Seating sweeps

May, Francine; Fiona Black. The Life of the Space: Evidence from Nova Scotia Public Libraries. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, Vol 5, No 2 (2010).

Page 11

Seating sweeps were used to make unobtrusive observations, where possible, of all individuals in the libraries.

In crowded areas of the library, unobtrusive observation was not possible. This was an issue particularly in meeting or program rooms and in some children’s play areas. In these cases, individuals were counted but no other data were recorded. Data were collected by walking through the library recording observations of library users, including approximate age, sex, possessions (e.g., backpack, laptop, baby carriage, etc.), activities (e.g., reading, talking, eating) and where the user was located in the library at the time of the observation. Sweeps were conducted by the researcher three times, morning, afternoon and evening, on one weekday and two times, morning and afternoon, on a weekend day (all libraries in this study were closed on weekend evenings) at each study library. …

Page 13

When observations of both individuals and groups are taken together, they show the use of computer workstations (which provided Internet, library catalogue, word‐processing, and database access) to be by far the most popular patron activity at all libraries, with an average of 32% of patrons engaging in this activity during seating sweeps (Figure 2). Following closely in second and third places, patrons were either physically searching or browsing the library collection (16% of patrons observed), or in conversation (15% of patrons observed). The remaining groups of patrons observed were reading (12%), interacting with staff (10%), or watching/sitting (5%).

Page 16

Length of stay

less than 30 mins / 30-60 mins / more than an hour / no answer

  • Halifax North Memorial: 14 /13 /11 / 2
  • Keshen Goodman: 20 / 33 / 34 / 3
  • Spring Garden Memorial: 25 / 35 / 24 / 4
  • Lunenburg Public Library: 6 / 9 / 1 / 0
  • New Glasgow Public Library: 7 / 10 / 9 / 0
  • Tantallon: 5 / 6 / 1 / 0

Page 9

The libraries were selected based on their diversity in terms of the communities in which they were located, the physical facilities, the services provided, the population served, and their geographical proximity (Figure 1). The study included four libraries from the Halifax Public Libraries system, three of which are within the urban municipality: Halifax North Memorial, Keshen Goodman, and Spring Garden Memorial. The fourth branch, Tantallon, is located in a small community just outside of Halifax. The other two libraries were New Glasgow Public Library, located approximately 64 kilometers north of Halifax, and Lunenburg Public Library, located approximately 128 kilometers south of Halifax. When examined together, these six libraries give a broad overview of the roles of public libraries as spaces in Nova Scotia communities.


Most, Linda R. The rural public library as place in North Florida: A case study. [Ph.D. Thesis] – 318 pp.

Page 161-164

Seating Sweeps Results

Structured observations identified instances of various activities and behaviors at the libraries. The most common activity in which library users engaged was computer use; 45% of all the adults observed during the study period were sitting at a computer using it in some way. The next two most common activities — interacting with staff, and physically searching for or retrieving library materials — occupied 17% and 12% of observed adults during the study period. In many cases interacting with staff was a precursor or follow up to computer use or searching for or retrieving materials from the collection.

The observed split between computer use and looking for library materials is supported in the responses to survey question 14, discussed below. Tables 4.45 and 4.46 present observed activities by gender and by age group across all the libraries.

The category of touching another person typically referred to a woman carrying or holding an infant or tending a small child. Occasionally I saw couples sharing a computer or otherwise interacting while at the library by sitting on the same chair or sitting in two chairs at one computer. I did not observe any couples displaying signs of affection like kissing in the stacks. I used the category of activities labeled other to track observations of scheduled non-library activities taking place in the meeting room of the Havana branch.

The activity category labeled listening is restricted to tracking those using a personal listening device such as a personal music player of some variety. I did not observe many instances of people listening to personal music devices. The libraries provide computer headphones on request for use with library computers. Most listening appears to be done using the libraries’ headphones and these instances were not noted apart from the activity of using library computers.

I did not observe much cell-phone use in the libraries. While survey respondents indicated that about half have a cell-phone with them most indicated that they turned it off or kept it set on vibrate in case of emergency calls. I did not see many adults sitting and reading in the libraries during the observation periods. I observed reading less often than writing. I saw people writing while sitting at a computer terminal. They appeared to be taking notes or responding to something seen on the computer monitor. Adults sitting and reading books or other print material made up 2% of all adults observed during the seating sweeps. By contrast 12% of the adults I observed were searching or retrieving library materials (printed books, videos, DVDs, or audio recordings) — the third most common activity observed across all but the oldest age group.

For the group of library users over 60 years old I most often saw them searching and retrieving library materials and interacting with staff. I saw very few people sitting in a chair without doing something. Just sitting appears to occur when people are waiting for their turns on the Internet computers but most people who are waiting occupy themselves with magazines or some other pastime. I did not see any instances of eating, drinking, or sleeping so those categories, though included on the data collection sheets, are not reported in the findings.

  • Length of visits – p. 164
  • Frequency of visits – p. 165

Table 4.47: Length of library visit.
Visit length Quincy
Percent of
< 30 minutes 4 4 5 13 12%
30 – 60
11 17 13 41 39%
1 – 2 hours 14 7 15 36 34%
2 – 4 hours 7 1 7 15 14%
4 – 6 hours 0 0 1 1 1%
Over 6 hours 1 0 0 0
No response 0 2 2 4
Note. Data taken from survey question 3: How long do you typically stay at the library? (Please
circle one).
Almost 75% of library users stay at the library between 30 minutes and two hours.
Almost half of the library users visit at least once a week and many indicated visiting
several times each week. 75% of library users visit at least two or three times in a
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