Brave new methods

Submitted by Isto Huvila on Sat, 10/27/2012 - 22:00

This year's SIG USE research symposium at ASIS&T Annual Meeting 2012 in Baltimore raised a number of interesting questions on the methods and approaches of information behaviour (needs, use, practices etc.) research. One, is of course precisely that. The continuos reference to information this and that objectifies information, and as Michael Olsson confessed, may actually imply that Brenda Dervin has been right all the time in emphasising verbing and refusing to see information as an object of study.


Another interesting point was the apparent raise of interest in making instead of mere use of information. Many of the discussed methods including photovoice (discussed by multiple presenters), expressive methods (Rachel Magee) and Barbara Wildemuth's proposal of using gerunds in coding interviews, Leanne Bowler's visual approach and Eric Meyers's use machinima (mentioning only a few) put emphasis on production and design of information to avoid both linguistic and other types of biases in gathering and analysing research data. Another apparent benefit of focussing on making is that making is obviously a process that tends to precede use (as I argued in the case of information literacy) and thus an obvious context of learning more about how and why people are using information as they happen to do.


A third take home message from the workshop was an urge for being slightly more creative in choosing research methods than we tend to be. Most of the people are using (traditional) surveys and interviews and only a handful engage themselves in using more creative approaches to collect and analyse data. Lisa Given showed some statistics in her keynote that even such really non-marginal approaches as theoretical research, model development and ethnography (believe or not) are surprisingly marginal in LIS literature. A first step to be critical of the mainstream methods is of course to realise that other methods exist, and to study interdisciplinary methods literature. The second one, is to be both creative and critical about what you are doing and assuming that you are doing. The third one is, as people were noting multiple times, is to get a supportive supervisor, get tenured (or a getting a permanent employment in continental Europe and Scandinavia) fast or to be very brave with your tenure committee.