Library of Our Time

Librarians...should move beyond surveys of how library space is being used and should conduct structured observations and interviews with the people using the space.  It is not enough to know that the various spaces, whether physical or virtual, are busy. (Connaway and Faniel 2014 p97)

The purpose of this pilot study is to work with the University of Edinburgh Library towards an exploratory research project, looking at the relationship between library users, library spaces and resources over a number of years, by following student volunteers in their use of the library from matriculation to graduation.  This pilot project focuses on student interviews, and the exploration of potential additional visual and usage data, with a view to designing the larger study. 

The study will draw on theoretical work on organizing (Czarniawska 2008), to support a focus on organizing practices in the University Library.  Potential themes for consideration will be ‘organizing resources’, ‘organizing people’, and what it means to ‘be organized’ in relation to the Library environment.  The project will also work with the framework of challenges identified by the most recent NMC Horizon report for libraries (Johnson et al 2015).

It is anticipated that the findings of the pilot study will provide a basis for: 1) developing a longitudinal research study, with a small number of student participants and 2) scoping a larger project on research library use for which the research team will seek external funding.

Pilot Research Questions:

1. What are the key activities undertaken by students in the physical space of the University library?

2. What can students tell us about the online/digital library resources they have access to?

3. How do students organize, and work with the digital and physical resources they need for their studies?

4. If students are studying at a distance, without access to the physical library, what study spaces and library resources do they use?  What experiences, practices and resources do these students associate with the University Library?

5. What kinds of ‘user data’ are available on the use of physical and digital library materials and spaces, and what can the aggregated data tell us about the use of resources?


Connaway, L. S., and Faniel, I.M. (2014). Reordering Ranganathan: Shifting User Behaviors, Shifting Priorities. Dublin, OH: OCLC Research.

Czarniawska, B. (2008). A Theory of Organizing. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report:2015 Library Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Research areas
Digital Cultures
Research team

Dr Philippa Sheail, Lecturer in Digital Education

Ms Angela Laurins, Library Learning Services Manager


Key contact
Dr Philippa Sheail