The data collection is, so far, going quite well. I haven’t had any major surprises or eureka moments, but I am seeing the need for wiggle room within my initial proposal. Thus, I am glad and thankful that this is action research. There are two main things I’ve realized need some room to evolve and expand. First, I want to interview more people than previously planned. Second, I want to give those being interviewed time to say what’s on their minds instead of adhering strictly to my interview questions.
I have been very conscious about making my participants feel totally as ease during observations and interviews. Thankfully, I think I naturally have a disarming demeanor, and I believe this lends itself to getting the most out of interviews. By trying to set a relaxed tone, I have gathered what I believe to be some of my most valuable information. I feel very fortunate to have an old hand-held recorder. This little piece of equipment has proved itself invaluable. I attempted my first interview without it, and I know within the first couple of minutes that I couldn’t possibly correctly transcribe and/or thoroughly capture the content of what the participant was saying or the tone they were using to say it. Also, if I’m trying to write down what the participant is saying, I can’t engage the process as fully and be as present as I wish to be. The recorder has not only provide me with a physical and precise record, but it has (and will continue to) allow me the opportunity to listen to the interviews multiple times and therefore allow for a deeper reflection and understanding on my end.
After interviewing four people, three of them suggested I interview the library director. It seems only right that I explore this option. Perhaps the rules he is implementing (taking away comfortable furniture, for example) is not necessarily the strategy the librarians and employees who are actually working face to face with the patrons would take. Even though my focus is on the librarians and other employees’ relationship with the homeless patronage, I think it may serve my study to interview the director. Knowing and analyzing the hierarchy of the library staff could help clarify motives and actions of the staff. Is it possible they interact with the homeless patronage in a way they “have” to instead of “want” to?
In one of the interviews I even sensed some animosity towards the director. Over the course of my interview with Natasha, it became quite clear that she does not agree with the policies the library director implements or the actions he takes in dealing with the homeless patronage. She believes that he is out of touch with what the actual needs of the library are and how best to fulfill those needs. Natasha believes the director has a very narrow focus and bases his decisions on what will ensure funding for the library. She wishes he, instead, was motivated by what is actually best for the library community as a whole. Natasha voiced that relations between staff and homeless patrons could be more proactive and growth full if the director were more concerned with the people of the library instead of the money to fund it. Natasha’s has been the most direct and critical voice in the interviews I have conducted so far. She believes there are problems with the library’s relationship with its homeless patronage, but it has been instigated by decisions made by the library director; not with the patronage or librarian and staff that most frequently interact with them.
Another illuminating interview, in a completely different way, was with Mary. Mary conveyed deep empathy for Wolfe’s homeless patronage. As an employee in Circulation Services, she does everything she can to ensure that the homeless patronage is treated with respect and dignity when they are in the library and using the library’s services. She told me that interacting with and serving the homeless patrons is one of the most rewarding parts of her job. Her empathy and support of the city’s homeless population doesn’t end when she leaves work. She volunteers at the homeless shelter downtown. It was really interesting to hear her perspective on the various issues we discussed, and witnessing her emotional and heartfelt reaction to them was inspiring. I can foresee that Mary’s participation is going to add a lot of depth and heart to this study.
Overall, data collection is proving to be illuminating and productive. An added bonus is that I’m getting to know my coworkers better. It’s really great because although I’ve worked in the library for 9 months, I’ve only been in a position to nurture work relationships for a few weeks due to my new position in Circulation Services.
Throughout this process, I’m trying to stay positive and embrace the true meaning of action research. Things can evolve, focus may shift, and new avenues will be explored. Even though the study isn’t going in the exact direction that I thought it would, I am trying to let the data guide me instead of vice versa. I feel immersed in the study in a lot of ways, and that feels like a positive thing.