The Research Imperative: Medical Library Association Policy and the Curricula of Schools of Library and Information Science*

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Ten years after the Medical Library Association (MLA) adopted its first research policy, the 1995 Using Scientific Evidence to Improve Information Practice [1], MLA President Joanne Gard Marshall, FMLA, appointed a task force to research and publish a new official statement [2]. The resulting MLA research policy statement, The Research Imperative, was approved by the MLA Board of Directors in 2007 and "challenges MLA members to build a supportive culture that values and contributes to a research base that is recognized as an essential tool for future practice" [2]. It describes domains of research as well as basic, advanced, and specialized research skills sets.

The Research Imperative encourages health sciences library and information science (LIS) practitioners to take advantage of different educational opportunities to acquire and build on that skills set. Specifically, it recommends, "4. MLA will provide and promote education and training to support health sciences information research. To accomplish this recommendation, MLA will work with academic programs to ensure that opportunities to develop quantitative and qualitative research knowledge and skills appear throughout the curriculum, provide a complete range of basic and advanced courses in quantitative and qualitative research methodology through MLA's continuing education (CE) program, and encourage graduate LIS schools to require master's degree students to undertake a research project in information science" [3].

Curricular decisions for programs leading to the LIS master's degree (MLIS) are shaped by many factors, not the least of which is the very wide variety of careers that holders of such degrees can expect to have. Many will undoubtedly work in school, public, academic, or special libraries. Many others will be information professionals in archives, museums, corporations, and other organizations. In any case, a major driver for MLIS curricula is program accreditation by the American Library Association (ALA). The ALA Standards for Accreditation do not specify exactly what courses should be taught, but the accreditation seeks evidence of various curricular elements. In particular, the standards require that a program's mission, goals, and objectives include: "the importance of research to the advancement of the field's knowledge base... the importance of the contributions of library and information studies to other fields of knowledge [and] . . . the importance of the contributions of other fields of knowledge to library and information studies." Furthermore, they seek evidence that the curriculum of an accredited program "emphasizes the evolving body of knowledge that reflects the findings of basic and applied research from relevant fields" [4]. Do MLIS academic programs "ensure... opportuni ties to develop quantitative and qualitative research knowledge and skills?" Do they "require master's degree students to undertake a research project in information science" [3]? Evidence of such opportunities would include (but not be limited to) courses and evidence of whether research projects are required for graduation from such programs.

In a comparison of LIS research course requirements with those of other master's level programs in related disciplines, Park studied the 2002 graduate catalogs of fifty-two of the then fifty-six ALAaccredited MLIS programs as well as the catalogs of master's of business administration, master's of social work, and master's of education programs at some of those schools. She found that all but three of the MLIS programs offered research methods courses, but only twenty required such a course for graduation [5]. Park reported that "LIS does not use consistent terminology across schools to identify what constitutes a 'research methods' course" and that the courses "vary from comprehensive coverage of both quantitative and qualitative methods to superficial inclusion of simple survey methods. …