Since the spring of 2012, we have been designing and executing a study of neighborhood book exchanges. In this post, we describe the research methods used to investigate our motivating research question: “In the age of ubiquitous, mobile computing why are these decidedly offline, stationary boxes of print material generating so much interest?”
The Neighborhood Book Exchange (NooX) Study is an exploratory study. We have tried to approach NooX without preconceptions of their purpose, function, or impact. We designed a study that cast a wide net, using several research tools to capture many different aspects of NooX: the stewards’ experiences designing, installing, and maintaining the NooX; the neighbors’ perceptions of and experience with the NooX; the media’s representation of the purpose and impact of NooX. We hope these different aspects will inform a detailed account of neighborhood book exchanges.
Our study relies primarily on qualitative data. We have emphasized gathering rich, in depth data that reflects the variety of NooX experiences, as opposed to emphasizing generalizable and predictive data. Since NooX have not been the subject of study to date, this descriptive data will offer the first account of NooX and NooX interactions. A descriptive account will illustrate the different actors, situations, and contexts that characterize NooX, providing an excellent foundation for future research.
We focused on six NooX in Vancouver—the only NooX in Vancouver at the time (to our knowledge).
During the summer of 2013, we collected extensive data on each of these NooX. We interviewed the stewards, surveyed two neighborhoods, and collected observational data. To complement our study of these NooX, we also completed an analysis of media articles that discussed NooX. Here, we’ll explain how we conducted each of these phases of research.
We interviewed the stewards of each NooX twice during the summer of 2013. The stewards told us about their motivations for starting their NooX and their experiences as they initiated and shared their NooX. Their stories offer fascinating insights into the challenges and triumphs of stewarding a Neighborhood Book Exchange.
We are analyzing each interview using a qualitative process guided by Grounded Theory. Instead of relying on a set of preconceived codes, we captured ideas from the data, consolidated those ideas into categories, and identified the major themes. This has been a highly iterative process. We routinely scrutinize our findings, comparing new data to old and adjusting our inquiries accordingly. This process will help us better understand and represent the NooX stewards’ experiences.
We distributed questionnaires to roughly 200 neighbors in the immediate vicinity of the two most active NooX in our study area. We also distributed posters around the neighborhood to advertise an online version of the questionnaire to those who pass through the neighborhood.
The questionnaire included a series of open-ended questions to gauge how familiar the neighbors were with the NooX, whether they participated, and how they perceived the role of the NooX in the neighborhood. While the two neighborhoods surveyed are not representative of all the neighborhoods in our study, the questionnaire results will provide insights into neighbors’ perceptions of the NooX and their experiences with it in these two areas.
As a complement to the interviews and questionnaires, we collected observational data that reflected how the NooX was used and misused. Every Tuesday morning for three months (rain or shine, mostly the former!), we rode our bikes to all six NooX to take a series of pictures, record each book’s ISBN (or other identifying information if an ISBN was not available), and note the physical condition of the item.
By taking a weekly inventory of each NooX collection, we can gauge the degree and character of participation, based on the collections’ turnover rate and the quality of the contents. The pictures allow us to document physical changes to the structure of the NooX, the context of its placement, and the organization of its contents.
We also completed an analysis of media articles that discussed NooX. We collected articles published in North America over a two year period, beginning in spring 2011 when NooX first gained considerable traction in the news. We’re analyzing these articles to gauge media portrayal of NooX, to better understand NooX impressions and experiences beyond Vancouver, and to compare these impressions and experiences to our Vancouver findings.
First, we collected news articles published in Canada and the United States from three major news databases. Then we established a set of codes to record perceived purpose and impact, as well as supporting information—article length, date, and location. Each article was coded by a researcher, but a set of articles was reserved for calculating the intercoder reliability. We continue to reflect on these findings and compare them to the results from our other phases of research.