Describing a phenomenon through experience: C-EBLIP Journal Club, February 16, 2016

by Carolyn Pytlyk
Research Facilitator
University Library, University of Saskatchewan

Article:
Forster, M. (2015). Phenomenography: A methodology for information literacy research. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 1–10. doi: 10.1177/ 0961000614566481.

Way back in October at the C-EBLIP Fall Symposium, Margy MacMillan from Mount Royal University talked about phenomenography as a new methodology for conducting research on information literacy. Phenomenography is “the empirical study of the limited number of qualitatively different ways in which various phenomena in, and aspects of, the world around us are experienced” (Marton quoted in Forster, p. 1). Margy’s enthusiasm and excitement for phenomenography certainly piqued my interest. In my conversations with library researchers, research methodology is often to topic of discussion when planning research projects, applying for grants, or developing research budgets and can sometimes be a stumbling block for researchers. As such when it came my turn to convene Journal Club, I thought Forster’s review article might be a good opportunity to explore phenomenography as a viable library research methodology for library researchers.

The majority of our conversation revolved around whether phenomenography was indeed a useful new methodology for conducting library research or not. For the most part, we agreed that from the perspective of the review article, it seemed a rather complex and involved methodology. However, in the end, we couldn’t really tell without actually following a researcher through the process. This review article was a fairly good introduction to and overview of phenomenography but to really understand its complexity, we agreed that we would need to read research employing phenomenography as a methodology to see how it works and if it is really as complex as it seems at the outset.

While presenting an intriguing and possible methodological alternative, this article left us with many more questions than answers. Some questions stemming from this review article include:
1. Is this a useful methodology? Would library researchers use it?
2. Is it a methodology about how we think?
3. How do researchers unobtrusively interview people without priming the participants? Is it even possible?
4. Is it a complex methodology, or does it just seem like it?
5. What are the steps involved? How does someone actually do it?
6. Could it be appropriate for library research other than information literacy (like usability or librarians as researchers)?
7. What other methodologies are out there in other disciplines that are possible for library research?
8. What sorts of learning/training would researchers need before undertaking phenomenography?
9. Do researchers have to be experienced interviewers to use it?

Still, despite the numerous unanswered questions, we were not deterred and were in agreement that we are all keen to learn more about it and its process.

Finally, we rounded out our conversation with the value of review articles, although not all of us are keen on them. (Don’t worry; I won’t name names.). Forster’s article not only opened our eyes to phenomenography as a new methodology; it also opened our eyes to the value of review articles as providing overviews of new methodologies, both as consumers and producers of knowledge.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

One thought on “Describing a phenomenon through experience: C-EBLIP Journal Club, February 16, 2016

  1. Actually one of the best descriptions of phenomenography isn’t that new… Christine Bruce’s thesis: 7 Faces of Information Literacy has a rich description in the methods chapter. Although not focused on libraries, this article provides some great insights into applying the method http://eprints.qut.edu.au/20457/
    Ireland, Joseph, Tambyah, Mallihai M., Neofa, Zui, & Harding, Terry (2009) The tale of four researchers : trials and triumphs from the phenomenographic research specialization. In AARE 2008 International Education Conference : Changing Climates : Educatrion for Sustainable Futures, 30th November – 4th December2008, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.

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