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Leslie Thomson, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the winner of the 2015 ALISE Methodology Paper Competition, sponsored by ProQuest, and recipient of the $500 honorarium. Her award-winning paper, Surveying and Situating the Guided Tour in Library and Information Science, explains the qualitative research technique of the guided tour and the methodological implications for the field of library and information science.

Leslie took some time to talk to us and shares why she chose this topic for her Methodology Paper submission, what she has discovered so far, and what she plans to do next.

"I love qualitative research, but it can definitely be time-consuming and stressful. I'm really intrigued by researching in a way that will get at different information than simply conducting an interview or demonstrating during a session of observation. My Master’s advisor, Jenna Hartel, introduced me to the 'guided tour technique,' and I focused my paper on it because it is such a unique approach to research. I also found that a fair number of researchers in the information science field were applying some version of a 'guided tour' in their own work, but few were truly explicit about it or reflective about what it added to their studies—and these studies were producing rich findings.

"For my own interest, and hopefully as the start of some preparation for my dissertation proposal, I took the opportunity to write about what guided tours are--an in situ observation-interview hybrid, with a participant showing a researcher around a meaningful space--how they have been used in the information science field, and how to carry them out successfully.

"The purpose of conducting guided tours, for those who may be unfamiliar with the technique, is to observe the ways in which participants engage with objects and the experiences that hold personal significance; explore feelings and thoughts around these objects and experiences; and capture conversation, comments, facial expressions, and embodied responses during a tour. For the best results, it’s important to begin with a clear idea of what the tour is to achieve and remain focused on each participant’s voice and story. This experience draws in the researcher and produces authentic, real-time responses from the participant to provide valuable data to the research.

"My plans are to next put a bit more cohesion to the paper and disseminate it formally. I think it would be especially great for more practicing librarians to employ the 'guided tour technique' as a way to conduct user studies in their institutions, and for any researcher to consider it a valuable addition to their toolkit of methods. The technique levels the researcher-participant power dynamic in way that could provide a librarian with a first-hand account of their users’ approach to their spaces, services, or collections. This knowledge can then be applied to influence and enhance library patrons’ experiences in the future.

"I’m thrilled by the valuable outcomes that can be gained by using the technique and I'm also thinking of the potential to vary it a bit, so that it can be used even when a researcher can't be co-located with participants. There is still much more to explore in how the ‘guided tour technique’ can help librarians and others."

20 Apr 2015

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