Qualitative Research Mini Study: Clayton County Library

Introduction

This paper is a pilot study that investigates how Clayton County Library (Georgia) can improve its financial position through financial diversification. By seeking the views of three respondents through in-depth interviews, this paper provides a snapshot of how the main research would be like. Through its findings, this study also shows research areas that need improvement and highlights possible methodology issues that require further change.

Research Questions

  • RQ1: How can Clayton County Library System diversify its funding sources to achieve financial stability?
  • RQ2: Which alternative sources of funding can CCLS use to improve its financial sustainability?

Field Notes

First Respondent

Karen was hesitant to talk to me because she was in a hurry to pick her child from daycare. However, I convinced her that I would not take a lot of her time. She agreed to discuss the school cafeteria. However, the high number of friends and colleagues that interacted with her at the venue distracted our interview. I suggested a change of location and proposed that we go to the park. She agreed but insisted that the interview has to be brief.

When we had a private moment at the park, I started asking her questions. She answered them openly, but because she had pressing domestic issues, she gave me brief answers. I tried to press on for more information, each time she did so, but after sensing her unease, I decided to stop the interview halfway and proposed that we continue with the interview the following day. She obliged.

Second Respondent

I met Andrew as he was completing an assignment at the school library. He was happy to see me and ushered me to sit next to him. He immediately acknowledged that he had been unavailable in the last couple of days. Noticing that we were taking too much time for niceties, I proposed that we go to a more relaxed location to have the interview (I believed our interview would distract other students in the library). However, he rejected my idea and said the library was a perfect location for the interview.

Trying to avoid a replica of my encounter with Karen, I quickly obliged. I asked him about his thoughts regarding the need for financial stability in today’s public libraries. Without thinking much about the question, he underscored the need for public institutions (not only libraries) to seek alternative sources of funding and stop depending (entirely) on state and federal money. In this regard, he said, “I think it is high time, the managers of these institutions smartened up. We just came from a recession and we have huge challenges regarding our expenditure. Unfortunately, library services are becoming less important to most of us. This is why such institutions need to be innovative and seek alternative sources of funding.” Later, Andrew received a call and lost his focus. He asked for some time to rush to the ATM. I obliged.

After 15 minutes he came back to continue with the interview. “Like I said, Libraries need to seek alternative sources of funding. Personally, I would go for public-private partnerships” he added. Although I tried to stick to the semi-structured interview design, he often drifted away from the focus and gave a lot of information about his views regarding how public libraries could improve their financial performance. He further mentioned the need for charging people to use library services, for institutions to pay their employees less money, and for public libraries to undertake independent business ventures for purposes of income generation. I tried to encourage Andrew to share more insights regarding the above suggestions, but another phone call distracted him and he insisted that he had to go.

Third Respondent

Nancy is a colleague of mine. We have worked with her for almost two years and it came as no surprise that she requested to interview in her house. I “lightly” insisted that it was more comfortable for me to interview at school, or work, hoping that she would see the need to keep our interaction professional. However, she said she was “less focused” at work and school. Therefore, she felt more comfortable interviewing at her place. I accepted to do so.

Although she had only three children, Nancy was very attentive to my questions. She did not allow her children to distract her. Furthermore, she was very knowledgeable about the research topic. First, she emphasized the importance of public libraries looking for alternative sources of funds. Secondly, she highlighted the need for such institutions to collaborate with private enterprises that operate in the same business.

For example, she said libraries could benefit from the contributions of charity organizations and book publishers because such entities often donated money and books to “needy” institutions. Most of her ideas revolved around this contribution. Unlike the first two respondents, Nancy adhered to my interview structure. She was the easiest respondent to interview.

Data Collection

There are many ways of collecting data using the qualitative research method. Creswell (2012) says the main methods of collecting qualitative data are observation, interviews, focus groups, self-study, ethnography, and action research. This paper used the interview technique as the main data collection method. Boyce & Neale (2006) say this technique provides in-depth information regarding participants’ thoughts about the research questions. This way, researchers can get holistic information about their selected areas of study (Boyce & Neale, 2006). As is the nature of qualitative research, there are multiple approaches for collecting data using the interview method.

Turner (2010) says informal interviews, general interviews, and standardized open interviews are the main typologies for collecting data using the interview method. The informal interview technique lacks a structured approach for conducting interviews. As its name suggests, the interviewer and the respondent interact in an informal setting where both parties speak about a spectrum of spontaneous questions (Patton, 2002). Although my study was exploratory, the difficulty of coding data using this method made it unattractive to me. Instead, I choose to use the general interview guide approach, which also allows flexibility during the research process, but still provides a structured approach for asking the research questions (see appendix one).

Appropriate Data Analysis Strategies

The main difference in the data analysis processes of qualitative and quantitative data is that the latter analyzes numbers while the former analyzes texts. Therefore, qualitative research has more detailed data analysis processes. Although some researchers argue that there is no standard way of analyzing qualitative data, Adams, Khan, Raeside, & White (2012) say qualitative researchers could use the documentation, reflexivity, and coding techniques (among other types of data analysis methods) to analyze qualitative data. The coding technique is appropriate for this study.

Referring to its importance in qualitative research, Singh (2007) says, “Any researcher who wishes to become proficient at doing qualitative analysis must learn to code well and easily. The excellence of the research rests in large part on the excellence of the coding” (p. 27). This technique allows researchers to assign symbols, or short phrases, to emerging themes, or patterns, of analysis. Besides minimizing the probability of over-analyzing data (Williams, 2012), it also eliminates research bias.

Particularly, it was appropriate to subject the responses to an independent group of non-participating researchers because it would help to receive constructive feedback that would further help to improve the quality of findings obtained from my study (Turner, 2010).

The documentation method was also appropriate for the data analysis process. Unlike the coding technique, the documentation technique is a process that starts before the interviews. Its appropriateness to this study stems from the nature of qualitative studies. Qualitative studies often include a lot of information jotted during a field study (Turner, 2010). Often, the information obtained from such interviews could overwhelm the researcher. For example, an interview that lasts for one hour can generate up to 25 pages of information that the researcher has to analyze (Seidman, 2012). The documentation technique allows researchers to track this information.

This need explains the appropriateness of the technique in my study because it provides researchers with an opportunity to document what happened. Lastly, qualitative software is also appropriate for analyzing the data. Particularly, the NVivo technique would provide appropriate analytical tools for further data analysis (Jones, 2007).

What were the Themes and Patterns from the Results?

Before embarking on this study, my predicted themes were “increased diversification” and “alternative revenue generation.” My premise for having these suggestions was the assumption that most people understood the financial challenges experienced by public institutions (because of poor economic conditions). Therefore, I believed that most respondents would acknowledge the need for financial diversification.

Nonetheless, the main themes and patterns that emerged from this pilot study were public-private partnerships and diversification. All three participants highlighted the need to adopt a financial diversification strategy as a measure for public institutions to realize financial stability. Albeit using different terminologies, two of the respondents highlighted the need for public-private partnerships to achieve this goal. None of the respondents disputed the need for financial diversification. Since most of their responses concentrated on these two areas, my predicted themes emerged as factual predictions of the participants’ views.

The main goal of choosing the coding method was to fracture the data into easily comprehensible segments (Maxwell, 1996; Merriam, 2009). Doing so makes it easy to identify the relationship between different patterns and themes in the study (in the contextualization process). Here, it is important to understand that the contextualization process does not focus on relationships of similarity, but rather, it seeks out relationships that connect different research concepts (Janesick, 2004; Luton, 2010).

Therefore, at the end of the data analysis process, we have a coherent analysis of the research issue. To make sure the research questions align with the appropriate data analysis strategy, I chose a multidimensional approach to data analysis and collection. It includes different steps, including verification, analysis, and interpretation. The following diagram outlines their interrelation.

Alignment of Research Questions with the Data Analysis Process
Figure One: Alignment of Research Questions with the Data Analysis Process (Adapted from (Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2006).

What was the Effectiveness of the Selected Tool?

This paper already affirms the use of semi-structured interviews to collect data. This tool was effective in collecting data because it allowed the researcher and the respondents to interact in a friendly and flexible way. Moreover, it provided a middle ground during the data collection process by allowing a pre-determined structure and flexibility in the questionnaire design process (Tracy, 2012). Besides allowing the researcher to interrogate the research issue, in-depth, it also provided an opportunity to add a human dimension to impersonal data. This advantage aligns with the views of Jacob & Furgerson (2010) who say qualitative data mainly strives to expose the human side of research.

Comprehensively, most of the questions asked during this mini-study gave the predicted responses. However, the effectiveness of getting these responses were poor because of different environmental factors, associated with the data collection process. For example, the failure to interview in an appropriate setting (free from distractions) inhibited the data collection process. Similarly, issues of poor timing (during the data collection process) inhibited the same process. These areas need further improvement. Here, it is also important to understand that the above-mentioned shortcomings are not specific to the data collection tool, but the environmental factors that support its efficacy.

Conclusion

This pilot study highlights the performance of the interview technique as the main data collection method. It also highlights the coding and documentation techniques as the main data analysis tools. Evidence from this paper shows that the data collection tool was effective. However, this study also highlights the need to improve the environmental conditions associated with the data collection process. This adjustment would improve the quality of information obtained from the interviews.

References

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