Qualitative research as a way to explore change in the modern world
Change is a part of our lives in many ways. We as humans and the world we live in continue to evolve in ways that we are mostly unaware of. There are also the obvious changes—some trivial, some more substantial—that give us pause. A number of years ago, the American insurance company GEICO had a series of television commercials that featured a couple of cavemen who found themselves in some uncomfortable situations as they tried to navigate our modern world. Those commercials were popular, and very funny. Five years on, GEICO has a new set of television commercials, featuring a range of characters, including a pig named Maxwell, who, strapped into a child’s car seat in an SUV, cries “Wee wee wee” all the way home. Again, very funny. It is not unrealistic to assume that, within the next few years, GEICO will reveal another set of television commercials, simply because after a while the public tires of even the funniest offerings. Libraries and information settings do not have the luxury of changing user experience strategies, changing services and changing resources every few years in order to keep a demanding public satisfied. What librarians and others do have is the ability to try and figure out what users are doing, when, where, and why. Qualitative research can provide a framework for these endeavors. The most beneficial takeaway from this book is that taking the time to learn more about qualitative research, how it has been used in other settings and how it can benefit those of us who work in library and information settings, is important. It makes sense, and it is useful. It can also be a radical approach, a postmodern way of looking at user need, assessment, and evaluation. It is a way to learn more about ourselves and how we operate in our work environments.
Finally, there seems to be a certain synergy between the use of qualitative approaches within library environments and realizing the elusive user experience that we hear about so often. Libraries are story- and data-rich. If we listen, and watch, we can learn far more about our users than statistics alone can reveal. Along the way, it is possible that we can also learn about ourselves, and more about the human elements that define our profession.