Research Methods as Essential Knowledge. (on My Mind)

By O'Connor, Dan; Park, Soyeon | American Libraries, January 2002 | Go to article overview

Research Methods as Essential Knowledge. (on My Mind)


O'Connor, Dan, Park, Soyeon, American Libraries


What would it take for us to create the perfect library and the perfect librarian? We see our nation's libraries redefined by technology and reinvented by ourselves as new services emerge and collections once owned are now leased. But how to create the perfect librarian? Ah, that is a question that brings fort raw emotion on the part of professionals and educators. We do not pretend to know how to respond to either of these questions, but we know they force us to think on a larger, grander scale during these limes of economic strain and international stress.

At the heart of any discipline is its definition of itself. Our library and information science education programs offering ALA-accredited MLS degrees are expected to provide students with the "right stuff" to become a librarian, if not to put them on the proper trajectory to absolute perfection. Our focus here is not on the shape of a core MLS curriculum but on one narrow area, research methods; we feel that topic represents one requisite area of core knowledge for being a professional in our field, just as it's considered a necessity in other disciplines.

Imagine if your physician could not understand the research methods used in medical journal articles. Imagine if the engineers employed by a city or working in a university were ignorant of the basic research methods applicable to their field. Picture psychologists, social workers, and others in the social sciences not being able to contribute to nor fully comprehend their journal literature. From this, it is a reasonable expectation that librarians be knowledgeable in understanding research methods--and even employing these methods in publishable research. One nagging issue presents itself: Does our field assume that all its members share in producing and consuming research?

Often LIS educators are blamed for not producing more research in a particular area. But this argument falters in view of the fact that at last count there were 662 LIS educators and 152,000 librarians. This means that US educators represent fewer than one-half of one percent of the profession, and these individuals could not be expected to shoulder the burden to produce any sizable portion of our research. It becomes evident that if librarianship is to endure as a healthy, vibrant enterprise, then all of us will need to contribute to its infrastructure with the realization that research and research methods are contained within the cornerstones of that edifice. If we are to control our own destiny as a field, we must expect librarians to be active in producing journal articles and competent in critiquing them.

We respect the right of LIS programs to be independent in exercising their judgment as to what is an appropriate curriculum at any particular university. We salute the collective wisdom of our colleagues who exercise their academic freedom in creating a curriculum and defining for their institution the essential core of our field. But we are dismayed when we look at the results of this in the research methods area.

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