Barebones research methodology

On October 1, 2009, in Methods, Research, by Chris Prom

Last year, when I was serving on my Library’s Executive Committee, we briefly considered a request from a junior faculty member that we run workshops on the question “How do pick a research topic?”

It was a bit disarming to hear that someone working toward tenure needed direction on such a basic point, but it is still a good question.  In the past, when I’ve been wanting to do some research, I’ve always tried to think of a practical problem that I or my colleages are having, then turn that problem into a formal question. Of course, some questions are too big and some questions are too little. But some problems are just right.

In the past, I’ve thought a “just right”  problem is on that I can express as  a question I can investigate over six months, working about 15 hours a week.  Now that I’m on sabbatical, I have a bit more time to do reserach.  Neverthless, I need some pretty clear limits since I’m dealing with a very complex area (electronic records), in which a huge number of people that are smarter than me are doing excellent work.

So here is my plan:

  1. Formulate research question:  “What current tools, methods and software are most effective in helping archivists at under resourced insittutions identify, arrange, preserve and provide access to born-digital records that have been donated to a repository at the end of their period of active use?” (done, Sept 2009).
  2. Conduct literature review and software search, attend training events regarding digital preservation, and  develop lists of articles, software, tools and methods in the resources section of this blog (ongoing through November 2009).
  3. Assemble 4 sets of e-records typical of those that might need to be accessioned, arranged, preserved and provided for access at a university archives or other under-resourced repository  (3/4 Done).
    • a) backlog of existing ‘one-off’ e-records accessions held by the University of Illinois Archives and Dundee ARMMS.
    • b) Email of Paul Lauterbur, Nobel prize winning chemist.
    • b) Office files of American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom and
    • d) set still to be identified; likely a non profit organization or a faculty member at University of Dundee that is using participatory software (e.g. wikis, blogs, annoation/commenting systems, community image galleries, etc.)
  4. Develop simplified e-records processing workflow (based on Tufts/Yale project’s Requirements for Trustworthy Recordkeeping and Preservation, Ingest Guide, and Maintain Guide, as well as other resources). (October 2009)
  5. Match specific pieces of software to draft e-records processing workflow;  identify software gaps. (October-November 2009)
  6. Develop sofware/method evaluation criteria, which will use a two phases process (Oct-Nov. 2009):
    • Brief comparison of program attributes to processing workflow/needs assessment.
    • In depth analysis of ‘top candidates’
  7. Use evaluation criteria to narrow complete list of software to a subset that will be evaluated in a formal test of software using live e-records. (early December 2009)
  8. Process e-records listed in step 3 using processing workflow, recording numeric evaluation and evaluative comments for each software application or method in subset, for its usefulness in working with  defined record types (images, documents, email, websites, etc). (December-January)
  9. Write formal evaluation paper summarizing methodology and results of my evaluation. (February 2010).
  10. Develop recommended list of tools; contribute to software development projects to assemble toolkit to facilitate e-records work at ‘under-resourced’ institutions.  (March-May 2010.)

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