I was delighted to see the post More On Learning What Users Really Want by StevenB over at the ACRLog site that continues the discussion about ethnography. Ethnography is a great concept which I also discuss in LibQual and the Librarian's Dilemma.
The only comment I have to the post is with the statement:
"to better understand our users and what they really need - as opposed to what we think they need."
The issue is not a gap between what librarians think our current customers need and what they think they need. In fact, we are pretty good about understanding our current customer's basic needs (yep, they need everything online so they can print it off!).
Instead, the gap is between what our customers think they need and what they are actually doing! This is the question that ethnography tries to answer.
The challenge is that libraries are structured to facilitate the design and support of its dominant services and current customer base. Traditional survey techniques ask our current customers about the services we currently offer and libraries allocate resources towards sustaining those current services. Such information is virtually useless in planning for future library services that support customers that will never step foot into our buildings.
Another challenge I see is that ethnograhy requires out of the box thinking. Unfortunately, there are library administrators that think out of the box alright - that is, they think about solutions that come out of a box! Like LibQual!
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