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Harvard Library Strategic Conversations Hosts "Studying Library Users to Improve Academic Libraries"


Susan Gibbons, Yale University librarian, discusses library user studies.


January 29, 2013—Harvard Library Strategic Conversations (HLSC) hosted “Studying Library Users to Improve Academic Libraries” on January 11. Susan Gibbons, Yale University librarian, led a discussion based on her research at the University of Rochester River Campus, which used techniques from anthropology and ethnography to engage in library user studies in order to improve library services and facilities.


Gibbons shared the research cycle the team used, arguing that the methodology was transferrable to other libraries, and then demonstrated how a deeper understanding of library users led to change and a closer alignment with the University of Rochester’s overall institutional mission. At the University of Rochester, an anthropologist joined the library team, which observed how undergraduate students worked in the library environment. Some of her team’s findings included that a) students viewed the library as a neutral space that belonged to all, b) a plurality of learning styles was represented and c) students underutilized library services. Some of the steps the University of Rochester took in response included assigning every first-year student a personal librarian, embedding the library in the course development process, planning classrooms specifically for teaching with special collections and designing more seminar class space within the library.


A video of Gibbons’ talk can be found here.


Gibbons’ talk was inspired by Suzanne Wones, executive director at the Harvard Law School Library (HLSL), and organized for HLSC by Lisa Junghahn, research librarian at HLSL, and for Harvard Business School (HBS) Innovation Program/Knowledge & Library Services by Linda Rosen, information research specialist at HBS. Learn more about the HLSC here