What you'll need
The resources you have will play a role in deciding which research methods and tools you'll use.
Make sure you allow enough time for collecting and analysing data. Automated surveys may be able to give you summarised information immediately. But you'll need to allow follow-up time to combine and make sense of all the evidence you’ve gathered.
You may be able to use tools and materials, such as office supplies, that you already have or can get at little to no cost. Many online survey tools offer free accounts, but phone- or paper-based methods may incur a cost.
If you’ve asked people to take part in focus groups or interviews, they might expect a gift or to have food provided.
When you’re deciding who will take part in your research, you'll need to consider:
- whose responses would be essential (or valuable) to include
- the sort of information you’ll collect
- who you may be able to collaborate with (e.g. teachers who can have their class participate).
When you’re involving people in your research — especially young people — you must ensure it's carried out ethically.
In most formal projects, researchers get written, informed consent from their participants. But implied consent may be enough as long as your research has no potential to cause harm to any of the participants. In particular, any data you've gathered about students should be anonymous or confidential. It's important that students can’t be identified by their responses, or through reports or presentations based on the data.
Using data collected already for another purpose, such as student achievement data, also requires ethical considerations. You might need to get consent to use the data if it will be made public. If the data is only collected and used within your school, use your judgement about whether you need consent.
The right to withdraw and the right to be free from deception are also important concepts in human research ethics.
Psychology research ethics — provides information on research using human participants.
Types of research
There are 2 main types of research: quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research gives you numerical data that you can analyse further. Qualitative research tells you what people feel and think about their situation or environment. Your research can include both types of data recorded over a period of time.
Quantitative data from your ILS or school's records
Your Integrated Library System (ILS) can provide quantitative data, such as loan and borrower statistics, or information about how old or well-used sections of your library collection are. Records of library bookings and visits can give you data about how often individuals, classes or other groups use the library space.
You might also use quantitative data that's been collected already for another purpose (e.g. student achievement data). This is known as 'secondary data analysis'. Existing data can be very useful as the time-consuming collection process has already been done. Generally, the data has also been controlled for reliability and quality.
Using the full functionality of your Integrated Library System (ILS)
Surveys are also called 'questionnaires'. They’re made up of a set of written questions, sometimes with a choice of answers. Surveys can be carried out on paper or online. They can collect quantitative data (e.g. numbers) as well as qualitative data (e.g. free-text responses).
Paper surveys can work well, but collating responses and generating reports is time-consuming.
Student surveys are best administered during class time, with teacher and library staff support.
Creating a good survey
Here are some tips for creating surveys that are user-friendly and collect the right data that's easy to analyse later:
- Ask questions that are direct, brief and relate clearly to your purpose.
- Add explanatory text alongside your questions, such as examples or prompts.
- Use language — or images for young children — that the participants understand, and avoid jargon or library terms they might not know.
- Choose question types — such as check boxes and linear scales — appropriate to the type of data you need.
- Limit your use of text boxes for short answers and paragraphs. These can be useful for hearing about participants’ attitudes and opinions, but only if they are articulate and engaged enough to give thoughtful answers.
- Check and test your survey before you give it to participants — fix any errors and make sure it’s not too long.
One of these online tools could meet your needs:
- Survey Monkey — their free package allows a small number of questions and responses.
- KoBoToolbox — a suite of free and open source data collection and analysis tools including online surveys developed in partnership between the United Nations and International Rescue Committee.
- Google forms — if you have a Google account or your school uses Google Apps for Education, you'll have access to this tool for creating surveys and analysing the data you collect.
- Moodle feedback module — if your learning management system is Moodle, you could use the feedback module for surveying staff and students.
Interviews normally involve a conversation between 2 people to collect information on a particular topic. They mostly collect qualitative data.
Interviews can be scripted and very structured, or use more open-ended questions. They can be carried out in person or virtually. Responses are usually collected as notes, video- or audio-recordings (or transcripts of them).
Interviews are particularly useful for understanding cultural knowledge, personal experiences and perceptions. If related topics come up during an interview, the interviewer can use follow-up questions to explore them.
In a school library, interviews are often used to help understand specific student behaviours, such as information seeking or evaluation of web sources. They can also offer insight into how and why behaviours are different from one group or individual to another.
A focus group is a semi-structured group interview. Members of the group can meet in person or online. Focus groups are often moderated by a group leader and responses are usually collected as video- or audio-recordings.
User experience (UX)
UX research is also referred to as ethnographic research. A UX viewpoint recognises that different people experience things in different ways. UX research seeks to find out not just whether your library space, collections and services are usable or accessible, but also how users feel when accessing or using them. Although library staff try to develop spaces, collections, and services that meet users’ needs, we can't always know how successful that’s been without feedback from users themselves.
In your library setting, UX research techniques are an excellent way to find out how well the library caters for diversity in your school community. Involving learners in your research who come from a range of abilities, backgrounds or cultures can tell you whether they feel welcomed and included.
Gathering users' voices
There are many techniques you can use to gather UX information from your library users. Ned Potter, Academic Liaison Librarian at the University of York, provides practical ideas on how to capture UX stories. You can adapt these ideas for your school:
- Cognitive maps — give students 6 minutes to draw a map from memory. The map describes an experience, for example, their research process. Ask them to change their pen colour every 2 minutes so you can track their thinking from start to finish.
- Touchstone tours — ask students to take you on a tour of your library, and record what they say. Does their understanding match what you’d expected?
- Observation — take the time to observe students in your library. What are their paths? What do they see? What do they use? What do they ignore? Do these elements change across year levels, times of day, time of year?
What is UX and how can it help your organisation? — Ned Potter's slides give an overview of UX techniques and human-centered design from a library point of view.
UX in libraries ethnography workshop slides — Georgina Cronin’s slides describe and include examples of several ethnographic techniques and lists of what you’ll need for each one
Journey mapping for school library design — this technique can be useful for designing library spaces, but also to help you understand how users move through a process