Last week the Chronicle of Higher Education featured an article that received a good amount of buzz in the library community. It was a profile of the ethnographic research study of undergraduates conducted by the academic librarians at the University of Rochester. What probably caught the attention of the library community was the novelty of employing an anthropologist to study the research behavior of students. I’m sure this was a radical new idea for many academic librarians, but it shouldn’t have been. This research project was a topic of discussionÂ more thanÂ a year ago at the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. In the sping of 2006 the Community featured a webcast on the UR project and our guests were some of the same folks mentioned in the Chronicle article (sorry, there is no archived recording – we were not allowed to record). I’ve also blogged about the project at ACRLog at least two times in the last year. So it came as a bit of surprise to me that this was all so new to librarians when the word has been out there for some time now.
I’m not writing about this to chastiseÂ my fellowÂ librarians for not doing a better job of keeping up with what I’ve been writing about at ACRLog and promoting at the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. I know it’s hard to find the time. Actually I am hoping that this article will bring more attention to the topics that we’ve been discussing here at Designing Better Libraries. We’ve brought your attention to the value of anthropological approaches to study user communities, and identified sources for learning more about using ethnographic methods of research. In fact I just came across another good article that features an interview with a designer at Nokia who talks about the role of ethnographic research in the development of their products. I hope the Chronicle articleÂ will get more librarians excited about the possibilities of new methods for understanding our users – and then using what we learn to design better library user experiences.
It would be a shame if those who read the article see the ethnographic research method as an end in itself and not just the first stage in a broader project to design a library that does a better job of meeting end-users’ needs. I can only hope a few of those who got enthusiastic about the article will find their way over to this blog where we are continuing the discussion and exploring how these methods are being used to create great library user experiences.