Inventory of Research Methods for Librarianship and Informatics

By Eldredge, Jonathan D. | Journal of the Medical Library Association, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Inventory of Research Methods for Librarianship and Informatics


Eldredge, Jonathan D., Journal of the Medical Library Association


This article defines and describes the rich variety of research designs found in librarianship and informatics practice. Familiarity with the range of methods and the ability to make distinctions between those specific methods can enable authors to label their research reports correctly. The author has compiled an inventory of methods from a variety of disciplines, but with attention to the relevant applications of a methodology to the field of librarianship. Each entry in the inventory includes a definition and description for the particular research method. Some entries include references to resource material and examples.

Librarians use a variety of research methods to make decisions and to improve performance. Research can be broadly defined as the "careful, systematic, patient study and investigation in some field of knowledge, undertaken to discover or establish facts or principles" [I]. This article defines and describes the rich variety of research designs found in librarianship and informatics practice. Familiarity with the range of methods and the ability to make distinctions between those specific methods can enable authors to label their research reports correctly. The author has served as a judge for the Medical Library Association (MLA) Research Section Award competition nearly every year since its inception in 1996, served two terms as chair of the MLA Research section, reviewed abstracts for poster and paper submissions for the MLA annual meetings, and has conducted an extensive handsearch review of the health sciences library literature [2]. These sets of experiences have revealed that: (1) many authors of research reports do not label their communications as "research" even though their reports match the definition of research above; and (2) authors frequently mislabel the actual methods used in their research reports. These non-labeling and mislabeling practices cause potential confusion for colleagues searching for the evidence upon which they need to base important decisions.

The author has compiled the inventory in this article from a variety of disciplines but with attention to the relevant applications of a methodology to our own field. Every entry adheres to the aforementioned broad definition of research. Most entries in this article offer resources and noteworthy examples to facilitate the research reporting process. All methodologies share the common purpose of answering pragmatic questions about how we can make decisions to improve our practice, a fundamental goal of evidence-based librarianship and informatics practice.

Traditionally, health sciences library and informatics research has relied heavily upon case study, program evaluation, and survey research methodologies to answer important questions [3-19]. The situation appears to be changing dramatically. During the past decade, our profession has branched out into using experimental, observational, and qualitative methodologies. This article reflects the wide range of methodologies that are available now to health sciences librarians and informaticists.

The extent to which an effort adheres to the goals of open inquiry, validity, reliability, and reduction of biases often delineates whether we label an activity as research. Some methods listed in this inventory admittedly are more effective than others at reducing bias while still complying with the goals of validity and reliability [20, 21]. Unfortunately, some research reports have relied upon erroneously conducted forms of the case study method or have broadly interpreted their investigation as a "program evaluation," reporting results as transparent forms of self-congratulation rather than offering genuine reflection or insight on what might be accurately learned from an experience. In this connection, Losee and Worley note that "There is a tendency among information professionals to write and publish in the 'How I done it good' genre" [22]. Yet, many times such reports simply need to incorporate valid and reliable measures to overcome these deficiencies. …

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