Recently, the Association of Research Libraries email discussion list had an enthusiastic discussion about guerrilla assessment techniques. These are low-cost, unconventional data collection methods that gather timely responses from library users. I thought I would share some of the favored methods from this discussion.
Graffiti walls seemed to be the most popular guerrilla method discussed in this group. Users were invited to write responses to one question on white boards or flip charts; or they were asked to write comments on sticky notes and post them to bulletin boards. Questions might be related, for example, to library space use or new furniture choices, or users might write suggestions for new resources. Pictured below is a colorful example of a graffiti wall from Clemson University’s Cooper Library posted by Peggy Tyler. Flip charts also were featured in this space use assessment conducted at University of Pittsburgh University Library System (see the FlipChart Analysis and the Flipchart Survey—Our Response presentations).
Short questionnaires to collect on-the-spot responses from users were also mentioned frequently. Some libraries placed laptops in conspicuous parts of the library to capture responses. Others took advantage of tablets, such as this project conducted at Georgia State University. Sometimes the low-tech approach worked best, featuring paper-and-pencil questionnaires or note cards for written comments.
Photographs also were used creatively to capture helpful assessment information. University of Pittsburgh University Library System staff used photographs to examine use of study space. With so many library users carrying mobile phones with cameras, there is a lot of potential for inviting users to incorporate photographs into their responses to assessment questions. In the ARL-assess discussion, Holt Zaugg at Brigham Young’s Harold B. Lee Library described a study in which student volunteers took pictures of places on campus that they thought fit a certain characteristic (e.g. too noisy, busy place to study). The staff did follow-up interviews with the student volunteers for added insight about their photographs.
Guerrilla methods may look easy, but they do require careful planning and thought. You’ll need well-crafted, focused questions. You also will need an effective promotional strategy to attract user participation. And you’ll want a well-executed schedule for collecting and inputting data so that key information is not lost. Yet these guerrilla methods are worth the challenge, because they engage both participants and staff in the assessment process. These methods are a refreshing alternative to conventional methods.