Monthly Archives: September 2012

“in an age of info-glut”

I meant to post this last week, so apologies if it is not totally relevant to this week’s readings.

I find Luker’s characterization of the 21st century as an age of “info-glut” or “information overload” somewhat problematic. While information overload is certainly a fact of life in this day and age, I really don’t think it’s as new as she presumes – and her characterization of the past (in her case, only 30-40 years ago) as characterized by a paucity of information was even more confusing to me. Certainly, we do life in an age where information is everywhere, and the volume of information readily available to us through the internet is certainly unprecedented – but in spite of that, the feeling of information overload is very, very old. Older than the internet, older than daily newspapers and mass-market paperbacks, older even than the printing press (I am not joking).

I read (and actually reviewed, though I have yet to submit my review to any journals because I am super lazy) a book last year titled Too Much to Know, by historian Ann M. Blair. In it she deals with the perception of information overload, and the methods that people developed to deal with it, in the pre-modern world. Her main focus is on Renaissance Europe but she also deals a little bit with the medieval and ancient worlds as well. Many of the methods she discusses for dealing with information overload in these periods – reference books, classification schemes, etc. – are in fact the direct antecedents of the methods that information professionals use today. If you’re interested but don’t feel like reading 300-some pages about seventeenth-century reference books, she also published a short article in the Intellectual History Review titled “Reading Strategies for Coping with Information Overload ca. 1550-1700.”

I am still, unfortunately, a long way away from developing a research question of my own, but I think that I would like to work on something related to what Blair has done, except possibly with a focus on the eighteenth century, and with a focus on laypeople as well as (or possibly instead of?) scholars.


In Chapter 4 of Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences, Kristen Luker suggests students would benefit by getting a feel of the publishing process by submitting our class papers to journals to think about how to “frame” our ideas in unique ways which would be interesting for a specific publication. This was something that stood out for me as I have used this method in the past to open up lines of communication (usually with literary magazines or newspapers), which was key for the following:

“you have (a) met new people with whom to correspond and (b) had some reasonably smart people look at your work very carefully.” (Luker: 74)

I would like to know if anyone has any experience with this in an academic setting, or whether or not you find Luker’s point helpful for students considering undertaking any kind of research project.


Question Selection

The last 2 posts are quite reassuring: I’m struggling with question selection as well, and it’s nice to hear that so are you.

Can I get some advice about this research direction? A reading I did for another course (1310 Reference Services — some of you are in it with me?) mentioned virtual reference — that despite much hype, it’s used much less in academic and public libraries than traditional reference services. That surprised me. I suspect that, if reference services in libraries is going to survive in the search engine age, virtual service must be used and liked by users. So, I thought I could design a study investigating why ppl (especially in public libraries — I’m more interested in them) do or do not use this service and maybe what can be done to up that usage.

The problem I’m having is that there is quite a bit of research out there around this issue, so I’m struggling with pinpointing an exact question that needs answering. Is it ok to slightly change my research question as I discover literature that answers it in part, but leaves something to be asked?

What do you guys think?


Trying to find a topic?

I’m having the same issues as Jessica. It is hard for me to narrow down what I want to do this project on. To be honest I’m also a little confused by how to actually do a research proposal paper. I’m assuming we have to actually do research into the subject, but at the same time we’re supposed to be proposing our research so how far do we delve into the information? The books are helping me with the understanding of how and methods of doing the research, but not the actual lay out of the paper. Though the advice is very useful and I like the different perspectives in each so that we don’t feel obligated to choose one or the other, rather we are being given examples of how to find which methods work best for us and our studies.

My other minor confusion is should these research proposals be related to information studies or can we pick something a little more to our interests? I am assuming it is supposed to relate to information studies as that is our masters program but on the other hand the course is simply research methods not information studies research methods :)! If I am to do it on something related to information studies I was thinking something to do with the future of government libraries but I’m not sure how to narrow that down, nor am I sure how to create a research proposal around it.

I almost wish I was assigned a topic. Sometimes trying to find a topic that we are “passionate” or “interested” about can be more debilitating than not getting an option, at least for me, because there are so many things I am interested in. If anyone has advice or just wants to pick my topic for me that would be great :)!

-Emma Blackburn

Research Interest vs. Research Question

Before I started the readings for this week I was confident that I had developed a research question that would serve my purposes for this course very well. My bubble was burst however when I realize that I still only have a research interest. I am grateful for the suggestions given by both Luker and Knight on how to narrow down my interest (though the idea of “consulting the literature” remains daunting), and found Luker’s oversimplified “quick tips” on “explanans” and “explanandum,” as well as the importance of the question mark (53) surprisingly useful. 

Like Brett my humanities background has usually required that I find my proof in-text, which is useful in that realm, but is obviously inadequate here. I would appreciate any/all advice that those of you who are well-versed in research methods might be able to add to Luker and Knight’s suggestions for narrowing my research interest further. Very generally my research interest is on how information professionals (librarians, archivists, etc) can ensure that rare and special materials (manuscripts, scrolls, rare texts) become available for the general public (likely in a digitized form), and are not simply replaced by modern summaries or descriptions of the original work? I don’t really know what form this will actually take, but it is something that seems important in a world of “info-glut”


proving vs. disproving

I was struck by an example in the Knight reading for this week.  On page 42, he illustrates the potential power of a case study that countered the prevailing generalizations of other researchers.  This was the Boyle and Woods study of the headteacher.  It got me to thinking — as small-scale researchers, can our projects generate more oomph & relevance by identifying exceptions to, or shortcomings of, existing theory?  Assuming that our findings were generalizable to some extent?  Whereas if we strike out on our own and try to prove something new, could we find ourselves on an uphill climb with limited time and resources?

But then on the other hand, if we’re being honest we have to allow the possibility that our research will show that the expectations we brought to the study are incorrect.  Would that render a research project pointless or meaningless — if it just ended up affirming an existing theory, and moreover did it on a smaller scale than other researchers have done in the past?

I hope that makes sense, I’m thinking out loud here.