- Applications of Social Research Methods to Questions in Information and Library Science
Barbara M. Wildemuth, a professor in the School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, draws upon her extensive experience in order to describe systematically all aspects of the research process as they can be applied in information and library science. With doctoral students as co-authors for 22 of the 38 chapters, she follows a logical progression: The Questions Asked, Research Designs and Sampling, Methods for Data Collection, and Methods for Data Analysis. She identifies three audiences: master's and doctoral students, who wish aid for their research or support for a research methods course; practitioners, who wish to embark upon their own studies; and experienced researchers, who are considering unfamiliar methods. She does not expect the book to be read cover to cover, although some chapters build upon each other and include references to related chapters.
Each chapter, except for the introduction, follows the same basic format. The author speaks directly to potential researchers in the second person as if they were undertaking a research project. After a brief introduction, each chapter discusses how the topic fits within the research process, steps to be taken by the researcher, and ethical considerations. One of the best features of the volume is that each chapter includes two or three examples that illustrate the topic, often based upon award-winning research studies. The presentation of the examples focuses on the positive and negative aspects of the methodology and omits any discussion of the findings. A one-paragraph conclusion is then followed by a list of works cited and occasionally by additional recommended readings. The book does not include a general bibliography but has an index of authors discussed and a subject index.
Since my doctorate is in the humanities, I have no formal training in social science research methods or statistical analysis, although I have acquired reasonable familiarity through my own research, readings, and peer reviewing. I found the contents of this volume to be well organized and clearly written for the most part. My only concern was with those cases in which Dr. Wildemuth expects readers to have the research paper under discussion in front of them to understand fully her points. I came away with a much deeper understanding of social research methods and believe that students and practitioners would find this book accessible and helpful in reaching their research goals. [End Page 517]
I have some suggestions for improvement. First, Dr. Wildemuth concentrates on the "how" of research but might pay more attention to the "why," especially for students and practitioners. Although the section Understanding Academic Library Performance (p. 249–51) clearly has immediate practical implications, the reasons for studying Dewey's Discourse on the Role and Functioning of Libraries (p. 326–7) might merit more attention beyond the few pages in the first chapter on the role of research in practice and theory building. My second suggestion would be to add some discussion on the temporality of research. The facts in a historical article remain true, even if new documents and new interpretations are possible. The research on Junior High Students' Use of an Electronic Encyclopedia (p. 183–4) has limited temporal validity because both the junior high students in a population sample and the electronic encyclopedia may change enough over a few years to make the initially valid conclusions inappropriate with the passage of time. My final small quibble is the decision to exclude bibliometric methods because "they are described in a number of books." (p. 6) Excluding this research method seems arbitrary and detracts from the book's comprehensiveness.
Overall, Dr. Wildemuth achieves her objectives of providing both a reference tool and a reasonably comprehensive summary of research methods in information and library science. My final comment is that readers should not be overly discouraged in undertaking their projects because of the high standards that she sets for valid research results, but they should use...