Too Few Articles in the Journal Literature on Instruction in Academic Libraries are Research-Based

Kurt Blythe

Abstract


A review of:
Crawford, Gregory A., and Jessica Feldt. “An Analysis of the Literature on Instruction in Academic Libraries.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 46.3 (Spr. 2007): 77-87.

Objective – To discover which journals publish a preponderance of the literature on instruction in academic libraries, and to further learn what topics are discussed in the literature and what methods of inquiry are used to explore those topics.

Design – Comparative analysis.

Setting – The ERIC database.

Subjects – Journal articles published between 1971 and 2002, found in the ERIC database via the descriptor ‘library instruction.’

Methods – Journal articles published between 1971 and 2002 were searched in the ERIC database using the term ‘library instruction,’ because the term has been used by ERIC since the inception of the database. Article characteristics such as year of publication, journal in which a given article was published, and types of articles were identified. After normalizing the identification of article types by comparing individual codifications of a random sample of articles from the results list, the researchers coded all of the articles according to the articles’ main topics. These article topics were then condensed into broader topics (e.g. articles coded initially as addressing the topics of instruction to “graduate students” or “high school students” were condensed under the heading “instruction of specific populations”). Those articles deemed to have a research component were further analyzed in terms of research methodology, scope, and use of statistics. The questions guiding the authors' study consisted of:
In which journals are articles on instruction in academic libraries published?

What are the topics of the articles that have been published?
How has the literature of instruction in academic libraries changed over the years?
What is the nature of research [authors' emphasis] articles on instruction in academic libraries?
For research articles, what are the research methods used and what types of statistics are utilized? (77-78).

Main results – The search found 791 articles appearing in 90 journals. However, only six journals were responsible for publishing 60% of the articles on the results list. Based on the categorization into topics or types, five article types – “general essays,” articles on “instruction for searching online catalogs and databases,” “articles on course- or assignment-related instruction,” “programmatic and management issues,” and “specific institution instruction” – accounted for 54% of the total articles; eleven other topics are represented in the remaining articles. Only 24.5% of the articles could be considered “research-based.” While nine types of research methods were used, 62.3% of the research-based articles relied on surveys or questionnaires. However, taking into account what could be an expected decline in interest for studying instruction for microforms, and an increased interest in studying instruction for the Internet, the types of articles published each year between 1971 and 2002 remained generally static.

Conclusion – The authors conclude that, unsurprisingly, a select few journals are responsible for publishing the majority of articles on instruction in academic libraries, and note that these journals are “closely associated with academic librarianship and instruction” (85). The authors’ findings concerning the types of articles published over the course of the date range examined, although interesting, are equally unsurprising. What is surprising and alarming, is that only a quarter of all articles published are research-based. Furthermore, those articles that were found to be research-based did not often employ sophisticated research methods, preferring for example, the use of descriptive statistics over inferential statistics. Ideally, this article will spur the development and publication of more, and more rigorous, research-based scholarship in addition to pointing authors both to the journals most likely to publish their research and to the topics that have been historically (since 1971) underrepresented in the literature.

Keywords


library instruction; academic libraries; research methods

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