Week 12 Q: Bearing No Resemblance

I cannot really answer the question of how my research question has evolved over the weeks, because my research question has once completely changed. I began this class with two questions, one on e-readers and one about medieval cathedrals. My question was then replaced with a research question investigating sexual assault. All of these questions involved looking at information and how information is processed, and hold a special place in my heart. The problem was my questions on e-readers was way to broad and not unique enough to warrant a research project. My question on medieval cathedrals was too abstract, and would require research and expertise beyond what I have at my disposal. Lastly, my question on sexual assault, though I believe incredibly important, I was unable to really grasp how to go about doing that research, and unfortunately, did not have the time, stamina or attention to figure it out.

So I have modified my question to turn to something close to my heart, and relates to the reason I entered into this program, libraries and their importance to a community. One of the most important foundations of a library is their ability to serve and provide their community and patrons with access to information. Libraries often face the threatening shadow of irrelevance in a changing and increasingly digital world, however, this apocalyptic threat to libraries has been going on for over thirty years, and William Baker asks in 1979 “Will public libraries be obsolete in the 1980s?” While libraries have been facing this question for years, the solutions have only ever been discussed by scholars, or through very small, and rather dated, studies of specific library patrons. There are virtually no studies done on what users think about library’s in this new digital age, and this is a huge issue, considering libraries’ very existence is dependent on the public. My research project now seeks to resolve this gap in the discussion of the future of libraries. (Of course, if anyone knows of some studies, or literature on patron ideas of what the future of their library should look like, or ideas about what theoretical framework would be good for this sort of research, let me know! 🙂 )

My new research project bears very little resemblance to my other research questions, but I feel it is a project that is both feasible and important to future library and information scholarship. The results of my study, if it were ever actually completed, would be useful to library directors and librarians when implementing new programs or activities in their library. Without consulting the patrons, it is not possible to understand whether or not a library is accomplishing their task of supplying access to information to the community they serve.


Baker, W. J. (1979). Will public libraries be obsolete in the 1980s? Canadian Library Journal, 36(5) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/57153566?accountid=14771

Should we keep this going?

Hello all! I hope your end of term work is going well and you aren’t too stressed out.

Although our final blog posts for the class have been written and submitted, I’m curious to see if anyone if interested in continuing to use this blog? I think it’s been useful, and I’d like to keep it going for us to blog about anything interesting related to research projects or other IS issues. Posts will be much less frequent, I imagine, but I still think it would be interesting and useful. 🙂


I acknowledged in my first post that I knew nothing of the literature surrounding my topic of interest, so it would probably not be a great sign if there hadn’t been any shifts in my research question since then. However, I think that it would probably be more accurate to say that my research question is evolving rather than to say it has evolved from when I first started. After all, my interest in this topic and in research in general doesn’t end with this class, no matter what ‘final’ product I come up with for the last assignment.

I’m fairly certain, as I continue to read and think about things, that the research I really want to do is far larger than the scope of this class allows for. The truly interesting questions, I believe, need more work than I have been able to do at this point, or that I would feasibly be able to do within the framework of a Master’s Thesis. I’m not at all certain of the details of it all yet, or even entirely the direction, but the threads are, very slowly, coming together. There’s a lot still to read, and a lot still to learn, but the structure this class has given me in building a research project and the thought-provoking posts you all have written on this blog, have been hugely instrumental in pushing my brain in, if not the right direction, then always an interesting direction.

So, thank you all. It’s been a real pleasure. Good luck with the Salsa Dancing!

Week Eight: Statistics and Stories

While I am concerned with stories above all, I have come to recognise that statistics are not necessarily different from stories; rather, statistics can flag that a story really, really needs to be more fully investigated and told, especially when those numbers stop you in your tracks. I often joke to my journalist friends that some of the most interesting and shocking things I learn are thrown into the newspaper’s sidebar, apparently as an afterthought: usually a statistical finding, summarized in 30 to 50 words. One of these especially comes to mind: I remember reading, several years ago, that a historical threshold had been passed: more than one per cent of Americans either had been to prison, or were currently imprisoned. And that’s where the news story ended! Then, just yesterday evening, I learned that forty per cent of Canadians lack the basic literacy skills to cope with every day life. Again, this statistic (apparently quite well supported by several years’ worth of data from Statistics Canada) took my breath away. I think one of the most important contributions of statistical research, then, is that it can flag social patterns and phenomena that may be impossible to fully get a sense of otherwise. However, numbers always leave me wanting more. In future, I would be interested in pursuing at least one research project that takes as its starting point a striking statistical research finding, but then continues to investigate the same phenomenon using a totally different method, e.g. ethnographic research.

Week Ten: Digital Technologies & the Research Process

**This is the first of two catch-up blog posts. This is the one that I actually remembered that I had missed… unlike the other one, which I neglected to write way back at the beginning of November. The lesson is: Reading Week doesn’t begin until Reading Week begins!!!**

This week’s prompt, which suggests that digital technologies force us to seriously reconsider the question of what it means to preserve one’s research data, seems like it is part of a broader anxiety about how digital technology is speeding up our experiences such that it is increasingly difficult to keep up with, and keep track of, one’s own life. When online searching is basically instantaneous, and when much of our research at least begins in various search boxes (whether on Google or through the library catalogue), who among us actually documents every single absent-minded search term? Are tools like Zotero and Evernote up to the task of helping us to document, for posterity, a research process that is increasingly characterised by dozens of open browser tabs and many hours spent clicking on hyperlinks—sometimes fruitfully, but often not?

While my research question does not deal with preservation in the way that Kirschenbaum’s article does, I do feel like the issues that prompted his article are the same as those that prompted my research project on search tools such as Google and Summon: namely, that we have a long way to go before we understand the effects of digital technologies on the ways in which we conduct research, and by extension, how we make sense of our own research processes.

Week 12: “Never mind, I take it back…”

While my response to this week’s prompt is a bit of a downer, I believe it is nonetheless a legitimate research-related issue—so here goes.

The most honest thing I can say about my research project, at this point in writing the proposal, is that I no longer want to pursue it. Working on this assignment has taught me that there is a big difference between the research that one wants to see in the world—that is to say, the answers that one wishes existed, for questions that haven’t been asked yet—and the research that one is personally willing to lose sleep over for months (if not years!). As it turns out, I don’t want to do this research. I just wish that someone else had already done it, so that I might incorporate that person’s findings into my work on the reference desk. This assignment has taught me to be wary of my own propensity to become excited about every idea that pops into my head, and to keep in mind the huge amount of work inevitably required to conduct any kind of research—or even to put together a research proposal—when deciding which of my own ideas to pursue further.

A recent lecture (in another course) also helped me to better understand that the framework we’ve been instructed to work with in this course—information science—just isn’t one that I identify with or particularly care to devote myself to. Namely, this professor expounded on the difference between an information scientist and a librarian. She insisted that those of us who applied to the iSchool as prospective librarians not lose sight of the ideals and the tradition of research/inquiry associated with librarianship, even if this program attempts to mold us into information scientists by suggesting (sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly) that librarianship is a mere subset of information science, or else that the distinction between the two is fine enough that we shouldn’t be troubled to lose sight of librarianship in favour of information science. I realise that this question is nothing new, and that there has been much debate regarding the relationship between these two terms. Given that I do not have the space to do more than acknowledge that pre-existing debate, I will simply say that this professor made a good argument that librarianship is not synonymous with (or less valid/important than) information science, an assertion that has given me the confidence to go forward from our Research Methods course with librarianship as my research framework.

I realise that many of you have likely already submitted your documentation for blog evaluation, so there remains little incentive to leave further comments. However, if anyone feels like it, here are two questions that I will continue to think about as I continue my studies, and that I would love to hear your thoughts on. (You could also come up and tell me your thoughts in person sometime!)

1) Do you still want to carry out the research that you’ve spent months fleshing out in this proposal? How (if at all) has this assignment changed your thinking about the process of deciding to propose a new research project in the first place? In an ideal world—for example, if SSHRC loved your proposal and agreed to fully fund it—would you want to carry out the research that you’ve now fully designed?

2) What is your relationship to the framework of “information science”? Does it feel like a good fit for the ideas that keep you awake at night, or do you (like me) feel that there is another body of literature, and another set of ideas/conversations, that is a better ‘home’ for your most burning questions?

Thanks, everyone! Been a pleasure blogging with you.

The More the Merrier

Unsurprisingly, the part of my research project that has changed the most during this course is the research method itself! In fact, when I first came up with the idea of studying the way in which the modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina defines itself in relation to the ancient Library of Alexandria, I did not really have any particular research method in mind. And although the research method that I eventually settled on – the comparative method – was not covered in the lectures, the course nevertheless helped me to go through the process of selecting the method best suited to a particular project.


At present, my research proposal only involves the comparison of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina with one other modern institution: the British Museum, and the way in which it defines itself (at least in part) in relation to the Parthenon Sculptures. While I think that this is acceptable for a small-scale project, if there are any other obvious candidates for comparison they could be added to the project easily enough. Any and all suggestions welcome!


Timothy Perry