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 year, another team is doing a similar study on the Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus. We have used ethnographic methods—interviews, cultural probes and workshops—to gather information about how and where students study for exams, do assignments, write papers, and so on. We have also used the workshop method to gain insight on what faculty and library staff members expect and need of the library.
While the goal of the project is to make improvements to the library, including updating the facilities and making decisions about collection development and reference outreach, many other benefits are emerging along the way. These include an opportunity for a large group of leaders from many parts of the college to learn more about the libraries through participation on the project stakeholders group. There is also a role for students in anthropology classes in conducting complementary research, and architecture students have engaged in a design competition using the findings of Phase 1 at the Rockville campus.
Another major benefit of the project is that library staff, anthropology professors, administrators and students have been selected to present information about the project at a large and varied group of conferences. Community colleges are increasingly important in the education landscape, so these presentations are especially timely. We hope that readers of the blog will consider attending these sessions to learn about this exciting project.
Presentations scheduled for 2015
Del Hornbuckle, Alex Moyer, Josephine Trawick, Tanner Wray. “Inspired Spaces, or Home Away from Home? Academic Affordances of Peace, Quiet, Comfort and Technology in the Library.” Panel presentation at the 2015 National Conference of Association of College and Research Libraries, Portland, OR, March 27, 2015.
Cynthia Pfanstiehl. “Student Researchers Assess Their Campus Library: Identifying Needs and Recommending Change.” Poster session at the 2015 National Conference of Association of College and Research Libraries, Portland, OR, March 26, 2015.
Josephine Trawick. “Student-Centered Libraries: Using Ethnographic Techniques in a Community College Setting.” Poster session at 2015 National Conference of Association of College and Research Libraries, Portland, OR, March 26, 2015.
Emily Christian, Jonelle Bowen, Michael Kissiedu, Bushra Miller. “Honors Student Researchers – Allies in the Campaign to Modernize the College Library.” Panel presentation at Conference of Northeast Regional Honors Council, Gettysburg, PA, April 9-12, 2015.
Tanner Wray. Lightning round presentation at annual meeting and program of Congress of Academic Library Directors of Maryland, Columbia, MD, April 10, 2015.
DeRionne Pollard, Tanner Wray, Nancy Fried Foster, Cynthia Pfanstiehl. “New Approaches to Designing Student-Centered Spaces with Participatory Assessment.” Forum session at Annual Convention of American Association of Community Colleges, San Antonio, TX, April 19, 2015.
Tanner Wray, Sarah Fisher, Beth Thoms. “Inspired Spaces, or Home Away from Home? Academic Affordances of Peace, Quiet, Comfort and Technology in the Library.” Joint conference of Maryland Library Association and Delaware Library Association, Ocean City, MD, May 7, 2015.