Sometimes it surprises me just how many books on research design and methods have been written without the practitioner in mind. Whilst I understand that the majority of texts may be principally aimed at the academic sector, research and evaluation are also fundamental skills in most workplace contexts. LIS is one such case, and indeed a sector that has seen the philosophy of evidence based practice grow steadily over the past ten or fifteen years to a point where assessment, metrics and evaluation are now cornerstones of service design and delivery.
Research, Evaluation and Audit brings together many of the key names who have been involved in both the emergence and development of EBLIP, in a book that is written and packaged firmly with the practitioner in mind. From the outset, it is evident that the editors understand the real challenges when it comes to librarians and practitioners undertaking research. It is not just a simple matter of learning how to carry out research from a technical perspective, and which methods are appropriate and why; it starts at a much more fundamental level. Indeed in some cases, the concept of evidence based practice requires developing a new mindset - one that continuously questions, seeks and appraises rather than relying on experience, habits and traditions.
The contributors to this book clearly recognise and acknowledge the complexity of this challenge. The editors have skillfully managed to curate and incorporate the broader issues involved in adopting an evidence based
approach, including the need to develop a curious and analytical mindset;
cultivating the habit of asking the right questions; practical aspects
like writing a project plan to give clarity and keep things on track;
ethics and best practice. It's refreshing to see that it is nearly 100 pages before research methods are discussed in any detail, and that the second chapter is dedicated to the broader issue of
building confidence is indicative of the holistic focus of the book. This breadth however, means that the second party of the
book, which deals with methods and data analysis, may be too
introductory and brief for some. It really serves as an overview,
and provides a diving-off point for researchers who can consult the
recommended further reading for more specific information on methods or
techniques. A chapter on research tools is a welcome and unusual addition, and provides some useful links and applications for
current awareness, reference management and surveys.
Peppered throughout the book illustrative case studies of 'real'
research demonstrate just how intertwined research and evaluation
are with service delivery. It serves as a reality-check for those who
may claim their job is to 'support research, not to undertake it'.
Research is not something that should be viewed as disconnected and
separate from our day jobs,
but about finding answers to the key questions that affect our services.
Finding the best quality evidence helps us to do our jobs better, as
well as to ascertain and demonstrate impact in an era when the need to
communicate our value is greater than ever.
To me this book is not so much a one-stop-shop for those undertaking research in LIS; instead its greatest value lies in how it gently steers the reader through the research terrain, highlighting both the pitfalls and best routes to take, and giving them the context and insight to navigate and reach their own destination. Indeed it is likely that once the reader gets involved in any kind of project, this will be just one of several research texts that they reach for. However, it might ultimately end up being the most essential, by being the one that started them on their journey in the first place.
Research, Evaluation and Audit: Key steps in demonstrating your value by M.J. Grant, B. Sen & H. Spring (eds.) is published by Facet, October 2013.