I watch the birdwatcher: An introduction to serious leisure

Yazdan Mansourian, PhD, AALIA

Photo by Yazdan Mansourian, Shellharbour Beach, November 2020

My research program is about serious leisure. If you have not heard this term before, you might find it puzzling. This even may look like an oxymoron. How come something is serious and leisurely at the same time? However, it is not as absurd as it looks. Serious leisure includes all forms of hobbies, amateur or voluntary activities which require long term commitment and some specific knowledge or skills. Serious leisure participants are passionate about their chosen activity and truly enjoy it. Even after a while it will be part of their identity. Serious leisure does not happen overnight. This is the result of a gradual development of a casual or an occasional leisure.

I can explain it with an example. Imagine sometimes you walk in a park nearby your home and enjoy listening to the birds singing around. Obviously it does not require any skills or commitment. This is a casual leisure which helps you to relax. However, there is always a potential in any casual leisure to gradually become serious. For instance, once you may notice a beautiful bird singing on a tree which looks very cute. Next day you see the same bird and eventually decide to find out more about it. Then you take a photo of the bird and search it on the Web. After a while, you might become more interested in the birds living around your neighbourhood and start taking their photos to share them with your friends through social media. Finally, you may find this activity fascinating and join a birdwatching club. That’s it! In this stage your casual leisure turned into a serious one!

Libraries in general and public libraries in particular can support serious leisure. As in almost all types of serious leisure people need to search and share information, a library can be a perfect source of reliable information. Also, public libraries are social hubs and can provide people with facilities to advocate leisure activities. If we promote serious leisure, it will bring a number of benefits for public libraries and their patrons such as creating communities of interest and Information Grounds, enriching the library collection and promoting the library events and programs (Mansourian and Bannister, 2019).

Serious leisure is an important topic because research shows it is a source of pleasure and purpose for people and can enhance their physical, emotional and social wellbeing. It helps them to create new forms of identity linked to their hobbies, amateurism or volunteerism. Besides, it brings many benefits such as self-actualisation and a feeling of achievement (Kim et al., 2014; Shupe & Gagné, 2016; Cheng, et al, 2017; Lee et al. 2018). In terms of social benefits, it can create a sense of belonging and social connectedness (Lee and Ewert, 2019).

Serious leisure is a multidisciplinary topic and scholars from different disciplines study it. My research is about human information behaviour in this context. I investigate how people search, browse, collect, organise, share and use information in their leisure time. Findings of my research have practical implications in theory, policy and practice. In the theory level it contributes in creating new knowledge about the interaction of people with information sources beyond their work or study settings, when they look for information just for fun. In the policy level the results can inform policy makers to make evidence-based decisions in the leisure areas like music, sport and entertaining. In the practice level the result will be useful for both information system designers and serious leisure participants. The designers can consider real needs of users to enhance the usability of the systems. Serious leisure pursuers also can improve their information seeking (Mansourian, 2020).


Cheng, E. Stebbins, R. Packer, J. (2017). Serious leisure amongst older gardeners in Australia. Leisure Studies 35(4), 505-518.

Kim, J., Yamada, N. Heo, J.  Han, A. (2014). Health benefits of serious involvement in leisure activities among older Korean adults. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 9(1), 1-9.

Lee, K. & Ewert, A. (2019). Understanding the motivations of serious leisure participation: A self-determination approach, Annals of Leisure Research, 22(1), 76-96.

Lee, C., Sung, Y.-T., Zhou, Y., & Lee, S. (2018). The relationships between the seriousness of leisure activities, social support and school adaptation among Asian international students in the U.S. Leisure Studies, 37(2), 197-210.

Mansourian, Y. (2020). How passionate people seek and share various forms of information in their serious leisure. The Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association, 69(1), 17-30.  

Mansourian, Y., & Bannister, M. (2019). Five benefits of serious leisure for a public library. Incite, 40(5/6), 32-33.

Shupe, F. L., & Gagné, P. (2016). Motives for and personal and social benefits of airplane piloting as a serious leisure activity for women. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 45(1), 85–112.

Published by Yazdan Mansourian

I am a lecturer in the School of Information Studies at Charles Sturt University. I received my PhD in Information Science from The University of Sheffield (2003 to 2006). My research interests are human information behaviour and everyday life information seeking. In my current research program, I explore the role of experiencing joy and pleasure in engaging people with hobbies, amateurism and volunteer activities and how it inspires them to seek, share and use information.

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