Begin Exploring Ethnographic Research With A Primer

We’ve highlighted articles on ethnographic research a few times here at DBL for good reason. It is becoming more widely recognized as an approach that designers will use at the beginning of their research into understand the design problem. Before solutions can be developed it’s important to understand how one’s user community is experiencing the products and services and where the breakdowns are happening. Librarians are relatively new to the field of ethnographic research. We could use some help in learning more. Now some help is here is the form of a 19-page primer on ethnographic research.

I first learned about An Ethnography Primer at DesignObserver, in a post by Andrew Blauvelt, a practicing designer. He writes:

So, what is ethnography, you may ask. “Ethnography is a research method based on observing people in their natural environment rather than in a formal research setting.” …Accordingly, ethnography promises to unlock cultural perceptions and norms in a global marketplace, make communications more clear and effective, identify behaviors and impediments, and even evoke meaningful personal experiences. For some, it’s the true pathway to design innovation…ethnography can identify barriers and provide clues to where problems exist.

I’m sure that any real ethnographer will find the primer a vast oversimplification of what ethnographic research really involves, but for the rest of us it will prove an informative overview of what ethnographers do and what ethnographic research seeks to accomplish. I also find it helpful, that as the stages of the ethnographic research are reviewed (1-define the problem; 2-find the people; 3-plan an approach; 4-collect data; 5-analyze data and interpret opportunities; 6-share insights) the primer associates how an ethnographer and designer should be collaborating to benefit from the research process.

I recommend An Ethnography Primer to any librarian seeking to design a better library.

Author: StevenB

Steven Bell is currently Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University, and was previously Director of the Library at Philadelphia University. Steven is the author of two regular columns published by Library Journal, From the Bell Tower and Leading From the Library. With John Shank he is co-founder of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. Bell and Shank are also authors of the book Academic Librarianship by Design. Bell's latest book is Crucible Moments: Inspiring Library Leadership. More information is found at his website.

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