The current issue of Weave – Journal of Library User Experience has a great article about the state of ethnography in libraries including some really useful thoughts on why there aren’t, but probably should be, more library ethnographers. You should definitely go and read it. And as it is free and open access this is really easy to do.
The ethnographic approach that Lanclos and Asher are advocating goes beyond the User Experience focus (UX) and they stress the importance of long-term, open-ended research with a comparative perspective to develop an understanding of the ‘full context of the subject’s lives’.
“We are arguing, therefore, for ethnography as praxis, as a transformative practice emerging from particular theoretical perspectives that value emergent insights over simply identification and fixing problems. Providing a space for ethnography in libraries has profound implications for the nature of libraries, for definitions of work and practice, for imagining the connections that libraries have within their larger contexts, for holistic considerations of student and faculty experiences, actions, and priorities. Examples of this approach to ethnography outside of academic or activist anthropology can be found in the practices of the community of anthropologists organizing themselves within EPIC (Ethnography Praxis in Industry Conference)”
This reference to the EPIC community* made me think that there might be value in anthropologists working in non-industry (and perhaps non-academia) or simply anyone doing ethnography as praxis coming together.
And so I wonder about the feasibility of proposing a ‘Ethnography Praxis in Public Organisations, Data and Spaces Conference’. Who would this conference bring together and could it support the development of comparative perspectives (and maybe even comparing of data)?
I suppose it could be anyone doing ethnography in museums, libraries, hospitals, or working with any public archive, collection or organisation. But this leaves me with many questions:
- What have I left out in terms of thinking about who could be involved?
- Is there even a big enough group of people doing this work?
- Will any of them be interested in such an event?
- Have I imagined that such a community exists?
- Who would be interested in sponsoring such a conference?
- And perhaps most importantly how can a cool acronym actually be developed from all this?
As usual I end up with more questions than answers but then that is what this blog is for.
I welcome any thoughts on this idea and whether it would be of interest to people working as ethnographers.
“Ethnographish”: The State of the Ethnography in Libraries by Donna Lanclos and Andrew D. Asher. Weave. Journal of Library User Experience, Volume 1, Issue 5, 2016
*Another similar example is the Sociologist outside academia group – a subgroup in the British Sociological Assocation.