An Assessment of Cultural Competence Factors in Relation to a

An Assessment of Cultural Competence Factors in Relation to a Study Abroad Experience with
Library and Information Science Students
Tine Walczyk
[email protected]
10015 Lake Creek Pkwy, #818
Austin, TX 78729
Barbara Schultz-Jones, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
[email protected]
College of Information, Department of Library and Information Sciences
1155 Union Circle #311068
Denton, TX 76203-5017
Proposal Narrative
Many standards in librarianship originate from the United States, from either the
American Library Association (ALA) or the Library of Congress (LoC). Among these are LC
Subject Headings, LCCN, Dewey, and the emerging RDA. Each of these standards influences
collections and information retrieval at the cataloging level. This influence is pervasive and
dictates how materials are categorized and organized. These standards are routinely adopted
around the world as “best practices”.
ALA has also established criteria for librarians and paraprofessionals within the US. Are
these “the” best practices? Are western biases being instilled into librarianship? How do these
ingrained ways of operating affect western librarians in their interactions with other countries?
What biases do western librarians exhibit that cause them to be at odds with their international
community? How can building cultural competence in library schools mitigate these biases?
Statement of Problem
Increasingly, we live in a global environment; “A true international perspective is crucial
to achieving strong research results and creating understanding among cultures” (Arboleda,
2001, p. 162). Learning to approach people from different countries and cultures can only make
for better prepared librarians. Western bias must be reduced within the field of librarianship;
likewise, cultural competence at the cognitive, interpersonal, and environmental levels must be
developed (Monteil-Overall, 2009). This study provides a groundbreaking opportunity to study
these factors of cultural competence during its establishment/expansion in library and
information science (LIS) students who are engaged in a study abroad program. Comparing LIS
students before and after visiting an international library provides a dataset to start this
exploration and may possibly lead to the foundation for requiring an international experience or
courses in cultural competence in western librarianship programs.
Background and Literature Review
In the fall of 2009, a class-project study using participant observation and interviews was
conducted. In this instance, the researcher served as complete participant. An interview guide
was constructed and informal interviews were conducted. A call for interviewees was sent out
after the experience. Three participants volunteered to be interviewed. These post-experience,
consented interviews were conducted within two weeks of returning. They were transcribed and
coded, resulting in rich data.
A structured analysis was conducted of participant interviews conducted after the
international experience. Six main themes were found: acknowledged environmental factors
influencing their perceptions, situations being better than expected, situations seemingly
surprisingly not different from their accustomed norm, situations of departure for US practice,
personal and professional stereotypes, and noticeable changes within the participant as a result of
the experience. Each participant showed a degree of change in their world view as a result of the
trip. Not only did their opinions of what they thought the conditions might be like but they also
gained an adjustment to viewing their present situation in the United States.
Monteil-Overall (2009) developed a model to demonstrate how cultural competencies
could be developed in librarianship. She believed that “a primary goal in proposing a framework
of cultural competence for the LIS profession is to improve services to and increase library use
by diverse groups” (p. 190). This model (see Appendix) presented cultural competence as
deriving from three main factors: cognitive, interpersonal, and environmental. The cognitive
factors addressed how the individual thought of their own cultural and whether they felt
“connected” to it. Interpersonal factors were observed by how individuals interacted with and
responded to other cultures and cultural norms. Finally, environmental factors involved placing a
culture within its own setting in order to gain a full picture of its circumstances (Monteil-Overall,
2009). The application of this model to a study abroad experience offers the opportunity to
extend the original research.
Research Design and Methodology
In an effort to assess how an international experience designed to increase cultural
competence can mitigate western bias in librarianship, a qualitative research study is proposed.
Using qualitative methods, the researcher hopes first, to set a baseline for the cognitive,
interpersonal, and environmental cultural competencies presented in Monteil-Overall’s model
(2009); second, observe what biases arise during the experience and classify them according to
cultural competencies; and third, see whether they can be mitigated through international
exposure. Unfortunately, qualitative analysis is fraught with opportunities for researcher biases
or unintentional effects on the study. As a safe guard to these issues, multiple tools will be used.
“The use of more than one method is the best corrective against contamination ‘because each
method reveals different aspects of empirical reality’ (Denzin as quoted by Zinn, 1979, p. 217).
An extended case method will be used. As explained by Burawoy (1998), “the extended
case method applies reflexive science to ethnography in order to extract the general from the
unique, to move from the ‘micro’ to the macro’, and to connect the present to the past in
anticipation of the future, all by building on preexisting theory” (p. 5). Additionally, he explains
that reflexive science is “a model of science that embraces not detachment but engagement as the
road to knowledge” (p. 5). This method will allow the researcher to incorporate the full
experience of the intervention into the findings.
The research to be conducted is designed to resemble a qualitative pre and post test.
Immediately preceding and following the trip, participants will be “surveyed” at times
convenient to their schedules. During the experience observations will be conducted in situ.
These surveys, participant observation, and interviews will be conducted within the framework
of an extended case method. First, the participant survey will assess opinions and thoughts about
the Ukraine’s libraries by LIS master’s degree students before being exposed to them. Second,
“the goal for design of research using participant observation as a method is to develop a holistic
understanding of the phenomena under study that is objective and accurate as possible given the
limitations of the method” (DeWalt & DeWalt as quoted by Kawulich, 2005, Section 4). The
researcher will serve as an active participant in the experience and observations of other
participants will be conducted with their knowledge. This type of participant observation will
allow for real-time recording of observations and informal interviews. Third, formal interviews
will be conducted upon returning to the US to capture any changes/increase in cultural
competence that may have transpired as a result of the trip.
Approval for this study will need to be obtained at multiple levels. First, since this study
will require the participation of human subjects, IRB approval will be secured. Second,
gatekeepers for the program include faculty members responsible for the Study Abroad
experience, the Ukrainian host librarians and administrators, and potentially any in-country
guides. Third, informed consent of the individual participants will be obtained through the initial
survey process.
Participant Population and Selection
UNT’s Library and Information Science department offers a course entitled “Managing
Library Automation Projects”. This course is a three-week international field experience for
students. This year they “have been invited by the Kyiv International School in Kyiv, Ukraine to
assess the system implementation of Follett's library automation software product, Destiny. The
project involves organizing the school library, completing the migration of all bibliographic
records and patron information, adding new resources to the Destiny OPAC, and providing
training to the school librarian and teachers” (SLIS 5750, para. 25). This provides a unique
opportunity to study international experiences of US library students first-hand, as they become
intimately aware of the daily workings of an international library and its cultural setting.
A sample of at least half of the students will be selected from the class. Selection criteria
will consist of being actively working in a library and having not worked internationally
previously. All participants meeting these criteria will be given the opportunity to participate in
the study. All respondents will be required to participate in all three phases of the research.
Data Types and Collection
As a result of the research process, multiple data types will be generated. Observation
data in the form of direct observations, informal interviews, and participant journal entries will
be collected. Formal interviews will provide valuable data. All of these data types will be paired
with a priori survey data.
A survey will be distributed and collected by the faculty member (or their designate) and
not given to the researcher until after the delegation has concluded in order to avoid initial bias
of the researcher. Survey answers will be coded and used as data point 1. During each of the
three weeks in Kyiv, the researcher will record observations, conduct informal interviews, and
maintain a personal experiences journal. These data will be data point 2. Upon returning from
their trip, each participant will be interviewed and voice recorded. These interviews will be
transcribed. Coded answers will serve as data point 3. NVivo will be used to record and organize
each of the data points.
Importance and Expected Benefits of Research
Of particular interest to the researcher are identifying changes in thinking (biases) that
occur as a result of participating in international experiences. Typical demographic factors,
cultural competency factors and many themes (nodes) will be derived through the analysis. Once
the factors and themes are identified and analyzed, they will be used to look at other dependant
variables including time in the profession, previous international experiences, funding source,
and purpose of participating. Each one of these variables may shed some light on which groups
of library students would benefit most from an international experience. As a result,
recommendations for future research on integrating cultural competencies into library education
will be substantiated.
In summary, this project seeks to actualize Monteil-Overall’s Cultural Competencies
Model during a library school international experience to provide a path for increasing the
“cultural awareness within the profession to meet the needs of a growing population of diverse
library users” (2009, p. 175). The plan to meet this goal includes:
1. Survey Design and Delivery: We will use Survey Monkey ( to
develop the survey, deliver through paper and enter after the experience.
2. Survey Analysis: We will analyze the survey results using Survey Monkey’s quantitative
3. In situ Observation: Researcher will take notes and conduct informal interviews during
the experience.
4. Interview Design: We will use findings from the survey analysis to guide the
development of an interview instrument.
5. Formal Interviews: After the completion of the experience, participants will be phone
6. Interview Analysis: We will analyze the results of the interviews using a qualitative text
software package, NVivo8.
7. Report Preparation and Dissemination: We will summarize the results from the various
data sources in a report to be disseminated widely on the faculty member’s website and
through journal article and conference submissions.
Arboleda, A. (2001). The Gutenberg syndrome: An illusion of international research. Journal of
Scholarly Publishing. 155-163.
Burawoy, M. (1998). The extended case method. Sociological Theory, 16(1). 4-33.
Kawulich, B. (2005). Participant observation as a data collection method. Forum: Qualitative
Social Research, 6(2). Art. 43.
Knowlton, S. (2005). Three decades since Prejudices and Antipathies: A study of changes in the
Library of Congress subject headings. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 40(2). 123145.
Monteil-Overall, P. (2009). Cultural competence: A conceptual framework for library and
information science professionals. Library Quarterly, 79(2), 175-204.
Schultz-Jones, B. (2010). SLIS 5750: Syllabus. Retrieved from UNT Blackboard website:
Schultz-Jones, B. (2010, January). Cultural competence in international school libraries and
library education. Panel presentation at the Association for Library and Information
Science Education (ALISE) annual conference, Boston, MA.
Schultz-Jones, B. (n.d.). Courses. Retrieved from:
Zinn, M. (1979). Field research in minority communities: Ethical, methodological and political
observations by an insider. Social Problems, 27(2). 209-219.
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