Research: It’s Not That Scary

When I was freshly enrolled in my MLIS and pouring over my courses for my very first semester, there was one class that I was very much not looking forward to: Research Methods and Statistics.

I studied classics and history during my undergrad; I wasn’t entirely new to research. Not to mention, while working in public libraries in the past I had regularly assisted patrons with all sorts of research requests. But an entire course focused on research methods, not to mention that dreaded s-word, was definitely intimidating, and honestly, sounded pretty boring. I didn’t plan on doing a PhD, and at that point, I didn’t realise that research was often expected of academic librarians. So why on earth would I have to take this course?

It turns out I was definitely not the only person who felt this way. In fact, it was brought up a couple of times at Orientation, with our new profs joking about this being the course everyone dreaded (especially that “statistics” component). Students in other library schools appear to feel the same way; several of my fellow HLS contributors have written on the challenges of research in library school, including this post from a few weeks ago!

I’m not sure what it is about research that overwhelms so many of us, but it’s definitely a thing. It’s unfortunate, too, because research really isn’t that scary– not if you find the right topic.

That research methods course, it turned out, was very useful. Some of the assignments and readings were a bit dry, but most of the coursework was pretty interesting, and more practical than I had expected. In fact, our final assignment of putting together a full research proposal, including a poster presentation, was one of the most useful projects I completed. I learned how to put together a research proposal, how to narrow down a seemingly broad topic, how to pitch a research idea and basically how to get the whole process started. Not to mention, I realised that I could study things that actually really interested me: namely, children’s collections, and access to materials. This particular proposal focused on issues of censorship of LGBTQ-themed materials, but that was just the first of many, many research interests that wandered through my mind over the next several months, as I started taking electives and gradually learn what aspects of librarianship most interested me.

Flash forward a few semesters, and I’ve now completed my independent research project. It was inspired by an assignment I completed for another class, focusing on children’s collections, and was incredibly interesting (to me, at least!). Over the course of the semester, I assessed the holdings and collection development policies of thirty different systems, analysing exactly how good a job libraries are doing in providing diverse content to young children. I was fascinated by the research I found for my literature review, I enjoyed collecting my data, and– most shockingly– my favourite part was assessing all the data I had collected, making calculations and figuring out ratios and percentages that represented the different categories in my study. It was incredibly interesting and surprisingly enjoyable, and far less scary than I’d feared. My advisor was also incredible, providing helpful feedback and support throughout the process.

This is the key to research, I think: finding something that truly interests you, that you’ll be passionate about investigating. And if you think you can manage it, tackling a research project of some kind during your MLIS is an excellent idea. After all, research is an essential part of librarianship– may as well start practicing during library school!

Featured image by Andrew Neel on Unsplash


Kait is an MLIS student at Western University in Ontario, currently employed as a Library Technician, and an avid traveller. Currently, she is wearing two scarves, shivering, and looking at flights to Fiji. Connect with her on LinkedIn, follow her on Twitter, or visit her website.

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