vol. 15 no. 4, December, 2010
Participation is in vogue. Participatory research methods and collaborative grant writing, fuelled by the engine of social media tools have made the technique of collaboration accessible to people with mutual goals. Many grants now favour proposals by multiple institutions, and this conference acknowledges the growing interest in participatory research by making 'studies on participatory information and communication environments, including social media, participatory archives and digital libraries, and new information design practices' one of the conference themes.
The success of participatory methods in social science research has yet to be determined. Evidence from field projects, where collaborators are working towards a unified goal, often in the area of civil society, show most promise, while results regarding collaborative projects of a more theoretical nature, are scarce. Educators in higher education in the field of library and information science often include a team project as one of the course assignments. Assigning team projects is motivated by the recognition that once students graduate and become practitioners, many of the projects they will have to conduct in their work environment will be collaborative in nature. But while both educators and students recognize the importance of team project, the execution is often less than smooth. Many educators in library and information science, among them this researcher, have witnessed students' reluctance to work on team projects. Some explanations provided by students for this lack of enthusiasm for team projects include dissatisfaction with contribution or performance of other team members, differences in study habits and research styles and difficulties in meeting with team members.
This paper presents the results of an experiment in using participatory research methods in a classroom among ten students taking an advanced master's level course in library and information science. The project goals were motivated by the course content, an advanced course in research using official government documents The project methods were motivated by a desire to identify effective ways to engage students in forms of social scholarship that are not only effective but that the results they achieve are greater than those achieved by individuals researchers over the same time-span. Another goal was to generate excitement and stimulate engagement by students, creating a model that students are likely to continue beyond the classroom. At the heart of many social science teaching and research courses, the classroom emphasis, notwithstanding the specific course, is on the gathering and interpretation of evidence, and this was also a guiding principle of this project.
The next section will contextualize social scholarship and attempt to identify a theoretical framework to support its implementation in graduate coursework. Following that is the case study that put into practice some of the notions of social scholarship in the area of research into government information sources. The case study describes a project by a group of ten students who engaged in a collaborative research project to gather and interpret evidence from official government sources published around from around 1930 to 1980 regarding the policies and actions of the late American senator, Edward Kennedy and the Democratic Party at the time. The story is still being written and true to the spirit of multi-player games, multi-player researchers write their own ending to the story, which is constantly changing and evolving.
The term participatory, frequently used to describe collaborative research projects, can be confusing to social science researchers as it traditionally refers to participation research, 'Social research in which the persons being studied are also fully involved in the research design and analysis' (ERIC 1989). While participation is a key element of collaborative research, the term social scholarship offers fewer ambiguities. Social scholarship can mean many things, from opening your work to soft peer review, to publishing in open access journals, to collaborative research by a large group of people. Research in social scholarship practices for library and information science educators and practitioners is meagre. The little scholarly research that exists is based on blog postings and other forms of non-traditional research (Greenhow 2009; Fontichiaro 2009). Researchers have already commented on the lack of modelling by educators on best practices for integrating collaborative research projects into higher education (Greenhow 2009). Examples of collaborative research projects are often limited to the use of wikis or bookmarking but do not extend to graduate level research projects, although the importance of implementing social research in ways that can transform higher education in terms of pedagogy and faculty-student relationships has been acknowledged (Greenhow 2009). Greenhow, Robelia and Hughes (2009) provide the most comprehensive description of the nature and benefits of social scholarship and identify as one of its goal the transformation of the practices of traditional print-based research.
Two emerging theories of scholarship and research in digital environments are suggested here as providing a theoretical justification for the need to social scholarship. The first is critical information studies (Vaidhyanathan 2006) and the second is digital methods (Rogers 2009).
The view of social scholarship as a means of transformation between traditional print-based research to Internet research environments, relates to ideas articulated by Vaidhyanathan in Critical information studies: a bibliographic manifesto. Critical information studies is defined as an area that 'interrogates the structures, functions, habits, norms, and practices that guide global flows of information and cultural elements' (Vaidhyanathan 2006). In the manifesto, Vaidhyanathan provides an example of the power of collaborative research to affect change through an example of the actions of a group of Swarthmore students with regard to exposing misconduct regarding voting machines (Vaidhyanathan 2006). The approach is interdisciplinary in nature and looks to commercial, technical and scientific environments to inform the acts of gathering and interpretation of evidence.
Richard Rogers, like Siva Vaidhyanathan, is a new media and cultural studies scholar, working at the University of Amsterdam. Rogers's focus is on Web-enabled research opportunities. In digital methods (Rogers 2009) Rogers demonstrates that the division between physical and virtual research environments is not longer relevant in terms of the methods employed. The Internet is now embedded in society, making both the physical and the virtual converge under the umbrella of digital methods allow us to conduct research from a Web perspective.
While social scholarship faces many hurdles, among them reluctant participants, ambiguities regarding ownership and copyright and the need to have research recognized in traditional channels of promotion and tenure, these methods can make a significant contribution to the area of library and information science in general, or more narrowly, as demonstrated here, to the area of government publication. Participatory research methods hold promise for projects that are rooted in civil society and are defined by goals and objectives that promote social causes.
On May 21, 2008, U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Senator Kennedy is known, among other things, for being a great orator, remembered most recently for his endorsement speech of Barack Obama (Kennedy 1980). Long an icon for Americans, the late senator Kennedy was also a supporter of libraries, freedom of information and scholarship, and thus near and dear many library professionals in the United States.
I was in upstate New York when the news of Senator Kennedy's illness was made public, listening to National Public Radio's broadcasts of some of Senator Kennedy's finest speeches. It was the 1980 speech at the Democratic National Convention that caught my attention (Kennedy 1980).
The 1980s were the beginning of the shift of many government publications to an online environment and I thought that a careful examination of this speech, in a context of a government information course, would provide a good teaching opportunity for students, exposing them to sources available both in print and online (Cheverie and Dugan 1992).
The summer of 2008, a few months short of the November presidential election, was a time of increased interest in American politics, particularly among college students (Wyer 2009). Everyone seemed to be paying attention to and taking an interest in the candidates' speeches and, as someone who teaches a course in government information sources, I am always looking for real-life situations that can be used in the classroom.
Students in the Fall 2008 class were given the task of substantiating some of the claims made by Senator Kennedy in his speech. This was not a straightforward, fact-checking assignment but one that required much more interpretation. Students were asked to work in groups and locate government documents that support (or contradict) some of the claims that Senator Kennedy made in his speech. For example, he states in the speech that the Democratic Party ended excessive regulation in the airline and road transport industries: can students find government documents that support this claim? He describes the workplace as unsafe: are there statistics from the 1970s about workplace safety and accidents that support this claim?
The idea was simple, its execution exhausting, the lessons learned invaluable for students, and the project itself indicative of the problematic nature of teaching and learning about government documents in the digital age.
Those of us who teach government documents in library and information science programmes and schools are well aware of the difficulties in teaching this course, difficulties that have been expressed and discussed in various blogs, listservs and scholarly articles (Free Government Information 2008; Swindells 2008; Rabina 2008). These challenges include the inability of traditional textbook publishing to keep up with the rapid changes in government publications, the obstacles in accessing older print sources as many depository libraries send their collections to remote storage, the growth of the scope of government information sources into areas of e-government, local government, international information sources and information policy, to mention only a few.
This assignment, comprising 30% of students' final grades, could not tackle all these issues and, instead, set out to achieve more modest goals: how to assemble evidence by locating and identifying the variety of government documents, both in print and online, which could substantiate their selected claims; interpreting evidence by learning how to analyse and extract relevant information contained within the documents; and reflecting upon and describing the search process and methods used to identify and locate the most suitable government documents available. A secondary objective of this project was to encourage students to work in partnership on a research project requiring collaborative tools and group participation.
It is not possible, within the scope of this narrative, to provide a detailed account of all the finding aids, sources, search processes and methodologies used by the students in this project. Overall, students used seventy government sources to substantiate eleven claims made in Senator Kennedy's speech and sifted through countless others, resulting in a joint research project whose length exceeded forty pages. The samples below provide a limited snapshot of the work involved in a project like this and highlight the knowledge needed to use primary and secondary sources. One student summed up the lessons learned from this project nicely when she said that,
although searching the Internet can be (at times) a faster way of finding information, looking through the bound volumes of government literature dating back to the 1930s gave us a real sense and appreciation of the insurmountable amount of work that our elected officials, as well as government employees, go through in order to carry on the legacy established by America's Founding Fathers.
The following section includes selected samples of the excerpts from Senator Kennedy's speech verified by students along with the government information sources that were used to validate the claims and the methodology used to locate the sources. Each example is provided in summary format and highlights the non-linear aspect of work with government information sources. The actual student searches were quite long and detailed, but are summarized here for readers' convenience without compromising the valuable insight to the breadcrumbs followed by researchers working with government documents.
Excerpt One: 'The 1980 Republican convention was awash with crocodile tears for our economic distress, but it is by their long record and not their recent words that you shall know them.' (Kennedy 1980: para. 23)
Excerpt Two: 'We must not permit the Republicans to seize and run on the slogans of prosperity. We heard the orators at their convention all trying to talk like Democrats'.
'The Grand Old Party thinks it has found a great new trick, but 40 years ago an earlier generation of Republicans attempted the same trick. And Franklin Roosevelt himself replied, ‘Most Republican leaders have bitterly fought and blocked the forward surge of average men and women in their pursuit of happiness. Let us not be deluded that overnight those leaders have suddenly become the friends of average men and women'.
'…And the same Republicans who are invoking Franklin Roosevelt have nominated a man who said in 1976, and these are his exact words, ‘Fascism was really the basis of the New Deal.' And that nominee whose name is Ronald Reagan has no right to quote Franklin Delano Roosevelt'. (Kennedy 1980: para. 20, 21 and 28)
Excerpt Three: 'The task of leadership in 1980 is not to parade scapegoats or to seek refuge in reaction, but to match our power to the possibilities of progress. While others talked of free enterprise, it was the Democratic Party that acted and we ended excessive regulation in the airline and trucking industry, and we restored competition to the marketplace. And I take some satisfaction that this deregulation legislation that I sponsored and passed in the Congress of the United States' (Kennedy 1980: para. 32).
Excerpt Four: 'We can be proud that our Party stands for a fair housing law to unlock the doors of discrimination once and for all. The American house will be divided against itself so long as there is prejudice against any American buying or renting a home' (Kennedy 1980: para. 48).
Excerpt Five: 'And we can be proud that our Party stands plainly and publicly and persistently for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Women hold their rightful place at our convention, and women must have their rightful place in the Constitution of the United States. On this issue we will not yield; we will not equivocate; we will not rationalize, explain, or excuse. We will stand for E.R.A. and for the recognition at long last that our nation was made up of founding mothers as well as founding fathers' (Kennedy 1980: paras. 49-50).
Excerpt Six: 'I have listened to Kenny Dubois, a glassblower in Charleston, West Virginia, who has ten children to support but has lost his job after 35 years, just three years short of qualifying for his pension.
I have listened to the Trachta family who farm in Iowa and who wonder whether they can pass the good life and the good earth on to their children.
I have listened to the grandmother in East Oakland who no longer has a phone to call her grandchildren because she gave it up to pay the rent on her small apartment.
I have listened to young workers out of work, to students without the tuition for college, and to families without the chance to own a home.
I have seen the closed factories and the stalled assembly lines of Anderson, Indiana and South Gate, California, and I have seen too many, far too many idle men and women desperate to work' (Kennedy 1980: par. 57-59 and 61).
One of the dominant themes of Senator Kennedy's speech is the state of the economy. For instance, he claims: 'The 1980 Republican convention was awash with crocodile tears for our economic distress, but it is by their long record and not their recent words that you shall know them'. Students' first impulse was to try to obtain statistical figures that supported the statement. In the open stacks at a New York city depository library they began looking through The public papers of the Presidents and right above these stacks, the Cumulative Indexes to the public papers of the Presidents of the United States. Their method for documenting that portion of the senator's speech was finding evidence regarding economic distress in America country through the speeches, presentations and events of the two Republican presidents, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford, who were in office before the Democrat Jimmy Carter: in other words, straight from the horse's mouth. Students began by looking through the indexes for President Nixon's papers and found substantial material under the subject terms of economy, inflation and employment or unemployment status. They discovered, for example, that in September 1973, President Nixon addressed Congress regarding national legislative goals, and got a glimpse of how the country had been struggling with inflation, a fuel crisis and an unemployment rate that had been high since 1970. In the opening paragraphs of his speech, he stated:
Our country faces many pressing problems that must be solved with dispatch. Americans want and deserve decisive action to fight rising prices ... action to ensure that we will have enough heat for our homes, enough power for our factories, and enough fuel for our transportation.
…The fight against inflation must move ahead on many fronts. Even as we strive to hold the line of Federal spending, we must also take a number of additional actions to strengthen the economy and curb rising prices. (United States Office of the Federal Register 1969-1974: 761, 765)
Students decided to follow the Nixon administration further and found that in 1974 the situation had not improved, as indicated by the President's remarks to Congress during the signing of the Economic Report in February of that year:
At the beginning of 1974 the three problems which have dominated economic policy for many years – inflation, unemployment, and the balance of payments–have been joined by a fourth–the energy problem ... The present oil situation means that we are paying much higher prices for imported oil than formerly……add uncertainties to the economic picture of the year. (United States Office of the Federal Register 1969-1974: 107)
The Ford administration was not spared the economic difficulties that America so consistently endured through Nixon's presidency. In January 1975, five months into his abrupt jolt into the Commander-in-Chief's position, President Ford addressed the nation and concerns of economic instability:
We have made some progress in slowing the upward spiral of inflation and getting interest rates started down, but we have suffered sudden and serious setbacks in sales and unemployment...we must not lose sight of the very real and deadly dangers of rising prices and declining domestic energy supplies. (United States Office of the Federal Register 1974-1977: 31)
Originally the students began searching the library stacks that house the presidential papers to document the second excerpt: Senator Kennedy's long passage about how the Republicans in 1980 had been congratulating themselves on following the principles of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Democratic president credited for introducing extensive social programs into the American government system. Roosevelt's presidential papers were not with the depository government publication but at a different location because he had them privately published, by three commercial publishing houses, two decades before The public papers of the Presidents were begun in 1957 under the auspices of the Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration.
To comprehend what might have been Roosevelt's worldview as he formulated and fostered the New Deal to which Senator Kennedy so proudly heralded as a legacy of the Democrats as the party that best represents the interests of the American people, students looked at the index at the back of Volume 2 of his fourteen-volume Presidential paper series and saw but two references. The first was in the preface, where President Roosevelt referred to Volume 1, which covers his years as Governor of the State of New York, and informs the reader that the New Deal had its beginnings before he took the office of president. (Roosevelt 1938). The second listing in that index was in his recollection of his first press conference, dated March 8, 1933, in which he noted:
I think it is generally conceded that the overwhelming number of newspapers in the United States, especially the larger newspapers, have been more or less critical of the New Deal policies in general and of my administration in particular. This was true in the campaign of 1932, and even more true during the campaigns of 1934 and 1936—all though all of those campaigns resulted in overwhelming popular endorsements of the aims, objectives and accomplishments of the New Deal. (Roosevelt 1938: 30).
A quick check of the online historical archives of The New York Times did turn up a critical editorial commentary on the New Deal. (Hinton 1936). It also returned some interesting, impartial reporting on New Deal legislation passed by Congress, including a 1935 account of a Arkansas Senator's radio broadcast heralding the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935 (Robinson 1935) and an extensive 1938 account of legislation action by the third and final session of the 75th Congress. (Smith 1938: 16).
Next, students looked at legislative records for those more contemporary Congressional actions to which Senator Kennedy referred in his speech. Their method for documenting the section of Senator Kennedy's speech in which he claims that he had been a sponsor and strong supporter of deregulation in both the airline and the road transport industry may have been less orthodox than would be expected in a government documents course: they searched Google for signs of correlation between the Senator and such legislation, typing in the search box: Airline deregulation Ted Kennedy. That led us to an article in Wikipedia, which gave us the name of the act along with the public law number. While Wikipedia is not considered to be an authoritative source, it did give students a starting point. The official names for both deregulation acts, the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 and the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, were available, respectively, in the 1975-1978 and 1979-1981 volumes of the Congressional Information Service four-year cumulative index. (Congressional Information Service 1975-1978and 1979-1981) From there they proceeded to the legislative abstracts for 1978 and 1980 available from the Congressional Information Services 1970-1983).
Thanks to those abstracts, we were able to confirm the names of the acts, dates of approval, depository item numbers, House of Representatives/Senate reports and monthly catalog numbers. The annual abstracts also provide brief explanations of the laws, and both the airline and motor carrier acts stipulate that they were passed in order to promote healthy competition within those industries. However, students still needed a little more in the sense of the legislative history of those acts; they wanted Senate and House reports, hearings and other types of documents that would enable us to confirm Senator Kennedy's involvement in the passage of these laws. The next source approached was Statutes at Large in which public laws passed during Congressional sessions and approved by the President are compiled. At the end of the respective pages of the public laws that we were researching, they found the following legislative histories for the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, Public Law 95-504, October 24, 1978: House Reports: No. 95-1211, accompanying H.R. 12611; Senate Report no. 95-631; Congressional Records, Vol. 124 (1978); and the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (Statutes at Large 1978).
Armed with these finds, students decided to search within these documents to find the endorsement from Senator Kennedy. Their first attempt was not fruitful; after skimming through the Senate Report (found through New York Public Library and the Government Printing Office online catalogue) in print, thanks to the Serial Set. Near the end of the report where the nays and yeas by senators are listed, students were not able to find Senator Kennedy's name. (United States Senate Report 95-631: 204) Their luck changed when they went to the Congressional Record and found the following quote by Senator Schmitt:
We would be remiss if we did not remind our colleagues that it was through the efforts of the Senator from Massachusetts (Mr. Kennedy) that a great deal of the momentum was built up for the measure we are discussing today (95th Cong. Rec. 1978: 124).
Even better, they actually found a section in the Congressional Record in which Senator Kennedy addresses President Carter (page 10,658) and gives all the reasons why competition is better than regulation for the airline industry. He goes on to explain how Senate Bill 2493 reforms the present law in four fundamental ways.(95th Cong. Rec. 1978: 124) That hearing took place on Wednesday, April 19, 1978. President Carter approved and signed that bill into law on October 24, 1978.
Finding Senator Kennedy as a sponsor of the Motor Carrier Act also proved to be a little elusive. Instead of going to the print sources, students decided to go to try a government site on the Internet and searched under the Thomas site of the Library of Congress. Once there, they went to the new features section, where we could choose 'previous Congress' as opposed to current (on main page only). Students typed in the bill number, S. 2245, and then chose the 96th Congress. It returned the right bill and resolution; however, the sponsor listed was not Edward Kennedy but Senators Howard W. Cannon and Bob Packwood. Students went back and searched by the name of the bill, Motor Carrier Act and chose the 96th Congress. This time they received three results and one of them was a bill sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy. However the bill was S. 1400 and was called the Trucking Competition and Safety Act of 1979. This bill had been introduced on June 25, 1979. Perhaps by the time it went through the various legislative steps that a bill goes through before being signed into law, its name had metamorphosed into the Motor Carrier Act.
When they were researching Democratic support of fair housing legislation and the Equal Rights Amendment students found Lexis Nexis Congressional Universe to be an excellent resource. For the fair housing law, they aimed to find proof in Congressional records that the Democratic Party had supported fair housing, and they wanted our evidence to be within the closest possible timeframe to Senator Kennedy's speech. To do this, fair housing was entered into the basic search field of the database along with the date as being between the years 1975 and 1980. A few select documents were retrieved within this timeframe. The one students found especially helpful was titled simply—the Fair Housing Act—and it was the introduction of this bill into the House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights in 1978 (U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary 1978). The bill was referred to as H.R. 3504, or the Edwards-Drinan Bill. The Democrats who authored this version of the bill were Rep. Don Edwards (CA) and Rep. Robert Drinan (MA). The text of that hearing made reference to the original fair housing bill that was passed through the Senate in 1967 (The Fair Housing Act of 1967). Students then searched for this bill in Lexis Nexis by entering 'Fair Housing Act' as a search term and selecting the Congress that was in session at that time (the 90th Congress) from the drop-down menu. The results of this search gave us the full-text of this hearing, which took place in the U.S. Senate before the Subcommittee on Housing and Urban Affairs. Senator Walter Mondale, a Democrat from Minnesota, is credited with introducing this bill (S.1358) to Congress (United States Senate Committee on Banking and Currency 1967).
When searching Lexis Nexis Congressional to prove Democratic support for the Equal Rights Amendment students tried to find hearings pertaining to the Amendment that had taken place soon before the senator's speech. Therefore, the search started with the terms Equal Rights Amendment and began with the 96th Congress, which was in session at the time of the 1980 Democratic National Convention. No documents, however, were retrieved for that Congress that showed proof of the Democratic Party's standing with the Amendment. For the next search, they decided to try the 95th Congress, which was the first full Congress before the 1980 election year. This search retrieved the Equal Rights Amendment Extension, which was proposed in a hearing to the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights in the House of Representatives (U.S. House Committee of the Judiciary, Subcommittee of Civil.. 1978). The chairman of that meeting was Representative Don Edwards, a Democrat from California striving to get the seven-year extension passed. He said 'It is no secret that I support the equal rights amendment, and that I am committed to its ratification' (United States. House Committee of the Judiciary, Subcommittee of Civil. 1978).
Senator Kennedy spoke of economic strife at the beginning of his speech and at the end he put human faces to such strife. To illustrate and visualize those dire numbers, students decided to retrieve statistical figures. They went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site and were able to get unemployment rates during the Nixon and Ford administrations and saw from the numbers and graphs how unemployment peaked to 9% in May 1975.(United States Dept. of Labor (a)). They also retrieved numbers for the Consumer Price Index (by which inflation is measured) for 1969 through 1977 and saw how the Index climbed steadily from 1973 to 1977.(United States Dept. of Labor (b)). These are illustrated in charts and tables included in the original research findings.
This journey through government documents dating from the 1930s to the 1980s gave students a good sense of what is available electronically and what is not, what are the best finding aids for locating documents, the elusive nature of congressional hearings and the subtleties of political speech. With regard to paradigmatic shifts in the teaching of government documents, the Kennedy speech provide a case study for research using mostly online tools for a time period that predates born-digital documents, as well as an example of a collaborative research project using Web 2.0 tools. The aspect of this project that was least successful was the collaborative research and more work to promote this is currently underway. The transformative potential for digital tools in classroom research has not been fully realized, but this project made some steps towards providing tools that help in sharing the cognitive burden of accomplishing tasks (Greenhow et al. 2009).
It seems most appropriate to end with the words of one student who said:
In many ways, the search had a life of its own, i.e. a search did not yield what I wanted but lead me to another place where I made another discovery. This was the case at the National Archives Website: the images were so intriguing that I looked through the relevant images and felt lucky to find one that I could incorporate into my report. .. My chief observation from this project is that it would have been faster and easier to use more print sources to research pre-1980's. Hours and hours of drilling through search engines made me realize that most of what I needed is either in the 'Invisible Web' or in the library on the shelves or in the drawers of microfilm.
The author wishes to acknowledge the contribution of the following Pratt SILS students: Alta de Lara, Antoinette Gelmont, Jessica Harris, Elizabeth Hernández, Anne Lee, Dan Mitrano and Benjy Stein
Debbie Rabina is an Assistant Professor at Pratt Institute, School of Information and Library Science. Her areas of teaching and research include scholarly communication, library and information science education, government and non-governmental organization information sources, and information policy. She can be contacted at email@example.com
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