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Christina's LIS Rant
Saturday, February 10, 2007
  Lincoln on self-reliant library users
If you've ever read any qualitative research in just about any area of social sciences, you'll probably have seen references to the work of Yvonna Lincoln. She and Egon Guba wrote some of the seminal work on qualitative research and she's the co-editor of the Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research.

Even though I've seen her work cited a bunch of times and read most of the Sage Handbook, it's just for one of my current classes that I've read two of her papers. She prepared this one as the "invited address" for a session at UMCP on library research (where was I in 2001 and why wasn't I there?):
Lincoln, Y. S. (2002). Insights into library services and users from qualitative research. Library & Information Science Research, 24(1), 3-16. (subscription required).

She was part of a larger team evaluating SERVQUAL and reformulating it to become LIBQUAL (I understand there are criticisms of this whole process but that's not important to my point). For this paper, she went back for herself and analyzed the interview data used to develop LIBQUAL from an "interpretive and culturally-grounded" approach (p.7).

What I haven't seen elsewhere and think is really worth examining, is her take on library users' view of self-reliance. She breaks this down into two groups:
  1. needs help learning to use the library, then goes off on their own
  2. users who "develop an enduring relationship with a librarian and are confident that when they are in need, assistance will be delivered" (who also intend to "navigate the labyrinthine information universe on their own terms") (p.10)
Here's the good part (from a Foucault point of view):
"The self-reliant user-- the library user who wishes to navigate resources with a s little help as possible, as independently as possible -- seeks a kind of privacy from the surveillance of librarian help... Seeking and finding needed resources on one's own is form of resistance to the structure, discipline, regimentation, and organization of a library... rebellion"

I've actually felt that way. I'd rather explore on my own than have a librarian help me, but I thought it was just because I *am* a librarian. I get a bit offended when I have to go through an orderly (but slow) organized class. According to Lincoln, such users prefer "intransigent and slightly triumphant mapping of resources [for] himself or herself" (p12).

So what does this mean for how we support this class of users? Probably better just-in-time tools to help them build their conceptual maps, but not "oppressive" classes. Probably better signs and better user interfaces so they can "discover" relevant resources without searching or (live) librarian intervention.

She also touches on issues of library as place, which remain incredibly relevant. I highly recommend the article -- it's pretty short and very readable.

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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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Christina's LIS Rant by Christina K. Pikas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Christina Kirk Pikas

Laurel , Maryland , 20707 USA
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