Perhaps More Librarians Will Pay Attention To Design

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 discussion more than 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 chastise my fellow 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 article 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.

One thought on “Perhaps More Librarians Will Pay Attention To Design”

  1. I was one of those taken aback, but also impressed by the article in the CHE. I can still recall a couple of colleagues at Syracuse talking about using such techniques. Ahem, those conversations took place in 1971.

    Designing better libraries is a nice catch-phrase, and there is certainly a need to create libraries that are reallly respsonsive to the needs and desires of patrons. It has always surprised me how resistant many librarians have been to the concepts of marketing and market research. Market research is investigating the needs of customers and then repositioning an organization’s resouarcs, services, etc. to meet those needs. Market research isn’t “selling” a library’s services as seems to be the interpretation of many librarian.

    Several years ago I developed a set of techniques I dubbed RADAR. RADAR stood for Recognizing the Desires and Requirements of users. It brought acutal customers together with library staff. These sessions were always learning experiences. If I were still a director I’d spend more time listening to front line staff (librarians and support staff). They know a great deal about what customers (patrons) are saying about what they want and/or need.

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