy, 16(3), 529-556. doi: https://doi.org/10.1353/pla.2016.0032