Last week I attended the last of three workshops in the LIS DREaM series, in Edinburgh (I’ve also reported on workshops one and two). The sessions were all informative, and some were of particular interest as potential research methods for my PhD.
I found the session on repertory grids particularly useful. The repertory grid (RG) is an interviewing technique that enables the researcher to elicit “both the conceptual content embodied in an individual’s mental model and the relationships which exist among these concepts” (Latta and Swigger, 1992). This is something I’m going to investigate further because a lot of the reading I’ve been doing around political behaviour and how people conceptualise politics highlight the issue that politics is a very personal topic. In addition, people’s attitudes and behaviours are not always rational or directly influenced by knowledge, and are often influenced by heuristics or rules of thumb.
I want to talk to teenagers about their attitudes towards politics and participation, and what political issues they think are important to them, rather than assuming that I know what matters to young people. In order to do that properly, and talk about issues that are actually relevant, I need to be able to identify and define those topics. The use of repertory grids as a scoping tool prior to in-depth interviews seems like a good way of doing this. Dr. Turner pointed out that using a method like this with cards and scraps of paper is a very unthreatening way of getting a lot of information out of people, and I think this will be a benefit when talking about such a personal and potentially emotionally-charged issue.
I can also use my findings to identify any possible trends and groupings of concepts when the data from the grids is turned into chart form. Dr. Turner recommended Repgrid for this, but there’s also an open source alternative. OpenRepGrid – this is an add-on to R, which is free statistical computing software. I’d never heard of R until a Researcher’s Digest session in my department a few weeks ago, and I’ve never used statistical software before, so at some point in the future I’m going to have to acquaint myself with it. I imagine bucket-loads of coffee will be required.
This week I’m reading about the use of RGs in Information Science, including the following journal articles:
- Birdi, B. (2011). ‘Investigating fiction reader characteristics using personal construct theory’. Aslib Proceedings, 63 (2/3), pp.275-294.
- Crudge, S.E. & Johnson, F.C. (2004). ‘Using the information seeker to elicit construct models for search engine evaluation’. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 55 (9), pp.794-806.
- Latta, G.F. & Swigger, K. (1992). ‘Validation of the Repertory Grid for Use in Modeling Knowledge’. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 43 (2), p.115.
- Madigan, D. et al. (1995). ‘Repertory hypergrids for large-scale hypermedia linking’. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 43, pp.465-481.
- McKnight, C. (2000). ‘The personal construction of information space’. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 51 (8), pp.730-733.
- Mengshoel, O.J. (1995). ‘A reformulation technique and tool for knowledge interchange during knowledge acquisition’. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 43, pp.177-212.
- Oppenheim, C., Stenson, J. & Wilson, R.M.S. (2003). ‘Studies on Information as an Asset II: Repertory Grid’. Journal of Information Science, 29 (5), pp.419-432.
- Potthoff, J.K. et al. (2000). ‘An Evaluation of Patron Perceptions of Library Space Using the Role Repertory Grid Procedure’. College and Research Libraries, 61 (3), pp.191-203.
- Rugg, G. & McGeorge, P. (2005). ‘The sorting techniques: a tutorial paper on card sorts, picture sorts and item sorts’. Expert Systems, 22 (3), pp.94-107.
- Whyte, G., Bytheway, A. & Edwards, C. (1997). ‘Understanding user perceptions of information systems success’. The Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 6 (1), pp.35-68.
Discussions about research and practice
Much as the sessions were all interesting introductions to different research methods, I found that the conversations snuck in between talks were also of great value (and wish we’d had time for more). Along with the final session of the day – impact snakes and ladders – I found that some issues I have about the ‘state of the profession’ and current goings on are shared with others. For the final session we were split into groups and asked to answer some questions, then join with another group to share our responses, which roughly lined up with one another. My group, full-time PhD researchers, was paired with the group of public library workers.
The questions we were asked to answer were these:
- To what extent do you consider that it is a PhD student’s responsibility to ensure that their PhD study has impact?
- What strategies have members of your group developed to ensure that your PhD project is having/has impact?
- Are there any particular difficulties with ensuring that your project has impact when you are a PhD student?
And the public librarians were asked these:
LIS researchers would like to complete projects to support librarians in delivering their services.
a) What do researchers need to do to make this happen?
b) Are there any particular difficulties for public librarians in accessing and using LIS research? How could these be addressed?
We were asked to discuss issues of relationships between research and practice and come up with recommendations about how to improve communication and getting research into practice etc. The usual suggestions came up, including ‘continuous discourse’, ‘networking events’ and ‘communicating with each other’. This is all well and good, and I appreciate the value of events such as the LIS DREaM Project and the work that goes into them, but I think the issues we have go far deeper than putting researchers and a few interested practitioners in a room with each other. No amount of that will solve the underlying systemic issues that exist within higher levels of the profession, and stem from a lack of appreciation of the values and principles of public libraries and the point of academic research.
This isn’t something new and is an ongoing problem. A number of our ‘solutions’, ironically, were things that used to exist. And quite frankly, it’s a crime that they don’t any more. Public Library Journal, for example, was the only UK journal that published the kind of research that’s actually useful and potentially implementable by practitioners. And without consultation or notice, CILIP killed it.
We suggested publishing research that promoted improvement and innovation in library services, and demonstrated the value of libraries to society. If only there was some kind of government department that ‘got’ that kind of thing. It could maybe include related services…museums, and archives, perhaps. We could call it the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. What’s that, we had one? Oh, the coalition government got rid of it? Bummer.
A number of us also felt quite strongly that although high-quality research is being conducted in academic departments across the UK, its impact is severely limited if those in control within library services find it inconvenient to listen and respond to the results in a meaningful way. This is if researchers can even get access to library services to research within in the first place, which for various reasons can be incredibly difficult.
Thanks to Hazel and everyone involved in the workshop for another useful and thought-provoking day.