By Meredith Farkas | October 23, 2006
Judi Briden, Katie Clark and Isabel Kaplan from the University of Rochester.
They did a two year project to determine what undergraduates really do when they write research papers. They had a multi-disciplinary team including an anthropologist who taught the team about ethnographic methods. The findings from this would inform their Website design, instructional design, etc.
They did retrospective interviews asking questions about a paper that they had just completed. They did interviews asking about what the students did step-by-step in putting together their paper (hearing about the assignment, choosing a topic, research, creating a bibliography, writing, etc.) and had them draw it out on a poster. The students drew very detailed maps showing how they came up with topics, who they consulted, what they used in their research, etc. with a detailed timeline.
Most students did not talk to a librarian during their research process.
Research team and librarians co-viewed the videos, transcripts and drawings. They brainstormed methods for providing services to students based on their observations.
They used photographic surveys. They gave students a disposable camera and asked students to take pictures of specific things like where they study, what technologies they use, their favorite research tool, things they take to class, etc. They then interviewed students about what was in those photos and learned many things that they would not have thought to ask in the first place.
They gave students a mapping diary and had them map out chronologically where they went in an average day on campus. They also were asked to describe each place they go to and what they do, so there was also a written record.
Observations: They found that students are on the go for hours at a time. That they eat quick meals at odd times and often just snack where they are. They do more than just attend class. They carry many belongings with them. They have preferred places to study. .
How can libraries meet these needs? What makes a place attractive to students?
They asked students to draw an ideal library space for themselves. They put notes on the design as well either directly on it or on stickies. The designs the students did were really telling. Some of the stuff was kind of pie-in-the-sky, but still instructive to librarians. They got a really good sense of what people like and what really bothers them about the current design.
What they learned: students want flexibility, they want spaces that are adjustable and meet a variety of needs. They want comfy spaces, good views, attention to the environment. They want resources to be easier to find.
Can libraries define a space that would be comfortable and yet functional? ABSOLUTELY!
The results they got from these studies really informed how they designed their physical and Web space.
Students want to be able to connect to people – to professor’s sites, subject guides, message boards, syllabi, calendars, etc.
They interviewed students outside of the library in the student union. Put up a sign saying “answer a few questions, get free snacks.” Asked students about what they used for library research. Most students had used some library resources. They feel like they have no trouble finding materials for their paper and they have plenty of time to write their papers. When they need help, they go to professors and TAs. They think that librarians just help them find books, not use databases and do online research.
They also interviewed students in their dorms with video cameras. They asked to see what was on the students’ computer screens. They got to see what the average Freshman dorm looks like and what students are doing in the dorms. They found that students are really multitasking, doing up to nine things simultaneously just on their computer. The dorms are really chaotic. Lots of noise and activity and distractions.
Maybe the role of the library is to provide a quiet place to read a book? Could the library be a refuge?
What they found: Students work and study late. They study in the library. They communicate with their parents regularly and talk to them about assignments. They don’t just pick the first three articles from Google (though they do use Google). They write the paper at the last minute, but they often do research over a long period of time in bits and pieces. They are not afraid to approach the reference desk. They’re not afraid to ask for help, they just don’t know what we’re useful for. They think of us as generalists and people who can help them find books. We need to change perceptions of libraries and librarians.
Now they really understand how undergrads live and work. There was high staff participation and engagement.