Re-engaging with research: some thoughts from the Library and Information Research Group

Ronan O'Beirne

Ronan O’Beirne

Ronan O’Beirne, Chair of CILIP’s Library and Information Research Group – LIRG and member of the Board of Directors of the LIS Research Coalition – has contributed a guest blog post on the research and librarianship, and the role of LIRG. If you would like to meet Ronan, he will be at the British Library on Monday 9th July to attend the DREaM conference, and to chair the LIRG AGM, which follows the formal sessions of the DREaM conference. Ronan writes:

The Library and Information Research Group – LIRG, a special interest group of CILIP – believes that research, in all its many manifestations, should be an essential dimension of librarianship.

Indeed LIRG believes that research can be an important and powerful weapon in the librarian’s arsenal and, as such, we champion the use of research across all sectors of the profession. More specifically, and through its various activities, LIRG aims to raise the profile and to influence the direction of research within the world of libraries. Founded 35 years ago in 1977, the group continues to be engaged with three main aims:

  1. promoting the dissemination of sound research methodology and results;
  2. assisting in the development of emerging researchers;
  3. enabling networking between researchers.

Of course back in 1977 there was no such thing a tweeting or blogging, but a company called Apple was incorporated in the US and – in response the Commodore PET, with 8kb of RAM – came to be the first “all-in-one” computer. From then on everything changed utterly and the terrible beauty of the Internet was born. The library profession and the substance of what the library does, or is, fundamentally changed.

A necessary question that follows this is how has research changed? Academic and scientific research can be seen, with the notion of mode 2 knowledge production, to have become more context-driven and solution-focused. Knowledge itself has become the product of research and its “transfer”, within an increasingly market-driven higher education, forms the unit of production upon which is based a new “academic capitalism”. Models such as the triple helix see government, academia and private business exploiting research. Where might LIS research fit in with models such as these?

More recently, with the abundance of networked information systems, the ability to disseminate research globally with the press of a button has challenged traditional scarcity models of publishing and given rise to new forms of scholarly communication. Certainly librarians continue to play an important part in innovations such as open access journals and institutional repositories.

Yet, while the impact of the Internet and technology on research approaches has been profound, the nature of LIS research has perhaps not kept pace. Indeed, in his keynote address at the launch of the DREaM project Blaise Cronin lamented the quality of LIS research and noted that very much of what might pass as research is not research that can be usefully applied. He uses the term “theoretical bricolage” to illustrate how the results of the many “cookie cutter” research projects fail to contribute to theory, and seem to take a piece of theory from here and from there in an almost haphazard way.

From a social justice perspective more qualitative research is needed, particularly in relation to the public library, and also with regard to the need for a greater emphasis on digital literacy and citizenship. Public libraries – and for that matter school libraries – so often accused of not engaging with research, may be excused because frequently “the research game” is sold to them from a singularly higher education academic viewpoint. Moreover, as the evidence-based policy-making of today’s neo-liberalism manifests itself in a managerialism intent on counting the cost of everything within the public sector generally, public librarians specifically will tell you that within local authority library departments datasets on, for example, numbers of book loans become the evidence used to justify library closures. Such an approach is a poor advertisement for the research that actually needs to be undertaken in public, school and college libraries. There has to be a hope and expectation that through a range of different research approaches we might get to a deeper, more honest understanding of our profession.

We know from the response to our regularly held events that there are many enthusiastic researchers within our ranks keen to make a positive contribution to the knowledge. If issues such as those mentioned above interest you, then take a look at the LIRG web site or dip into our open access journal Library and Information Research (LIR) to get a better insight into the work of this group. I’m sure you will be surprised.

The 2012 AGM of the The Library and Information Research Group will be held on 9th July at the British Library at the end of the DREaM conference. All-comers are welcome.

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