Introducing an International Cooperative Research Method
Employed in Cross-Country Studies in Information & Library Science

Yan Quan Liu
Assistant Professor
School of Communication, Information and Library Science
Southern Connecticut State University
New Haven, Connecticut, USA
E-mail: liu@SouthernCT.edu

Abstract:

Two studies conducted during 2000-2001 compared how information resources were shared through electronic devices between libraries in the US and China. The two studies, presented at the ASIS 2000 Annual conference and the 12th NIT International Conference respectively, were the results of collaborative efforts between US and Chinese library researchers. A newly developed International Cooperative Research Method was employed in both studies. The new research method comprises a combination of five tactical components: Expert Collaboration, Participant Survey, Purposive Comparison, Global Perspective and Remote Scene. Through presenting the results of these cross-country studies, this paper discusses the merits and issues of employing this new cooperative research method.

Background

A group of Chinese and Chinese American scholars conducted two similar studies in 2000 and 2001 to investigate similarities and differences of how information resources were shared through electronic devices between libraries in the US and China. The first study [1], which was the winner of the Digital Library and Information Science and Technology paper competition sponsored by the American Society for Information Science (ASIS) and was presented at the ASIS 2000 Annual Conference in Chicago, USA, focused on the current practice of developing a national digital library infrastructure, the patterns and approaches used in organizing such projects, the framework and technologies employed in launching and managing the projects, and the national information countermeasures that could be used to further develop the digital library projects in the US and China. The study discovered that the creation and development of electronic resource sharing consortia, especially at the national level, entailed two major issues: information policy and use of technology.

Issues pertaining to information policy included cooperation and collaboration between information service providers, collection development, intellectual property protection, management and administration of digital library projects, and public information services. Issues relating to information technology included the use of UNICODE, metadata, interface standards (e.g., Z39.50) and others.

The study found the following similar issues facing both countries:

The second study [2] also explored these issues but focused on two electronic resource consortia: the US Digital Asia Library (DAL) [3] and the Tsinghua Library's Electronic Resource Collection (TLERC) [4] program in China.

The US DAL project, funded by the US Department of Education in 1999, was a result of collaborative efforts by the Asian libraries of three universities in the Midwest US. Tsinghua Resources Collection program was a specifically designed sharing device for collecting selected web resources. It was part of the Navigation Databases of Academic Main Subjects Project in Tsinghua Digital Library system, which initiated its services formally in 1995 and included resources from within its own communities as well as those available online from libraries or information providers across the country.

The second study compared two individual digital library projects; both were university-based cooperative projects sharing information resources in academia. The focus was on the collaborative efforts exerted in electronic resource sharing projects, the framework and technologies employed in launching and managing the projects, and the methodologies used in organizing, sharing and maintaining online resources.

The study introduced new models for organizing and providing access to high-quality Asian resources on the Internet with a view to sharing online resources through digital libraries to academic communities. Examples of similarities between those two consortia included the operational structure, resource management infrastructure and the collaborative efforts to accomplish the task of sharing electronic resources. Similar problems between the two consortia were noted, such as multi-language display, browsing capabilities, and user need and user group support.

There were a number of coordinates between those two electronic information resource consortia in the US and China, which prompted this investigation. Yet quite a few challenges and issues arose that made it difficult for the investigation to proceed, and therefore, had to be addressed first. Cross-country research, for example, requires similar terminology and languages among participating researchers to enable communication. A common understanding of different philosophical concepts and cultural/political backgrounds should be in place so that the researchers can share ideas. Distance may also inject bias into qualitative research, cause economic problems where cost effectiveness is concerned, and have limits on timelines that result in insufficient interview time.

Development of an International Cooperative Research Method

The research method employed in the above-mentioned studies, called an International Cooperative Research Method, was newly developed for cross-country comparative studies in library and information science (LIS). The idea of the International Cooperative Research Method originated from this author's past research experiences, together with insights gained from research findings outside of library science.

A comparison of the development of national information infrastructures and library directors' use of national library statistical data between the US and China [5, 6, 7 and 8] revealed that the support for and collaborative efforts from researchers in the two countries were extremely important for conducting such studies.

This International Cooperative Research Method is similar to Overseas Scientific Research [a< href="#1">9], a method developed by Japan's Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, which was extensively discussed for the purpose of promoting international cooperative research and international scientific exchange in the field of industrial technology. Its primary aim is to allow the intellectual exchange and cooperation of researchers with different cultural backgrounds and experiences. In other words, it promotes the free exchange and cooperation among researchers across national boundaries, and thus is deemed indispensable.

Description of the Method

Although the author has used this research method in his earlier studies, it has been further developed to include five tactical components: expert collaboration, participant survey, purposive comparison, global perspective and remote scene.

  1. Expert Collaboration refers to the extent to which experts from different countries and institutions work together cooperatively on specific issues or topics for a predicated theme. This was the most important key element in the comparative studies of the two electronic resource sharing consortia in the US and China. "Case Studies on Electronic Information Resources Sharing in The US and China," for example, was a study comparing the US DAL and the Chinese TLERC. It was conducted in an extensive collaborative environment by two authors, one in charge of the DAL in the US and the other familiar with his own university's digital library in China. The discussions, writings and final revisions of the article were mainly carried out by correspondences via Internet.

    "Digital Library Infrastructure" was a study conducted through the collaborative efforts of two Chinese American researchers, one an expert in library network technology and the other specialized in national information policy. Both authors had substantial experiences in the study of US and Chinese librarianship. That study also benefited from the contributions of a number of scholars in China, including committee members of the national digital library program at the National Library of China and China's Ministry of Culture. Their contributions included introductions to the processes and designations of their projects, demonstrations of their digital library devices, participation in discussion of technology and policy issues, and their experiences in building their electronic information resource consortia.

  2. Participant Survey refers to the way in which researchers in the team contribute resources. It is extremely important to what extent foreign partners can contribute research resources on the issues under investigation. In the two studies, exhaustive surveys on selective Web sites and detailed analysis of the data on the Internet in both Chinese and English languages were employed. The surveys involved numerous email correspondences. And the discussions between the Chinese and Chinese American scholars were led by experts who focused on each important segment, such as information policy, information technologies and information resources sharing issues. All participants expressed a strong willingness to listen and share experiences; and all assumed responsibility for their part of the designed tasks.

  3. Purposive Comparison refers to the process through which different practices are recognized in light of different cultural/economic/politic backgrounds. Those practices are compared to see if what benefit in one context might benefit in another, allowing researchers to compare effects.

  4. Global Perspective refers to the nature of a study that is globally orientated. Researchers' perspectives must not be confined to their own country's cultural and/or political preferences and inclination. A cross-country study should engage foreign researchers to ensure global perspectives.

  5. Remote Scene refers to the selection of unique expertise or resources from a remote location. If a cross-country study is unable to recruit counterparts from the country/countries under investigation, researchers could purposively make use of local expertise or resources contributed by local experters to complete the study. The primary concerns of using a remote scene is the cost of cross-country studies, which may need large-scale facilities and equipment that are too costly for one single nation to cope with. As an alternative, a remote scene can help meet what researchers need without adding too much cost. Chinese scholars, for example, contributed a great deal to the research findings in "Digital Library Infrastructure," as international travel was beyond the means of the researchers.

Conclusions

The literature shows an inadequate exploration of research methodologies specifically dedicated to international comparative or cross-country studies in library and information science, although there are studies in library science conducted through cooperative efforts. It is this author's wish to further develop the International Cooperative Research Method. Hereby fellow LIS scholars are cordially invited to comment on the following augments regarding the International Cooperative Research Method:

  1. The International Cooperative Research Method serves mainly for cross-country studies for it lays emphasis on cooperative effort. Nevertheless, it is also beneficial to an international comparative research. Therefore, it might be called an international comparative research method as well.

  2. Cooperative research and comparative research complement each other. Cooperative research emphasizes collaborative efforts, and therefore needs to form special paths or strategies that allow contributors to work collaboratively towards the common goal. Comparative research analyzes and summarizes the facts and/or instances with a combination of research methods such as factor analysis, program evaluation and system analysis to output or outline similarities and differences of the compared objects.

  3. Cooperative efforts require researchers in the group to participate on an equal footing. Participants should endeavor to overcome political, geographical, technical, and language obstacles in order to be in unison with their counterparts.

References

1. Liu, Yan Quan, and Jin Zhang. (2000). "Digital Library Infrastructure - An Overview of Sharing Information Resources at the National Level." Winner of the Digital Library and Information Science and Technology paper competition sponsored by the American Society for Information Science (ASIS) and presented at the ASIS 2000 Annual conference in Chicago, USA, August 28-30, 2000.

2. Liu, Yan Quan, and Xiaohui Zheng. (2001). "Case studies on electronic information resources sharing in the US and China." Presented at the Poster Session of The 12th International Conference on New Information Technology in Beijing, China, May 28-30, 2001.

3. Digital Asia Library. [Web document]. Available URL: http://www.library.wisc.edu:2784/projects/DAL/ 

4. Tsinghua Library's Electronic Resources Collection program. [Web document]. Available URL: http://www.lib.tsinghua.edu.cn/NEW/database.html

5. Liu, Yan Quan. (2001). "The use of statistics in the managerial process by public library directors in China and the US -- a cross-country survey." Library Management, 22(4).

6. Liu, Yan Quan. (1997). "National public library statistics and management: A comparison between the United States and People's Republic of China." Library Management, 18(4), 189-195. (Published on the Internet on May 5, 1997).

7. Ma, Yan, Steven Miller and Yan-Quan Liu. (1997). "Cataloging nonprint resources in the United States and China: A comparative study of organization and access for selected electronic and audiovisual resources." International Cataloging and Bibliographic Control, 26(2), 46-49.

8. Liu, Yan Quan. (1996). "The impact of national policy on developing information infrastructure, nationwide issues in P.R. China and the U.S." Winner of LIBRI Best Student Paper Award 1996. Libri 4, 175-183.

9. Overseas Scientific Research. [Web document]. Available URL: http://wwwwp.mext.go.jp/eky1991/index-18.html


Copyright 2002 Yan Quan Liu.
Submitted to CLIEJ on 25 May 2002.