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Observation research

To improve the library experience for your customers, you need objective evidence about how people are using your space and resources.  Observing and recording anonymous customer behaviours is a powerful way to gather this.  This course will introduce the basic methods with easy exercises to build your experience and the opportunity to design your own observation too. Use these techniques to get beyond a familiar workspace and staff assumptions to what your customers actually see and do. Suitable for both public and college libraries.

The course is structured in three units, each with a practical task at the end. Unit 1 introduces observation methods and focuses on customer visits - age and gender profile and flow through the day. In Unit 2 you will consider how to use observation to help you plan, locate and merchandise collection displays so that they perform well. Unit 3 considers physical routes and how long customers stay at the library, together with some advice on how to deal with what your observations uncover. 

On our courses for Library Managers, you will develop a personal relationship with your mentor who will support and stretch your learning every step of the way. Your mentor will help you adapt the course content to your own workplace and shape your coursework so it is relevant to your individual professional situation.

Before you make a decision about taking a particular mentored course, perhaps you know a colleague who might also be interested in taking it?  In our courses for Library Managers, we offer every learner the opportunity to pair up online with a colleague who is also taking the course and throughout the course you’ll be invited to share ideas, swap plans and keep each other motivated. 

Was £220.00

£200.00 per place

Pay by invoice or by Paypal, credit or debit card.

For managers


6 hours online plus 3 practical projects which apply your learning in the library.  Most learners take 6-8 weeks to complete, when fitted in with the demands of a library job, but you can choose a faster or slower pace to suit your circumstances.


Every learner has a personal mentor from Opening the Book. Your mentor responds to your work and will support you to get the best out of the course.

Course contents

Unit 1: Who uses your library?

Unit 1: Who uses your library?
What is observation research?
What this research can and cannot do
Why is it worth doing?
Data collected in your library
Visible and invisible customers
Which age groups use small libraries?
Which age groups use a central library?
Visitor flow by time of day
Combining age group and time of day
Is this a breach of privacy?
Preparing for Task One
Task One: Observation of age and gender
Task One: Results

Unit 2: Observing book display

Unit 2: Observing book display
Effective book displays
Observation methods
Tips for observers
Recording and collating results
Sample sizes
Keeping it simple
Observing display and merchandising
How physical factors affect choice
How can displays work harder?
Recruiting observers
Training observers
Preparing for Task Two
Task Two: Observation of a specific display before and after changes
Task Two: Results

Unit 3: Observing routes and length of visit

Unit 3: Observing routes and length of visit
Which routes do visitors take through the library?
Tracking customer routes
Destination flow
Comparisons between branches
Framing your research question
Working alone or with others
What is the average length of visit?
Planning for Task Three
Prepare for the unexpected
Uncovering bigger challenges
Observing staff procedures
Example raw observation notes
Task Three: Results
Thank you
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