Monthly Archives: October 2005

Some Questions About Survey Proliferation

Is it just me or does it seem like the number of times we get solicited to complete web-based surveys is rapidly rising. You may be asked to complete a survey after attending a conference. Perhaps an association or a vendor wants to know how you like their service. There are colleagues who just want to know who else is doing something a certain way or dealing with a certain issue, and would just like some feedback; these folks usually don’t even bother with a web-based questionnaire and instead just stick a few questions right in their e-mail message.

I’m more concerned about academic librarians that are gathering research data by way of sending an e-mail to a discussion list to solicit colleagues to complete a web-based survey. An increase is no doubt owing to the ease, speed, and low (or no) cost associated with a web-based survey. Have an idea for some research? Get on SurveyMonkey, create a survey, send an e-mail providing its URL to one or several discussion lists, and then just sit back and collect the data. This sure beats figuring out how to find a unique survey population, then using a totally random method to identify questionnaire recipients, and then sending surveys to only those targeted individuals. With many librarians under the gun to publish or perish, the proliferation in requests to complete surveys being sent to discussion lists is no surprise.

I certainly don’t respond to them all. I doubt most of you have the time for that either. So how do you decide which ones you’ll respond to, and since the distribution method is hardly random isn’t the likelihood of response bias much higher? I posed this question to a few social scientists. They suggest that soliciting via discussion lists introduces a variety of response biases, but mostly self-selection. You might complete a survey about ERM systems because you just purchased or are in the market for one, while others who have no interest in them ignore the survey. Thus the results are skewed by respondents with a particular attitude, mindset, or set of values.

Granted, it may be that academic librarians are in fact using random survey techniques but are also soliciting on discussion lists just to get a statistically valid number of responses. It’s also commendable that more academic librarians are actively pursuing research projects that advance our knowledge of the profession. But the discussion list solicitation technique seems more reasonable for an informal survey, perhaps to support a conference presentation. I question if our research literature is becoming largely based on survey data gathered via discussion list. I don’t claim to have expertise on this issue so I’m open to the insights of those who do or who edit the journals that publish research articles. I also can’t say there is any research on the number of discussion list surveys, or that examines the validity and reliability of the research resulting from them.

I suppose all I can do at this point is to – and I’m really sorry about this – ask you to complete another survey. That’s right, a survey about surveys. Let me know what you think of the proliferation of requests to complete surveys being distributed via discussion list. There are just six questions. I’ll report the results in a future post to ACRLog – assuming any of you have the time or inclination to respond.

An Appreciation Of The College Newspaper

I came across this article by way of Library Link of the Day. It’s a good read from a student who admits his love of technology, but also acknowledges there are flaws and hidden dangers in his obsession. Like many student-authored articles I’ve read in college newspapers, when the topic of research comes up the library is the butt of a joke or its irrelevance is duly noted. This one is no exception:

“How did students do research without Google, Wikipedia and Lexis-Nexis? Are you telling me they used “books”? I guess that means they actually had to go to the library and have a proficient understanding of the Dewey Decimal system, two things any self-respecting student of the modern age avoids.”

About two weeks ago I started using INFORM.com on an experimental basis as part of my higher education “keeping up” regimen. I found that they have a nice college and university section under “Hot Channels”. In addition to providing articles from national and regional newspapers, it also provides content from college newspapers. The stories from the college papers offer some genuine insight into the latest issues brewing in higher education, but it’s also a good way to come across student opinions and the occasional article about the state of research for college students. It would be a shame to miss out on many of these articles.

At my institution, Philadelphia University, we have no regular student newspaper. As a mostly professional/career-oriented institution, we lack a cadre of aspiring writers and journalists. There is talk of trying to get at least a weekly student-run campus paper established. I hope those of you who have the luxury of being a member of a campus community that offers a student newspaper take some time to appreciate its availability.

LJ Offers E-Learning on E-Books

Tom Peters sends word that Library Journal is sponsoring an online forum on e-books on November 15th.

From the LJ site, the topics to be discussed include: (1) trends in e-book publishing and pricing models; (2) acceptance and use of e-books by different disciplines and demographic groups; and (3) the impact of massive digitization projects (e.g., Google Print). Scheduled panelists include Warren Holder (Toronto), Suzanne Weiner (NC State), and Jim Mouw (Chicago).

Participation is free, but registration is required through Library Journal.

Against Regulation

The ALA has joined with the American Council on Education and other organizations in filing suit against FCC regulations that could cost college billions of dollars to make eavesdropping slightly more convenient. The plaintiffs argue that the changes are not necessary and that law enforcement needs can be served (when warrants are properly served) without these expensive changes. There’s more coverage of this story in The New York Times, the Chroncle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed.

I happened to be reading about this news at the same time an Australian friend send me an article about a speech given by Nobel Prize-winning novelist J.M. Coetzee (author of Waiting for the Barbarians among other novels) at the National Library of Australia. His reminder that terrorism as a threat was used to argue in favor of apartheid has caused some controversy as the Australian PM pushes legislation to expand police powers in the name of national security.

Seems ironic that an FBI that can’t get their own computer systems to work wants us to fine tune ours at great cost for their benefit. I guess “Kafkaesque” is a good word for it. Or is “Coetzeean” a word?

Start Your Engines People

It’s official. The “Call for Participation” for the ACRL 13th National Conference, to be held in Baltimore from March 29th to April 1st, 2007, is now available. From the official site comes this description:

The ACRL National Conference offers a forum for an exciting and energizing exchange of ideas on research, practices, developments, and visions in the field of academic and research librarianship. The conference theme, “Sailing into the Future – Charting our Destiny,” recognizes that coming together with other bright minds during the national conference gives many of us a chance to discuss, think, and dream about the future for our libraries. We believe that—as in past conferences—this forum serves as the compass and map to sail beyond our major challenges and truly chart our own destinies.

This call for conference proposals will also appear as an insert in the November 2006 issue of College & Research Library News. I’m looking forward to being there and blogging some sessions.