Today’s guest post comes from ILN participant, Anne Reddacliffe.
My interest in ethnography and user experience (UX) in libraries comes from a trip I took to Eastern Europe. I visited six libraries in Russia, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. During my library tour I kept a record of my observations on how library space was being used. For example, I watched a photo shoot taking place on the steps of the Russian State Library and a skateboarder using the grounds outside the National Library of Latvia. At Russian libraries I observed library steps as meeting places. Like the Spanish Steps in Rome, people gather here to sit and talk in the sun. All around the world libraries are being used for recreation and for the aesthetic of their buildings not just for research and study. Through my observations I came to see that UX in the space outside the library is just as varied and intriguing as UX within the library.
Ethnography is the study of people, their cultures and customs while UX is the process by which we understand how users interact with a product, service or space in psychical, social and emotional ways. In order to understand UX at different libraries in Eastern Europe I used techniques from ethnography. I photographed library spaces and kept a field journal of my observations, as anthropologists do. Research in the library world is often cemented in statistics and surveys but I prefer a qualitative approach like ethnography. It encourages researchers to make observations and to have empathy with the people they study. Ethnography is a more in depth approach to studying how users are engaging with the library space.
I think ethnography is an important tool for researching UX as it allows us, as librarians, to walk in the shoes of our library users. My experience at libraries in Eastern Europe gave me the opportunity to observe and reflect on how library space is being used and how visitors appropriate the library’s space according to their physical, geographical and emotional needs. This insight and empathy was only possible through ethnography. I hope to see ethnography gain more popularity as a methodology for library research.
Have you used ethnography in your library? What did you learn?