Understand the nature of research, research methods and research findings; retrieve, evaluate and synthesize scholarly and professional literature for informed decision-making by specific client groups.
Librarians are at essence professional researchers, for whom do pre-schoolers to PhDs come to when delving into things they know not? The librarian is the guide to the corpus of the world’s knowledge. Not only must the information scientist be proficient in research in order to master the reference interview, but librarians are also academics who must justify their programs, compel funding agencies to disburse funds, prepare reports for governments and corporations and advance the discipline. As librarians often operate at the junction between the advancement and management of knowledge, they must be capable of supporting allied professions, especially the humanities, who rely heavily on access to library collections. According we librarians must often “get down in the trenches” and become invaluable aids in research. Of course in order to perform, one must be a researcher.
In the most pedestrian sense the librarian requires the ability to conduct subject research for patrons insofar as to locate them the resources they need to proceed on their own endeavors. This is often initiated by means of service concepts (which I overview in competency IX). Regardless of how the task arrives, the librarian must be able to establish an access point, retrieve and sort the resources for the patron, establishing what is rubbish and what is suitable. Without this intelligent finding power, a librarian’s service is no more coherent or valuable than a Google query. The librarian’s expertise in research is what distinguishes him from the latter: whilst Google might provide relatively relevant returns, the keen eye of a researcher is called for in order to answer the most complex queries.
Where might one acquire an expertise in research? I recommend an undergraduate academic coursework in history, although any discipline which stresses the importance of a rigorous, evidence-based, empirical methodology will suffice. Ultimately serious research skills require deliberate instruction; it is not enough to merely have research skills “rub off” on the student from continuous unrelated coursework, the highest level research is distinct and intellectual. The various philosophies of research must be considered and the researcher would be keen to develop his own philosophy of research. For myself, the latter is essentially (in history jargon mind you) historicism. That is to say: I believe that research should be scientific, indifferent to findings, empirical, serve no (moral or otherwise situational) purpose and generally adhere to Carl Sagan’s “baloney detection kit.” That being said, one should not shy away from esoteric areas merely for the sake of appearing sober-minded, for often the richest research is found in fringe matters. Yet it must be stated that I only came to develop a philosophy of research after seriously studying it during the final years of my undergraduate education, and it was from deliberate instruction which examined the whole range of research concepts. For myself, the key to effective research is the historical method.
The inclusive nature of our domain benefits from a liberal arts education, founded in the trivium (for basic mental capacity) and eventually blossoming into higher historiographical reasoning. In history writing the onus of proof is substantial when compared to other allied professions, and this instills in the student an incredible appreciation for cross referencing, comprehensive examination, studying the theory/history of the literature and fact-based reasoning. In essence a superior researcher must be able to:
- Locate information (this necessitates a knowledge of information resources)
- Sort what is relevant from what is irrelevant along a thread of inquiry
- Consider what has been sorted: the author’s intent and biography, the medium, the history/provenance of the piece, it’s context within culture, etymology and language, relation to other records, authenticity of the article, literal versus implied meaning, evidence of localization etc
- Synthesize evidence to support a claim
- Answer contests to the claim honestly
- Relate the claim’s relevance to the reader
Returning to the various functions of a librarian’s research abilities we must consider that locating resources following a reference interview is perhaps the most rudimentary use of his skills. To find relevant records in response to a interview is acceptable, but that is only one aspect of librarianship. Often one will have have a crisis and must compel the powers that be to change things, either through funding or other forms of intervention. Memorandums and reports must be furnished to answer the call, and they must be rigorous enough to resist the scrutiny of critical eyes. Particularly in this time of decreased funding and economic instability, grants are more important than ever. In order to receive funding from grant agencies, a sob story will not suffice. A thorough application includes an extensive overview of the concept of the project to be funded, and this often must be based on a sound academic principle. In this sense the librarian as lobbyist must be a competent researcher, else will languish in poverty. Finally librarians are not casual observers to but contributors to the academic community, as researchers of original material. Some of the most substantial advancements in information technology have derived from librarians, to say nothing of those librarians who are also academics in the allied professions.
Before I attended SJSU I already had an established background in research from at least the time of my undergraduate years. For as long as I can remember I have endeavored to produce arguments which surpass mere summary or opinion and focus on posited claims, evidence-based chains of reasoning and the examination of often neglected, fringe knowledge. I was required to produce a lengthy thesis for my undergraduate degree, which was in history, and also was required to finish coursework on research methodology, historiography and critical analysis which surpasses much of what I have experienced in my post-undergraduate education thus far. Perhaps one of my greatest strengths is an interest in original research, particularly in interdisciplinary areas often overlooked by the literature.
That being said the first four pieces of applied work which I would like to present concern a revisiting of my senior thesis from my undergraduate years which I furnished (with permission) for Tom Norris’ 285 class. In essence I re-approached my undergraduate thesis, added annotation for and expanded the research sources and presented a new research proposal for consideration. The research topic involved the relationship between the philosophy of Stoicism, the operation of the ancient Roman polity and historical action.
The first work is an annotated bibliography of primary sources for the project. In this work I present a list of primary sources which would provide insight into the research topic. Annotation is included, presenting a critical analysis and overview of each source following the principles of historiography and historical research methodology. This work speaks to my ability of retrieving and evaluating primary sources. This list existed, in a reduced form, for my undergraduate work. For Norris’ class I expanded the list and provided annotation.
The second piece of work is an annotated bibliography of reference works pertaining to the research topic. Much like the aforementioned work, this work instead focuses on my ability at synthesizing scholastic and academic reference works on a subject specific basis into research. Each source, as before, is annotated in a critical sense. These reference works also appear in a separate project I developed, a pathfinder guide based on the relationship of Stoicism and the Roman Empire (which is showcased in competency XI). While I am not submitting this latter guide as evidence, one might consider it to see how I am capable of presenting research concepts to patrons in a narrative, instructional form.
My third piece of work is the research proposal I furnished as a “final paper” in Norris’ class. Within is a summary of the topic, a plan and outline for research, a consideration of the sources and a condensed form of the research argument. My fourth piece of work is a companion to the third and is a historiographical survey of the topic, including a comprehensive analysis and history of the literature regarding the topic area. This speaks to my ability to perform research, synthesize scholarly articles and understand research methodology. The grant also speaks to my ability to “pitch” my research concepts to superiors which is essential for applying for grants or otherwise requesting support for academic matters.
The fifth instrument of evidence is a research paper I furnished for Debbie Hansen’s course on the history of books and libraries. The paper argues that it was librarianship and library technology which ultimately enabled Harvard to become a powerful research university. It represents a presentation of all my research skills, wherein I:
- Use a standard format for presenting research findings
- Present a central thesis
- Proceed to survey the historiography surrounding the thesis including a close analysis of primary sources
- Present evidence (including archival research) to support the thesis
- Consider other explanations and discuss the significance of the thesis
- Produce an extensive list of sources, bibliographic entries and footnotes
- Practice the rigorous standards of historical research methodology
- Fanatical citation
My sixth piece of evidence is a two part commentary on research methodology: Historicism vs Social Memory or How to Tell History and The Virtue of History. Both speak to the professional methods of conducting research, particularly historical research. In the former I compare and contrast two methods of historical research: historicism and social memory and critique both as being misguided. In the second part I speak to the good of research, the importance of research and the significance of it.
Together these works present a portrait of an expert researcher who considers the breadth of the topic and adheres to the highest standards of research methodology.
Research Proposal (.PDF)
Historiographical Survey (.PDF)
Rampolla, M. L. (2009). A Pocket Guide to Writing in History. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Sagan, C. (1997). The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Ballantine Books.
Tosh, J. (2006). The Pursuit of History. London: Longman.