Skip to Main Content


September 27, 2016

Designing Libraries to Support Community College Students

Among the growing number of ethnographic studies of college students, only a tiny number look at students on community college campuses, and even fewer look specifically at how these students do their academic work and use the library. But community college students constitute an enormous and important group. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 7.2 million of the 20.5 million undergraduates in the US are enrolled in community colleges. And it is important to understand their…
September 20, 2016

Making Space in the Library for New Pedagogies

Academic librarians, seeing changes in teaching and learning at their institutions, seek to understand these changes and ensure that their spaces, services, and resources respond accordingly. They ask what is different about the work habits and library needs of students in “flipped” and other kinds of active learning classes. By gathering information on new teaching and learning patterns and practices, they will be better equipped to highlight relevant services, develop new ones that address emerging needs, and provide spaces within…
August 22, 2016

Pokémon Stop or Pokémon Go?

Does Pokémon Go deserve a place in our cultural institutions? The stops and gyms are already there and some institutions have already incorporated the game into their programs so it seems like a good time to pose the question. The new Pokémon Go game is based on the Pokémon Game Boy games that were originally released in 1996 and were followed by playing cards, movies, a variety of media productions, and even a theme park. Played on a smartphone, the…
July 13, 2016

The Protolib Project at the University of Cambridge, Part 2

In my last blog post I wrote about the final report on the Protolib Project, which the Cambridge University Library released in April.[1] The Protolib Project, part of the Futurelib initiative at the University of Cambridge, was led by Sue Mehrer, Deputy Librarian, and included extensive participation by librarians and library staff as well as Modern Human, a design consultancy in Cambridge, England. David Marshall, Jenny Willatt, Paul-Jervis Heath, Chloe Heath, and Pete Hotchkin took the…
July 5, 2016

The Protolib Project at the University of Cambridge, Part 1

Cambridge University Library has released a wonderful report about the Protolib Project, an effort, its title states, at “researching and reimagining library environments at the University of Cambridge.”[1] Protolib is one of several projects by an initiative called Futurelib,[2] which has also released a report on Spacefinder, an app that enables students to find just the right place to work in Cambridge’s rich and sometimes confusing array of libraries and other formal and…
May 25, 2016

Farmers and Musicians

A few years ago, I had an interesting conversation with a farmer about a study I was then conducting on academic research practices. “That’s interesting about academics,” she said, “but what about how farmers do research?” This was a very special farmer, an authority on community-supported agriculture and a noted speaker and author: Elizabeth Henderson (check out her book: Sharing the Harvest). We talked some more and, with great enthusiasm, Liz told me about the sources of information she…
April 7, 2016

Tools for Designing Learning Spaces

The UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit, produced through the collaboration of SCHOMS, AUDE and UCISA,[1] provides a robust set of tools for designing learning spaces for the 21st century and a conceptual framework for approaching design differently as well as designing different kinds of spaces. The toolkit is organized around a seven-step design process, the first step of which is mainly conceptual and the remainder technical and procedural. It is written primarily for members of professional…
March 8, 2016

Imagining the Future of the Library by Studying Today’s Researchers

Lessons from Cornell

Is the library of the future something that will come into view once we crest the next hill? Or will the library of the future be what we make it, based on the best evidence we can collect on current, emerging, and anticipated practices of researchers and the needs of the research community and society at large? Ithaka S+R recently had the opportunity to explore this topic with Dr. Kornelia Tancheva, associate university librarian for research and learning services, Cornell…
January 26, 2016

Redesigning Organizations and Spaces

In the summer of 2014, Yale University integrated eight separate units into a unified Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) that advises teachers, tutors students, leverages technology for teaching and learning, and fosters global teaching and learning partnerships. First an idea, then a plan on paper, and finally a new unit by administrative action, the new CTL became more of a reality when five of the eight constituent units moved into a temporary shared space in the summer of…
November 10, 2015

The Art of Observation

The hallmark method of cultural anthropology is participant observation—total immersion in a social milieu and simultaneous scrutiny of it from an outsider perspective. In a fieldwork project, participant observation may last for months or even years and will usually entail careful documentation in notes, recordings, images, and artifacts. The anthropologist analyzes and interprets observational and other data to create a written ethnography, a document about a culture or society. The anthropological kit also includes a far simpler tool: just being…
October 8, 2015

Planning and Policy in Library Design

Earlier this year, Ithaka S+R worked with a team at the University of Nevada, Reno, to develop a better understanding of the kinds of group study facilities students need in order to work on collaborative projects and engage in other voluntary and assigned team-based activities. The objective of the project was to develop an understanding of how undergraduates do group work and the spaces and facilities that would be most helpful. Leaders at UNR’s libraries planned to use the results…
August 3, 2015

Notes from the Northumbria Conference

Alisa Rod and I had the pleasure of attending the 11th Northumbria International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries and Information Services, a biennial meeting held this year in Edinburgh, Scotland. Many people think of the Northumbria Conference as the British complement to the ARL Library Assessment Conference held in the US. The conference venue, Our Dynamic Earth, put us in the middle of excited children exploring oceans and rainforests on the one side and a spectacular view…
February 11, 2015

Ethnographic Studies at a Community College

For the past two years, Ithaka S+R has been working with librarians and library staff at Montgomery College, the community college of Montgomery County, Maryland, to gain a better understanding of student work practices and preferences. Launched by Tanner Wray, director of the Montgomery College Libraries, the study draws inspiration from a previous project at the University of Maryland. Last year, a library team worked with Ithaka S+R to study library use on the Rockville campus; this…
January 26, 2015

Nancy Fried Foster Publishes New Book

Nancy Fried Foster, with co-authors Patricia Steele, David Cronrath, and Sandra Parsons Vicchio, has a new book: The Living Library: An Intellectual Ecosystem. From the publisher’s website: The Living Library describes the evolution of one possible future for academic libraries: as laboratories for cross-disciplinary investigation. At the University of Maryland, a collaboration among the Libraries, the School of Architecture and the Department of Anthropology led to the participation of students, faculty and staff in an initiative to design a full…
January 5, 2015

Using Evidence in the Design of Academic Library Spaces

For decades and even centuries, a new academic library could be built just like any other—on the same architectural plans and with the same scholarly accommodations in mind. But today this is no longer possible. Recent years have brought dramatic changes to academic work practices such as reading, writing, and communication. The means, speed, and extent of scholarly collaboration have also undergone tremendous development. The traditional library model that has sufficed for so many years can no longer suit these…
November 13, 2014

Information Literacy and Research Practices

Yesterday, ACRL released the third draft of the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education and called upon the community to provide additional feedback. Against this backdrop, our latest issue brief is particularly timely. In “Information Literacy and Research Practices,” Nancy Fried Foster, Ithaka S+R’s senior anthropologist, demonstrates how “researchers in the wild” are adhering to many of the goals described in the draft Framework. While recognizing that the move away from the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, in place…
June 24, 2014

Participatory Design and the New Data Visualization Lab at the University of Rochester

The University of Rochester is set to open a new data visualization lab with a direct link to the University’s supercomputers. Ithaka S+R provided support in the design phase by collecting information through interviews and workshops and identifying key requirements for the space itself and for the technology to be installed in the space. The Visualization-Innovation-Science-Technology-Application (VISTA) Collaboratory lab will be used in many ways including research in the sciences, engineering and optics as well as the humanities and social…
February 14, 2014

Designing a New Academic Library from Scratch

In our latest issue brief, Ithaka S+R Senior Anthropologist Nancy Fried Foster asks what it would be like to design academic libraries based not on precedent, but rather on everything we can learn right now about the work practices of the people who already use them.  Foster demonstrates how through participatory design we can build  a new type of library that considers both the practical needs of the community and the higher ideals of cultural institutions. Interested?…