Atkins Ethnography Project 2009-2018: Annotated Bibliography

My work at UNC Charlotte under the umbrella of the “Atkins Library Ethnography Project” produced a number of publications and whitepapers that it occurs to me might be useful if they were gathered all in one place.  I was asked recently if I were going to publish a book of all of the work I did while in my position as library ethnographer at Atkins Library, and while I have no such plans as yet, I think that this series of publications and papers gives a good sense of the range of projects we tried to do, and the impact they had.  Included in this list are a couple of opinion/advocacy piece that show where I am coming from in terms of why this work is important. You will also notice that the vast majority of this work is co-authored. I could never have done this work all on my own.


2011     “Re-imagining the Users’ Experience: An Ethnographic Approach to Web Usability and Space Design”, with Somaly Kim Wu, Reference Services Review, Vol. 39 Iss: 3.


This was the first article to come out of our early work in Atkins around UX and ethnography, co-authored with my colleague Somaly Kim Wu, who at the time was the business librarian, and who also had extensive UX experience from her previous position.  We wanted to link the work we were doing around web UX with the work I had started in library ethnography. In addition to reading about our use of web UX to overhaul the Atkins Library website, you can read about our early attempts to configure physical spaces in the library (especially the 1st and ground floors) to fit what people were actually doing, before we had the budget to redesign and redevelop on a larger scale.  


2012  “A Preliminary Ethnographic Study of Student Learning Practices and use of Library spaces in the Institute of Archaeology, UCL” with Bill Sillar. Whitepaper, University College, London and UNC Charlotte.  


I am still looking for a shareable copy of this whitepaper, which is evidence of my first foray into comparative library ethnography.  Bill Sillar, in the Institute of Archaeology at UCL (and a friend connected to me via my husband’s career as an Andean archaeologist), invited me to do a project in the IoA library so that he and his colleagues could learn more about how and why their students studied the way they did, both online and off.  In this small (2-week) pilot project I conducted semi-structured interviews, based on the photo diaries that students did for me before I arrived. This work helped inform a minor redesign of the IoA library, including adding bookable group study rooms, and a glass partition between the issue desk and the rest of the space.


2012 “Collaborative work within Optical Engineering: Ethnography and curricular development,” with A. M. Ferrara, M. A. Davies, C. J. Evans, and T. J. Suleski in Applied Industrial Optics: Spectroscopy, Imaging and Metrology, OSA Technical Digest (online) (Optical Society of America, 2012), paper JTu5A.1:


I spent a fair amount of time while at UNCC simply looking for the right opportunity to collaborate with people, and this publication is evidence of my collaboration with colleagues in the Optical Engineering faculty.  Over the course of a semester, myself and an anthropology MA student (Angie Ferrara) conducted observations in optical engineering classrooms and labs. We also interviewed graduate students, faculty, optical science industry professionals, and former graduate students about their current practices, their networks, and the connections of their education to the work they thought they would need to do, or knew they had to do in their current positions.  This poster summarizes our findings, in particular that much of the valuable and challenging work that students do in optical engineering has to do with collaboration, networking, and communication.  This project was funded by a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning grant from UNC Charlotte’s own Center for Teaching and Learning.


2013 ’I Always Stick with the First Thing that Comes up on Google…’ Where People Go for Information, What They Use, and Why.” With Lynn Silipigni Connaway and Erin M. Hood. Nov/Dec 2013, EDUCAUSE Review Online.


2014  “Evaluating Digital Services:  A Visitors and Residents Approach” with David White, Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Erin Hood, and Carrie Vass, Jisc InfoNet Infokit.


I was invited by Lynn Connaway to work with her on the Jisc and OCLC-funded Visitors and Residents research project, in collaboration with Dave White, who was at Oxford University at the time.  These two pieces are for me the most representative of the work that came out of the project from 2010-2014, which involved interviews with UNC Charlotte and Charlotte-area high school students as part of the research sample.  The Educause article gives a nice sense of the research project’s design, and then focuses on the preliminary research results, and has recommendations for organizations (especially libraries) given those results. The InfoKit (a big website, basically) was our attempt to take the research we had done and more thoroughly explore the implications of what we’d found in our research about the ways that people search for and use information (whether online or not), so that it would be useful to (among others) people in HE, FE, and libraries.  The practice mapping technique continues to be useful as a way of visualizing practice, and has been built upon subsequently.


2014 “The Mixed-Method Library: Qualitative Research and the Future of Assessment in Higher Education.” in Reinventing Libraries: Reinventing  Assessment. Innovative Practices and Ideas that Challenge the Status Quo.  CUNY Library Assessment Conference Proceedings.


This conference presentation encapsulates much of the argument that I have been making, and continue to make, for the value of qualitative research in an environment (libraries) that relies heavily on quantitative data to make arguments for value and policy.  In this piece I also talk about the impact that the Atkins Library Ethnography project had on our ground floor renovations that resulted in collaborative learning spaces for our UNC Charlotte students, and about the cognitive mapping methods I had started using, to give a holistic picture of our students’ learning landscapes.


2015  “Comparative Library Ethnography , a UCL and IOE Idea Incubator Project” (whitepaper), with Lesley Gourlay and Lesley Pitman.  


2015  “Sociomaterial Texts, Spaces and.   Devices: Questioning ‘Digital Dualism’ in Library and Study Practices.” with  Lesley Gourlay and Martin Oliver, Higher Education Quarterly.  (link is to #OA version, for published edition cf. doi: 10.1111/hequ.12075 )


This work details the follow-up project to the 2011 collaboration with Bill Sillar at UCL.  In this phase, I partnered with Lesley Gourlay and Lesley Pitman.  The article goes into more theoretical detail and also draws in work done by Lesley and her colleague Martin Oliver around student study practices.  This project was funded in part by the UCL/IOE Idea Incubator Project (this was just before the Institute of Education became a part of University College London), and in part by a Faculty Research Grant from UNC Charlotte.  We had students and faculty in London draw cognitive maps of their learning (and teaching) landscapes, and we then interviewed them about their maps, as companion pieces to the maps and interviews I had already collected from UNC Charlotte folks. With the help of librarians in UCL and my graduate research assistant, Michele Gray, in UNC Charlotte,  we also used an observational tool developed by NCSU, SUMA,to count and roughly map activities in 3 branch libraries at UCL, plus UNCC.   We were attempting in this work to draw out the similarities between the two field sites (London and Charlotte) so that we could at some point have useful discussions about what was truly unique in each place, too.


2015 “Ethnographic Techniques and New Visions for Libraries,” in Library Analytics and Metrics:  Using Data to Drive Decisions and Services. Ed. Ben Showers.  Facet Publishing: London.   


This chapter is another framing of the Atkins Ethnography Project as a means to envision what it would look like if library assessment were more qualitative than quantitative.  It also contains summaries of the work we were trying to do with the project, especially the impact it had on the physical renovations of UNC Charlotte’s library space.


2015 “The Resident Web and Its Impact on the Academy,” with David White, in Hybrid Pedagogy,October 8.


In this piece Dave and I are trying to take the insights we gained from working on the Visitors and Residents project, and think more broadly about what digital places and contexts mean for the practices of academia.


2016  “Embracing an Ethnographic Agenda: Context, Collaboration and Complexity,” in User Experience in Libraries:  Applying Ethnography and Human-Centred Design. edited by Andy Priestner and Matt Borg, Routledge (Taylor and Francis Group).


This chapter is a result of my involvement with the UXLibs conference and community.  I was so pleased to be invited to participate, both in the first UXLibs, and then in UXLibs2 and 3.  This entire book nicely encapsulates what the overarching philosophy of UXLibs is, and what practice in libraries have been and continue to be informed by it.


2016  “Ethnographish:  The State of Ethnography in Libraries”  with Andrew Asher.  Weave vol 1, issue 5.


I have written about the motivations for this piece, in which Andrew and I take on the state of ethnography in particular in libraries, in the context of current power structures and the meaning and credibiility of qual in a continuing quant-heavy environment.


2016  “Ethnographic approaches to the practices of scholarly communication: tackling the mess of academia.” Insights. 29(3), pp.239–248. DOI:


This article is a write-up of a talk I gave at UKSG in 2016, which also had an incarnation as a webinar.  I use in particular our cognitive and Visitors and Residents mapping data to talk about the ways that libraries and systems can’t encompass the entirety of academic workflows (nor should it try).


2016  “Ethnography Impact Report:  Atkins Library 2009-2016” (whitepaper)


This was my internal attempt to round up all of the work that we had been doing in Atkins that was ethnographic.  In this I draw together all of the projects, large and small, into the unifying narrative of what ethnography can bring to libraries around insight as well as potential action.  


2017  “Get out of the Library,” editorial, UKSG eNews, 21 April.


Leo Appleton invited me to write an editorial for UKSG, and this is it.  It reflects a perspective I took early on, that the work of the library should always remember that the work of academia is bigger than just the library and its systems.  The relationship building and the work we do has to occur outside of the building, and frequently outside of the comfort zone of many library workers.


2017  Asher, Andrew; Amaral, Jean; Couture, Juliann; Fister, Barbara; Lanclos, Donna; Lowe, M. Sara; Regalado, Mariana; and Smale, Maura A. (2017) “Mapping Student Days: Collaborative Ethnography and the Student Experience,” Collaborative Librarianship: Vol. 9 : Iss. 4 , Article 7.

Available at:


This article comes out of a massive collaborative undertaking by the team of authors listed here.  It is our attempt to do comparative library ethnography that also holistically approaches the lives of students.  This is also an article that people can turn to when wondering if insights gained from large research universities can also be applied to small residential colleges (or, vice-versa).  


2018  Lanclos, Donna and Winterling, Rachael “Making Space in the Library for Student Parents” in  Academic Libraries for Commuter Students: Research-Based Strategies, Mariana Regalado and Maura A. Smale, eds. (33-51).  (Chicago: American Library Association, 2018)


This book chapter also has some of the history of the Atkins Ethnography project to date, to provide context for the planning and initial assessment of UNC Charlotte Atkins Library’s Family Friendly Study Room.  In addition to drawing on insights from previous phases of the ethnography project, we used booking software data as well as interviews (pre- and post-occupation) to analyze and reflect on the student uses of the room, and larger questions about student parent needs at university.