Research Methods Education and LIS Practice

CIRI Blog

Published: April 25, 2012 by Dr. Lili Luo

Last year I published an article in Library and Information Science Research (LISR), titled “Fusing research into practice: The role of Research Methods education”. In this article, I investigated the impact of research methods education on LIS practitioners’ professional practice and found the knowledge gained from the research methods course helps them critically evaluate published literature and apply it at work, provide better assistance to library patrons, produce valid and reliable data to facilitate decision making, identify problems at work and design/implement studies to solve them, and write for grants and publication.

Considering the value of research methods education, we need to make an effort to refine the curriculum, enhance learning outcomes, and improve the educational experience for students. At SLIS, the Research Methods course is offered in an unconventional fashion. In addition to a general-purpose course that covers the frequently used research methods in the field of LIS, special topics are available for students to choose based on their interest. The specializations include different types of research, such as qualitative research or action research, or different LIS domains, such as research in reference and information services or youth services. Students with different backgrounds and pursuits may choose accordingly to fulfill their needs.

In the meantime, to make learning more relevant, it is necessary to include in the curriculum more hands-on practice and use more real-world examples to illustrate how different research methods can be used to solve practical problems in the professional field. A few years ago at a conference, a faculty member who teaches research methods shared her experience of adding more “real-world” touch to the course – she personally called the librarians at the university library and the local public library, asking them about the problems they encountered at work, and used those actual problems as research topics in her course. This is an impressive strategy and certainly makes the curriculum more practitioner-oriented and demonstrative of how research skills are indeed “problem-solving” skills that will benefit professional practice.

Besides the MLIS program, LIS practitioners can learn about research methods via continuing education. Recognizing the importance of continuing education in improving librarians’ research skills, Loyola Marymount University library submitted a grant proposal titled “Institute for Research Design in Librarianship” to IMLS, seeking to offer continuing education in research methods for academic librarians. As the project partner, I will help them design the curriculum. Interestingly enough, my aforementioned LISR article facilitated the partnership as it presented a shared interest in strengthening research education among LIS professionals. I hope more libraries like Loyola will find my article helpful and attach more importance to encouraging and supporting practitioner research, and I welcome any ideas that could help educators, administrators and practitioners work together to develop a culture that nurtures and offers opportunities for research, and to facilitate the connection between research and practice.