Design and Application of Research and Evaluation Methods
There are many different situations in a library environment where one would need to design and conduct research to better understand a topic, or evaluate whether something is effective for its intended purpose. “Research” as a term does not mean the same thing to everybody. Information needs, deadlines, and other factors collectively contribute to what research methods an individual might elect to use. The term “research” implies a level of depth and vigor which other terms do not possess. The “re-” prefix, while often thought to indicate repetition, can also imply an “intensive” activity (Harper, 2008). One might “look” for something or “scan” a document, but when one conducts “research,” they are investigating, searching repeatedly and intensely, and with a specific purpose in mind.
Research is both a noun and a verb; information professionals research data, and they provide access to research. Therefore the design and application of research and evaluation methods are activities very much central to librarianship as a whole: it is what many librarians actively do on a day-to-day basis. While this may not seem obvious to an outside third-party when you consider that librarians are a type of “information professional,” it comes clearer: information professionals are individuals that locate, synthesize, and translate information –research– and make it accessible for users.
Personally, I find in-depth research and investigation into a topic simultaneously enlightening, educational, and directly helpful to other people. When I conduct a reference interview with someone that needs help locating specific information and I deliver, I see an immediate return on the investment of my time and energy: I have directly helped this individual find what they need so that they can achieve their goals and act on that information. The research and evaluation methods that I use are what determine how efficiently and effectively I am able to deliver this information to my target audience. Poor research methods often result in few relevant results, and a great deal of time wasted looking for information over and over again, hearkening back to the idea that the prefix “re” in “research” means “to do again and again.”
In my Research Methods in Library and Information Management course, my classmates and I had to research topics and evaluate survey results in an effort to understand both how and why librarians might utilize different information gathering tools and methods.
One particular method we examined, online surveying, involved creating an online survey that would take users outside of this course approximately 10 minutes to complete. Each student came up with several possible topics of interest to us that we felt would be suitable for such a survey, and we voted as a team which one to pursue. Once we had chosen a topic, each team member came up with 15 to 20 different survey questions that we could use. Collectively we chose the best questions that met the assignment requirements, including that no more than 5 percent of the questions be open-ended in nature. Based on the type of information we hoped to collect, we designed and applied different research questions within the survey. Once users completed our survey, we would be able to evaluate the results to draw conclusions from this information.
Streaming Video Survey
My teammates and I decided on “streaming video services” as the topic for our survey. After we decided on this topic, we each developed 15 to 20 questions in a shared Google Doc. We deleted duplicate questions, rearranged them to be in a reasonable, coherent order, and formatted the questions to take advantage of the detailed survey options we had in the Qualtrics software used for this assignment. Our chosen survey topic and method of research is a common one; companies frequently use surveys as a means of gaining insight into the perspective of their customers or probably consumers. Companies and organizations are interested in the impact of changes made to their products or services and how the company or organization can further improve their products or services.
Artifact course context and relationship to goal. The Research Methods in Library and Information Management course is entirely devoted to the study of research and evaluation methods and their use in library environments. During this course, we had numerous opportunities to evaluate survey data using the statistical software SPSS, as well as the chance to design our own survey and put it into action using Qualtrics, which bills itself as “the most widely used customer service software on the planet” (Qualtrics, 2017). Qualtrics’ survey tools allow information professionals to design clean, crisp-looking surveys with various types of question and answer types, advanced conditions and logic for moving a user through the survey, and visual reports useful for presenting the information in a variety of ways.
Roles, responsibilities, and process. Each member of our team proposed topics, developed 15 to 20 questions, and recruited friends and family members to take the survey. We needed a minimum of 60 people to complete the survey, so ideally each team member would be able to recruit 12 people to answer the survey questions. Additionally, I edited the final list of questions for the survey in a shared Google Doc, highlighted the ones as I input them into Qualtrics, and made comments regarding any special conditions or logic I used. This “logic” allowed us to use the user’s own words for later questions, rather than forcing the user to scroll up to refer to past questions. In Qualtrics, I also broke apart the 51 questions into reasonable “pages” so that a user wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the survey’s length.
Building a survey and viewing the reports in Qualtrics familiarized me with one extremely popular method of information gathering and data evaluation. Though our survey data did not ultimately get used in a term paper, the process that went into constructing the survey and gathering responses was enlightening.
Skills and abilities. For any assignment submitted throughout the MMLIS program, I utilized various technology skills, since the program exists entirely online. Using WebJunction’s Competency Index for the Library Field (Gutsche & Hough, 2014), these technology skills can be broadly classified as Core Technology Competencies, and include E-Mail, Hardware, Internet, Operating Systems, Software Applications, and Web Technologies for accessing course materials online, creating and editing shared documents, and compositing multiple videos together for submission.
Additionally, for the creation and use of this artifact, I utilized Customer Service skills to simulate anticipating and maintaining “awareness of users’ needs and wants” (Gutsche & Hough, 2014, p. 8) using a survey. A probable real-world scenario for the Streaming Video Survey is if I worked for a streaming video company such as Netflix or Hulu, or was responsible for providing access to media in a library to determine what sort of streaming services like the library should purchase subscriptions for. Customer Service skills also play into the ability of library and information professionals to deal with patron concerns in an effective and efficient manner (Gutsche & Hough, 2014).
Surveying library or information center patrons to see if the organization is meeting their needs is one way to determine if changes need to be made to programs. To that end, developing user-friendly, accessible surveys is one way of using Public Service Competencies such as Adult and Older Adult Services and Young Adult Services, where programming for target audience relies on patron interest and feedback.
Finally, the design and application of the survey as a research method demonstrates the use of Community Relations skills. Surveying is a research method that asks targeted groups of people to evaluate and assess something related to their library: its programs, services, collections, or some other aspect of its operation. The results of these surveys, in turn, are used to develop actionable strategies and best practices for better serving library patrons. Surveys can answer difficult questions such as “How much of our budget should we devote to this service?” and “Can we afford to hire a new librarian?” They can also demonstrate the value and impact of library services, both to patrons by informing them of the existence of such services (either via the survey or its results) and other stakeholders. This builds support and promotes advocacy for both the library as an institution and libraries as a community service.
Future Work Environments
As previously mentioned, there are numerous instances in a future work environment wherein I could design and apply research and evaluation methods. I might solicit feedback from attendees of a library program, such as a storytime for children or a speaker event; I might ask students and other academic library users about the availability of tables, chairs, and power outlets during Finals Week. I could conduct generalized services targeted toward making improvements in the library, or I could aim for a specified demographic, such as users of a specific library collection. Though there is far more to the design and application of research and evaluation methods than just surveying, it is one common and often crucial way to solicit direct feedback from library users.
Gutsche, B. & Hough, B. (Eds.) (2014). Competency index for the library field 2014 (2nd ed.). Dublin, OH: OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.webjunction.org/documents/webjunction/Competency_Index_for_the_Library_Field.html
Harper, D. (2010). Re-. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/re-
Qualtrics. (2017). The world’s leading research & insights platform | Qualtrics. Retrieved from http://www.qualtrics.com/