Pitfalls and Challenges in International and Comparative LIS Research: proposal for an IFLA satellite meeting

Pitfalls and Challenges in International and Comparative LIS Research: proposal for an IFLA satellite meeting

Today, 24 August 2019, a meeting of the Standing Committee of IFLA’s Section for Library Theory and Research (LTR) discussed a proposal I had submitted. It reads as follows:

The proposal

“While working on my recently completed monograph on international and comparative librarianship , which has a substantial part dealing with research method, I collected, analysed and evaluated many hundreds of publications reporting international and comparative research in our field. Some results of an earlier phase of this research was reported in Journal of Documentation (Lor 2014). I found that, while some excellent work has been done, a great deal of the research is theoretically, conceptually and methodologically naive.

“The thought occurred to me that the Library Theory and Research Section could play a role in improving international research in LIS. In fact, given that we are part of an international organization, and that our section “concerns itself with the continuing development of library and information science through theoretical and applied research in all aspects of the discipline”, it could be seen as squarely within our remit.

“I suggest that LTR organizes an event aimed at improving the quality of international and comparative LIS research, emphasizing how to do such research, and targeting post-graduate students, post-doc and other researchers, faculty supervising graduate research, editors of LIS journals, and the like. The emphasis would be on how to do good research, covering topics such as:

  • Theory in international and comparative research: why is theory important, and where do we look for useful and appropriate theory? There is a huge amount of theory out there in other disciplines which we have not exploited enough.
  • Metatheory and research paradigms: what are they? Why should we pay attention to them? How they can help us surface our assumptions, enabling us to focus our research more clearly when researching internationally
  • Methodology for international and comparative research: choices between quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods approaches
  • Is there a comparative method? Some aspects peculiar to comparative research design and research strategy.
  • Nuts and bolts of researching internationally: any social science/information science research methods can be applied in international and comparative librarianship, but the researcher needs to be aware of the potential impact of national, linguistic and cultural differences – which of course enrich our field enormously.

“I have in mind something more than a standard LTR session with a number of papers and some limited time for discussion. I suggest that we think of an off-site meeting or a pre-conference of a full day or possibly one-and-a-half days, depending on the proposals received and the location. It will be unashamedly about “how to do it good”. Possible components:

  • A few invited lectures on major themes such as phases of research and research decisions
  • A few invited lectures by experts from outside of LIS, e.g. a political scientist, a comparative educationalist, a cultural anthropologist, a development sociologist
  • Critical dissections of some published research
  • Reports by researchers engaged in international and comparative research, volunteering to share with us their challenges, solutions, rationales
  • A research clinic for students seeking advice on what they are trying to do
  • A session for journal editors/reviewers on evaluating international and comparative research”


The proposal elicited many useful comments and suggestions, and it was decided that a group be constituted to pursue this idea with a view to organizing a satellite meeting at the August 2020 IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Dublin, Ireland. A good number of members volunteered to participate in the planning process, and we are trying to arrange an informal meeting of the group in the coming week.



About Peter Lor

Peter Johan Lor is a Netherlands-born South African librarian and academic. In retirement he continues to pursue scholarly interests as a research fellow in the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
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