Recently, a colleague asked me the following question: “User oriented or system oriented research and why?” Although I haven’t had the chance to deal with this issue, until now that is, I gave it some thought and was able to answer (logically I hope) on a topic that is more simple than it seems. Now, a few days later, I have been able to analyze it further and decided to post my thoughts.
Part of my original answer was that, in order to make the decision between user and system oriented research, we need to define both approaches inside the parameters of our research. Why are we doing the research? Are we trying to prove something, solve something, or both? Are the problems or facts presented affecting the user, the system, or both? The truth is that, any issue affecting one area, user or system, is affecting or will, eventually, affect the other. We may find that, at the time being, we need a system oriented approach. Eventually, however, the system will affect the user who has to function inside the parameters of the system. On the other hand, if we find out that we need a user oriented approach, this approach will require, most likely, system adjustments.
Based on the above, it seems that we cannot avoid addressing both areas, user and system, sooner or later. In a specific environment with specified parameters, system and user become integrated. This is true in every environment and not only in libraries and educational institutions. In my opinion, it is better to approach our research both ways from the beginning. This will save us the time from having to backtrack in order to adjust things later. Considering how time consuming a research can be, getting things straight from the beginning is important.
There are environments where the user and the system may not affect each other as much as in other environments. In environments like libraries and educational institutions, user and system are definitely integrated. Problems in one of them affect the other (personal experience). In my opinion (based on the above reasoning), in our field it is very important to have both approaches in research and every day work.