chapter  2
12 Pages

Using ethnographic methods to study library use


As a librarian, how much time do you spend in the library? Not in the offi ce, or on the enquiries desk, but actually in the areas your visitors use. Do you use your own library? The chances are that you don’t get to see much of what goes on in your library, and that much of what you know about visitor use comes from surveys, complaints or from briefl y spotting something as you walk through the building. Using information from surveys and responding to direct user feedback are both important ways of learning about what’s happening in your library, but they don’t always produce the level of data that tell you enough about usage requirements. They might tell you that your visitors want silent areas, but not necessarily where they’d like to see them; whether they work once installed; what kind of people use the areas and whether they follow the rules. The example of silent use preference is a simple one, but demonstrates that there is a need to go beyond the kind of data surveys provide. As Given (2006) so concisely puts it, quantitative research can give you information on the characteristics of usage, but it can’t tell you the ‘why’ of usage patterns. Surveys also rely on self-reporting, and respondents won’t necessarily say what they actually do (or may even hide it if they know it is against library policy).