Monday, September 22, 2008

Questions about questions about questions

If the research we conduct is built on research that is less than solid, are we asking the right questions? For works cited as foundational to our own discovery process, we are intended to realize and utilize salvageable elements, if no better works exist. This is done because of the realizations that a) no perfect work exists; b) the post-positivist realization that truth is relative and conditional; and c) LIS research is incomplete, lacking in coverage and rigor.

It means something rather tiresome, which is that works cited in a piece of research must themselves need to be critically evaluated - a fundamental part of the EBLIP model. But it could really make you tear hair out to then realize: what about the works they cite, and so on? Perhaps it's like retrospective cataloging of a collection, where the decision may be to go forth and sin no more - and in the case of research, to go forth having thoroughly evaluated the sins of past excursions, salvaging bits of wisdom. I have this vision of broken amphorae, patched in with contrasting colors so that we can see what the original was, with full realization of missing parts.

Here our amphorae are surveys done on Medlib-L, or Publib-L, responded to by a self-selected audience and decidedly not bias-free. Or reports of 'how I done it at my library,' program descriptions about a new class, with the self-satisfied conclusion that attendees were pleased. They might be blog postings, conference abstracts or poster session - un-indexed, with little or no consideration of previous research. But they remain, artifacts of experience and reflection.

I have talked with others about their use of resources such as the CSA LISA database in supporting decisions (and please note, here is a nonsupported, observationally-based conclusion): Many have said that they can never find things in LISA, or that what they find is insufficient. Tens of journal editors have bemoaned the lack of rigor and quantity in our research (this is far from unsupported - if you want cites, just ask). In this posting about questioning questions, I end with one: can we afford to walk away from our amphorae?

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