Qualitative Research (notes from 2011 OLA session)

OSU session on Qualitative research by Uta, Hannah, Margaret.
(These are my messy notes, find official session notes on NW Central)

Qualitative Research = Relating to quality in descriptive ways. Field notes, recordings, observations, and turning them into something that gets at the context or quality of what is happening. Generates a large amount of detail that might be hard to generalize.

How to generate in library? Focus groups, personal interviews, surveys (open response) observations studies photo diaries.

Best practices. Trying to get at things not easily captured or best for observations not easily reduced to numbers. Probe aspects of a particular issue. Generate questions for a subsequent survey. Generalizable? Be careful about that. Difficulty- that’s why so much research is quantitative.

Survey (quantitative) but go from numbers to nuance and more richness…survey with open ended questions, focus groups, and interview (one on one, long term)….what do they mean by long term?

How to turn research into reality. Gather the data, but then what do you do with it? How to take the next step and make changes based on what we learned.

Example, gathered responses in a focus group. Used 8 prompts. Then created themes and categorized responses under each theme. Their themes were services, spaces, and support…but ours might be different. Their responses were all over the board, so then how do you move forward…

Group work; create 3 actionable outcomes based on the quantitative and qualitative research in this paper. Set boundaries as you think necessary. Keep track of your decision making process e.g., how did you choose what to do first/last?

In the group activity, we looked at a dataset and chose 3 actionable items. Now we are making a decision based on the analysis model assigned. Can be tricky to get from the data stage to the action stage. How do we figure out the priority piece- what can we do? What can’t we do?

With their focus groups with grad students, there was a space theme and several ideas came out of that- open classrooms for after hours use, longer study rooms checkouts, better maps, grad student virtual space, and grad student physical space.

Limiters- desire meets reality.

All possible limiters: time, money, space, power, relationships, personnel, policies. Short term limits: personnel, policies, relationships. Medium term limits, = money, relationships, power. Long term limits: space, relationships, money, personnel, power, and time. (this is on a slide in table format). So- looking at the request side by side with the limiters, here are what we can do short term, medium term, long term: for example, short term we can open classrooms after hours and lengthen study rooms checkouts. Medium term we can offer better maps and a grad student virtual space. Long term we can develop a grad student physical space.

Relationships, as a limiting factor, and important to understand as important for being able to proceed with some of these recommendations. Internal relationships (presentation space, study rooms, circ, doc delivery), college or unit (teaching, data analysis, job search), administrations (space, grad support…?). FMI: should add external.

Implementation timeline. Short term (use exhibiting spaces), medium (add virtual space and service), long term (add new spaces and services).

Analysis models:

  1. SWOT TOWS: identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats.
  External ops External threats
Internal strengths S o ST
Internals weaknesses WO WT


  1. Action Research

Cycle: observe, reflect, act, evaluate, modify, observe, reflect, act, evaluate, and modify….etc (encourages group work, requires you to be a practitioner in the field, comes from the field of education….e.g., a pretest that shows gaps/attitudes, and then make a change in the class practice to address those needs). Situate your own experience against those of other practitioners (reflect), then we act by implementing in the class, then we Evaluate- collect data about how the changes worked, then modify based on the evaluation…


Reflection important in this model. Based on what I’ve learned, do I now think…?

My mental “before” picture is different from my mental “after” picture in that… so we are reflecting before jumping into the modification phase.


Social science would ask “Does management style influence worker productivity?” Where action research would say “how do I improve my management style to encourage productivity?” So the action researcher situates themselves in the question. So when do you not use action research? When you want quantitative.


Using weighting factors to prioritize findings. Weighting scale; RANKING FACTORS.


                (3) IMPORTANT FACTOR

                (1) WORTHY FACTOR

So write out action items as a need and then weight it.

Again, key is reflection, observation, assess alternative (environmental scan), review rankings, repeat.

  1. Participatory Research

A type of action research, so if you read about it sometimes called participatory action research. Fundamentally about who has the right to speak about the issue that needs to be addressed, to gather data, and to act on the data. Direct contrast to having an outside expert . Systematic inquiry with the collaboration of those affected by the issue being studied for the purposes of education….check NW Central for notes.

Community based, usually runs analysis of social problems. Oriented toward concrete community action. Roots are in liberation theology and social transformation, and used in first world nations, used especially in …

Community based participatory research (CBPR) both partners have invaluable roles:

  • Community members keep the research – respectful, accessible, and socially relevant. Researchers keep research-scientificallly sound, academically relevant
  • Stakeholders contribute and researchers contribute: define and design research (community relevance, scientific value). Implement research (accessible instruments, effective recruitment, appropriate recruitment and scientific rigor). Dissemination/action (publicity, community education, action, scholarly publication, accessible interpretation).


Ultimately, makes no difference if you take no action on it. So go for it and take action even if the time line is long.


Note- action research so similar to what is happening to evidence based research in medicine.

FMI: community based public safety


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