Why I am excited at Paul Sturges being awarded an OBE for services to libraries in Britain and overseas

This is just a quick post to comment on the news that Paul Sturges has been awarded an OBE for services to libraries in Britain and overseas. Congratulations Mr Sturges!  

I carried out qualitative research in Malawi for my MSc dissertation and I cannot begin to describe how daunting this seemed before I set off. I would lie awake thinking “am I being overambitious,why didn’t I pick something easier?!!”  the panic set in many times….then lo! I discovered Sturges and Chimseu’s (1996) Qualitative Research in Information Studies: A Malawian Study. Education for Information 14 (2), pp. 117-127.  A paper written about a small-scale qualitative study that they carried out in Monkey Bay (completely by coincidence it was undertaken in the town right next to the rural village I was carrying out my research in) that told me my project WAS achievable and positively encouraged my approach.
The authors had observed that the quantitative approach dominated postgraduate research in information studies and that the qualitative approach, revealing the whys and hows, was lacking. They suggested that:

“it may tend to seem too (..) time-consuming an exercise for the more practical concerns of the majority of those interested in information studies. Thus the qualitative approach is probably more saleable to PhD students who have more time, and more need to show an impressive rationale for their methodological choices”

So the pair decided to undertake a MSc sized qualitative research project in Malawi

“with a subsidiary aim of testing the proposition that while qualitative research is not absolutely simple, and does place considerable demands on the researcher, it can produce valuable results in a way that is particularly swift and direct. Furthermore, it was intended to show that this could be done even in conditions that present inbuilt difficulties arising from cultural, linguistic, political and economic conditions”

which they duly did and found that

 “with good preparation, willingness to improvise, a determination to listen to what people say, and think about it carefully, then a rapid qualitative study can not only be effective, but much more rewarding than sitting waiting for responses to a postal questionnaire to arrive. Having tested a qualitative approach under difficult conditions, and found that it can indeed provide valuable research results, the authors feel able to offer to students and colleagues a wholehearted endorsement based on experience ”

….and a few minutes after discovering this paper I had a team of cheerleaders in my head going “You can do it!! in fact you HAVE to do it!!”  and I very successfully did so . Sturges and Chimseu were right and I thank them for giving me the confidence to do it. In moments of panic I thought of this paper. This paper was all the more important to me as qualitative research on international librarianship, especially in MSc sized projects is thin on the ground so I welcomed all of the guidance I could get my little mits on!

This is award is really great news in a time when libraries, particularly public libraries are being scrutinised and challenged in the press and in parliament. I confess I do not know very much about all of this OBE business but it does suggest to me that someone important, somewhere thinks libraries and access to information is important and this is something we can really use to prove our worth – more needs to be made of it.

I am particularly pleased about the “overseas”  bit of the award. I am always going on to anyone who cares to listen that librarians have a massive role to play in international development and in the agendas of development organisations and that we should be banging their doors down…I hope they will take note of this recognition Sturges has received…..and seek out our expertise!

Sturges and Chimseu’s (1996) Qualitative Research in Information Studies: A Malawian Study. Education for Information 14 (2), pp. 117-127.


One response to this post.

  1. Forgot to say that this books was particularly useful in my studies also,

    Sturges, P., Neill, R. (1998) The Quiet Struggle: Information and Libraries for the People of Africa. 2nd ed. [online]. London: Mansell. Available from: http://bit.ly/dqE18n [Accessed: 8 October 2009].


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