Academic journal article LIBRES: Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal

Getting the Picture: Interviews and Photo Elicitation at Edmonton Public Library

Academic journal article LIBRES: Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal

Getting the Picture: Interviews and Photo Elicitation at Edmonton Public Library

Article excerpt


As part of its Library Spaces Business Plan initiative, Edmonton Public Library (EPL) conducted interviews paired with photo elicitation to explore customers' perceptions of their library spaces and to better understand how customers use those spaces. Sixteen interviews were conducted with participants at 5 branches of the EPL with participants taking photographs used during the interview. Findings revealed the comprehensive views participants' hold about the library; the library's spaces are not distinct from the collections and services offered within them.


Public libraries, library space, interviews, photo elicitation


Research focusing on the use of library space, and the needs and wants of users for that space has become more prominent in library and information science/studies (LIS) research. Libraries are vibrant community spaces that provide users with access to everything ranging from programs, to collections, to meeting spaces, necessitating further research into how library space can be optimized for them. Edmonton Public Library (EPL) conducted interviews paired with photo elicitation as part of its Business Plan initiative to better understand how customers want to use library space in the present and the future. The results gathered from the interviews along with data gathered from other Library Spaces research projects were used to make recommendations for renovations of existing spaces, and building projects at EPL.


EPL is comprised of 17 branches throughout Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and serves a population 812 2012 (Statistics Canada). EPL currently has five building projects in the planning stages or underway, two of which are entirely new branches being built to serve growing communities.

EPL's Business Plan includes a goal to "create open, safe and inspiring physical and virtual spaces" and goes on to state "we understand how customers use our spaces and do something about it" as an objective (Edmonton Public Library, 2011, p. 7, 16). To help achieve this goal EPL hired two librarian interns to "research trends and analyze how customers interact in and use our library spaces" (Edmonton Public Library, 2011, p. 16). The questions guiding this research were:

1. What are customers doing in EPL's spaces?

2. How would customers like to be using EPL's spaces?

3. What are current and future trends in library spaces and customer activities?

4. How could EPL's spaces best meet the needs of EPL's customers?

In order to address all the research questions a triangulated methodology was used and included discussions to gain feedback from staffmembers, behavioural mapping (also known as seating sweeps), community partner questionnaires, surveys, and semi-structured qualitative interviews paired with photo elicitation. This article focuses on the interviews and photo elicitation conducted with EPL customers, which were designed to build on the data gathered from surveys, staffmember feedback, and behavioural mapping. This method was chosen to gather more in depth feedback; gaining a deeper perspective into what EPL customers need and want from EPL's spaces. This method addressed research questions one, two, and four.

Literature Review

In exploring the literature, the researchers focused on studies done in libraries that used semi-structured interviews to explore issues around space. Additionally, they reviewed literature discussing the use of photo elicitation in association with interviews, focusing more on literature from other fields, particularly anthropology and sociology, due to the lack of literature in the field of LIS discussing the use of this method.

Interviews about Library Space

One of the most influential space studies done in public libraries is that by Leckie and Hopkins (2002) in which they explored use of the central libraries in Toronto and Vancouver. Among the various methods used in their research were interviews with library users in which users discussed the importance of qualities of the space such as quiet, comfort, and aesthetics in enhancing the attractiveness of the space for activities such as studying and reading. …

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