ALISE Research Grant 2010 Application

Dr. Daniel R. Roland and Dr. Don A. Wicks
Center for the Study of Information and Religion
School of Library and Information Science
Kent State University

Title: Researching the researchers: The information behavior of interdisciplinary researchers in an online collaborative research community.

Abstract: The Center for the Study of Information and Religion (CSIR) at the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS), Kent State University (KSU) proposes to study an online collaborative research community. CSIR was established in August 2009 to develop a multi-disciplinary community of scholars and religious leaders interested in collaborative research of the many facets of information and religion. Initial expressions of interest have been received from scholars in the fields of history, philosophy, religious studies, and communication studies. It is anticipated that scholars from other fields such as sociology and political science will participate and denominational researchers have also expressed an interest. The formation of an interdisciplinary research community affords a unique opportunity to study the information behavior of a diverse group of scholars in order to collaboratively establish research agendas, conduct research projects and present research findings. The proposal calls for the use of Web 2.0 technology in order to leverage limited resources for optimum results in the facilitation and analysis of research projects which are in keeping with the historic and current educational mission of the LIS community.
The need for the research
The Center for the Study of Information and Religion at the School of Library and Information Science, Kent State University is unique to the LIS field and creates a niche in the larger academic community. The CSIR was established to take advantage of the expertise afforded by having two full-time faculty members who are also ordained clergy members and who conduct their research in the area of information and religion. This unique situation affords a significant opportunity for pioneering research in LIS and also to demonstrate the significant role that LIS can play in facilitating interdisciplinary collaborative research.
While religion is a focus of extensive research by academic disciplines other than its own, e.g., sociology, political science, psychology, communications, history, etc., religion has received scarce attention from the LIS field. A review of the LIS literature reveals a low number of research projects in the area of religion and several of these are quite dated (Lancour, 1944, Huseman 1970, Porcella 1973, Tanner 1992, Wicks 1999, and Roland 2008).
The most recent and relevant LIS research in this area focused on the information behavior of clergy members and was conducted by Dr. Don Wicks, the Director of CSIR. Dr. Daniel Roland, Researcher for the CSIR, conducted his dissertation research on the information behavior of clergy engaged in the sermon preparation task. Roland and Wicks have presented and published on their collaborative work to develop a model for qualitative research that utilizes the strengths while guarding against the dangers of insider status of the researcher.
The establishment of CSIR has generated interest across the academic community at Kent State University and the religious community in northeast Ohio. An open house event is scheduled for December 4, 2009 to which faculty members, clergy members, denominational leaders, and others from the region are invited to attend. The invitation includes a request to submit potential research questions in the area of information and religion that attendees consider intriguing and worth pursuing. Round-table discussions of these submissions will be featured during the open-house event. The current proposal articulates a plan to facilitate and sustain these discussions after the open-house event through the creation of an online collaborative research community. The goal is that by creating a virtual meeting place and information clearinghouse, that members will engage in an ongoing conversation and self-organize collaborative research efforts related to information and religion.
Since such a community does not currently exist, the proposal requests funding to create the technological framework necessary for hosting such an online community, as well as financial support for an in-person conference. CSIR seeks to use its web site,, as a scholarly networking environment and to recruit a diverse group of scholars, clergy members, denominational researchers, etc., to become research fellows of the CSIR community. The web site will feature components of social networking technology such as member pages, discussion forums, blogs, chat, groups, RSS feeds, and more. The ability to capture and analyze the uses of the different communication features to use information in different ways, and the connections made between different researchers for what purposes, will provide extensive data sets for the research project.
Available literature on the study of interdisciplinary and collaborative research teams appears to be limited to cases of collaboration between practitioners and theoreticians within the same field or is not recent enough to consider the potential of online collaboration (Galinsky, et al, 1993, Mauthner and Doucet, 2008). Pitts-Catsouphes (2005) provided the most helpful research in the literature in her report on the creation of a virtual research and teaching community presented below in the Project Description.
Haythornthwaite (2006) studied three interdisciplinary and distributed teams of researchers in order to find the learning exchanges necessary to sustain interdisciplinary and collaborative research. While the context and methodology of the Haythornthwaite study differed significantly from the proposal for the current research project, her findings provide a baseline framework for analysis. Nine types of learning relations were documented with the exchange of fact, process, and method knowledge being the more frequent. Instances of joint research and idea generation occurred less frequently. The goal for the CSIR effort is to facilitate frequent instances of collaborative research. This research is part of the mission of the School of Library & Information Science and directly supports the education of doctoral students in our field.
The focus of the research project is the information behavior of the various members of the online community of researchers. The research project will be informed by Selden (2001) who found that senior social scientists engage in informal, socially oriented, information seeking behavior while junior social scientists with less social capital are more formal in their information seeking behavior. The proposed research project will seek to measure the quality and quantity of interactions between doctoral students and senior researchers within an online collaborative research community.
Stoan (1991) found a strong correlation between the number of contacts a researcher has with other scholars and his/her publishing efficiency. The proposed research project will measure the information behavior of CSIR research fellows differentiated between those with student, instructor, or assistant professor status and those with associate or full professor status. The research project will also measure publishing activity of CSIR research fellows before and after joining the CSIR community.
Project objectives:
The research proposal consists of two primary objectives. The first objective is to create the technology infrastructure for an online collaborative research community. This will be accomplished by incorporating Drupal, a leading, open-source content management system (CMS) platform, into the CSIR website in order to manage and facilitate the many different facets of a collaborative research community.
The second objective is to address the following research question: What is the nature of the information behavior of researchers operating within an online collaborative research community?
Project Description
The Sloan Work and Family Research Network ( is a helpful model for demonstrating the vision for CSIR and will serve as a guide for implementation. The SWFRN was created in 1997 to facilitate access to information, to support cross-disciplinary, collaborative activities, and to disseminate information. The SWFRN website features a number of components “to support a virtual community that functions as an invisible college of scholars who have opportunities to become familiar with and also contribute to one another’s work” (Pitt-Catsouphes, 2005, p. 97). The CSIR web site will share many of these components, but with additional features that capitalize on the progress in social networking technology.
The SWFRN invites individuals interested in work and family research to become affiliates. After six years of operation, the SWFRN has 850 affiliates from around the world. Affiliates receive a research newsletter published three times per year and may be listed in a directory of teaching faculty “that encourages academics to consult with one another about the development of courses with work-family content” (Pitt-Catsouphes, p. 102).
The CSIR web site will encourage visitors to create free membership accounts, but will function like a social networking site in that members will have pages and may upload a photo, share contact information, research interests, create a blog, post links to their publications, and more. Membership privileges will be differentiated among researchers, research informants, and those who merely wish to access information. Members will be able to control the nature and frequency of information that they receive from the CSIR web site including surveys, notices of additions to the web site, and so on. CSIR will have a goal of 150 new members per year.
The SWFRN web site features a searchable database of annotations and citations of selected work-family research literature, which was created “to facilitate academics’ access to the range of work-family studies conducted by investigators from different disciplines” (Pitt-Catsouphes, p. 97). The CSIR web site will include a searchable database of online sources for research data relating to information and religion ( - login as “guest” with the password “12345”). This database is currently under development and is funded by a grant from the American Theological Library Association. CSIR members will be able to post comments about and rate the various data resources as one might review and rate a book on
The SWFRN features several other components that CSIR may emulate or expand upon. However, where SWFRN seems to be more of a reference resource and an online directory of researchers, CSIR aims to be an online community of researchers who will benefit from the synergy created by online discussion forums, blogs, chat sessions, etc., and from the opportunity to network and initiate collaboration with a diverse group of scholars who share a common interest in information and religion.

Project design
Implementation of the research project will consist of three stages. The first stage is to contract with a computer programmer with expertise in the Drupal CMS platform to program the CSIR website to manage the many different facets of a collaborative research community described above. A graduate student has donated time and expertise to create the searchable database prototype. The research proposal seeks funding to hire this student to complete the programming for the online research community. It is anticipated that the first stage will take three months to complete.
The second stage will consist of advertising the CSIR research community and soliciting participation from potential researchers and religious leaders. Dr. Wicks and Dr. Roland are making presentations at the annual conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in late October 2009 and a press release will be submitted for the quarterly newsletter of the Religious Research Association. Announcements will also be posted to the JESSE listserv for the LIS community and to media sources for other academic disciplines. CSIR will host a national conference on Information and Religion in December 2010 and a call for papers will go out in the spring. SLIS – KSU will provide matching funds as seed money for the national conference.
The third stage will consist of the ongoing capture and analysis of the information behavior of members of the research community. This stage will continue indefinitely, but annual reports will be generated for purposes of analysis and publication of findings.

The use of the Drupal CMS platform will facilitate the capture and analysis of large amounts of data. Because the Drupal platform operates as an online searchable database, much of the capture and reporting can be easily automated with the proper design of data tables and fields. The data can be easily queried for any of the many different variables such as field of study, faculty rank, denominational affiliation, gender, etc., and the queries can be created and modified to focus on specific times of activity, certain keywords, and much more.
The nature of the data to be captured will include, but not be limited to:
· Demographic data of researchers including field, gender, faculty rank, research interests, school affiliation, and nationality.
· Tracking the creation of blogs, discussion forums, groups, and chat sessions by the demographics of individual community members.
· Tracking the frequency and capturing the content of blog postings, the number and content of comments made to postings, and the use of tags for identifying postings.
· Tracking the number of participants and activity levels in discussion forums, groups, and chats.
· Tracking the posting and capturing the content of announcements, links, publications, and other articles that constitute an invitation for comment and collaboration.
· Tracking the interdisciplinary links between postings, comments, discussions, and chats.
· Capturing the content of chat sessions and discussion forums.
· Tracking the usage of the database of online research resources for the study of religion.
Data will also be collected by online surveys. When researchers request a CSIR account they will be required to submit an electronic copy of their curriculum vitae and also to complete a questionnaire designed to measure the level of their interdisciplinary collaboration prior to joining CSIR. Any changes in the level of interdisciplinary collaboration will be captured through the use of an annual survey will be sent to all CSIR members every twelve months once their membership is approved. This survey will also be used to collect any changes in contact information, faculty status, and to request an updated CV.

The data will be analyzed on an annual basis using both quantitative and qualitative software. Statistics will be compiled on a wide array of variables and analyzed for patterns and trends in information behavior. Content will be coded for prominent and emerging themes, keywords, citations, and so on.
Particular items of interest for the research project include, but are not limited to:
· The nature and frequency of the individual participation of researchers within the online research community.
· The number and strength of links created and existing between members of the research community.
· The manner in which links are established between members of the research community.
· The nature of information shared between members of the research community.
· The number and nature of collaborative efforts facilitated by the presence of the online research community.


Funds are requested for two elements of the overall plan. The primary expense of the research proposal is to hire a computer programmer who is also a member in good standing of the Drupal Association ( Drupal is the recognized standard for open-source content management systems, and is used by nonprofit organizations, businesses, community portals, and educational institutions. It is anticipated this expense will be in the range of $20 per hour. Full implementation of the system will be conducted over the course of three months or thirteen weeks. The programmer will be contracted for 20 hours per week or a total of 250 hours over the implementation period. This expense of $5000 will be partially funded by SLIS resources ($2000), leaving $3000 to come from the ALISE Research Grant. Programming the CSIR web site will consist of creating databases to manage researcher information, user data, and content revisions, implementing modules for member pages and blogs, for discussion forums, groups, and chat capability. Programming will also create automated reports and database queries on the many different types of information behavior to be captured and analyzed.
In addition to automated data collection through database queries and reports, the programmer will implement routines for automated, off-site database backups to prevent data loss for researchers. Similarly, the programmer will create training resources to simplify ongoing maintenance and upgrades of the Drupal CMS as the project develops.
The Drupal CMS databases will be structured to preserve data revisions in a collaborative atmosphere. This will allow researchers to view changes created by other researchers, and will allow revisions to be withdrawn or updated. The data will also be structured in a manner as to allow selective display of information depending on user role. For example, certain contact data for researchers may be restricted from casual web surfers. Furthermore, works under review for publication will be managed in the database to allow for blind review.
The programmer will also work with CSIR researchers to implement a solution for open access to researcher data hosted on the site. This will allow researchers to submit research materials in a standard format to be examined by other researchers.
Additionally, the programmer will be responsible for creating an intuitive and standardized user interface for the site by creating a custom Drupal display theme using industry standard XHTML, PHP, and CSS.
An additional amount of $2000 from the ALISE Grant will be applied to the costs of hosting a conference on information and religion to be held by December 2010. SLIS will supply an additional $1000 for Conference costs. Thus, ALISE funding will cover $5000 of the $8000 needed for technical support and the conference, with SLIS supplying the balance. In addition, SLIS is willing to enable the work envisioned through such means as course release for research, the provision of a graduate research assistant, and computer hardware and software for data analysis. The research project will also receive support from the Information Architecture and Knowledge Management program at Kent State University through use of the usability studies laboratory for testing the CSIR web site design prior to launch.

Expected benefits and impact of the research
The research project expects to generate multiple educational benefits for the LIS field, for the various disciplines represented by participating researchers in the CSIR community, and for the academic community in general. In general, it is expected that the findings of the research project will quantify the benefits of participating in an interdisciplinary collaborative research community in terms of expanded networking opportunities, the synergistic creation of research projects including presentations and publications, and increased academic productivity in terms of research and publication.
Particularly for the LIS field, the research project affords the opportunity to capture and analyze extensive data regarding the information behavior of researchers from multiple fields as they participate from the very beginnings of an online interdisciplinary research community. This research extends traditional interest of the LIS community in the invisible college. Findings from the research project will be made available on an annual basis through electronic newsletters the CSIR web site database, and appropriate conference presentations and publications.
Long-term residual benefits from the research project should also occur. CSIR seeks to establish and grow a research agenda focused on information and religion within the LIS field. A primary means by which to accomplish this goal is through the recruitment of students for the recently expanded doctoral program in the KSU College of Communication and Information (CCI). By establishing a diverse collaborative research community that includes scholars from multiple fields, schools, colleges, and universities, CSIR also seeks to create a unique learning environment that will be attractive to potential doctoral students for its ability to facilitate networking with established scholars. A potential research project for future exploration will be the study of the effects that a research center and a collaborative research community have on the recruitment of doctoral students and their subsequent success in the academic field. The involvement of doctoral students corresponds to the Mission and Enduring Purpose of ALISE by promoting excellence in research and by enabling members to integrate research into teaching and learning.
CSIR also seeks to publish an electronic journal dedicated to the study of information and religion. The goal is to establish a widely recognized authoritative resource in the academic conversation regarding topics of information and religion. The necessary effort to create a quality journal requires a significant investment of time and labor, which can be greatly streamlined with a CMS platform. A potential benefit of this project will be the creation of a replicable model for low-cost, high quality, electronic publication of research findings.
Yet another benefit will be the development of a model for administration of research center that incorporates Web 2.0 technology in order to leverage limited staff resources for optimum research results.
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