The Impact of Doctoral Research in Information Science and Librarianship

Aim and Definition

The aim of this project has been to determine the impact of doctoral research in information studies and librarianship, by analysing the work carried out by Ph.D. students who received DfE awards (from what was then the Department of Education) in UK universities in the period 1981 to 1991. It was anticipated that this time-frame would allow for fairly easy access to information due to the recency of the studentships. At the same time it would allow time for those granted awards in 1991 to have completed their research, and for any publications resulting from the research to have begun to make an impact in the literature. It was also felt that, for the present purpose, the size of the sample produced by these restrictions (DfEE award-holders, 1981-1991) would be both adequate and manageable.

A key problem with a research impact study is that, however precisely it may be defined, it remains abstract and very hard to quantify. This is so despite the importance and assumed beneficial nature of doctoral research in any field, together with the very considerable achievement, for the doctoral student, of obtaining a Ph.D. and then proceeding to build a sphere of scholarly and/or professional influence.

The Craghill & Wilson study concludes "that research makes its impact through many channels, that the nature of the impact is as varied as the channels, and that, in many cases, neither the diffusion of the research not its impact leave any observable trace in the literature of the subject." Craghill & Wilson avoid the term application in their study "on the grounds that some very important types of impact, particularly those on attitudes, opinions and modes of thinking, are not applications in the simple sense of that word." The term impact, they feel, is more accurate while at the same time connoting something considerably more complex. By implication, an impact study is as complex as the impact itself.

For the purpose of this project, impact was defined in the following ways:

a) as publication of the results of the research in the scholarly literature, apart from publication of the Ph.D. thesis. The rationale for this definition is that it is assumed that publication at least draws attention to the work and that some application may ensue, whether or not the work is subsequently cited. As Craghill & Wilson demonstrated earlier, application without citation (particularly in applied fields) is not uncommon;

b) as citation of the published items, where these were in journals or other sources covered by the ISI citation indexes. This is a commonly accepted method of measuring impact and, at least, suggests that a writer has been influenced in some way by the original author;

c) as perceived benefits to the researchers (who can attribute career developments, relevance to current work, etc., as the impact of the work upon themselves), and to a lesser extent to the researchers' departments and the practice community.


Mary Dykstra Lynch and T.D. Wilson©British Library Board 1997