There was a great post last month on ACRLog from Nicole Pagowsky and Maura Smale about library research and the IRB. They addressed the two types of research common in the LIS field: 1) evidence and theory-based Research (with a capital R) and 2) “how we did it good” articles that are anecdotal and not necessarily generalizable to other contexts.
Maura and Nicole share their experiences getting IRB (Institutional Review Board) approval for human-subject research in LIS projects. The take-away for me, thinking about research to prove and improve library value, was to consider the big question Nicole and Maura pose:
What are you trying to learn or prove? If it’s to compare/contrast your program with others, suggest improvements across the board, or make broad statements, then yes, your study would be generalizable, replicable, and is considered human subjects research. If, on the other hand, you are improving your own library services or evaluating a library-based credit course, these results are local to your institution and will vary if replicated. Just because one does not need IRB approval for a study does not mean it is any less important, it simply does not fall under the federal definition of research. Evidence-based research should be the goal rather than only striving for research generalizable to all, and anecdotal research has its place in exploring new ideas and experimental processes.
Lots of library value research is very institution-specific, because we’re doing research within the context of our own libraries, schools, etc. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t valuable lessons to be learned from another library’s experience of documenting the impact of library services and resources.