By Meredith Farkas | July 15, 2005
Joy at Wanderings of a Student Librarian wrote a great post on what’s wrong with so many Research Methods classes. Research Methods classes often seem to be taught because they’re a requirement and not to actually inspire in library students a passion for research and scholarly literature. For me, the passion for research came from writing my undergraduate thesis, because I could actually see the practical applications of using proper research methodology and could put them to use. Joy has some good ideas for redesigning the Research Methods classes:
If I were queen of a library school, here’s what I would do. I would have a required course called Library Literature. In that class, we would read tons of journal articles–mostly good, a few bad to teach that healthy skepticism. The final project would be to come up with the initial idea for a research project and to do the literature review for it.
Then, I would have another class where library students actually do a small, possibly publishable if it works well, research project. All academic librarian wannabes would be encouraged, or required, to take the course, as would future LIS Ph.Ds. I would also encourage any student who came up with a good research project and literature review to take this class as well–we need more school librarians and public librarians doing research.
For the second class, I would have a basic knowledge of statistics as a prerequisite. I would probably be flexible on how this was met, but the ideal would be to take a college-level statistics course from a really great math teacher within a year or two of going to library school–that’s what I wish I had done and, given the opportunity, I may yet.
I agree with her that there is no better way to learn research methods than to actually read research studies and do practical research projects. How much does anyone retain when they read a research methods textbook versus what they retain when they are forced to actually use the skills? I have taken three research methods courses — one for History in college, one for my masters in social work, and one in library school. The history one was good in the sense that we read books that showed different sides of the same events to gain a healthy skepticism about what we read. The second one was good in that we did literature reviews and designed a research proposal on the same topic as our lit review (statistics was a prerequisite for entering the MSW program). The third one — the library school one — was taught entirely from a dry textbook. The only assignments we had were a tiny article critique, a critique of an instrument, and some work with SPSS. I know it’s good to know all that “nominal, ordinal, interval, ratio” stuff and to be able to use statistical software, but I didn’t really learn anything about doing a literature review or how to do a research study. Luckily I’d learned this stuff prior to taking the class, but many of my classmates came out of that class just as perplexed about research as they were when they started. And I wouldn’t doubt that the experience soured many of them on doing research and writing for publication.
Have any of you taken good research classes? What was it that made the class useful? If you do research studies or write for publication, where did your passion for writing and research come from? This field needs more voices of dissent — more passionate and talented librarian-writers who write what they think and can do so in a credible way. We need people who realize that research is a great way to convince people that change is needed. People like Sherri Vokey with her IM study or Rachel Holt & Adrienne L. Strock (who wrote The Entry Level Gap article for Library Journal). And library schools need to realize the power they have to develop librarians who can make a difference through their research and writing.