Case study of a community information space

250px-illinois_terminal_2005When ordinary people seek information, they may go online or visit a library, but they also go to physical spaces in their community. These community information spaces offer more narrowly-focused information, but what they have is typically organized in ways that fit immedate and focused needs.

For example, the Illinois Terminal, which is the intermodal transit hub for Champaign, has large bus and train maps and schedules mounted on panels, as well as electronic displays reporting on the expected arrival of each bus or train. There are also benches and physical features that not only offer comfort, but also indicate where to wait, and where the buses or trains will stop. There is information on different transportation companies, on food and other services, and on the surrounding community. Although some of this information is available elsewhere, many people seek it out at the Terminal because it fits with their needs and daily practices. Most importantly, the information at the Terminal is available when and where they need to use it.

coffee_shopThe Terminal is just one example of a community information space. Others include video rental stores, museums, coffee shops, hospitals, workplaces, community centers, clubs, farmer’s markets, and a host of other places people live and work. A case study of one of these spaces can help us understand how people find information they need to address everyday problems, such as health care, finding a place to live, or educating children. It can also give us insights into how information is now, or could be, organized better. The results could benefit:

  • Librarians seeking to engage more with surrounding communities
  • Community workers, social workers who want to know how people answer questions and solve problems
  • Professionals in any organization who would like to understand the learning aspects of their facility
  • Researchers interested in the relations among physical spaces, virtual spaces, and intentionality in information organization


A case study could address issues such as:

  • What is the relation between physical and online spaces for community needs?
  • How do physical space and objects define an information space?
  • What makes a space effective or not?
  • Are there natural categories of information spaces?
  • What questions should we be asking about information spaces?


There are many methods which might be employed for a case study, but one approach is the following:

  • Select an information space in your own community,
  • Visit the actual site at least once, preferably several times,
  • Observe and document what you find there,
  • Identify at least one new term relevant to the case; this might be a specific technical element, such as the transponders now used by buses, or a more encompassing term, such as digital divide,
  • Find articles relevant to issues in the case,
  • Analyze the case, connecting to those articles,
  • Formulate a question (with rationale) for future research in the area


The results of the case study might be presented in a variety of ways:

  • An article relating the issues of the case, the details of the setting, and the articles and key terms identified,
  • A geographic information system, using a tool such as Google Maps; this could show the path to the site, its internal geography, and  locations of similar sites, all linked to text, data, or video relevant to the case,
  • A video documentary, using straight video technology, or other media, such as voice-over images, stop-action animation, or graphics.


Some of the most valuabel insights may come from presenting the case to others and receiving feedback as well as comparing across cases.


  • What does the study of information spaces tell us about how information is represented and used today by people in different situations?
  • What are the implications for formal information spaces such as libraries and digital repositories?
  • How does learning occur in various information spaces?

See also: Case study of learning–in-depth look at teaching and how learners respond


Fisher, Karen E., Landry, Carol F., & Naumer, Charles (2007, January). Social spaces, casual interactions, meaningful exchanges: ‘information ground’ characteristics based on the college student experience. Information Research, 12(2).

Foltz, Mark A. (1998, June). Designing navigable information spaces. 3. Educational exhibits as information spaces. MS Thesis, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Cambridge: MIT.

Ragin, Charles C., & Becker, Howard Saul (1992). What is a case: Exploring the foundations of social inquiry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stake, Robert (1995). The art of case research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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