Lost in the Labyrinthine Library: A Multi-Method Case Study Investigating Public Library User Wayfinding Behavior
Mandel, Lauren H. (Lauren Heather) (author)
Gross, Melissa (professor directing dissertation)
McDowell, Stephen D. (university representative)
McClure, Charles R. (committee member)
Mon, Lorraine M. (committee member)
School of Library and Information Studies (degree granting department)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
Wayfinding is the method by which humans orient and navigate in space, and particularly in built environments such as cities and complex buildings, including public libraries. In order to wayfind successfully in the built environment, humans need information provided by wayfinding systems and tools, for instance architectural cues, signs, and maps. This is true of all built environments, including public libraries, but the issue is all the more important in public libraries where users already enter with information needs and possibly anxiety, which may interfere with their ability to wayfind successfully. To facilitate user wayfinding, which in turn facilitates user information seeking, public library facilities need to be designed with consideration of users' wayfinding needs, along with their information-seeking and other library-specific needs. The public library facility design literature identifies the importance of understanding user wayfinding behavior and designing around it, and this dissertation is a step toward answering that call. A single-method pilot study utilized unobtrusive observation to investigate library users' initial wayfinding behavior from the two entrances of a medium-sized public library, with the data analyzed and displayed using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software (Mandel, 2010). The pilot study found certain routes to be more popular than others and suggested that such information could be gathered relatively easily and then used by the library to improve the library's wayfinding system and for marketing of library materials in high-traffic areas. However, the pilot study's largest limitation, namely the inability to ascertain any user opinions regarding their wayfinding in the library, indicated the need for a multi-method case study approach, replicating the original unobtrusive observation and adding document review of the Library's wayfinding tools such as maps and signage, intensive interviews with library users, and an expert review of findings with library staff and a library wayfinding and signage expert to gain a more comprehensive view of library user wayfinding behavior. This dissertation follows a multi-method case study research design, guided by Passini's Conceptual Framework of Wayfinding, to investigate library user wayfinding behavior from the entrance of a medium-sized public library facility. The case study design includes unobtrusive observation of library user wayfinding behavior, document review of the library's wayfinding tools, intensive interviews with library users to discuss their views on wayfinding in public libraries, and an expert review of findings with library staff and a library wayfinding and signage expert to test the validity of research findings. The researcher chose the case study design to guide this dissertation because of the ability to analyze data gathered from different methods, thereby mitigating the limitations of a single-method dissertation, strengthening the overall findings, and providing a more comprehensive view of library user wayfinding behavior than could be obtained from a single-method approach. The dissertation finds that users' wayfinding behavior is generally inconsistent over time as far as segments used to connect two given nodes, although high-traffic areas do show consistency of traffic levels. Also, of people connecting the same two nodes, some were very consistent in using the predominant segment (the one used most frequently) or other connecting segments used multiple times, but the behavior of other wayfinders was inconsistent with the majority in that they used unpopular segments to connect the two nodes. There also seems to be discrepancy between the segments and routes users are observed to utilize and those they say they utilize in navigating the entry area. Reasons for this discrepancy are unknown, but one possibility is interviewees' general difficulty in describing their entry area routes because of challenges in recalling their past behavior. Overall, it seems that users of the research site employ Passini's wayfinding styles more often than his wayfinding strategies, and two of the strategies were neither noted during unobtrusive observation nor mentioned during interviews. A possible reason for this lies in the difficulties in observing and articulating cognitive processes. Finally, although many users seem to struggle wayfinding in the library serving as research site, that does not seem to translate into recommended changes to improve this library's wayfinding system as interviewees were unlikely to indicate that any changes are needed, even after they had indicated struggling to wayfind in the facility. Ultimately, this research concludes that user wayfinding behavior in the research site is variant to some degree, but the degree to which that is so or why that is so remain unexplored. About half of observed users navigated via segments that other users also navigated, but the other half navigated via segments that they alone navigated. There does not appear to be any degree of consistency over time other than to say that user wayfinding behavior in this research site is consistently inconsistent. Additional research is necessary to compare this with user wayfinding behavior in other libraries and information organizations. Also, this research concludes that a significant amount of work remains to be done with regard to Passini's Conceptual Framework of Wayfinding (1981). This framework holds potential for explaining user wayfinding behavior, but additional research is necessary to investigate more fully the degree to which the styles and strategies are valid descriptors of how users wayfind.
observation, public libraries, spatial behavior, user studies, wayfinding
January 30, 2012.
A Dissertation submitted to the School of Library & Information Studies in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Melissa Gross, Professor Directing Dissertation; Stephen D. McDowell, University Representative; Charles R. McClure, Committee Member; Lorraine M. Mon, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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