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  • valarie907 10:57 pm on July 28, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: contextual inquiry,   

    Contextual Inquiry at the Library 

    “Contextual Inquiry is a form of fly-on-the-wall user research where users are observed in their own environment.”  (Clearleft, n.d.)

    Contextual inquiry is an ethnographic research method that is based on Contextual Design (Wikipedia, 2012).  Contextual Design is a user-centered design process based on theories from anthropology, psychology, and design, for commercial design teams to collect, interpret and consolidate data about users in the field to understand user’s fundamental intents, desires, and drives in order to create and prototype products and services, and iteratively test and refine those products and services (Holtzblatt & Beyer, 2013).  Contextual design was primarily used to understand work practices, and Holtzblatt & Beyer (2013) point out that the only way to understand users is to go out in the field and observe and talk with people in their natural context, their workplace.

    This concept has been adapted in the UX community to provide a methodology for gathering data about users in other contexts, including the library profession in both physical and online spaces (Eriksson, Krogh & Lykke-Olesen, 2007, Holtzblatt & Beyer, 2013, Schmidt, 2011).

    For this assignment, we had record our unbiased observations of users in a library context.  I observed the library entrance from the inside, and the library front desk area for about 20 minutes each.  My observation notes may be viewed in the previous post.

    The main take-aways from my observations at the entrance was that the bulletin board in the entry way is important since so many people glanced or stopped to look at it, making it an important feature of the library.  Also, though it was only recorded briefly, I’ve experienced problems and have observed other people having problems with the entryway mat.  It needs to be resolved once and for all since it is not easily and directly observable to the library staff to help with it when necessary.

    My observations at the front desk area demonstrated how efficient and familiar the librarian is with the patrons and knows what questions to ask when a patron is not recognized.  From the patron’s perspective, using recycled paper at the printer is a great idea, but needs to be made more obvious.  But, from the librarian’s perspective, it was easy to see how difficult it was to try to get anything done with all the interruptions, so some work space strategies to improve productivity with all the interruptions would be worth problem-solving (I’m sure it’s something that is addressed).

    Recording the library patron’s activity for this exercise forced me suspend judgment and focus exclusively on the patron’s actions.  This revealed important behavior patterns that would be helpful in future planning to improve the user experience in the library.  While I suspect a consistent methodology would be significant, this type of exercise could be valuable for all library staff to participate in to provide them with the knowledge and experience in observation to contribute to an open and flexible library environment focused on meeting both staff and patron needs.  Staff could easily be trained to record and share observations, on a prefabricated form to make it easy to fill out and share with administrators.  Sharing the observations will make the most of their efforts (Schmidt, 2011).


    Clearleft. (n.d.). Contextual inquiry. Retrieved from http://clearleft.com/does/contextual-inquiry

    Eriksson, E., Krogh, P. G., Lykke-Olesen, A. (2007). Inquiry into libraries: A design approach to children’s interactive library. Retrieved from http://www.nordes.org/opj/index.php/n13/article/view/164

    Holtzblatt, K. & Beyer, H. (2013). Contextual Design. In: Soegaard, Mads and Dam, Rikke Friis (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed.. Aarhus, Denmark: The Interaction Design Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.interaction-design.org/encyclopedia/contextual_design.html

    Schmidt, A. (2011). Getting to know your patrons: The user experience. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2011/06/opinion/aaron-schmidt/getting-to-know-your-patrons-the-user-experience/

    Wikipedia. (2012). Contextual inquiry. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contextual_inquiry


    PS…here’s a great research article that uses cooperative inquiry:

    Druin,A. (2011). Children as codesigners of new technologies: Valuing the imagination to transform what is possible. New Directions for Youth Development, 2010(128), p 35-43. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/yd.373/abstract

    • valarie907 4:23 pm on July 29, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      I just realized I forgot to add another issue with the entrance besides the mat is that noise carries up into the library, which is on the second floor, due to a large opening in the ceiling. An 8.5X11 notice is posted on one of the entryway doors, but not everyone sees it, so people often enter talking loudly or are on their phones when they come in, not realizing people upstairs can hear them. Outside of the little poster, I’m not sure what else could be done to address this problem. Any ideas?

    • Aaron Schmidt 7:07 pm on August 2, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Ooo – thanks again for the new to me article!

      Regarding the problem you mention..hmm..I don’t know. Fill in the ceiling with more floorspace??

      • valarie907 12:43 am on August 3, 2013 Permalink | Reply

        Yay! I love it when teachers are learners too! =)

        Yeah, I understand the strategy to create an open area in the entryway with a high ceiling, and keeping it open probably seemed like a great idea at the time, but it’s also a loss of floor space. Beyond signage, I’m not sure what they will do about it.

  • valarie907 10:30 pm on July 28, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: contextual inquiry, ,   

    Contextual Inquiry: Library Observation Notes 

    SCLM entryway

    SCLM entryway

    Library Museum Entrance

    • one male person leaving. greeting an incoming individual
    • incoming individual going upstairs to the library with a tote
    • two young girls leaving the library after a few minutes
    • one empty handed young boy leaving the library, door gets stuck on the mat, so the boy pushes it shut
    • young man with backpack leaves the museum via the stairs
    • older gentleman comes to fix the mat
    • young man with baby in the back pack enters and goes upstairs to the library
    • woman enters on her cell phone and sits next to me, perhaps unaware that her voice will carry upstairs through the open ceiling to the library.  Goes into entry way to talk freely/privately.
    • worker enters building goes into museum briefly and goes upstairs to the library
    • young woman with keys comes downstairs to exit the library with books
    • older couple leave the library with e-reader in hand
    • older woman enters
    • young man with back pack leaves
    • young woman with Trader Joes sling tote leaves
    • woman on the phone enters the library and goes upstairs
    • young woman with bag goes up into the library
    • empty handed man goes down the stairs to leave the library (newspaper in back pocket)
    • young man enters the library with canteen and enters bathroom
    • young woman enters with man, with phones and goes upstairs
    • man enters with dvds and goes upstairs
    • man enters, pauses to look at the notices in the entry way and proceeds into the bathroom
    • young couple walks in with backpacks, woman goes upstairs, man stops at the water fountain
    • older man comes downstairs looks at the dedication tiles and leaves the building
    • man with dvds comes down and leaves with more dvds
    • young mom and daughter enter building and go upstairs
    • man with canteen leaves the building after visiting the bathroom
    • young couple with phones leave with a book and tote.
    • man enters, stops to read the notices in the entry way and checks out the dedication tiles and goes upstairs
    • woman leaves the museum with backpack and saunters outside to fix her shoes (walking)
    • woman leaves the museum, with the other woman, takes a picture and they talk before leaving (deciding where to go next, maybe)
    • woman with dvds comes downstairs and reads the notices before leaving the building
    • older woman with small bag enters building and goes upstairs
    • older couple leave the museum, ponder for a moment and go further in the building to use the restrooms
    • man enters to refill brochures located down the hall in the entryway
    • young man with canteen enters empty handed and goes upstairs
    • young woman and girl go down stair
    • young woman with backpack leaves
    • young man without canteen leaves with plastic container
    • young man with backpack leaves with purpose
    • older couple who use the bathroom leave, man glances at notices, woman leads way out

    (front desk photo)*(I’ll have to get another one…)

    Library Museum Front Desk Area

    • young man with back pack approaches to request a computer, was asked if he used them before to which he nodded yes and was given a pass.  He went directly to the computer
    • person approached the unmanned counter (librarian could watch the front area through an open window in the back work space), teen girl approaches, librarian moves to front counter, girl asks for a computer and is given a pass.
    • young woman approaches counter and leaves an item and is told “thanks”
    • man approaches counter and waits to check out an item.  Places items and receipt in backpack and leaves.
    • young woman approaches to ask about mail drop boxes around town, librarian offers information, but cannot confirm where all PO drop boxes are around town.  Young woman says thank you and goes back to her chair.
    • librarian goes behind the window, older man approaches  window behind the counter to ask a question, librarian meets man behind counter and moves back out to answer his question about where he can find used books in town.  He goes back into the library.
    • printer begins printing, a young man approaches printer, waits a moment while papers print, then looks curiously at the papers from front to back.  Looks to the front counter to get librarians attention while she helps another patron who just arrived. Approaches counter questioning why there is other printed material on his papers to find out that the library uses recycled paper, and it is 25 cents to print on blank paper.  He walks away saying he was confused.  (note: a small orange sign is taped to the computer explaining this in front of the printer and on the side)
    • young woman approaches counter (in the middle of the previous event) to request a computer (the one I was sitting at, so I moved).  Was given a pass, sat down, then disappeared for about 6 minutes while logged in.
    • young man approaches counter to request a computer, is asked if some sort of difference in the mouse is okay, to which he replies “yes,” gets pass and goes to the computer.
    • a student helper informs librarian about finding a loose dvd on the shelf, so she investigates where it may have come from.

    *I couldn’t add my photos, so I’ll see if I can do it later.

    • kelsey.smith 4:49 pm on July 29, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      I like that the patrons can print for free on recycled paper! That would be frustrating, however, if they didn’t see the sign then printed important documents on scrap paper…but it seems that the library has appropriate signs and notifications.

      • valarie907 12:37 am on August 3, 2013 Permalink | Reply

        I liked that idea too, but the confusion on the young man’s face said it all…better signage! I got a couple of ideas for our next assignment from this one. =)

    • mikelarson 6:05 pm on August 11, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Nice job of scripting your observations. I like your writing style. Ever consider getting a book out? 🙂 -Mike

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