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Research methodology

Research methodology:

My research philosophy is interpretivist. I have been heavily influenced by my reading of ethnography. However, I have chosen not to complete a purely ethnographic study due to the investment in time and the necessary observation this would take. Gobo (2007) describes interviewing as ‘ancillary’ (p.190) to observation, while Pickard (2007) explains:

'...it would be very difficult to engage in ethnography while engaged in any other full-time occupation...ethnography usually demands at least a year in the field.' p. 112

As a result, my study cannot be considered as more than influenced by ethnography, although it could certainly be the basis for a wider ethnographical study. I will also keep a log of how my ideas change over the course of the research as this is frequently an ‘essential tool’ for ethnographers (Pickard, p.118)

The concept of emergent design (p.16, Pickard) is a cornerstone of my thinking., i.e. I believe that my research will bring up many things that I have not thought of and I believe my research to be exploratory – I do not set out with a theory in mind of what I expect to prove or disprove, only that the information I gather will cast further light on a sensitive and interesting subject.

While I believe I have selected a comprehensive way of researching, I believe that I have much to discover that may lead me to change my ideas about what I will find and how I will find it along the way. There is no objective or “correct way” to find and if I tried to look for one I would only be repeating my own opinion. Instead, I intend to investigate what opinions are held on this issue. I will be looking for common ground, for differences in opinion, for logical inconsistencies (including the difference between what people say and what people do). I am particularly interested to see whether there is a consensus on this issue. I am examining opinions, rather than facts. Qualitative study is suited to my needs as I am asking “why” (and in detail) rather than “what?”.

I have attempted to improve the relevance of my research by using several methods. This referred to as triangulation and is seen as particularly important to qualitative research such as I am undertaking.

Analysis of stock-selection policies – document research:

The first element of my research will be desk-based; I undertake to examine some purposefully chosen stock selection policies in detail to examine the thoughts that have gone into them and the consequences that are likely of them. I intend to chose the sample based on policies which contain references to ethical issues and to include the library policies of those I plan to interview. This will enable me to obtain relevant information which will work in tandem with the interview stage.

On these policies I will use content analysis skills, critically evaluating stock selection policy looking for references to ethically problematic areas such as censorship and specific issues in regard to the children’s collection, choosing a purposeful sample which will provide a rich source of information to analyse. These stock selection policies are widely available online for public libraries and I will restrict myself to those which are accessible for practical reasons. There is scope for an element of quantitative analysis for example jargon or “buzz words” and how often certain ones might appear, or how many policies are based directly from national guidelines. However I primarily intend to engage in a qualitative study of the content of the policies. I envisage being able to analyse twenty policies in the time available.

I will compare and contrast standpoints on ethical issues between public libraries and also in comparison to the local council’s own objectives which are rated against frameworks/standards for local council behaviour that are nationalised as well as against children’s rights guidelines such as the UN convention on human rights. I will be looking to pick up on implications and what is not stated, highlighting where ethical grey areas could arise as a result of gaps in policy to discuss in my interviews.


I believe that the interviews will give me an idea of a few different approaches of people to the problem at hand and raise more questions than they answer. I have chosen to do long interviews which will be semi-structured in order to allow for material that might not come up in something more structured or shorter. I will be using open-ended questions and scenarios to facilitate this. The limitations of time mean that I can only aim to interview five people, so I must use a preferential sample based on a mixture of practicality (people who I already have contacts with) and usefulness – I intend to interview people whose libraries have stock selection policies that in some way address ethical issues so that I will be able to consider the two together. The interviews will be the last stage of my data collection phase so that I can have researched the stock selection policies of the individuals I will be interviewing and can ask meaningful questions. The content of my interviews will include presenting for mutual discussion with the interviewee sample scenarios or case studies where the reader is invited to consider what they might do in an ethically problematic situation, how they think their council would want them to act and what practical obstacles might affect them for example customer complaints, other staff, personal convictions. I will also bring to the interview controversial picture books to prompt discussion. By doing this I hope to get as close to a real idea of how someone might conduct stock selection and what ethical issues might affect them, as I can without being able to spend a year observing in the field. I bring to this research my own experience in stock selection which provides me with a background to conversing on this subject with other professionals.

I am not intending that my sample should be representative of all librarians; merely that it should add to the debate and provide insight into how people deal with these issues on a day to day basis. If this study were not limited by time and access issues, I would be able to consider participant observation of people doing stock selection from an ethnographic standpoint. However I believe this would take too long to draw conclusions from observations without a direct insight into what the person is thinking, which on ethical issues might result in a different answer given from the truth.

The problem of obtaining the truth is a difficult one, since people are reluctant to publically deviate on controversial points of view. I intend to address this by ensuring the interview is a ‘safe space’ in which any opinion is able to be raised. This would include showing acceptance to statements by the interviewee, assuring them at the start that personal opinions will not be judged but are appreciated, ensuring anonymity, not reproaching actions the interviewee chooses. In this I am taking ideas from psychological idea of safe space originating from Carl Rogers, whose requirements for the therapist were:

'1. Congruence -- genuineness, honesty with the client.
2. Empathy -- the ability to feel what the client feels.
3. Respect -- acceptance, unconditional positive regard towards the client. (Rogers, in Boeree, 2007)'

Ensuring the interview is a safe space including confidentiality/anonymity is part of my ethical obligations and means I have the option to explore difficult areas if the interviewee is willing – such as area of conflict of personal belief with employer policy. As part of my plans for the interview, I intend to furnish the interviewee with information about the areas the interview will explore and am prepared that some may choose to withdraw at this stage.
I will be using some ethnographic methods for example, the case study referred to in Gobo (2008) where ‘the interviewee was asked to imagine the interviewer as his double and give him the information he would need to take over his job the next day without anybody noticing the switch’ p. 193, Oddone (1995) in Gobo (2008).
I believe the post-interview stage will lead me to re-examine the policies in the light of what I have learned. For this reason I have allowed a month of reflection and analysis to consider the impact of emerging questions before beginning to write up my dissertation.

Purpose of Study and Objectives

Ethical Issues in Picture Book Selection in Public Libraries

'As stewards of information, library and information professionals are indeed instrumental in the facilitation of knowledge and thus power.' p. 99, Buchanan (2009)

With such power, how are librarians regulated? What would a librarian’s version of the Hippocratic Oath look like? To judge from the literature on the subject, it would include a promise to uphold freedom of access to information for all. One area of this that is particularly controversial is children.

I intend to look at censorship in children’s picture books. This has a long historical context. With the invention of books for children as a result of the invention of “the child”, what was appropriate for those children to see started to become an issue. In the Victorian era, this was moral literature and cautionary tales.

Children’s literature reflects the views of the society it is created in. For example, it was appropriate in the 1950s and earlier for children to be given a clear view of gender roles which would fit them for the society they were living in as a man or a woman. The British Empire was reflected particularly in the war eras.

In the 1960s a changing society led to a change in children’s books and a rise in presenting alternative models to children. Feminists began to write about children’s literature and alternative views of children’s literature were presented. Children’s literature now began to redefine gender roles.

As “political correctness” grew in the 1980s there was an expansion in this kind of children’s literature. One such book was Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin (1983), a matter-of-fact picture book about a girl with two fathers which was held in a London children’s library. There was a reaction against this from those who disapproved strongly of homosexuality. Legislation was introduced amid calls for greater censorship from councils (including schools and public libraries):

'1) A local authority shall not—
(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;
(b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship. (Section 28, Local Government Act 1988)'

There was considerable debate in society on both sides of this question and the act was not removed from the statute books until 2003. The Act caused school and public libraries to self-censor for fear of reprisals. For public librarians, should an ethical standpoint be something to follow in obedience to, or in defiance of, the law? It might seem to us from our current standpoint in history that what is appropriate for children is a question on which we are all united now but, in fact, censorship still continues and we are not united now.

One book which causes controversy today is And Tango Makes Three. Reported by the ALA as top of the list of banned books for 2008 (ALA, 2009), this is the true story of two male penguins who become a family at a zoo.
These and other books are widely available in school and public libraries. Reactions to these appear to come mostly from the extremist religious groups, with Christian Voice (2009) describing them as ‘homosexual propaganda’ and SREIslamic (2009) stating that:

'We cannot accept that homosexuality is normalised in the minds of young children and that a normal family unit can involve two dads and two mums, as the storybook ‘And Tango Makes Three’ suggests.'

When children’s librarians choose stock for their libraries, they will be aware of the possible reactions some books might get and may also hold personal views of their own on the matter. There are considerable ethical issues involved. For example, the rights of the state balanced against the rights of the parents, or the individual rights of the child. There is little direct guidance on this issue and I hope that this study in bringing to light some of the opinions and experience from public libraries, as well as analysing the ethical arguments for and against censorship, will lay a foundation for guidance to be written. Producing guidelines would be a much larger task than this study allows, since as I hope to make clear, there are no easy answers.

I have chosen to focus on public libraries since in representing the state; there is a peculiar sense of duty to the state as well as the parents which provides ethical tension. Public libraries often have policies on providing stock that is representative of other cultures and races and which does not promote discrimination but inclusion.

This is a current issue. There is debate about children’s rights and the changing nature of the child in the ‘Information Age’ for example the concerns about what children can and can’t access online and whether the nature of being a child is changing. Also the state has been playing a greater role in recent years on laying down moral guidance for children such as ensuring racial equality is taught in schools. There are frequent news articles on this issue for example the controversy on age banding.

Recently the effect of the recession means less children’s librarians and stock selection is increasingly being outsourced and this perhaps has been gone into without fully considering the ethical issues involved.

It is a relevant topic since it is important for public libraries to feel secure in their decisions particularly in times of political uncertainty and confusing guidelines – for example, religious schools are allowed to teach homophobia where in other situations homophobia is a hate crime.
Guidelines are beginning to appear as librarians react, for example the MLA Guidelines on Controversial Materials however this is largely focussed on adults and the issue of terrorism. CILLIP Start with the Child (2002) suggests the child should have a role in stock selection but do we know how much censorship is done quietly without discussion?

There are campaigns online both for and against censorship and a ripple effect from the religious right in America. Picture books are big, with lots of encouragement for children and parents to use them from campaigns and charities such as The Reading Agency, National Year of Reading, Bookstart, The Big Picture. Because of the age of the child when reading picture books, he has no freedom to choose books independently of parents and carers, but at this age, opinions are being formed about how the world works and his place in it. If these opinions are formed solely by the parents, they may not be rounded ones.

It is relevant for my career in making informed choices on stock selection, negotiating controversial areas with people while valuing all opinions, being able to have a defensible position because I will have researched it and fitting me to give leadership on these issues.


- 1. To examine the arguments for and against various forms of censorship in early years public library settings taking into account the historical context of cultural and political changes.

2 .To weigh up children’s rights to access to picture books against the rights of their parents to shape their opinions versus the rights/duties of the sate, considering the relative value of the modern state of ensuring children have access to books showing difference.
These first two objectives will be met through a full literature review. This will also form the groundwork for the second two objectives. Fully weighing up the current debate will allow me to carry out the practical research tasks with a full understanding of the situation. My initial literature review in this proposal reflects an overview of the situation, but I intend to go into further depth for the dissertation.

- 3 .To analyse stock selection policies in a sample of public libraries in Britain to see how they deal with ethical issues.
Desk research (Internet) using content analysis skills critically evaluating stock selection policies. This will be useful as it will help me see current practice and arguments for and against and will also show me what guidelines there are in different areas for public librarians.

- 4 .To seek the opinions of a sample of librarians on their stock selection policies and how they deal with controversial stock.
I envisage being able to interview a preferential sample of five librarians who have stock selection policies in their councils that mention ethical issues. This will take place after I have completely sufficient research to be able to ask meaningful questions.
I will use semi-structured interviews with some key questions early on but then opening the debate using case studies (ethical dilemmas) as prompt to open the interview into relevant conversation and discuss practical obstacles such as customer complaints, personal convictions and council policy and the tensions that arise from this. I will allow reflection time post-interview as this may bring up more questions that need to be answered.

I believe that approaching the topic from all these different perspectives will allow me to use triangulation to come to a comprehensive view of the subject. I cannot examine everything due to time constraints and the variety of ethical standpoints but I hope to be able to lay the groundwork for recommendations and guidelines.

Academic blogs

A series of academic blogs will follow for my assignmment on digital media communications.

Hippocratic oath

If there were a librarianship oath, what should it say?



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