Institute for Research Design in Librarianship – Raising the Bar of Research in Academic Librarianship

The Institute for Research Design in Librarianship (IRDL) is an IMLS-funded grant program that provides professional development for academic librarians to enhance their research confidence and research competency. Since the summer of 2014, a group of 20-25 academic librarians are selected to participate in the program each year. The program consists of a 7-day bootcamp of research methods (lectures, exercises, consultations) and a support network (e.g. monthly check-ins, mentors) in the following year to help librarians complete their research projects. I’m truly proud to be involved in this project as a lead instructor, and have come to the beautiful campus of Loyola Marymount University in the past six summers to engage in a great experience of teaching research methods with academic librarians from around the country that are talented and motivated to conduct research to improve practice and to enhance the research culture in the profession.

We just concluded the final IRDL bootcamp of the six-year grant program last week. Again I was impressed by the librarian scholars’ variety of research interests and their drive to conduct quality research to raise the bar of LIS scholarship. A few examples of their research topics – how IL instruction can improve student curiosity, how resilience training incorporated in IL instruction may impact underrepresented students’ retention in STEM programs, how film makers/producers seek information in their creative process, what is the techno-stress level of librarians working in digital scholarship, how librarians teach with/about secondary data in their IL instruction, how academic libraries are providing almetrics services, whether scavenger hunt through augmented reality improves students’ perception and satisfaction with library use, and how academic libraries can help students tackle their non-academic needs. I enjoyed my consultations with each one of the scholars as they tried to flesh out the proper research design/methods for their projects.

Although the grant program will end after this year, IRDL has left great legacy. Over one hundred academic librarians have participated in the program and they will become the leaders and influencers in the realm of research and scholarship in academic librarianship. I look forward to seeing them continue to flourish and make impact in the profession as they infuse quality research with their practice.

Finally, a couple of memories from last week:

Doing the cabbage toss on the last day to review what we have learned
The spot on LMU campus where we often took our walking breaks – the view is gorgeous

IRDL 2017 and Interview as a research method

Last week I went to the beautiful campus
of Loyola Marymount University for IRDL 2017. I’m glad that this wonderful
research methods training program received funding to continue for another
three years – more academic librarians will benefit from it and gain important
skills to become more competent and confident practitioner researchers. I had
great conversations with the participants this year. They were all working on
interesting projects – e.g. how ARL libraries design their fundraising page on
the library website, how students understand or misunderstand library jargon,
how students’ interpretation of research differs from faculty’s expectation and
observation of their research behavior, just to name a few. I can’t wait to
read more about these great projects in journal publications.

In the past week, I taught during the
day, and worked on other projects at night (yes, it’s a productive week for
me!). Particularly, I took full advantage of LMU library’s subscription to SAGE
Research Methods, and read a number of articles about the research method –
interview. There are different ways to use interview in gathering qualitative
data. Here’s a summary of them from the SAGE Encyclopedia of Qualitative

  • Convergent
    interviewing – a technique that aims to collect, analyze, and interpret
    people’s experiences, opinions, attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge that converge
    around a set of interviews. It was created primarily to address issues in under-researched
    areas. It permits in-depth interviewing by promoting a cyclical research
    process that requires ongoing analysis as part of the overall strategy. Interviewers
    engage in a constant comparative reflexive process that permits detailed rich
    content and theoretical sampling as researchers seek to continuously test
    emerging interpretations from early interviews in subsequent interviews.
  • Cognitive
    interviewing – it encompasses a variety of approaches for eliciting qualitative
    data on how participants interpret and respond to a wide variety of situations.
    Cognitive interviewing increasingly is used in the evaluation of technology
    interfaces such as websites and tools for informatics. It is used in education
    to understand how students think about content and respond to test items and in
    marketing to understand how to evaluate products better.
  • Conversational
    interviewing – an approach used by research interviewers to generate verbal data
    through talking about specified topics with research participants in an
    informal and conversational way. Interviewers and interviewees rely on
    taken-for-granted assumptions about how everyday talk occurs and how speakers
    make meaning of one another’s utterances. In emphasizing features of mundane conversation,
    conversational interviewers strive to facilitate a research environment in
    which participants feel free to participate in extended discussions of research
    topics in a less hierarchical environment than that convened in structured
    interview settings.
  • Narrative interview
    – an interview that is organized to facilitate the development of a text that can
    be interpreted through narrative analysis. Narrative analysis is guided by a
    theory of narrative, and these theories of narrative vary in the influence of
    the reader, the text, and the intent of the author on interpretation. For this
    reason, the content and structure of a narrative interview will depend both on
    the theory of narrative being used in the analysis and on the research
  • Interactive interviewing
    –  an interpretive practice for getting
    an in-depth and intimate understanding of people’s experiences with emotionally
    charged and sensitive topics such as childbirth, illness, loss, and eating
    disorders. Emphasizing the communicative and joint sense-making that occurs in
    interviewing, this approach involves the sharing of personal and social
    experiences of both respondents and researchers, who tell (and sometimes write)
    their stories in the context of a developing relationship.
  • The critical
    incident technique (CIT) – originally, it refers to a set of procedures to
    collect direct observations of human behaviors in a way that facilitates their
    use in solving practical problems and developing broad psychological
    principles. Over the years, it has been increasingly applied to studying psychological
    states or experiences, and emphasis has shifted from direct observation by
    experts to retrospective self-report in interviews.
  • Co-constructed
    narratives – this refers to stories jointly constructed by relational partners
    about epiphanies in their lives. This approach offers a way for participants to
    actively construct a version of a relational event that provides insight,
    understanding, and an in-depth and complex reflection on what occurred. As
    such, this mode of doing research provides an alternative to traditional interviewing,
    especially when the topic under consideration is emotionally charged, personal,
    and sensitive.

IRDL 2016


The third and final Institute for Research Design in Librarianship
took place in June. IRDL is an IMLS-funded
project that seeks to create a learning opportunity and a support system for
academic librarians who want to improve their research skills and increase
their research output. Twenty-one librarian scholars gathered at the beautiful
campus of Loyola Marymount University and went through a 9-day intensive
research methods training program. This year, quite a number of librarians were
working on topics involving populations that are understudied in library
research. Here are a few examples:

How international students use the library and
how does the library contribute to their success and growth in life

How Chinese international students interpret
“Authority is constructed and contextual”

How scholars who study materials in non-English
languages but publish in English use citation management software

What is the experience of librarians of color in
residency programs

What are the barriers for women to seek
leadership positions in libraries

During the Institute, there were
two hours scheduled each day for the participating librarians to consult the
instructors and IRDL directors about their research projects. I enjoyed these
consultations immensely. It is always pleasant to chat with people who are
enthusiastic about their research. The projects about understudied populations
reinforced my idea of offering a research methods course that focuses on
researching special populations. Every semester there are always students in
our MLIS degree program proposing to conduct research about the library and
information needs/behavior of a population that is traditionally underserved or
understudied in libraries. For instance, in the past semester, a student
proposed a survey study to examine the library needs of people who are
quadriplegic. As our libraries strive to meet the needs of diverse user populations,
it would be helpful if our librarians know how to properly design studies to
generate practice-informing evidence about different populations, especially
the underserved or less privileged ones.

See, IRDL always gives me new
ideas and refreshes my perspectives as a researcher/educator. Two weeks flew by
very quickly. I appreciate the opportunity to be part of this great effort that
seeks to enhance the quality of scholarship among librarians and foster a
culture of research-mindedness. Marie and Kris, the two wonderful IRDL project
directors, are truly insightful in making IRDL happen, and I’m sure that the
IRDL participants will make them proud by raising the bar of library research.

[The photo was actually taken during the first year of IRDL in 2014 – Greg, Michael and I were the instructors. It was so nice to see Greg and Michael every year at IRDL (and Emily this year). We make a great team 🙂 ]

Improving Librarians’ Research Confidence

Last week I attended the 2016 conference of Qualitative and Quantitative
Methods in Libraries
, and presented a paper I co-authored with two wonderful
colleagues from Loyola Marymount University (LMU), Marie and Kris. In this presentation, we talked about the
mapping between librarians’ research confidence and the curriculum of the Institute of Research Design for Librarianship (IRDL), a
federally funded program that provides research methods training for
librarians. For each topic covered in the training program (e.g. research
question development, research design, data collection, data analysis, research
dissemination), librarians’ confidence was measured before and after the
program, and increase was detected across the board. This was consistent with the
preliminary findings of another study we are conducting. In that study, we seek
to understand the long term impact of IRDL by asking the participants to
describe three incidents where they strongly felt the benefits of IRDL in their
work or research. So far we have seen quite a number of narratives about how
they felt more confident when working with faculty, talking to people at
conferences and interpreting the published literature.

According to Bandura, mastery experiences build confidence through
success and provide an individual with the ability to persevere in the face of
obstacles, which is especially important in performing difficult tasks, such as
conducting research in the traditionally practical library profession (lack of
confidence is often cited as a barrier to librarians’ research engagement). I’m
glad to see that IRDL has been able to improve librarian’s research confidence
and help them become more confident and competent practitioner researchers. The
third cohort of IRDL will gather in LMU for their training in less than a week,
and I look forward to meeting them!

Research-based Library Practices Summit in Doha, Qatar

Last week I had the pleasure of
going to Doha, Qatar to give a workshop at the Research-based Library Practices
Summit. The Summit was organized by librarians from University College London
and Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar and attended by librarians from
multiple countries in the Gulf region. My workshop focused on providing an
overview of the frequently used quantitative and qualitative research methods
in library and information science such as survey, focus group interview,
in-depth interview and content analysis, and explaining the process of making a
methodological decision based on the research question. The objective of the
workshop is for participants to gain knowledge and skills to determine which
qualitative and quantitative methods are most appropriate to address their
research questions. I used the following questions to help them analyze their research
question and make the methodological decision:

Are qualitative research methods appropriate for
your research question?

How much previous research exists on your topic?

Do you intend to capture a nuanced, in-depth
view of your topic?

Do you intend to describe your observations via
the identification of themes/patterns?

Is there existing qualitative content you can
analyze, or do you have to collect original qualitative data?

Which qualitative data collection method do you
plan to use – focus group interview, in-depth interview or field observations?

Are quantitative research methods appropriate
for your research question?

Is your research question a relationship
question or a causality question?

Has there been extensive research conducted on
your topic that the range of Reponses or variations of behavior are already

Do you intend to quantify your observations and produce
generalizable conclusions?

Is there existing statistics you can analyze, or
do you have to collect original quantitative data?

Which quantitative data collection method do you
plan to use – quantitative content analysis, quantitative observations, or

Overall the workshop went pretty
well. We had a lot of good discussions. I was impressed with the participants’
eagerness to conduct research to improve their practice. This kind of “research-mindedness”
is exactly what we need in the profession.

During my stay in Doha, I had the
opportunity to visit the state-of-the-art Qatar National Library. It’s still
under construction, so we had to wear safety hat and vest on the tour. It’s an
amazing building. I loved the open design and the high level of automation.
There is even a restaurant in the library – a real one with a kitchen, not just
a café where you can only get sandwiches. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to
take pictures inside. But here’s a picture of us in front of the building.

Here are a couple of pictures I
took of a gorgeous corridor in the Education City, where the Summit was taking
place. Gorgeous view, isn’t it?

Quantitative research workshop

Quantitative research has always
been a challenging topic in my teaching of research methods. Quite a number of
my students are innately disinclined to deal with numbers and find statistical
analysis uninteresting and even unnerving. So every time I cover quantitative research,
I always start with this quote from Earl Babbie’s The Practice of Social

““Empirical research is first and
foremost a logical rather than a mathematical operation. Mathematics is merely
a convenient and efficient language for accomplishing the logical operations inherent
in quantitative data analysis. This textbook is not intended to teach you
statistics or torture you with them. Rather, I want to sketch out a logical
context within which you might learn and understand statistics.”

It is important that students understand
statistics are just a means to an end – a tool that we can use to help us accomplish
our research objective by making sense of quantitative data. In my teaching, I
focus primarily on the conceptual understanding of statistics. Students are
expected to master what the frequently used statistical measures are, when to
use them, for what types of variables and what kinds of analytic objectives, and
don’t have to worry about the computational process. They can explore that on
their own – there are many tutorials on YouTube.

At this year’s SCELC Research Day, I gave a
workshop on quantitative data analysis, and this “conceptual understanding”
strategy seemed to have worked well. We had interesting discussions around the
tables and it’s great to see how the librarians planned to use the statistics
covered in the workshop in the analysis of their existing data sets. I just
wish there were more time for us to do some hands on exercises. Nonetheless, it
was a great experience talking about research methods with librarians, as always.

Research methods in library assessment

I gave a workshop about research
methods in library assessment at Santa Clara University Library earlier this
month. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect with SCU librarians. The
workshop focused on two things: 1) how to develop the research question in a
library assessment project; and 2) how to determine the proper research methods
for conducting the assessment. Research question develop is the critical first
step in any research project – Albert Einstein once said “If I had an hour to
solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes
thinking about solutions.” In the workshop, we first talked about the progressive
focusing process of formulating the research question (overall goal –>
objectives –> research questions), and discussed the criteria we can use to
evaluate the quality of a research question. ACRL’s 2015 January Assessment in
Documented Practices from the Field” provided some examples of research
questions in library assessment, and we spent some time examining each one of
them (see the picture below) – it was a great way to look closely at the process of developing research
questions. Then we reviewed the major research designs (based on the analytic
objective, time dimension, and degree of variable manipulation) and the frequently
used qualitative and quantitative methods in library assessment. Quantitative
methods seem to be more popular in assessment projects.

I’m glad to have this opportunity
to chat with SCU librarians about research methods – I admire their initiative
to engage in library assessment using valid and reliable research methods. This
workshop made me think about, as LIS research methods instructors, what we can
do to work more closely with libraries and librarians that conduct assessment.
Looks like I need a lunch date with some of my fellow methods instructors and
my assessment librarian friends. 🙂

2015 Institute of Research Design for Librarianship

Last week we concluded the second
year of the Institute of Research Design for
Librarianship (IRDL)
, an IMLS-funded project that seeks to create a
learning opportunity and a support system for academic librarians who want to
improve their research skills and increase their research output. It’s another
great 9-day institute with librarian scholars from around the country. This
year, the project directors made some changes based on the feedback from last
year’s cohort so that the scholars could have more time to write and consult
with us instructors. I truly enjoyed talking to each scholar about their
research projects. I was impressed by the innovation and initiative
demonstrated in their projects – for example, one scholar was interested in
implementing a texting-based outreach and reference service and see if that
impacts students’ library anxiety, and another scholar was thinking about
creating library tutorials using Vine and see if that would be an effective way
to impart information literacy skills. I can’t wait for them to complete their
study and get published.

Among this year’s cohort, three
were graduates from my home institution, SJSU School of Information, and two of
them took classes with me – one was in my Research Methods class, and another
was in my Reference and Information Services class. It’s great to see them
become active researchers in this profession and engage in evidence based
practices to improve their work. I’m very proud of them. This is exactly what I’m
hoping to see through research methods education both in LIS degree programs
and beyond (like IRDL).

The campus of Loyola Marymount
University was as beautiful as ever. I feel lucky that IRDL is held at LMU library, in a spacious room with a
gorgeous view. Many thanks to Marie and Kris, the two wonderful IRDL project
directors, who took good care of us while we were there. Looking forward to
next year already!

Research topics from my research methods class in fall 2014


 My research methods class in fall 2015 focused on research. Students in the class were expected to develop a survey research proposal. Here’s a collection of their survey study topics. Many of them are needs assessment and program/service evaluation studies.

  • Does attending the “Sopa de letras” workshop series for parents cause an increase in behaviors that are considered beneficial for literacy and learning of children?
  • What programs would college bound teens like to see the library incorporate into its services in order to help them with college preparation?
  • Do series-based library workshops improve the job skill sets of unemployed or low-income adults?
  • Why are patrons using or not using the library databases?
  • What kinds of professional development opportunities should the library offer to help teachers better understand the services the library could offer in relation to the Common Core State Standards?
  • What services (staff preparedness, physical layout), collections and programs do public libraries in the state of California offer their visually impaired patrons?
  • What is the effectiveness of the Mill Valley Public Library’s current marketing tactics in their efforts to market library programs and events?
  • At what rates do elementary school librarians and teachers use digital audio players and media for audio reinforcement over physical audio players and media, or vice versa, and why?
  • What about the existing library teen services/collection/spaces/programs do KDBS students think is adequate, inadequate, and needs improvement?
  • Does the pedagogical approach of Reading Workshop impact the range of genre selection for independent reading for upper elementary students (3rd-5th grade) from their school library? 
  • How do musicians perceive the usability of the intrinsic qualities of digital scores? 
  • What are the reasons for immigrant populations’ non-use of the library? 
  • Do adults have interest in attending arts classes at the Cambridge Public Library? 
  • What genre/types of books are young adults most interested in?
  • Does creating a young adult space in a library enhance the overall library experience for people in this age group? 
  • Do Spanish-speaking patrons feel their public libraries provide materials and programming that reflect their needs and interest of their communities?
  • What specialized accommodations for existing services do higher education academic libraries provide for students with auditory and visual disabilities?
  • Is there a relationship between academic librarians’ instructional practices and their background in and knowledge of instructional pedagogies, design, and standards? 
  • What are the reasons of teen use or non-use of the teen section of the Monmouth Public Library website? 
  • Does Facebook marketing contribute to library program attendance? 
  • Why are the communities of Latino/Hispanic parents not aware that public libraries offer bilingual children’s books?
  • What is the awareness of grandparents raising grandchildren regarding public services in the Boise, Idaho area? 
  • What services, collections, and programs are libraries offering to better serve patrons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? Are library staff members receiving ASD awareness training? 
  • What marketing practices are currently employed by public libraries to promote their digital information service? 
  • What factors do college students consider when choosing to read a book for pleasure? 
  • How has training in assistive resources, or lack thereof, of Maricopa County Librarians impacted their ability to assist patrons with disabilities? 
  • Do information literacy (IL) courses provided by the public library during school visits improve teenage patrons’ ability to assess and utilize the information from the public library’s digital resources? 
  • What information resources do teenagers use when visiting the public library? How satisfied are teens with the results they received while interacting with those information sources? 
  • What factors influence the participation of ethnic communities during public library story times? 
  • How satisfied are San Diego Public Library patrons with the library’s job-seeking resources?
  • How efficiently are the services and information resources provided by the Chicago Public Library system satisfying the needs and concerns of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/or questioning community in Chicago, Illinois? 
  • What diabetes resources are a necessary part of a health library collection in order to best serve the Hispanic population to manage diabetes? 
  • What are public library staff member’s opinions and levels of satisfaction with the following aspects of the Symphony software interface: aesthetics and functionality? 

Practicing qualitative research

Earlier this week I moderated a workshop about qualitative research as part of the event “Research Day” at Loyola Marymount University Library. The goal of “Research Day” was to raise librarians’ awareness and understanding of qualitative research. My workshop was to provide an opportunity for librarians to practice in-depth interview and focus group interview – two prevalent qualitative research methods. I only had 3 hours, so I thought a lot about how to best make use of the time. Finally I decided to follow an organic four-step process as I do in my research methods class – 1) the participants would start by developing a qualitative research question; 2) then based on their research question, they would chose either in-depth interview or focus group interview as the data collection method; 3) they would then develop an interview guide and practice conducting the interview; and 4) finally they would reflect upon their experience and talk about their understanding of qualitative research.

Overall I was able to stick to my agenda – but at the end we weren’t able to spend as much time on reflection as I had planned. Step 3 was monstrously time-consuming. Still, I felt the workshop gave everyone a basic sense of what it’s like to conduct qualitative research. I created four handouts to guide the participants through the four steps, and I’m posting them here. Hopefully it will be beneficial to other people who are also interested in practicing qualitative research.


Rubin, H. J., & Rubin, I. S. (2011). Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Guest, G., Namey, E., & Mitchell M. (2013). Collecting qualitative data: A field manual for applied research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Krueger, R., & Casey, M. (2014). Focus groups: a practical guide for applied research (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.