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Research Spotlight

Participant-driven photo-elicitation for library spaces

The intent of my current research is to explore user perspectives on wayfinding in the OISE Library at the University of Toronto. Questions guiding my research include: How do users navigate the library? How do they find items and locations in the library? Where do they succeed? And most importantly, where do they encounter barriers? I completed the pilot phase of the project with six participants in January 2015 and I will expand the study to include 20 new participants in September 2015.

Reflecting on library spaces
Reflecting on library spaces

I am using participant-driven photo-elicitation (PDPE) to better understand user experiences in our library space. I ask my participants to walk through the library and complete three specific tasks that they might carry out in the library, such as locating books. They are asked to photographically document their efforts with a tablet computer provided to them. Immediately following their tasks, I interview the participants to discuss their photos and unpack their experiences. The photographs have provided an excellent stimulus for discussion and are well-suited to reflecting on particular physical spaces.

The project output will include user-focused recommendations for library signage and space redevelopment. It will also explore PDPE as a method for studying library spaces. There is a growing body of literature that applies such visual research methods to library contexts. Based on my research to date, I think PDPE will continue to grow as an effective method for meaningfully engaging information users and generating deep descriptions of day-to-day library experiences.

For other examples of library and information science research using visual research methods to examine library spaces, check out one or more of the following items:

Duke, L. M., & Asher, A. D. (2012). College libraries and student culture: What we now know. Chicago: American Library Association.

Foster, N. F., & Gibbons, S. (2007). Studying students: the Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Haberl, V., & Wortman, B. (2012). Getting the picture: Interviews and photo elicitation at Edmonton Public Library. LIBRES: Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal, 22(2), 1–20.

Lin, Y. C., & Chiu, M. H. (2012). A Study of College Students’ Preference of Servicescape in Academic Libraries. Journal of Educational Media & Library Sciences, 49(4), 609–636.

Jenaya Webb is a Public Services Librarian at the OISE Library, University of Toronto. Her research interests include user experience in library spaces, both physical and virtual.

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