The More We Know The Better We Can Do

Over at the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community they sponsored a webcast today that offered information about a unique project. The presenters were Susan Gibbons, Associate Dean, Judi Briden, Digital Librarian for Public Services, and Nancy Foster, Lead Anthropologist and Co-Manager of the Digital Initiatives Unit. You read that correctly. Foster is an anthropologist working with the librarians to help them learn more about their user community. In this presentation, titled “Ethnographic Methods and Participatory Design In a University Library”, Gibbons, Briden, and Foster explained how they are using ethnographic methods to collect information about how students and faculty members do their research and use the library (or other non-library resources). The research is funded by an IMLS grant.

One of the things they do is have students draw diagrams that illustrate how they conduct their research process. We saw examples of drawings made by students (these use stick figures folks – the students aren’t expected to be artists) that show where they start and how they proceed through the research process. The research team members collect and analyze the drawings looking for patterns to provide more insight into student research methods. They also ask students to indicate on campus maps those buildings they use and what they do in those buildings. This can provide insight into which buildings the students feel most comfortable going to for their computing, research, and socialization. Students are given disposable cameras and are asked to take photos of their rooms, and their work materials. Research team members visit students in their dorm rooms and videotape them working on their computers. I guess ethnographic research can be a bit invasive at times. They described how they are using similar methods to better understand faculty use of institutional repositories, as they hope to learn more about ways to encourage faculty to make use of the repository.

The point of the webcast was to demonstrate how a user-centered design process can help librarians to better understand our user communities and how they do – and do not – use our physical and virtual resources. Design thinking suggests we can continuously improve our services by asking how our resources can better fill the users’ information needs. But if we fail to clearly understand those needs it’s not possible to design the approriate systems that best suit our students and faculty.

Perhaps the most salient point that I took away from the presentation is that the more we know about our user community – the more information we gather about their research workflows – the more things we will know that our information competitors can’t possibly grasp. That should position us to customize or frame services in ways that will deliver services to our users that should far exceed what they can obtain from generic search engines. Wishful thinking? I think not.

BTW, there are some sample documents used in the ethnographic research available within the University of Rochester’s institutional repository. They are pubicly accessible.

Sorry, but because of the confidential nature of some of the photos and illustrations shown in today’s webcast presentation, it was not possible to archive the program. But if you missed this today you should have opportunities to hear more about this exciting research program. The team members will be doing some conference presentations, and I hope they’ll publish some of their research and findings in the future.

Like MySpace But For Academics Not Dating

ACRLog has previously discussed academic librarians creating profiles for themselves and/or their libraries in student social communities such as Facebook and MySpace.

It seems like a good idea. We should try to connect with students where they are. But spaces like Facebook and MySpace are primarily social sites, and the people who join and use these sites rarely have academics in mind. So it seems that a good idea would be to create a space like these social sites where students, faculty, and administrators can meet, communicate, share, and otherwise get to know each other, without the heavy emphasis on, well, whatever it is that students do in these social spaces.

Well, this article discusses a college that decided to do this exact thing. Columbia College Chicago used its e-portfolio software to create a MySpace like environment where faculty and administrators can create profiles that allow students to get to know them online. In the article the administrators of the system say that their community space is intended to “augment face-to-face contact, not replace it.” If our objective is to connect with students where they are, in a meaningful way – and by that I mean in ways that encourage use of the library’s resources and services – perhaps we need to promote the idea of community spaces within our institutions where faculty, staff, and students can learn more about each other.

BTW, I hope that you are making more use of a news aggregator such as Bloglines to capture RSS feeds. Those just getting started, especially if they’ve quickly added quite a few feeds to their aggregator, may be finding themselves spending more time than they anticipated reviewing blogs and reading news stories. While that’s good, because it leads to discovery and innovation, it can also create some stress and pressures on time for other responsibilities. For those feeling this way, I recommend this post on “10 Tips for Effective Blog Reading” which offers good tips for being efficient and saving time when reading blogs and other news sources in an aggregator.

Get Up To Speed Quickly On Adapting To Digital Natives

If you have yet to discover UI Current LIS Clips, described as “a current awareness service for the library and information community”, now is a good time to do so. This publication does an excellent job of summarizing issues and presenting the most salient information in an easy-to-digest format. The latest issue focuses on “Digital Native or Digital Immigrant” and it examines research on ways to bridge the generational divide between academic librarians and the traditional undergraduates they serve. Six different research studies are summarized. Each isolates the key points that each research study suggests for how librarians will want to respond to millennials or rethink their services to better meet the needs of the digital natives.

While you are at the UI Current LIS Clips site, take a look at their September 2003 report on Marketing Library Services. While it could probably use an update, I’ve always found it a great resource for ideas and tips for marketing library resources and services.

What Facebook Teaches

Or, more on being welcome at the party.

Today’s Inside Higher Education tells the story of students at Syracuse University being formally disciplined for their postings on Facebook. While you can judge for yourself whether or not free speech is being abridged in Upstate New York, it’s clear that events like this (and similar events, e.g., stories of students losing out on RA positions because their Facebook profiles suggested that they might not be the best candidates): (1) are providing students with real-life context for broadly-conceived information literacy instruction within the context of what was once-referred to as “computer-mediated communication”; and (2) might explain why students are leery of any university organization (even one as student-friendly as the library) trying to communicate with them through FaceBook (“their” space).

Two things I learned while visiting my campus Facebook: (1) there are several Facebook groups dedicated to the library (but none in an academic way);and (2) our Office of Residence Life advertises for RA candidates on Facebook (which should clue people in to the fact that they might be viewing profiles of applicants, but . . .).

Were I teaching my FYE seminar on Internet Studies again this semester, you can bet this would be a discussion topic.

What Google Teaches

Pamela Martin, in her article “Google as teacher” in February 2006 College and Research Libraries News contends that Google teaches its users to only look at the first page of results, to have difficulty broadening searches, and to feel stupid if they can’t find information quickly. In The World is Flat, Tom Friedman contends that Google is a flattening force in that it enables more people to find information for themselves (instead of going through an intermediary like a librarian) by “just Googling it.” I feel Google has impacted reference work by making the questions we get more difficult. Students now go to a librarian when their first pass through Google doesn’t work or they need more or different information. Recently I’ve been frustrated in that when I show students really good reference books, they just treat them as if they don’t exist. I have trouble understanding this. The book is here, it has really good information, you are right here, why don’t you look at this book? Does Google also teach that print reference books are somehow bad or unnecessary?