I am a Qualitative Researcher

by Maha Kumaran
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library, University of Saskatchewan

Had I known that in my role as an academic librarian I would be required to research and publish I would have taken in-depth research methods classes in library school – famous last words?

Although I wanted to be in an academic library setting, I wasn’t sure I would end up in one given that most of my experience was in public libraries. I didn’t think of conducting research and I certainly did not consider publishing when I finished library school. But I managed to co-author and publish two peer reviewed papers – one with my best friend in library school and another with a library colleague at the public library where I started my first librarian position. The latter research project was on exploring diverse populations in Saskatchewan and whether public libraries in the province are prepared/equipped to cater to these groups. Before this went into publication I moved to the University of Saskatchewan, where for tenure-track positions publishing was a requirement. Using my first two publishing experiences, I embarked on other research projects sometimes with colleagues and other times alone. Through this learning process I realized I was very much a qualitative researcher.

The fact that I am a qualitative researcher was once again confirmed after I enrolled in a qualitative research methods class at the College of Education, University of Saskatchewan. I don’t like numbers, I like stories. I like that I can talk to participants, interview them, survey them, observe them at work, gather information most relevant and important to them, and interpret all this for rest of the world.

There are various approaches to qualitative research such as narrative, phenomenology, case study, grounded theory, biographical, historical, ethnography, and numerous variations within them; the prospect of including poetry, pictures, photos, drawings, metaphors; the ability to be flexible with interview questions; the possibility of profound investigations into a situation based on conversations with participants especially when it is an interview are all exciting and seemingly endless. And then there is data analysis. Data can be in many forms and formats. It can be categorized, divided into themes, coded, concepts identified, refined, re-categorized, and authenticated conclusions arrived at. Personally, such data analysis is much more appealing than just quantifying information.

The whole process of qualitative research is as much an art as it is science, and contrary to assumptions that it allows for subjective interpretations, it is about consistencies and deeper meanings while allowing room for authors and/or participants to state their personal biases.

I am sure that I will explore quantitative research later in the future, but for now I have confirmed that my interests are slanted towards being a qualitative researcher. I have found my niche in evidence based practice.

If you are a qualitative researcher, I would love to hear what about it excites you.

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.