Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Research by Design: The Promise of Design-Based Research for School Library Research

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Research by Design: The Promise of Design-Based Research for School Library Research

Article excerpt

"I believe that we should also be open to the possibility that design-based research is a fundamental mode of scholarly inquiry that is useful across all fields of the academy" (Bell, 2004, p. 251).

The field of Library and Information Science (LIS) has long been vexed by two related concerns: first, a recalcitrant divide between research and practice (Bowler & Large, 2008; Crowley, 2005; Cruickshank, Hall, & Taylor-Smith, 2011), and second, a shortage of usable, middle-range theories generated within the discipline (Chatman, 1996; Kim & Jeong, 2006; Kumasi, Charbonneau, & Walster, 2013). Design-based research (DBR), a methodology developed over the past two decades in the education field, offers a promising means of addressing both of these concerns simultaneously by placing research, design, practice, and theory generation into a real- world context. This article addresses the need for such a methodology in the school library field in particular, provides an overview of design-based research, summarizes some of the benefits and criticisms of this methodology, and suggests ways in which the school library field might make use of this approach.

Problems of Theory and Practice in Library and Information Science

Design-based research was developed in part to address the intractable divide between theory and practice in the field of education (Brown, 1992), a divide that has been the focus of much concern in educational research since at least the turn of the 20th century. It was then that John Dewey remarked upon the schism between researchers and teachers and the "simple" yet profound differences in their aims and desired outcomes. He likened this blindness of each to the efforts of the other to a "'great big battle'... fought with mutual satisfaction, each side having an almost complete victory in its own field" (Dewey, 1904, p. 10). Similarly, the LIS field has also grappled with a research-practice gap (Crowley, 2005). A study of LIS research impact in the UK found a widespread disconnect between published LIS research and the community of LIS practitioners (Cruickshank et al., 2011). Practitioners who participated in this research program perceived most LIS research as remote from their daily work and unresponsive to their actual needs. The source of this gap is not singular: differences in knowledge, cultures, motivations, and terminologies between researchers and practitioners all play a role in creating and sustaining the divide, among other elements (Haddow & Klobas, 2004).

Responding to the theory-practice divide, Crowley (2005) called upon the LIS community to develop "useful" theory, which he defined as "mental constructions that reflect, to some degree, 'how things work' in real-world contexts" (p. 7). Yet theory development is a second obstacle for the LIS field. In an influential article, Elfreda Chatman addressed the need for LIS researchers to deepen the theoretical knowledge of the field:

As researchers who wish to develop theory, we must identify problems central to our field. The basis for this argument is that once these problems have been identified, we might be led to the formulation of conceptual issues that underline these problems.... [In the LIS field], we have no central theory or body of interrelated theories we can view as 'middle range.' In light of this discussion, it would appear we are currently focused on the application of conceptual frameworks rather than on the generation of specific theories. (Chatman, 1996, p. 193)

More recent research confirms the continued relevance of Chatman's commentary, finding that most published scholarship in the LIS field fails either to contribute to existing theory or to generate new theory (Kim & Jeong, 2006; Kumasi et al., 2013; Pettigrew & McKechnie, 2001). In fact, the very definition and nature of theory are still under negotiation in LIS (Gregor, 2006), which is perhaps not surprising given the multidisciplinary nature of the field. …

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