Monograph Evaluation:
Steve Varga
LIS 506

Fall 1996

Black Academic Libraries and Research Collections : An Historical Survey

Author:  Jessie Carney Smith

This monograph identifies itself accurately as an historical survey.  It is in the format of a case study.  A single group with common attributes is studied and inferences made.  It is characterized by tedious collection of detail.    A comprehensive survey was distributed and administered to the libraries of colleges identified as being historically black institutions.  It sought extensive background information as well as specific details about their collections of  black literature.  Examining the categories of empirical research (Tripodi,1983) the work may be classified, arguably, as quantitative-descriptive research.  At least it appears that that is the intention of the monograph.  It fits into some of the characteristics for the category but falls short in others.  There are many tables (44) of quantitative data and the prose is filled with quantitative information, all derived from the survey.  Yet the work does not use statistical methods to the extent one might expect of empirical research.  In addition, the substantive material in the monograph is qualitative.  Therefore it would best be classified as historical or qualitative research.  This paper will attempt to support the above observations, after gaining an overall perspective of the work.

The credentials of the author are solid.  She holds a Ph. D. from the University of Illinois and by the time the book was published in 1977 she was in mid-career having authored several journal articles and books on the topic of black literature collections.  The monograph is a consistent with Dr. Smith's previous work and interest.  She wrote as an authority on this topic with such articles as "Developing Collections of Black Literature" and "Minorities in the United States: Guide to Resources". 

The research topic was a result of a need seen by the investigator through her role as a consultant to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an accrediting agency, and as a university librarian in a predominantly black college.  It came to fruition due to a fellowship program offered by the Council of Library Resources (CLR).  This strong a connection and expertise of the topic strengthens the validity of the work but also raises some concern about objectivity even though it may be a typical situation.  It is almost certain that the author entered the research with preconceived ideas about the state of libraries in historically black institutions (that they were inadequate) and what was needed.  It also appears clear that the author had an agenda, to document and raise awareness of the needs of these libraries.  Although laudable, it is hardly objective.  To produce credible work the author had the task of distancing herself from the topic while utilizing her expertise.  Generally she accomplishes this.  She does not hide her motivation or agenda.  Yet once the purpose is established she proceeds in a methodical manner.  The language is neutral. Different perspectives, when applicable, are presented.  She does not draw firm conclusions when there are none.  For example in looking at library evaluation she questions at length the standards by which any given library should be evaluated looking at both the need for standards and the need for the recognition of unique collections and roles.  Principles are developed but conclusions are not drawn.

The monograph is well structured in that the elements expected by research methodology correspond directly with the chapters and sub-headings within the chapters.  The first chapter is the introduction.  In that chapter the purpose and scope of the study was defined.  It explains how the study was conducted identifying the instrument, its characteristics, how it was developed and administered, and processed.  Next is a background chapter which provides historical information and perspective of the black colleges.  It identifies characteristics of the various colleges based on their history and categorizes them by such attributes as whether they are public or private and their institutional offerings.  It then addresses how these attributes relate to the survey instrument.  Another chapter reviews and discusses in a thorough manner previous research.  It follows with two chapters that evaluate the survey results.  In these two chapters it becomes clear that the work is really two case studies.  The first is of the libraries themselves and the second is of their black literature collections.  These are really two distinct topics.  The first focuses on the library's role in support of the institution's academic mission.  The second focuses on a specific collection and its preservation.  The work goes on to develop an exhaustive list of recommendations and finishes with conclusions, a summary, and a discussion on further research. 

The time to publication of the monograph is important to note.  The grant for the study was made in 1968.  The survey was distributed in 1969 with collection due by April 1970.  Yet the book was not published until 1977, seven years after the data was collected.  Much happened between 1969 and 1977 in higher education.  Particularly, emerging from the decade of the civil rights movement, one would suspect significant changes in the institutions under study.  One cannot help but question the timeliness of the research and how relevant the conclusions were based on the dated data.  In her own words she acknowledged as much even stating that recommendations made may no longer apply and others may be needed.  Looking at the research yet another 20 years later,  one certainly is not viewing the research for currency now but it's currency at publication is relevant in a critique of the monograph.  Addressing major changes in footnotes is the way the investigator remedied this problem.  But how could she know all the changes?  The adequacy of this approach is suspect.

The research design intended to gather data from the population of libraries in historically black colleges.  Descriptive statistics would then be generated to gain insight about the libraries.  Eighty-nine (89) institutions were identified.  The surveys were distributed to the libraries in the 89 institutions and were returned by 64 of them (72%).  Site visits were made to 82 of the 89 institutions.  How many of the institutions not returning the survey were also not visited is not known.  The author stated that information collected by the site visits was included in the research but it is difficult to see this in the monograph because only the  group of 64 are found in the work's 44 tables.  The site visits apparently were not for the purpose of collecting data missed in the survey.  In this an issue needs to be raised about the factor of selection in the external as well as internal validity of the research design (Campbell, 1963).  The design intends to depict the identified population.  Yet 28% of the population is not represented.  Even more important, selection was determined by the institutions, i.e. whether they returned the survey or not. This is highly significant because it is introducing selection biases. Why did 28% of the institutions not respond?  The survey was highly promoted (to get the high 72% response rate).  The institutions not returning the survey may have characteristics in common associated with the why the survey were not returned.  For example (per speculation), those institutions could have been highly understaffed and had poor record keeping procedures.  Therefore without having much of the requested information available and lacking resources to put what they had together, they did not respond.  Having what information was available from these institutions may have made a great deal of difference in many of the areas explored.  Even knowing what information was not available would, in itself, be informative.  It is a serious shortcoming of the research design.

Looking more specifically at content,  the monograph is extremely thorough in the preparatory elements of research methodology.  A crude indication of this is that these elements comprise the first third of the monograph.  This includes the purpose, justification, scope, description of the instrument and of the process, historical background, and report of prior research.  The strengths of the monograph, in terms of research methodology, lie in these sections.

The preface gives the reader a clear understanding of why and how the research study came about.   Its intentions, in terms of purpose and deliverables, are well stated in the introduction chapter, though very board.  A general problem area is identified, i.e. a lack of information about the targeted population, as well as specific problems.  Its purpose precludes a hypothesis since the objectives are so wide ranging.  The scope, instrument, and process are presented in clear precise terms such that the criticisms previously rendered were easily identifiable.  There is no discussion about terminology in the introductory material.  Few definitions are given.  The book is easy to read and uses little professional jargon.  Some clarification of terminology would have been useful.  For example, when discussing enrollment, there is no indication whether it is in terms of head count or full-time equivalency.

The background material including a general historical perspective and the presentation of prior research is the outstanding part of the monograph.  Citations are found throughout the monograph but are extensive in this section.  The expertise of the research on the research topic is evident.  The information is denser than found in other sections.  It appears to be exhaustive because of the way in which it is presented and the type of prior research examined.  Any study on historically black institutions was considered relevant.  Because the author wants to show how little research had been performed, a major justification for undertaking the work, it was relevant and significant to the purpose of the study.  In being exhaustive a solid reference point is established as well.

The meat of the monograph, reporting on the results of the research, is highly disappointing.  It is extremely dry.  Much of the text is simply reporting the aggregate information compiled from each question of the survey.  There are many assertions made, most of which seem reasonable based on the survey results.  Yet there is a marked absence of analysis in moving from the survey results to the assertions.  A major reason for this is the limited use of statistics, a point to be developed later.  In reexamining  the purpose of the study  more analytical work may be expected but when one reexamines the deliverables, this does not seem so obvious.  The main thrust in the stated deliverables is to collect useful information about the libraries so that it may be utilized by interested parties.  One might claim this could be accomplished without extensive analysis of the collected data/information.  With this focus, the development of the instrument, the survey, would be of utmost importance.  One could surmise that this is where there was extensive analytical effort.  The study's other deliverables were suggestions and recommendations.  It does that also.  But from a research perspective, an unacceptable leap (of faith?) is required to move from the compiled information to the suggestions and recommendations.  The evidence is simply not developed to support them.

As indicated the data analysis is verify weak.  The statistical methods employed were rudimentary.  Twenty-seven of the 44 tables are strictly compilation of survey results (61%).  Ten provide summary information (23%).  In seven tables (16%) ratios are given.  In four tables data is matched with a model (Baumol-Marcus) in order to make a comparison against a benchmark.  The text in discussing the tables often used ratios, usually in the manner of of the last few sentences.  Little else is offered in the way of quantitative analysis.  Terms such as regression, correlation, and variability are used but they are not employed statistically.   Table 22 is a typical table found in the monograph and will be used to illustrate the failure to use adequate statistical tools.

As presented the circulation statistics in table 22 are not of much use because of the difference in the size of the student bodies each institution serves.  The author admits that per capita figures would provide a more "realistic" picture.  She goes on to say that the table does show the extent of change and that student use of library materials tended to fluctuate.  There is no further comment.  Very little is drawn from the table and what is said is not supported.  It would have been appropriate to validate the statement about fluctuation through analysis of variance (ANOVA).  The computation of the F statistic for one way analysis of variance would provide evidence.  Employing the simpler statistics of means and proportions could quantify the extent of change and reveal other relationships in the data.  With that idea, consider a revised table 22.

Enrollment figures are only available for the last year, 1968-69.  Dividing use by enrollment would provide a much more meaningful statistic from which to compare institutions.  Enrollment and number of volumes in each institution's library is presented in table 11 for 1968-69.  This data combined with the student use statistics for 1968-69 would create a table from which ratios may be established.  The original table flagged institutions as public or private but did not break them apart.  To do so would allow distinctions between the two types of schools to be revealed.

Examine table 22-A for public institutions and table 22-B for private institutions.  Two columns are added consisting of the ratios of use per student and volumes per student.  The basic measures of central tendency are computed for these two columns.  From these measures one can see that use per volume is close to a normal distribution while use per student is skewed right.  With being close to normal distributions, the Pearson r correlation statistic is presented to establish whether relationships exist between different sets of data presented in the table.

A few revelations of the revised table 22 are:

It would be possible to analyze this much further, to use additional statistics to look even closer at some of the suggestions revealed.  But the point of this exercise was to demonstrate that  just a few additional statistics would have gone a long way in substantiating many of the comments made by the author.  Hopefully that has been accomplished. Comments were apparently intuitive to author and were supposed to be also for the reader.

It should be noted that although it would have been valuable to use better statistical tools, doing so could have lead to even greater problems.  There is a total absence of variable control in the research design therefore making generalizability very difficult and dangerous.  One may be inclined to make more generalizations the more statistics are utilized.  For example in table 22, use statistics are compromised by off-shelf use which is usually not tracked.  Whether a library is in a rural or urban setting, what other libraries and schools were in the vicinity, and the institution's curriculum make substantial differences in use statistics.

As mentioned earlier, the monograph has extensive bibliographical references.  The bibliography itself comprises 10 pages.  Although much of the work was given to reporting the results of the survey it was from these bibliographic sources and the author's experience that the monograph built its credibility and presented its conclusions and recommendations.  This is the primary reason that the work should be considered qualitative research masquerading as empirical research.

Thirty-three (33) recommendations are made.  Twenty-two (22) dealt with the the libraries and eleven (11) recommendations applied to the collections of black literature in those libraries.  Many of the recommendation seem quite obvious today such as "additional space should be provided to house collections" and "increasing amounts of nonprint media should be added to supplement bound volumes."  Yet in 1969 they may have not been so obvious.  Overall it is a comprehensive set.

The conclusion summaries the findings and looks to the future.  In developing the survey it was anticipated that there would be follow-up studies.  A strong argument is made for them.  Due to the late release of the monograph the immediate need to proceed is stressed.  Although a poor case of empirical research, the monograph addressed a void that existed in the collection of data concerning the libraries in historically black institutions.  As such it represents a beginning, a foundation for further research.

References

Campbell, Donald, and Stanley, Julian. Experimental and Quasi Experimental Designs for Research. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1963.

Tripodi, T., Fellin, P., and Meyer, H.J. The Assessment of Social Research. 2nd ed. Itasca, Ill.: FE Peacock Publishing, 1983.


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Steve Varga
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Steve.Varga@cwu.edu


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