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Leveraging Qualitative Research in the User-Centered Library

Boldly proclaiming that “the Library’s starting point will be from the perspective of users and audiences,” Trinity College Dublin Library’s strategic plan focuses on fostering user-centered approaches to service.  The plan recognizes that an evidence-based approach to understanding patrons’ needs through research is essential to effective service innovation. The library is also committed to promoting a user-centered library culture throughout the library.

In support of these strategic goals, I recently delivered a workshop on qualitative research methods for those at Trinity College Dublin Library who will be undertaking these activities under the leadership of Siobhán Dunne, Head of Teaching, Research and User Experience. The workshop’s focus on developing a diverse cohort of researchers from across the several departments –including Reader Services, Research Collections, Collection Management, and Visitor Experience–is indicative to the library’s commitment to developing a user-centered culture more broadly. The diversity in participation also enabled the participants to develop a holistic perspective on how library research can be strategically designed and implemented.

I designed the two-day workshop to teach participants about the full spectrum of issues related to qualitative research in library settings, including an overview of methods that support user-centered services, techniques for designing qualitative library research projects, and strategies for harnessing data and communicating the results. The workshop also gave participants the opportunity to delve deeply into three areas of qualitative research identified as of especial interest to the library:  observation, semi-structured interviewing, and cultural probing. Participants not only learned how to design and field research but also strategies for analyzing results.

At the heart of my pedagogical approach is an emphasis on active learning through participant engagement in every aspect of the workshop. I led participants through a series of activities such as directly observing library patrons in real time, writing love letters or break-up letters to the library, and collaboratively developing a library research project from inception to completion in groups. This pedagogical approach has been developed through my ongoing work teaching researchers (almost 200 to date!) on qualitative methods in libraries as part of Ithaka S+R’s Research Support Services program, in which we collaborate with cohorts of academic libraries to study the research activities of scholars by discipline.

I look forward to following Trinity College Dublin Library as they continue to develop their user-centered approach to services. Their focus on leveraging qualitative research as part of their user-centered approach is both exciting and timely.

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