I saw Observational Market Research in action recently at my library.
A colleague was watching a user loitering around some book shelves with a little piece of paper. The user was obviously lost. He seems unable to locate the item listed on that little piece of paper. My colleague went over to help the user. The user was re-directed and he managed to locate the book he wanted.
The confusion experienced by the user was partly the library’s fault. We have had to split the book stacks into 2 due to space constraints. We may have thought that it was common sense to head over to the other rows of book shelves (they are quite obvious being so large) at the other side of the library. But it is not common sense for the occasional users.
That is not the point of my story. This is.
Not long after this incident, directional shelf guides appeared on selected book shelves to re-direct users to the shelves at the other end of the library. They are situated at the “hotspots”, places where users will start to look around for additional signs of where the books they want are. My colleague had gathered information from his encounter with the user and had taken appropriate action.
Norris (2005) said,
Observational market research involves simply watching users or gathering and analyzing pre-existing data to ascertain what services users need or their usage preferences. One key advantage of observational market research is that usually it is a very cost-effective method of gathering information. It can be as simple as a librarian reporting how she or he sees patrons using the library.
I am sure the shelf guides were appreciated. But that’s my gut. How do we capture the impact quantitatively?
Reference: Norris, M. C. (2005). Marketing: a new way of doing business in academic libraries. Advances in Library Administration and Organization 22 [Accessed from Emerald Management Xtra on 22 Feb 2009]