Tag Archives: #anthrolib

A Whirlwind March, some Links

#SunnyLondon from Primrose Hill

I am just barely back in the US, I’m quite certain my brain has not arrived yet.  Already there are things on the internet that can give you ideas (because you haven’t been following my every move on Twitter, for which I commend you highly) about what I’ve been up to.  In particular, there are Storifys up of conversations I participated in at the SRHE in London on March 28th, with  Lesley Gourlay, Dave WhiteMartin Oliver, and Ibrar Bhatt. (there will be a podcast of the four talks, I’ll be sure to share the link when I have it), and of the joint UCL-IOE sponsored event, Spaces, Places and Practices, on March 31st, which involved presentations by Bryony Ramsden, Martin Reid and Anna Tuckett, and myself and Lesley Gourlay.

The #UKAnthroLib hashtag was followed by people outside of the room on March 31st, and the enthusiastic reception (and conversations that actually started long before March 31st) resulted in the swift creation (by Georgina Cronin and Andy Priestner) of the new #UKAnthroLib blog, which will involve multiple authors and I hope a great deal of interesting discussion.

Oh and of course there’s the actual research Lesley Gourlay and I did, in partnership with Lesley Pitman at UCL.  The Storifys will give you some sense of the preliminary things we are saying about the data we have collected so far, but I’ve got about 19 hours worth of interviews to get transcribed and then analyze, along with the cognitive maps we collected, and the SUMA data we gathered in each of the site libraries (Bartlett, SSEES, Institute of Archaeology at UCL, and the IOE library as well).  We should have enough analyzed to be able to say something interesting (I hope) at the HECU7 conference in Lancaster (well, Lesley will have to say it for us, as I am not Made of Money), and we have high hopes for more conference presentations (TBA!) in the Autumn.

In the meantime, we will be digging into what we’ve got, and attempting to figure out what we think it means.

The Mixed-Method, Interdisciplinary Library

Huddersfield Train Station, with Taxman Mister Wilson in the foreground
So at this point I’ve given 2 different versions of this talk, once at UNC Greensboro, in the library, and just recently at the University of Huddersfield, also in the library.  I talk from a combination of notes, script, and the Prezi, so this is an approximation, but I’d like to share it because it’s a relatively coherent statement of what I think is possible via qualitative work like mine, and where I think academic libraries can create opportunities for their voice to be heard within higher education generally.  Special thanks to Erin Lawrimore for inviting me to UNCG, and to Bryony Ramsden and Kathrine Jensen for getting me to Huds.

In-depth qualitative data collection for policy decisions

I don’t get much chance to speak about the nature of my work in a systematic way, and this is giving me a chance to put together thoughts that I’ve been accumulating over the past year or so about the nature of the information that informs library policy. It has been changing over time, and the attention paid to things like qualitative research marks a real shift in administrative focus, and has implications for assessment, as well.
I’m speaking to you today (as I speak every day) as an anthropologist, and so an outsider to library science (but not to higher education, as I am an academic through and through). But I am also someone employed by an academic library. I was hired as library ethnographer in 2009, with arrival of a university librarian who had been at Rochester, where Nancy Fried Foster was at the time. Her hire inspired by the participatory design policy of places like Xerox, who hire social scientists, including anthropologists, to do research into user behavior, to inform their products.
Nancy’s work has certainly made participatory design a highly visible part of what qualitative research agendas can do in higher education, but I’ve been asked to take on an ethnography of academic work generally, to find projects (small and large) that illuminate the behavior of students and faculty on our campus, not just within the library.
The use of words like “disruptive” and “provocative” within library policy discussions (and higher ed generally) has become cliche, but I find them useful in trying to frame the role for anthropologists (and even other social scientists) in academic libraries. Positions like mine are a provocation, not just to library-land, but to Higher Ed. generally.
So, why be provocative? The Anthropology meetings in November of last year included a panel on liminality (included Nancy Foster, as well as researchers from Intel and Xerox). The liminal state is one of “betwixt and between,” of being poised on the threshold. Again and again the panelists made the point that the presence of anthropologists in industry and institutional settings creates a liminal space, which in turn is an opportunity for change and innovation. Qualitative research provides opportunities for change, moments to disrupt current practices, to dwell with the possibility of something else.
The researcher from Intel pointed strongly to the potential for innovation that comes out of persistent and embedded anthropological attention to technology and the processes involved in producing that technology. She worked with engineers, who were so immersed in the production of technology that they lost sight of the people who would be using it.
Likewise, anthropological attention to uses of technology in information seeking can help us think more carefully about how we use technology to engage with people in academia, students and faculty alike.
I know there are people with anthropology and sociology training working as librarians now, but the qualitative work is seldom their full time job (so many people run up to me at library conferences and confess their undergraduate degrees in anthropology!). Myself and Andrew Asher (At Bloomington) are the only two I am aware of who are employed full time by universities in the US, and I know of one anthropologist who was just hired by the London School of Economics in the UK.
I’ve blogged before about the role that we play in libraries as anthropologists, especially regarding the discussion we hosted at the 2013 AAAs in Chicago.  
The idea is not to thumb our noses at current practice, but to actually provide a place for the new to emerge. Margaret Mead talked about anthropology as making the “exotic familiar, and the familiar exotic.” She is talking about the power of cross-cultural insights allowing fresh eyes on our own society, the practices of others helping us think critically about our own practices.
We are fundamentally searching for insights into why. Anthropology assumes that there is a logic to people’s behavior. It’s not enough to describe or count the things people do or interact with or own or use.  And furthermore, there are things that we can observe are important that we cannot count–or there are things we should be counting that we don’t know are important. We need multiple ways of talking about what is happening–a holistic approach can include counting, but needs to incorporate other ways of observing/describing. Ethnographic practices can provide such a thing. And I would argue that they are most effectively deployed as a part of a full-time qualitative agenda, not just carved out of already existing jobs, or brought in short-term.
Qualitative methods need explanations and defense in part because they are not the norm in library-land, and are still contested outside of qualitative-centric fields like anthropology and sociology. My experience working with LIS has reflected this–I have participated in longitudinal qualitative studies that my LIS colleagues are still still very very nervous about if it’s not embedded in a survey that we also conduct. I see this concern about generalizability, etc. reflecting a general unease with actionability of qualitative data.
Higher Ed is quantitative in part because of a policy orientation where evaluation is the equivalent to counting and measuring (think: grades). Assessment, however, should be about information that can lead to changes, and ideally, improvements. A reasonable question to ask is to what extent the massive amounts of quantitative data libraries collect every year has led to improvements
For example, UNC Charlotte Atkins Library recently participated in the MISO survey;  we now have all of these numbers, what do they mean? For example, these “satisfaction” graphs from various constituencies:

All the bars are basically the same length.  What can this mean?  What does it mean when we ask about “satisfaction with the library?”  How can that be quantified? Why would we want to quantify that?

 It’s just not enough.

Qualitative data can move library improvements in a way that traditional treatment of quantitative data has not.  This is the power of insights, of epiphany, of something beyond just description. Evaluation and analytics are descriptive, and not necessarily with an eye to change.  Assessment should be about that which can drive change.
We cannot get rid of quantitative data, nor should we want to, but I believe it needs to be embedded in the context provided by qualitative researchers.  Approaches to our quantitative data can be transformed with considered uses of qualitative research in libraries, and higher education generally.

Think of individual projects that characterize themselves as “mixed-method.” Imagine a “mixed-method.” library, drawing on both sorts of information.
What does that look like?

It can look like me: the Anthropologist in the Stacks.  The permanent staff presence of a qualitative researcher means non-LIS people working within the library. Disciplinary knowledge from outside of LIS can illuminate higher education policies, not just within library, but across the university. So, I am not just talking about a mixed-methods library, but an interdisciplinary one.

(I have blogged already about examples from the Atkins library –here is the point in the talk where I use Prezi to give visual examples of the kinds of data I’ve been collecting, including Photo Diaries, observations, and cognitive mapping.   If you peruse the stuff tagged #anthrolib you can get a feel for it, if you haven’t already.)

We need to know what people are doing to effectively engage. Anthropology, ethnographic techniques, qualitative research can help us learn this.  There are additional implications for the position of academic libraries within their institutions, once they commit to a qualitative research agenda.


For example, at UNC Charlotte, the library is represented on a campus-wide meeting about Student Success.  We are positioned as colleagues within the university, rather than as “helpers”–we are part of a scholarly community, and we also provide, in the library, a neutral ground for the coming together of scholars (including ourselves).

There is tremendous potential for libraries in higher education to be sources of qualitative research about student and faculty work/behaviors.  This research can give us a voice on campus around issues that people in Higher Education are interested in:  what students do, where they go, what faculty do, why.  

 Anthropologists and other social scientists can produce data which may be brought to bear on policy decisions at the college and university, and which has the potential to positively impact student academic success. The fact that these studies come out of the Library has implications for the role academic libraries can play in higher education generally, potentially transforming the kind of voice libraries have in university policy, because we are producing information/data that no other sector of higher education is doing.   This is powerful.  We need to do it more.
Both times I gave this talk, I just sort of stopped there, and asked for questions, and was really gratified by the engagement and thought that was put into the discussion.  I wish I had transcripts to share of what we talked about at UNCG, and also at Huddersfield. 
Dave Pattern and Bryony Ramsden were kind enough to tweet some of the content of my talk, I Storifyed it here:  

 For the conclusion of this blogpost, I will simply share an image of part of my speaking fee at Huds, safely ensconced in my bag, on the train back to London.

Bacon Crisps!

Into the Field

So I have been noisy on Twitter lately, but relatively quiet on this blog, and that is in part because I have been gently (and not so gently) freaking out and getting prepared for going to do six weeks of fieldwork starting at the end of February.

The project will allow me to collaborate with the estimable Lesley Gourlay at the IOE, and Lesley Pitman at UCL, and extend and expand a project that I piloted in 2011 with the help of the UCL Institute of Archaeology.  There’s a .pdf of the report here.

March is going to involve me collecting cognitive maps as well as conducting interviews among students and faculty at the Institute of Archaeology, the Bartlett school of Architecture, and the SSEES.  I will also be spending time doing immersive observation in each of the 3 libraries, using the SUMA tool to facilitate head-counts and also an accounting of activities within each space.  Lesley Gourlay will be doing the same among IOE students and faculty, and at the IOE library.

I have collected cognitive maps from undergraduate and graduate students at UNC Charlotte already, and my graduate assistant will be conducting interviews and observations in Atkins Library while I am in London.

By the end of March, we will have a lovely comparative collection of qualitative data to play with.  Even a project as small as this will generate hours of interview data, and a rich body of field notes to mine for insights that such a comparative exploration of academic libraries can yield.  I am so, so excited to get to do this.

And part of my excitement comes from my strong investment in “going into the field.”   The anthropologists out there know how deeply felt that trope is in our field–yes, my work at Atkins library is my primary research location, but I have been “brought up” to think of field sites as Away (however problematic that may be).  And academic libraries in London are distinct in many interesting ways from the large, generalized, suburban one in which I work in Charlotte.  UCL/IOE libraries are specialized places, scattered across an urban landscape, and also contain materials on some of their shelves that would rightfully be in restricted-access special collections in the US.  I will acquire a new “arrival scene,” coming into the site libraries for the first time, I will have a new set of “key informants,” participants in my research, to interview, who are willing to share what they know with me so that I can learn, so that I can approach my library “back home” with fresh eyes, the familiar made exotic through the field experience.

It won’t be a completely isolated field experience, I’ve never been able to achieve that, and I think it’s probably to my benefit.  When I did my research in Belfast I was lucky to be embedded in a network of Queen’s U, Belfast graduate students, colleagues and eventually friends who helped keep me grounded when I was struggling with the usual alienating cliches of doing fieldwork.

In fact, I think that field experiences in applied anthropology in particular give the lie to the Anthropologist in Splendid Isolation cliche, not just because no anthropologist ever truly works in isolation (they are working with people!), but also because anthropology is always a team effort, even if it’s not immediately visible as such.  I am collaborating with colleagues in UCL and IOE, and this project began as an effort initiated by Dr. Bill Sillar in the Institute of Archaeology.  The work I have done and will do in London is a direct result of the work I’m doing here at UNC Charlotte, working with my colleagues in Atkins, and with my graduate assistants (the Atkins Ethnography project has benefited from the work so far of 4 different graduate assistants, and will continue to hire graduate students as a part of its research workforce), and undergraduate researchers.  My work is informed not just by what I find interesting, but what my boss needs from me, what questions my colleagues bring to me.  It’s a group effort.  There are no lone wolves.

I will also in this trip, have opportunities to talk about my work with colleagues old and new.  I’m participating in a workshop on Visitors and Residents, along with Dave White , Ben Showers, and Lawrie Phipps at the Jisc Digital Festival.  I’m speaking about my work at UNC Charlotte with Bryony Ramsden and her colleagues at Huddersfield.  There will be many chances in London to talk at length about my work, and especially to listen to people engaged with work that I need to pay attention to.

I can’t put into words just how delighted I am that I am finally getting to make my ambitions for a comparative, international ethnography of academic libraries begin to come to pass.  This phase of my research is funded by a UNC Charlotte Faculty Research Grant, and I hope to be able to take this project and springboard to a larger, more comprehensive treatment of all of the UCL site libraries, with an eye to informing with qualitative research much larger discussions of the role of academic libraries in Higher Education in the UK and the US.

But in the meantime, I get six weeks.   I’m going to make them count.

Entangled Technology and AAA2013, or, What I did on Friday

My AAA 2013 partners in crime this year were some people I have presented with before (and was delighted to have a chance to again: Andrew Asher, Maura Smale, Mariana Regalado), and some new-to-me colleagues I look forward to working with some more (Lori Jahnke and Lesley Gourlay).
Andrew brought the donuts. We managed to wait until after our session before eating them. That is some seriously professional self-control. Yes, that is bacon on four of the donuts, from Do-Rite Donuts. The other two were pistachio.
Never let it be said I don’t blog about important things like donuts.
Our session, Embedded and Engaged In Higher Education: Researching Student Entanglements with Technology, (here’s the link to the Prezi we used as a visual aid for the discussion) was a roundtable, where we presented and then connected the work we are engaged in, picking up on four main threads of discussion.
1) How institutional disconnect from student behavior and expectations affects access to education, to information, to what they need to engage with resources they need for their academic work, but also for the life they will build post-college.
Maura and Mariana’s work at CUNY spoke most powerfully to the everyday details of this, but I think Lori’s work text-mining IT and University strategic plans was equally important. The content of those strategic plans is just so strikingly distant from the priorities and realities of students and faculty members in higher education. We need to pay more attention to those sorts of documents, and in particular the urgency with which they need to be informed by social science research results.
2) How cultural, political, and social values are embedded not just in search, but in Higher Ed institutions generally. And again, the impact that has on #1
Andrew is doing such important work with this. Search is a cultural construction. Higher education is a cultural construction. Libraries are cultural constructions. They are not free from the values of wider society, and need to be observed critically if we are to truly concern ourselves with access to higher education, and the benefits, privileges, and problems inherent in the system.
3) The use of anthropological research to ground higher education policy (macro and micro) in the behavior of people, and the potential of the applied anthropological approach to improve outcomes of educational agendas broadly written, where ultimate goal of education is an engaged and informed citizenry.
I think this second theme is also linked to the underlying themes of the Liminality session that NAPA sponsored the previous day. My own work at UNC Charlotte is a nice example of what can happen when administrators are on board with a social science-informed policy perspective. Lesley is also trying through her work to effect change at the University of London.  But not all administrators are sympathetic. It can be challenging to inform policy beyond quantitative metrics, if qualitative approaches are not valued. Our challenge as anthropologists is to insert ourselves into institutional conversations, to become part of organizations that need more qualitative approaches, to provide perspectives that are currently all-too-scarce.
4) Our positions as professional outsiders in higher education contexts, but also as sort of native ethnographers, as we are all products of and participants in the kinds of systems we are studying.
My boss told me today that he values me at least in part because I am an outsider to the library. On the panel, our positions as people both within our institutions and tasked with thinking critically about those institutions can be personally and professionally challenging. And also, terrifically worthwhile.
Andrew, Maura and I live-tweeted this session, and I Storified it rather than put it here, because it’s kind of long.
I also quite liked our session abstract, and since you can’t see it without being a registered AAA member, I am going to reproduce it here:
Abstract:  Embedded and Engaged In Higher Education: Researching Student Entanglements with Technology
“In this roundtable we propose to explore our status, research, and findings as we work as interdisciplinary collaborators with non-anthropologists in academic settings. Our projects initiate and facilitate scholarly as well as policy discussions about the nature of information, the configuration of digital and physical spaces in academia, and the changing state of academic work and scholarly communication in the 21st century. Some of us, employed in academic libraries, are positioned as native ethnographers, as we are tasked with observing and analyzing the thoughts and behaviors of our own communities: the students, faculty, and staff in the practical, everyday spaces of academia. Our outside eye is valuable in pinpointing not just ways that academic institutions and libraries can reshape themselves for the 21st century, but also in illuminating the nature of scholarly work among our peers and the relationship of that work to the world outside of academia. This roundtable provides a forum for sharing our work and our perspectives on anthropology in higher education settings.
The panelists represent a variety of ways that anthropological knowledge and research are presented and conducted. Through a range of methods, including mapping, time logs, drawings, photo diaries, and research process interviews, we have examined how students and faculty engage with and are constrained by technology as they navigate the spaces and systems of academe. As researchers we are diversely engaged, bringing not only anthropological methods and theories to our projects but also the methods and theories of library and information science, science and technology studies, education, sociology, and user experience research.
Our research actively explores the role of technology for students in their academic work at colleges and universities. At this moment when educational technologies are very much a part of the broader, global conversation about the cost and value of higher education, we examine how these technologies constrain and enable students, and how they fit with the essential learning mission of college, especially in the academic library, a traditional locus of student use of information technology. As social scientists embedded in academia, we leverage our research to bring student voices to these discussions. Our studies produce data which may be brought to bear on policy decisions at the college and university, and which has the potential to positively impact student academic success.
As researchers who are well positioned to observe the complex interactions between digital technologies and the social organization and practices of students and faculty member, this roundtable will speak not only to how technologies are used within higher education, but also to broader cultural transformations within and outside the academy. For example, how do political and cultural values embodied in digital tools and technologies constrain or empower students? How do the social contexts of students’ communities and universities affect their technology use? By examining these questions, anthropologists working in higher education can contribute both to improving the learning environments of our universities, but also to better understandings of the meanings, effects, and lived experience of technologies and technological change. “

Liminality and Practicing Anthropology

The first session I attended at AAA2013 was the NAPA sponsored Liminality and Crossing Boundaries in Applied Anthropology.   My primary motive to attend was to see Nancy Fried Foster‘s paper on participatory design in libraries, but I was delighted that I had the chance to stay for all but the last 2 papers, because as a whole the panel was thought provoking and inspiring.

At the #NAPA Liminality panel being encouraged to ask what is new and to experiment in my practice of anthro #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

If there is IQ and EQ then anthros can provide institutions with solid CQ #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Patricia Wall from #Xerox talking about liminality leading to innovation #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

This is the big takeaway for me from the panel. That the work, and even just the presence of anthropologists in industry and institutional settings creates a liminal space, which in turn is an opportunity for change and innovation.  It’s a powerful frame in which to see ourselves as professionals, and also one that requires responsible thought about what role anthropologists and anthropology should play in effecting institutional change.  Patricia was explicit about her hopes for social science (she was one of at least 2 panelists who pointed out “I am not an anthropologist”) in institutional settings:

Anthros can help orgs find “balance at the edge  of chaos.” help navigate through liminality, make processes viisible #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Maria Bezaitis from #Intel and #EPIC talking now.
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Maria’s energetic presentation pointed even more strongly to the potential for innovation that comes out of persistent and embedded anthropological attention to technology and the processes involved in producing that technology. In particular, we can bring up to people like engineers points about technology and the digital that we, as social scientists, largely take for granted, but not everyone else does:

“The social is always shaping the technological world” @mariabz I think tech and social interact with each other, too #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Digitization changes relationships possible between 1) strangers and 2) people and things #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Technology requires that we become more flexible in thinking about connections #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

“Instrumented products” are also “social products” that facilitate data sharing that people use to build community #AAA2013 @mariabz
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

Social Scientists in industry get paid to produce liminality =  opportunities for change #AAA2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) November 21, 2013

I single out these two papers in particular because I think the themes of the potential for change, and the importance of a consistent social science-informed perspective on the processes, technologies, and organizational structures coming from and constituting industry/institutions, is one that also resonated through my own panel.  That is post #3 (which, now that I have called it out, I hope I will actually write).

Playing with Cognitive Mapping

I am messing around with cognitive mapping instruments, stolen with Andrew Asher’s blessing from the ERIAL toolkit (I know, I know, I don’t need anyone’s blessing because hey, that’s what toolkits are for!  Especially those posted on the web).  I am doing this in part because photo diaries, while useful and capable of yielding rich information, are really really time consuming and difficult to get students to do.    I am still very much hoping to get back to University College, London, to continue the work I started there in 2011, and when I am there I’d like to use cognitive maps as well as structured interviews and immersive observations to get a sense of how and why various learning spaces are being used by UCL students and faculty.

So, I’m doing some here at UNC Charlotte.  At the very least, such an exploratory exercise can give us a sense of what our undergraduate and graduate students’ spatial networks look like when they are written down.  The data I’m collecting can also begin to serve as a comparative set for the data that I hope to be able to collect in the UK.

I just want to put some of the maps here because I think they are really interesting.  I am of course far from the only one doing this–Lesley Gourlay at the IOE and her colleagues have done some mapping exercises, and of course there is the aformentioned ERIAL work, among other ethnographic projects in the US.  The students were given 6 minutes to complete each map, and were asked to map all of the places that they go to/inhabit in some way for their academic work.   I was specific in saying that the spaces could be on- or off-campus.    The maps posted here are undergraduate maps–I have maps from graduate students that we are still processing.  In general, undergraduate space maps indicate the need for them to be in places that make it easy for them to get to the other places they need to go to.  If they have class in a particular building, they are more likely to study in the Student Union than the library, because the former is closer.  If they live away from campus, they might be likely to have off-campus cafes, etc. on their maps as work spaces.  The choices they make about where to settle in to study are not made in a vacuum.  There is a similar diversity to the spaces they find themselves in, however, in part because undergraduate classes occur in a variety of buildings in different parts of campus, and are not necessarily taught in the building that house their major programs.  Graduate student maps (in process) have less diversity of spaces, because they are much more tied to the departmental labs and spaces of their degree programs.

The students worked for 2 minutes in each pen color, beginning with blue, moving to red, and then ending with black.  Some students finished before the 6 minute mark, resulting in some maps in just 2 colors (such as #7 shown here).

This undergraduate lives on campus, and has drawn straight lines connecting all of the places he needs to go.  The library is one place in a larger network, of course.  Several of these building are classroom spaces.  This senior lives in an on-campus dorm.  There are no off-campus spaces shown here.
This sophomore lives in an off-campus apartment relatively far from campus, but her boyfriend’s apartment (the building in the upper left corner) is closer in.  She has mapped campus buildings such as the Student Union and various classroom buildings, but also included important spaces such as where her youth group meets, and the 24-hour cafe Amelie’s.  The library does not figure in her mental map of learning spaces.
This student lives close to the South Carolina border, nearly a half an hour from campus.  She has included several cafe or bookstore spaces, all of which have free wi-fi, but not all of which are open 24 hours.  “School” is the university campus, and she has not differentiated places within the campus, because she has so many other places she inhabits.  The library on this map is the public library closest to the university.
This junior has sketched only the places within the library he inhabits on the left hand side of the drawing.  He has put in study rooms, and indicated where the study rooms are in the building by their proximity to round tables with computers on them (these are on the 1st floor).  His other learning spaces are in his close-to-campus apartment, on the right hand side.  He has sketched his living room furniture (comfortable chairs as well as desks), and his bedroom.

Sleeping and Successful Library Spaces

.@DonnaLanclos have you read the ‘learning aviary’ paper yet? Fave quote so far is if students fall asleep in 1 area then design success 🙂
— Bryony Ramsden (@librarygirlknit) August 27, 2013


So the article my colleague Bryony is referring to is this one : 
 Legerton, G. (January 01, 2013). Encouraging choice, serendipity and experimentation: experiences from Griffith University library (G11) extension and Gumurrii Centre. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 27, 51-62.
I am interested to read it further, but her tweet reminded me that I had never pointed out one of the fun facts uncovered by the behavior mapping that myarchitecture grad student, Alison Schaefer, carried out last semester.   First, I want to show you a typical circulation pattern through our ground floor collaborative space.  This map was generated not long after the space opened, but this primary pattern has yet to deviate substantially.   Then look at the next two maps, in black with beige highlights.
The dotted lines show the circulation paths.  This map was made on Jan 24th, representing the pattern at 12.40PM. 

Sleeping map, January 2013


Sleeping Map, April 2013

Notice, in the two maps above, where people were sleeping

While some of the sleeping is indeed happening away from the high traffic areas, some of it is certainly happening right in the middle of relatively noisy and active parts of the ground floor.  

Another thing to note is that these maps were not created during finals week, a time when it is assumed there will be lots of sleeping in the library, along with studying (and, avoiding studying).
In short, making assumptions about where students will sleep in the library based on a) where we think they should be sleeping, or b) where we would prefer to sleep, or even c) conventional wisdom about where students sleep, will not get you very far.
Our students sleep anywhere, as they need to.  They are working hard, and sometimes need to recharge.  If sleeping students are symptoms of successful spaces, then Atkins Library is doing very well indeed.

ALA 2013, Ethnography, Ethnology, and Libraries

So, Chicago.  Wow, eh?

Those of you who have been to ALA know what it’s like.  Apparently the 2013 meetings were even more massive than usual.  So, I have lots of thoughts, and will attempt to get some of them in this blog, but not all at once.  That would be crazy.

The first thing at the top of my head is the panel I attended on social science practices in Libraries, sponsored by ANSS.  At this point, there is a thin but widespread tradition of doing ethnographic work in libraries to inform the design and deployment of spaces and services in libraries.  I think it’s clear that it’s another useful method for helping us figure out what to try and why it might or might not be working–for assessment, as well as planning.

@aasher says we need more #anthrolib that talks about the embedded structures and power relationships that libraries are in #ala2013
— Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) June 30, 2013

But in the discussion after the panel, one question piqued concerns that I’ve had for a while–that there isn’t enough work out there on the structural causes for what we see in libraries (in particular, academic libraries), and, importantly, the power relationships that are shot through how and why libraries look and work the way they do now.  I would love to see someone in ILS take this on as a PhD project.  Maybe someone already has?  I think that embedded in some of our worries about access, fluencies/literacies, and informed citizenry are class, race, and gender inequities that underlie all of our society, not just the one that erupts in libraries.  Explicitly connecting those could well facilitate getting closer to more effective information landscapes for everyone.

I also think that we anthropologists working with library folk need to do a better job of bringing up the importance of ethnology in the field–that is, comparative work, not just deeply descriptive work.  Both ethnology and ethnography are necessary for effective analysis–how can we know that a problem is unique, if we have never tried to see where else this might occur, how else it might look?  How can we talk about gender constructs, for example, if we only observe and describe them in one culture?  How can we talk about student work if we only observe it in our university?  How can we reimagine librarianship in the absence of comparative data?  There are comparative projects out there–ERIAL was one in that it was more than one university, and PIL is certainly trying, in a North American context.  There are international presentations in the ALA2013 program, discussions about issues in libraries in Africa, for example, and this poster session about librarianship in Germany.   (apologies to those for whom those links will not work–you might need an ALA password to see the program)

As anthropologists, each of us working in library-land need to encourage people engaging in qualitative work to look beyond the confines of their own institutions, and even borrow from insights gained in other research.  Ethnology helps us not just triangulate, sorting the unique from the widespread, the structural from the individual, it can also helps us realize (from a policy perspective) we are not alone, there are solutions and suggestions to be gathered from the experiences of other institutions.  My own small project at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology was an attempt to try this, and I hope to continue.

That is, we don’t need to encourage everyone to do their own full blown ethnography project.  We do need to try, those of us engaged in such work, to network and speak and collect our data and insights so that they can be considered, critiqued, added to, refined, and acted upon by a larger group.  I am frequently in the “better living through anthropology” camp, and this is no exception, but ethnography is not the same as anthropology.  It’s one methodological piece, one analytic angle.  Library-land can benefit from borrowing much more.  We should encourage them to do so.  And support them as they do.

Field Trip! NC State Hunt Library and Spaces to Think With.

On Wednesday I visited not just NC State for the first time ever, but I got to have a comprehensive tour of the new James B. Hunt Library.  They had an open house yesterday, and the place was full of people who work in libraries (visitors came from all over the region, including out of state) being led around the amazing spaces.

There are pictures of the Hunt library all over the internet–I reproduce mine here not because they are fantastic photos, but because I took pictures of things that help me think about library spaces, and about what is possible in our own spaces at Atkins (which I’ve been uncharacteristically (for my blog) chatty about  recently).  It is an objectively spectacular space, and the fact that not everyone has the resources to create such a space should not deter people from going into what NCSU has created, learning from it, and dreaming big.   I intend here (and everywhere) not just to think about spaces, but to think with spaces, not just fancy ones like there are at Hunt, but in the more mundane everyday spaces in which our students and faculty find themselves.

The small 3-D printer that NCSU students
can use for prototypes for classes, or just having fun.

I am going to blog here mostly about space, although the tech stuff possible in the Hunt library is just as cool, and just as worthy of anyone’s attention; for example, the fact that students and faculty now have 3-D printers at their disposal in the Hunt makerspaces. 

The Hunt library is, to my mind, the biggest branch library I have ever seen.  It is the library for the new Centennial Campus at State, which means its primary users are in Engineering, Textiles, and other science programs.  It is also envisioned as a “second main library” for the entire university, and I will be interested to see what other constituencies use the spaces in that building.  They are undeniably attractive.

Color has been used in simple but effective ways to mark places that students need to look for.

Yellow is for Stairs.

Blue is for Elevators.

                                                                                             Orange is for restrooms.

Red is for Asking for Help (as well as the Wolfpack).

All people going into and out of the library have to pass by the Ask Us station, which is not just an info point, but an all-services point, where students can go to for reference, technical, and circulation help.  In addition, workers can be deployed (via walkie talkie) to parts of the library where people need help (this is apparently very popular for IT type help).  Reference specialists can be called from other parts of the building if a question is particularly in-depth.  Books that are retrieved by the “Book Bot” are put in this space within five minutes of the request.

And hey, let’s talk about that Book Bot.

Entering on the 1st floor of the Hunt Library gives you a great view of the “back” of the automated vertical storage unit, which holds 1.5 million volumes.  Books, folios, microfilm, and DVDs (among other things) once requested, can be made available for patrons in 5 minutes (and retrieved from the Ask Us station), or delivered to faculty offices.  They are sorted by size, and bar-coded for identification (although they are also RFID-ing each thing that is circulated, with the hope that at least the most circulated things will be RFID-tagged eventually, if not the entire Hunt collection). 

This is the “front” of the system, showing one of the robots that retrieves the books, with one of the bins, showing how the books are sorted. 

So, yeah, the system is cool, and really makes me think about the future of stacks maintenance, but what I was struck by was what NCSU’s library IT has built to make it possible to browse closed shelving (it’s currently in Beta).

They call it Virtual Browse, and it’s a touch screen that is currently mounted on the 1st floor, before you enter the library proper, between the large windows that give you a view onto the back of the Book Bot. 

This allows for browsing the Hunt collection in a way that is simply not physically possible anymore, given that the books are all in the automated storage system, and that it was never possible to look at the physical collection and browse the electronic resources at the same time.  The Virtual Browse includes electronic resources as well as physical.  This exercise in stacks virtualization, I think, is not just useful for libraries with closed/automated/off-site collections, but for all of us.  In my experience, many of our patrons experience our stacks as “closed” even if they are technically open, because they don’t know how to navigate or read the stacks.  This tool allows them to navigate the stacks and find things even if they don’t understand the call number system, even if they aren’t exactly sure where in the building those books are.   I think I’m more excited about the virtual browser than I am about the book-finding robot.

The collaborative work spaces in open parts of the Hunt library (spread across 3 floors) are colorful and configured in a variety of ways (with very attractive and fancy furniture). 

                                                                                                                                                                         Some booths.  This one has a view beyond to the Graduate Reading Room.

Some tables with task chairs, rolling whiteboards, stools.

Some bar-type computer banks.

 (the computers were Coming Soon).

And so on.

There are also spaces that evoke the design trope of the reading room, also spread across at least 3 floors of the Hunt Library.

I especially appreciated the simple trick of integrating physical books into spaces for effect.  The silent study reading room at one end of the main floor is lined on at least two sides with book shelving.

The rain garden reading room just before that integrates some of the reference collection, faculty book collection, and new books into the furniture arrangements.


What books do here is set expectations, they read “library” to people, and they say, without any signs of any kind , volumes (ha) about where people are once they walk into those spaces.  When we start downsizing our physical collections, I think we who work in libraries would do well to think about the other properties of books– to think carefully about all the different ways that books speak to our communities, beyond the delivery of content.

And here’s the thing:  we don’t have to have all the resources in the world to engage in the kind of thinking that NCSU put into its Hunt Library spaces.  I think (to be utterly immodest) that we are trying to do that kind of thing in Atkins at UNCC, right now.  Every library should aspire to be:  clear about what is where, beautiful in its execution of design, deliberate in providing a variety of spaces, and thoughtful about how and where to deploy appropriate technology, and dedicated to the staffing levels that create seamless access to services and resources.  We need to think with the spaces we already have, pay attention to what is trying to be done in those spaces, and imagine beyond what is there now to what could be.

New Learning Spaces and the role of Ongoing Research

This is going to be one in a series of posts, because I’ve got fun maps to share, and if I share them all at once, the post will be entirely tl;dr (if it isn’t already…)

Atkins Library recently renovated our “basement,” that is, we took space that had been inhabited by staff doing the work of the library, gutted it (having found new places for our staff to work in), and turned it into  an array of spaces in which students can do collaborative work.  Here is what it looked like before there were people in it (photos by Cheryl Lansford, Interior Designer for UNC Charlotte):


We have created configurable furniture arrangements in some areas, and more fixed arrangements in others.  This picture shows the T1 touch screen tables (which also have screens at the head of the table, so students can plug in and share from their laptops. 
This is a view into one of our new group study rooms, with tables that are wheeled as well as wheeled task chairs.  Surfaces near the digital screens allow students to share from their laptops, and there is also a dedicated computer for them to work from if they do not have their own device with them.  Whiteboards and the glass walls are meant to be written on (and are).
The space just outside of the library cafe has been set up to be more cafe-type seating, but with larger low tables, to accommodate the need to spread out with laptops, books, notebooks, and even more than one person’s “stuff” that they are working with.  There are outlets in the wood-paneled pillars, to allow for student to plug in wherever they want to work.
The most configurable part of the open space (that is, the space not contained in the study rooms), has more of the wheeled tables and task chairs, as well as some soft seating (relatively lightweight, so it can be moved around), rolling whiteboards, and movable privacy screens.  

I think it’s all pretty cool.  Our students seem pretty happy with it so far.  We had a fancy grand opening for the space, and are grateful to all of the work that went into the design and building of it.  Some of the work was done by me, and students under my supervision, in the form of studying the kinds of behaviors that go into collaborative work, and thinking experimentally about how to reveal the best configuration of space and technology to facilitate effective student learning.

In many learning space design scenarios, the opening is the ending.  Universities continue to build new spaces, open them, and then walk away without thinking about what comes next.  What did they get right about the new spaces?  What did we get wrong?  How can we improve it?  When can we make changes?

I wonder sometimes if there is a fear of looking bad, somehow, if one goes in and makes changes to brand new spaces.  As if the planning wasn’t good enough, and that’s why we need to change things so soon after the opening.  I hope that is not the case, because we are already looking at the new spaces and thinking about things we need to change, to better respond to how people are actually using the space, rather than assuming that they are using the space as we imagined they would.

Sometimes, people just do their own thing.

To that end, I am enlisting the help of my graduate assistants this semester, Allison Schaefer (an MA student in Architecture), and Carrie Vass (an MA student in Communications), to systematically observe what is going on in our new spaces, and report back.  At this early point in the semester (the spaces have only been officially open since January 23rd), we already have several days’ worth of observations, and some nice visualizations of that observation data.  We are interested not just in how people are using the spaces and the furniture

Allison created maps of our ground floor using Revit, and then added color for movement or activity using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.  She mapped the kinds of activities people were doing, and also where people walked when they moved through the space, over the course of her observations.  First up:  the activity maps.

This shows where people were eating in the course of her observations (about 8 hours altogether).  The heavily blue areas are adjacent to the library cafe.  But eating is clearly happening near the nice windows overlooking the Student Activity center (on the right, in this diagram), and in the central parts of the spaces.

This is where studying is happening in the new space.  All over.

This is where talking in happening in the space.  Also, all over.

When we overlap the maps for eating and studying, we see that they are not mutually exclusive areas.  These maps were created from afternoon observations–if they included evening hours, we know that there would be even more overlap.  Atkins library has allowed food and drink in its spaces (except in Special Collections) for several years, now, and this shows that we are right to not treat these activities (eating and studying) as mutually exclusive.

Can you study and talk at the same time?  Our students can and do.  While some areas clearly show one thing or the other happening, the overlap is significant.

Just because students have a laptop open does not mean they are studying.  Likewise, just because they don’t have a laptop, doesn’t mean they are not studying.

These maps are beautiful and informative, and of course are only part of the picture.  Next post, I will talk about the maps Allison created that show how the density of occupation varies, as well as length of stay, and the maps that show circulation patterns through the space.  I will also have pictures of what the spaces look like when they are occupied!