A Proposal to Study Public Library Borrowers' Experiences With
& Attitudes Toward Self-Checkout Systems

Student Showcase | SLIS | University of Alberta

Data Collection

This study will involve semi-structured interviews with 36 participants in total: 18 of which will be self-identified "self-checkout users" and 18 of which will be self-identified as "traditional users." The interviews will take place in a meeting room at the public library involved in the study; this will be a comfortable space for participants as they will be familiar with the building as public library borrowers and this familiarity will make it easier for borrowers to participate because they can, assumedly, easily get to the library.

The participants will be borrowers: patrons who actually checkout materials from the public library involved in the study. The participants will be adults over the age of majority for that province.

Participants will be selected through "purposeful sampling" to ensure that there are representatives of both the "self-checkout user" group and "traditional user" group (Leedy and Ormrod 2005, 145). When potential participants call or email the researcher, they will be asked which of the previous categories they would identify with and participants will be selected for each group until that group has enough participants. The number of participants within each of these categories (18) has been chosen in order to reach saturation within each group (Given 2004 notes). Collecting enough data to the point of saturation not only adds to the credibility of the study but lends some generalizability and transferability to the study in that the results can be applied to other public libraries of the same size that also provide their patrons with self-checkout terminals.

Undoubtedly, there are some limitations to how generalizable or transferable this study may be depending on factors which cannot be controlled such as population demographics of the city in which the public library under study is located (i.e. one city may be more entrenched in self-service options in other service sectors than another which may have limited self-service options, giving the participants less opportunity for experience with self-service in daily life).

This study will not be comparing variables like age, gender, or education-level with use or non-use of the self-checkout terminals. While this could be seen as a limitation to the transferability of this study, because of results from the Carey and McKechney (1998) study, which showed little importance between these variables and self-checkout use, these variables will not be controlled and therefore not compared in the proposed study. The only variable which will be tracked, however, is age, by asking the participants to place themselves within a pre-defined age range to ensure all participants are adults.

After obtaining permission from the site at which the data will be gathered, participants will be recruited through posters placed strategically throughout the public library from which they borrow (e.g. posters at the circulation desk, posters at the self-checkout station as well as on various signboards throughout the library stacks). Additionally, mini-flyers will be distributed through the circulation desk when borrowers checkout materials. Also, an alert regarding the study and recruitment will be printed out at the bottom of the paper receipts printed off at the end of a self-checkout transaction.

The research method will be through semi-structured interviews that will consist of up to 8 questions in order to keep the interviews to an ideal length of between 20-45 minutes. In addition to the interviewee and the researcher, there will be a research assistant present who will be taking additional field notes. The interviews will be recorded with a mini-disc recorder and external microphone then transferred onto micro cassette for transcription. This method was chosen because the object of this research is to collect borrowers' experiences and perceptions of self-checkout terminals in public libraries; the semi-structured interview allows for an element of structure without compromising the interviewee's freedom to elaborate on topics of interest to him/her (Bryman 2004, 321). This method also allows for spontaneous questions to be asked that come out of the interviewee's comments. One of the limitations of this method is that people may be less willing to bring up topics that they do not feel comfortable sharing with a stranger; however, it is hoped that with the ethics standard of confidentiality and the signed consent form along with the neutral space used for the interview that this will not be a problem. This type of interviewing, being less rigid, also helps contribute to a more relaxed atmosphere for the interview and allows for the interviewer to build a rapport with the interviewee, which, in turn, means the interviewee is more likely to be an active participant in the interview (Arksey and Knight 1999, 101).

For the interviews, an interview guide will be used. An example of the two different guides, depending on whether the research is interviewing a self-identified "traditional user" or a self-identified "self-checkout user," can be found in Appendix 7 and Appendix 8. These guides were created from a sample interview guide in Interviewing for Social Scientists (Arksey & Knight 1999, 99). In addition to a small pilot testing of the interview guide, as is recommended for quantitative studies with structured interviews, both guides would be discussed with colleagues before traveling and beginning the study at the research site in order to get some feedback on the usefulness of the interview guides(Leedy and Ormrod 2005, 188). The feedback collected during these discussions would not be used for the actual study but only in design of the interview guides.

Digital photographs of the self-checkout stations will also be taken, showing their location and general structure as well as any signage and/or instructions. This will provide some triangulation within the study by using more than only interviews to collect data; further, this photographic data will provide context for greater understanding of the data gathered in the interviews. Triangulation will also add to the credibility of the study. Further, by gathering as much contextual information as possible, the dependability of the study is increased.

For the purposes of this proposal, an ideal location for the study would be a library like the Greater Victoria Public Library, which has roughly 145,000 registered borrowers and has had self-checkout terminals since 1995 (Greater Victoria Public Library 2005; McLeod 1996, 38). This size of library has a large enough group of borrowers that a study of this breadth would be feasible (in terms of finding enough participants for interviews) and it has had self-checkout services long enough that there should be none of the start-up issues (e.g. borrowers not catching on to the system yet) that a library which has just introduced the terminals might find. This study will require the permission from the public library administration at which it will be taking place in order to conduct research on-site.

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