Library School – Dissertation update

I thought doing an update about my dissertation might be timely since I’m approximately half-way through now. My title is “The Hybrid Music Conservatoire Library: A Mixed Methods Study of Leeds College of Music Library Users’ Format Preferences.” My aim is to investigate students’ resource format preferences at our library with the main outcome being making recommendations about any changes needed in what resources we buy/subscribe to (i.e. our collection development policy). Essentially I’m looking at what people say they want and what they actually use in terms of resource formats. This is why it’s a mixed methods approach since I’m combining qualitative (the former) and quantitative (the latter) methods.

I have just finished my fieldwork and am now into data analysis…a statement I never envisaged myself ever writing! This whole process of social science research has been completely new to me and I’ve found it a pretty steep learning curve. My other Masters dissertation was solely historical (and what I now know is termed) “desk” research. I read loads and did some original research using primary sources, but it was essentially a solo job of me working with my laptop and the sources. This time around though, I’m doing fieldwork with all that entails – getting permissions and consent, ethical considerations and checks, working with other people, relying on other people and external pressures/risks. It’s definitely been a challenge but I think it will stand me in good stead for the future since this type of research is being undertaken more and more by librarians today.

Data analysis is also a completely new skill and it hasn’t helped that there aren’t many examples in the literature of similar studies I can draw from – though that is also a good thing since my research is apparently fairly original!  I’m using Excel for the quantitative data and have yet to look at the qualitative but I think Survey Monkey does a lot of analysis for you. My main hang up is comparing print loans to online usage, a problem for which I don’t think there is a satisfactory solution since different things are counted. For example does one print book loan equal one e-book page view, or 10 e-book page views, or 1 session/log-in? How many online audio track plays equals 1 CD loan? I feel it’s an apples to oranges problem, so I’m planning to just broadly compare them.

Here are a few reflections on my dissertation process from this mid-way point:

  • Utilise your support structures. The main thing I’m learning is asking for help and support when I need it. Rather than stressing out because I feel out of my depth, I’m trying instead to get in touch with my supervisor or a colleague for advice. Seems like a no brainer, but I did have to be told to do this at one point – remember my independent working style mentioned earlier!
  • Planning is essential. We had to include a research plan/timetable as part of the research proposal. I did mine as a Gantt chart and it has proved really helpful both in terms of making sure everything gets done on time and also giving me peace of mind to know I haven’t forgotten something and that I’m really making progress. Planning has also been key to managing the project when I’ve been relying on other people for go ahead or decisions to be  made. The survey element of my research ended up being very problematic and I eventually developed two different options because external circumstances meant I wouldn’t know until the last minute which one would go ahead.
  • Spend time on your research aims and objectives at the beginning, and then revisit them regularly. This was advice they gave at the study school and it has been so right. I revised and fine-tuned my aims and objectives a lot at the beginning and now I have been going back to look at them regularly when I think “What am I doing again?” or “Why I am doing xyz?”. They’ve been a helpful touchstone for remembering the big goals and how I set out to achieve them when I get lost in the nitty gritty of fieldwork. I have yet to post them up somewhere visible, which was also recommended – if only I had a home office!

What was your dissertation/research experience like? Please share in the comments!

Library School – Research Methods module

Research Methods was the summer module and was in my opinion the weakest. It was certainly very student-led/flipped classroom/independent learning focused. It was intended to be a prep module for doing your dissertation and also to prepare for doing research in the real world, which is becoming more common for librarians. The entire module consisted of reading the textbook, then writing ‘optional’ posts on the discussion board and a literature review assignment that wasn’t really a literature review.

Thankfully the textbook was excellent (Research Methods in Information, 2nd edition by Alison J. Pickard). Very readable with lots of real-life examples, it covers the major components of planning and undertaking qualitative or quantitative research, and also mixed methods. I didn’t know what the difference was between qualitative and quantitative before reading this book, having mostly done historical research previously, so I had a lot to learn. I highly recommend the book and imagine I will be dipping into it a lot in the future during my dissertation.

The assignment was meant to be a “literature review,” but actually involved selecting a bunch of studies to critique and therefore was not particularly comprehensive, so hence the scare quotes. I did enjoy the process and to be fair it was a good way to cement your understanding of the various research methods. I chose the topic of evaluation of library services for my review. I chose studies with a broad range of research methods to critique. Some studies were very good and some the more you looked at them, the more things you noticed that were problematic. On the one hand, you felt bad for being super critical in the review, but on the other, that is what the tutor wants to see, so you have to make those critiques. Several of the studies were about the LibQUAL method of library evaluation which I find really interesting. It is a gap analysis survey instrument, where you are measuring the gap between users’ expectations and perceptions about the service quality of the library. Another interesting study (Botha et al., 2009) set out to measure the impact of the library service and how users engaged with the library during the research process. ‘Impact’ was defined in terms of the user being changed by the service. The idea was to show the actual benefits of the library service to the user rather than just that the library was effective or efficient or that users were satisfied.

[Some really cool space science this week as British astronaut Tim Peake completed a space walk including a selfie.]

Now onwards, and upwards – I attended the dissertation study school at Northumbria last week which provided a terrific jump start to my dissertation ideas. More to come.