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For higher education students, learning can happen anytime and anywhere, however not much is known about how students actually conduct research. A User eXperience (UX) approach, which deploys an anthropological lens, has typically focussed on how library users are interacting with space and services. In this paper I will present the findings of an ethnographic study which shifted the traditional focus of UX to understand how students are engaging with the research process. Using participant observation, behavioural maps, student diaries and retrospective interviews, I was provided with unique access that enabled me to capture the behaviours of these students in their own environments. The research examined the practice of undergraduate research both inside and outside the library walls and found that the research process can be influenced by a number of factors including age, experience, work commitments, family, peer, academic and library anxiety.
I was acutely aware of my responsibility as a researcher to build trust and honesty with the students. Working so closely with them enabled me to discover patterns in their research behaviour, discuss their approach to research and identify gaps in support. This was collaborative ethnography; as I observed research practice, I was able to provide instant advice to help them improve their research skills. In addition, I have discussed my findings with academic colleagues and together we have been making improvements to undergraduate study skills modules. This paper will discuss how an ethnographic approach has informed my professional practice and ultimately improved how I deliver research skills support to undergraduate students. I will also reflect on the role ethnography can play in empowering librarians to perform a leading research role within their own institutions.