Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship

v.8 no.3 (Winter 2007)

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What Students Do When They Study in the Library: Using Ethnographic Methods to Observe Student Behavior

Doug Suarez, Reference Librarian and Subject Specialist for Sociology and Applied Health Sciences
Brock University, St. Catharines, ON, Canada


How do we know what students are really doing in the library when they are studying? This paper reports on a study that used qualitative methods to assess what students were doing during the winter term at Brock University. The goals were to try and establish if they were engaged in their studies when using the library and to see if the library nurtured academic engagement in its study areas.


Academic libraries have always had a mandate to provide effective and efficient library services to all members of their constituency -- students, faculty, and staff. With the evolution of academic libraries into information commons, learning commons or similar configurations where libraries share and offer related academic support services with other units on campus, there is an even greater urgency to evaluate service mandates.

As the major component of an academic leave during the winter term at Brock University, I intended to explore the possibility of developing an evaluative tool for assessing library effectiveness and efficiency that could be useful to library administrators and planners, as well as library staff, in performing their daily library professional practice. The research question I had was: Are students engaged when using the library, particularly when using study spaces? I wanted to find out what behaviors students were exhibiting in an academic library when students were using study areas, and if these behaviors appeared to be learning engaged. Did students appear to be engaged while using study areas, or did they use the library as a convenient...

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