Repository logo

Examining the relationship between conceptualisation and practice of research support by librarians in selected Zimbabwean universities

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study was carried out to examine and gain insight into the relationship between conceptualisation and practice of research support by librarians in Zimbabwean university libraries. This was mooted after realising that librarians practising research support were struggling to make a positive impact on the scholarly work of researchers. To facilitate the investigation, the study employed the Theory of Action: espoused theories and theories-in-use by Argyris and Schön (1974) as the fulcrum. Mission statements, strategic documents and policies of selected libraries were examined as conveyors of espoused theories to gain understanding of how research support was conceptualised. Services and facilities offered to researchers were examined to establish theories-in-use of librarians practising research support. Interviews and questionnaires were used to gather data about research support services. A constant comparison approach was used in analysing mission documents and interview scripts using the ATLAS.ti 8.0 software. The comparative analysis allowed for the development of subcategories and broad themes which facilitated the development of statements of claims for both conceptualisation and practice in each of the bounded cases. Meta-claims were developed from iterative cross-case comparison of findings from individual libraries investigated. Findings and conclusions showed that libraries conceptualised and espoused an information role in support of researchers which emphasised traditional services such as resource provision and training. Research support was practised using the Resources, Liaison and Shared Service models where services and facilities such as literature search, e-resources training, and institutional repositories were dominant. Practice of research support was conducted within a collaborative and technologically driven environment. Librarians reported ambiguity in the roles which they should play in the transitional research environment. Comparative analysis between conceptualisation and practice of research support meta-claims revealed several congruent and incongruent aspects which helped to explain why librarians were not being effective in support of researchers. It was discovered that librarians encountered several unusual experiences ranging from low attendance in training to antiquated policies. It was further established that librarians dealt with these unfamiliar experiences in practice using the Single Loop Learning strategy which emphasised the technical operating environment under which research support was being practised without necessarily questioning the goals, values and policies that inform the practice of research support. Contribution of this study to practice includes encouraging librarians to be reflective practitioners who should be sensitive to their operating environments in order to swiftly respond to new trends.


Doctor of Philosophy. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2018.