Using Photo-Elicitation with Native American Students to Explore Perceptions of the Physical Library
Keywords:academic library, Native Americans, photo-elicitation
Objective – This research project explored Native American students’ perceptions of the Edmon Low Library at Oklahoma State University (OSU). The study sought to understand how Native American students perceived the role of the academic library in their lives, and which elements of the library students depicted and described as holding meaning for them.
Methods – Photo-elicitation, a form of visual research and a participatory research method, was the primary method chosen to explore students’ perceptions of the library. To qualify for this study, students self-identified as Native American and as frequent library users. They also had completed three or more semesters of study at OSU. Five students followed a photo prompt for taking at least fifteen pictures of the library, then participated in two separate interviews with the primary researcher. Participants also completed a demographic/questionnaire form, answered semi-structured questions, and ranked the photos they took.
Results – This study produced several emergent findings. First, students expressed uncertainty about the library’s books. Second, functional library tools such as express printers and library signage played a valuable role for facilitating student work. Third, the method of photo-elicitation was enjoyable for students and served as library discovery. Fourth, Native American resources and exhibits in the library had varied salience for students.
Conclusion – Limited research focuses on Native American students in academic libraries, particularly on how students use and experience the library. Exploring how individual students who identify as Native American perceive the university library enhanced our understanding of how libraries in Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) can best serve and support students. This study provided insight into the method of photo-elicitation interviews. This research also provided practical benefits for student participants through increased library knowledge.
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