Grounded theory and ethnography combined: a methodology to study children’s interactions on children’s mobile libraries

PURPOSE. Libraries are closing or reducing opening hours in the UK due to budgetary cuts. Library provision for children is consequently diminishing and libraries have to justify their existence. Therefore a reliable methodology for assessing the importance of libraries is vital to demonstrate their value to children’s literacy. Two methodologies were combined to study children visiting children’s mobile libraries (CMLs). The purpose of this paper is to consider whether the combined, qualitative methodology was the correct choice. DESIGN/METHODOLOGY/APPROACH. Aspects of each methodology are examined for their appropriateness for researching children. The compatibility of their philosophical stance and the validity of combining ethnography and grounded theory is explored and questioned. FINDINGS. It is found that grounded theory and ethnography were the optimum combination to form a powerful research tool that allows children to be active participants in research. The combined methodology was successful because the ethnographic elements allowed the researcher to enter to the children’s world, whereas the grounded theory elements provided a structural framework, exploration into a novel research topic and ensured that a valid conclusion was drawn. ORIGINALITY/VALUE. It is unusual for qualitative methodologies such as grounded theory and ethnography to be combined in order to study learning in a non-pedagogic, library environment. This paper is valuable reading for librarians, or educationalists wishing to examine how libraries aid literacy because it verifies the benefits of the combined methodology of grounded theory and ethnography and provides a template which can be used by other researchers.