Observations: Data Hiding in Plain Sight

This webinar occurred on January 27, 2021. The webinar recording, slides, and resources are located at the bottom of this page.

Rebecca Teasdale, Alison Clarke, & Katie Fox

Libraries use structured observations to gather data about patrons’ behavior, words, and interactions—such as how patrons navigate the library or children’s level of engagement during a program. During this webinar, participants will learn about the purpose of observation, its strengths and limitations for library needs, and guidelines for conducting observations. Instructors will share examples of how public libraries have used observation in evaluations of youth programming, new technology, and staff-patron interactions, as well as to gather data for space planning. Participants will also explore how they might use observations in their own libraries.

Participants who want to learn more can then complete an observation challenge after the webinar and tune in to a recorded follow-up lesson. In the observation challenge, participants will conduct a (virtual) observation and record data. During the follow-up lesson, instructors will review key takeaways from the observation challenge, offer tips for managing the logistics of observations in libraries, and share strategies for analyzing observation data.

This session is part of the RIPL Data Boot Camp Series. Each session includes a 90-minute live webinar and a 60-minute recorded follow-up lesson for anyone who is interested in learning more about the topic. The follow-up video will be available on this webpage on the date of the live webinar.


Rebecca Teasdale is principal of Rebecca Teasdale & Associates and an assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. As a librarian, Rebecca held leadership positions in urban and suburban public libraries. She now helps libraries build their capacity to evaluate their offerings and make evidence-based decisions regarding programs, services, collections, and staffing. Rebecca has evaluated projects in libraries, museums, afterschool programs, and universities, as well as professional development initiatives in the US and internationally. She holds a BA in biology, an MA in library and information science, and a PhD in educational psychology with specialization in evaluation methodology.


Alison Clarke is the Coordinator, Performance Measures & Data at Brampton Library, and is currently serving as Chair for the Ontario Public Library Association’s Research and Evaluation Committee. Alison designs data collections systems, and has created a variety of systems including program data collection, key performance indicators, volunteer tracking, and makerspace activity tracking. She also worked on the Canadian Urban Library Council Space Use Study, using observation and patron surveys to investigate how people use different spaces in the library. Alison finds joy in teaching people how to use a pivot table, and is always ready to talk about how public libraries can make their data useful.


Katie Fox is a Research Analyst for the Library Research Service unit at the Colorado State Library. She supports and trains library staff throughout the state on survey design, data analysis and visualization, and program assessment. She especially loves the challenge of assessing learning in libraries. Previously, she was an information literacy librarian and a middle school teacher. She has an M.A. in Library and Information Studies from UW-Madison and an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from University of Denver.




Recorded Follow-Up Lesson