Ethnographic Methods are Becoming More Popular in LIS Research


  • Diana K. Wakimoto



ethnography, research methods


A Review of:
Khoo, M., Rozaklis, L., & Hall, C. (2012). A survey of the use of ethnographic methods in the study of libraries and library users. Library & Information Science Research, 34(2), 82-91. doi: 10.1016/j.lisr.2011.07.010

Objective – To determine the number of ethnographic studies of libraries and library users, where these studies are published, how researchers define ethnography, and which methods are used by the researchers.

Design – Literature survey.

Setting – The researchers are located at Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America.

Subjects – 81 ethnographic studies of libraries and library users.

Methods – The researchers conducted a literature survey, starting with a pilot study of selected library and information science (LIS) journals, to find ethnographic studies and to determine key terms in research using ethnographic methods. The researchers used these terms in the main study to identify more LIS research using ethnographic methods. The same journals used in the pilot study were then searched online as part of the main study, along with three LIS databases (LISA, LISTA, LLIS). The researchers also searched the open web in order to capture grey literature in the LIS field. All literature found, including those sources found through secondary citations, was screened for inclusion in coding. Studies with non-LIS settings were excluded as were studies that utilized non-ethnographic methods. The screened studies were coded to determine categories of methods used.

Main Results – The researchers found 81 articles, reports, and conference presentations that used ethnographic methods, which they compiled into a bibliography. This is an order of magnitude larger than that found by previous literature surveys. Of these studies, 51.9% were published after 2005. The majority (64.2%) of the studies were published in journals. Many studies did not provide clear or detailed definitions of ethnography and the definitions that were provided varied widely. The researchers identified themes which had been used to support ethnographic methods as a research methodology. These included using ethnographic methods to gain richer insight into the subjects’ experiences, to collect authentic data on the subjects’ experiences, and to allow flexibility in the methods chosen. They also included the use of multiple data collection methods to enable data triangulation. The five main method categories found in the literature were: observation, interviews, fieldwork, focus groups, and cultural probes.

Conclusion – Based on the relatively large number of ethnographic studies identified when compared to previous literature surveys and on the upward trend of publication of ethnographic research over the past five years, the authors noted that their overview study (and resultant compilation of literature from disparate sources) was important and time-saving for researchers who use or are beginning to use ethnography as a research methodology.


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How to Cite

Wakimoto, D. K. (2013). Ethnographic Methods are Becoming More Popular in LIS Research. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 8(1), 96–98.



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