Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I have found a research methodology!!!!!

Woo Hoo.  I have just come from a meeting with my SUPERvisors and it seems we have settled on a research methodology.  This is great news for me as I was feeling a bit at sea not knowing what my methodology was going to be.  I felt that without one in my head, I didn't know how to proceed because it directs everything, from what sort of questions you can ask, what sort of data you should generate, how you should expect to analyse it when you get it and whether you should be trying to prove a theory or generate one.  Now we have found the best one for my project, I feel that another piece of the puzzle has arrived and settled in and I can move ahead.  I feel like I am walking down an unlit corridor and I can't see where I am supposed to be going.  The path is there, but I don't know where it is.  Now another light has gone on and I can move forward along the corridor.  Into more darkness, but that is OK.  I am moving and that is enough for now.

Here is the document that I sent my SUPERvisors with my thoughts on undertaking a case study research framework.  I addressed the issue against a description of case studies in a research methods text book that I had been reading and tried to match what the book said to my project:


Research Framework Thoughts

My current thinking is around a case study approach. Need to ask S1/S2 if case studies are OK?

According to Creswell, (Creswell 2013) the following are features of a case study:

A specific ‘case’ needs to be identified:

A case can be a concrete entity such as a person, organisation or a small group.  It can also be a less concrete entity such as a community.  A case needs to be bounded or described with certain parameters, such as a specific place or time.  A single case can be selected, or multiple cases to provide a comparison.

So, I could choose a small number of libraries and consider each a ‘case’.  I could choose three cases from different levels of security to provide a comparison.  Each could be considered a case using the above criteria:

Concrete entity: Each case is easily definable as a prison library in terms of its name, function and location.

Bounded or described within certain parameters:  Each library could be viewed as a separate entity as it is physically bounded by location, users, staffing and collection.

So, I think I could argue that each library can be identified as a ‘case’ for study.

The intent of conducting the case study is important:

“An ‘instrumental case study’ is used to understand a specific issue, problem or concern, and a case or cases are selected to best understand the problem.”

So, the specific issue/problem/concern could be ‘intellectual freedom for prisoners’.  Then the case studies could be used to understand how the prison libraries studied can support the intellectual freedom of their users.

Case studies need to provide an in-depth understanding of each case:

‘An in-depth understanding is reached by generating many forms of data.’

In this study, I could look at the following:

Access policies/practices
Borrowing policies/practices
Collection management policies/practices
Services available
Observations of staff and users
Interviews with staff/users
Collection analysis
User needs analysis
Mission statements
Photographs/video of the physical spaces (if allowed)
Probably heaps more

Good case study research involves a description of the case’:
A good case study according to Creswell includes a description of the case in addition to exploring the themes and issues uncovered during the research.  This could be a nice fit for me as I could:

1.     Describe the cases using documentation, policies, photos, demographics of users & staff etc., then;
2.     Use these descriptions and qualitative data from interviews and observations to explore the theme of intellectual freedom of their users.

“Themes and issues can be analysed across cases for similarities and differences among the cases”

This could be good for me as I could pick three varying prisons maybe, high, medium and low level security and use each as a case.  I could then explore the theme of intellectual freedom across these three cases.

“Case studies often end with conclusions formed by the researcher about the overall meaning derived from the cases”

This format would therefore allow me to draw some conclusions about how well each of the libraries studied were able to support the intellectual freedom of their users.

So, a collective instrumental case study would allow me to select several research sites to show different perspectives of the one issue: how prison libraries support the intellectual freedom of their users. 

Creswell suggests the following typical format for case studies:

“Provide first a detailed description of each case and themes within the case, called a within-case analysis, followed by a thematic analysis across the cases, called a cross-case analysis, as well as assertions or an interpretation of the meaning of the case.”

“In the final interpretive phase, the researcher reports the meaning of the case.”

I think this framework might be a good fit.  Need to see what Peter and Sue think.

Creswell, JW 2013, Qualitative inquiry & research design: choosing among five approaches, Sage Publications, Los Angeles.

My SUPERvisors liked it and felt that it was a good fit!!!  Hooray.  So, case study is the methodology for me.

I think this is more than an inch along the corridor.  I think this is a big step.

Monday, March 3, 2014


Today I have a wonderful opportunity to discuss my research with a room full of really clever people who have extensive experience in qualitative research.  My lovely supervisor SR has offered to come along to take notes for me so I can concentrate on what is being said.

I had to submit a two page summary of my topic to give them all background to my interests and plans.  This is what I wrote:

Prison Libraries – Jane Garner

What are you exploring as your topic?

My topic will be based around library services provided to the inmates of Victorian prisons.  I want to know how prisoners are using their libraries, what value they place on their libraries and how well their libraries are able to cater to their needs.

Why this topic? – where are you in it?

I am starting this study with the belief that libraries are valuable and have the potential to change lives for the better.  I am also of the belief that trying to improve the lives and outcomes for prisoners is important.  The vast majority of prisoners will re-join our communities.  Any measures we can take to improve their employment opportunities, their sense of empathy and belonging and their views of themselves and their potential are valuable steps in assisting them.

I want to study this topic because I believe that libraries represent freedom: freedom of choice, freedom to share ideas and knowledge, freedom to take the ideas and stories of others into our own consciousness and allow us to reposition our impression of ourselves.  I am interested in this representation of freedom in a place where the removal of freedom is a primary goal of the environment. 

 I am also starting with the assumption that the libraries provided to prisoners may be inadequate in providing their potential benefits due to funding, physical access, staffing and institutional support issues.

What’s known and written about this area and how would you want to improve, challenge etc. that material?

There are publications on how prisoners respond to the books they read, how literacy effects crime rates and recidivism, the history of libraries in prisons, award winning prison libraries throughout the world and bibliotherapy to create change in lives.  What I have failed to find is the prisoners’ view of the libraries that serve them.  We know they value books and reading, but what do they think of the places that can provide them with these items and services?  How do they use them?  Are they permitted to use them as they would like? Do the collections provide them with the reading they want and/or need for recreation, learning and legal advice? Are they comfortable places that optimise their use? Do prisoners find them intimidating or inviting?  Do prisoners feel they can exercise their freedom to choose the ideas that they wish to expose themselves to, or are there restricted opportunities to read as desired?  Do prisoners recognise the value of their libraries, or are there factors that inhibit this recognition?  Are the libraries able to be a representation of freedom in an otherwise restricted environment?

How are you thinking of approaching it?

I would like to do the following:

Learn about the libraries:
·       Gain access to the prison libraries to study their physical presence in the prisons.
·       Study any rules regarding access to the libraries
·       Study the collections to judge their coverage, omissions, currency etc within three categories of reading: recreational, educational, legal
·       Look for any restrictions/censorship of materials available
·       Study collection development, funding.

Learn about the prisoners’ views and uses of the libraries: (lots of ethical issues to consider)
·       Borrowing records?
·       Interviews?
·       Observation?
·       Written responses?

What are you aiming for?

I am aiming for an understanding of how prisoners use, view and value their libraries and an estimation of how well their libraries cater to their needs.  I am also hoping to discover and represent the views of a population that have not been heard before.

The questions came from the convenor.  Since writing this, I have been over it with my supervisors and can see many of its weaknesses. I have been working on finding data to back up the assumptions that I have made in the summary.

I am feeling a little nervous about the session, but it is a wonderful opportunity to pick the brains of some really clever and experienced people.