Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 June 2018
• What is qualitative research?
• What are the distinctive features of this method of investigation?
• How does it differ from quantitative research?
• How can qualitative research contribute to infor ma tion work?
This chapter presents an overview of qualitative research and its place in information work from a practical perspective. To achieve this we work through some definitions and a touch of theory, but this discussion is tempered with practical examples of research that should enhance your understanding of theoretical perspectives. What are the important features of qualitative research? How do these features distinguish qualitative from quantitative enquiry? In addition, we offer several reasons for undertaking qualitative research in information agencies, and why it should be considered by more information professionals when they undertake research.
What is qualitative research?
Qualitative research is not alien to information work. Rather, it is something that every information professional does instinctively almost every working day. In the case of one author, this approach to problem solving started as soon as I began my career. When I finished my librarianship course at University College London, I went to work as an assistant librarian in a research library. Although this library employed about six professionals and more than a dozen para-professional and clerical staff, it was managed along very traditional lines, with the chief librarian assuming responsibility for almost everything.
From the first day I noticed that the librarian actually opened all the post himself. This was no mean feat, given our usual delivery of three very full postal bags each morning and a further bag or two in the afternoon. This librarian would spend up to two hours each morning opening envelopes and book packs, sorting items into appropriate piles. Meanwhile, the serials librarian would wait patiently for her morning's work, the secretary would wait impatiently for the corres - pondence, and the rest of us would get on with such important professional tasks as shelving books, sharpening pencils and making cups of tea.