Considering ‘What Might Be’: Reflections on a Qualitative Study of Academic Search


  • Stephanie Krueger



global networked academic environment, academic search, screenshots, visual ethnography, trace ethnography


Objective — To critically describe and evaluate an exploratory research project conducted by the author from 2012-2016. The project examined the academic search patterns of six scientists in four geographical locations who were observed using several qualitative methods, including visual ethnographic techniques.
Methods — This reflexive discussion, in case study form, provides insight into decision making about techniques researchers can use to observe people’s interactions within networked environments. It also provides a glimpse into the real-world service design process at a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) library.
Results — Touching only briefly on theory, the article highlights how visual ethnographic techniques are useful, as an alternative to log or trace data, for observing interactions of individuals within the global networked academic environment (GNAE). Screenshots taken by research participants for this project were rich data sources and provided ‘snapshots’ of how scientists in the study conducted academic search in real-world settings.
Conclusions — While findings from the original research project cannot be used to make theoretical generalizations because of the small, non-random study cohort, the study — perhaps paradoxically — enabled the creation of popular services for early career researchers in a real-world setting. This paradox raises provocative questions about goal-setting in library and information science (LIS) research and ties between theory and practice.

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