I am a Texan, so the concept of bootstrapping is a way of life. Recently, I have been using it to describe the type of ethnography I am doing at my library. The very thorough Andrew Asher, ERIAL Lead Research Anthropologist, and Susan Miller, the Resident Anthropologist, ERIAL Chicago Libraries, describe in “So You Want to Do Anthropology in Your Library or A Practical Guide to Ethnographic Research in Academic Libraries?” a sample One-Year Timeline.
However, our library is considering the purchase of a discovery tool(DT) this summer, and we really wanted to include a small-scale ethnographic study in the process. So, what do you do? You pull up your boots, and get to work! Even if you don’t have a year!
The team worked under very tight time constraints: the research instrument was approved on April 5, 2011, the interviews were scheduled from April 18-28, transcription and coding took place from May 2-13, and the final report was submitted to the Discovery Tools Working Group on May 18.
So that is basically, two weeks for interviews, and two weeks for transcription and coding! And, less than a week for the actual writing. Whew! But, I have to say, I think it was a great effort. All done in six weeks! We kind of lost one week, because I was gone from April 11-15th for the Texas Library Association conference. It was time well spent! Andrew Asher was there, and the Common Craft folks, and I saw Aaron Schmidt’s talk on user experience. Andrew’s insight into coding transcriptions was especially useful!
Our four person project team was able to do interviews with three faculty members, four members of a nondepartmental academic program, one postdoc, and five researchers. An additional person helped with transcription needs. I think four was the perfect number–I could not have done this with only two, and more than four would have gotten cumbersome in the coding process.
Yesterday, the main day of writing was a blast! At one point, there were three of us working real-time in GoogleDocs, with one of us out of state. We were able to use the chat function in Googledocs to ask questions, and clarify. Amazing! And fun! Ok, maybe I am a rare breed that thinks it is fun to work to deadline, but I was a school newspaper editor long ago, so it must be in my blood.
Throughout the whole process we kept the interview schedule in GoogleDocs, and then used Dropbox to keep the mp3’s while we were working on them. This cloud access assured easy access to project materials for all of the project members. At the final step, for the coded transcripts, and the final paper, I created a workspace in our university coursework system, so that it would be more secure, and longer lasting.
Now, there were a few things that I would do differently:
Important learning lessons from the DT study:
1) A good thing to capture would have been age/years of teaching/research. We will always ask this in future studies.
2) In a study we did last summer, we interviewed the subject bibliographer for biology, which provided some useful insight into the study. For the DT study, an informal meeting with the subject bibliographer was held, but it was not recorded. Once again, this yielded some interesting insights. It is highly recommended to include subject bibliographers in your study to inform the study.
3) On the DT study we did not specifically ask any question about what/how faculty taught or observed student research. It might be interesting to do this–to ask what professors see students doing in their research, what questions students have asked to clarify research assignments, and what the faculty member teaches the student about the research process.
4) Timing. Because we did the DT study so late in the semester, it was almost impossible to include students. Summer will be almost the same way. We will think of innovative ways that we could capture undergraduate students in the summer study. There are postdocs, and graduate students around luckily! I had just done some usability testing for our new website, so we were able to pull in some of that data into this study.
5) More time lets you roll in more techniques. It would have been great to do sessions capturing the users with screen capture software, or do a design project where users could design the perfect user interface for discovery.
But, all in all, the takeaway is: never let time constraints steer you away from incorporating user research in your decision making process! And we now have thirteen voices, in a four page report to guide our way.