Anthro/Ethno event

UX in Libraries goes global

medium_334937864Places have almost completely sold out for the upcoming UX in Libraries conference to be held in Cambridge (UK) in March 2015, so if you’re still thinking about booking a place, you will need to be quick.

The event promises to be truly international with delegates from all over the world converging on Cambridge including librarians from the United States, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, and of course the UK.

So if you want to increase your network and be part of something very special, grab your UX in Libraries place today before it’s too late!


UX in Libraries: on your marks, get set….

logo_colour…go! Well nearly go. On Wednesday 01 October registration will officially open for the UX (User eXperience) in Libraries conference which will take place over three days at St Catharine’s College Cambridge between 17 and 19 March 2015. Put together by a team of eight good women and men and true, UXLib as we affectionately call it, promises to be a highly practical and challenging conference with keynote speakers including library ethnographer extraordinaire Donna Lanclos,  usability wizard Matthew Reidsma, and service design guru Paul-Jervis Heath. However, the keynotes are only a part of the story. In addition you will be working in teams carrying out fieldwork across Cambridge University, coming together to develop needs into ideas and, ultimately, solutions as you pitch off your ideas against your fellow delegates for some VERY worthwhile prizes. This conference will be a true learning and developmental experience and we want YOU to be a part of it. (more…)

Ethnographic methods: a student perspective

origin_345712329So obviously I’m biased.  I’m writing on here because I’m a firm believer in using in-depth qualitative data collection to learn about what people are doing in libraries.  When I presented in London at the end of March as part of the ‘Spaces, places and practices’ seminar, organised by UCL and IoE, I can’t tell you how excited I was to see so many people there interested in the same thing, in trying out the same methods, and most importantly a desire to learn about their patrons, their community of visitors, to try and provide the best user experience they can.  The following is roughly the same stuff I said at the seminar, but I’ve got more room here to add some qualifying information and some useful links/info!


A summary of ‘Spaces, places and practices’

large_5896530863On 31 March 2014, I was fortunate to be invited to a seminar on anthropology in libraries called ‘Spaces, places and practices’. This seminar was a joint venture by UCL and IOE, with generous support from the UCL/IOE Ideas Incubator Fund.

In the morning, we heard from several speakers who discussed the work that they were doing in different libraries and using different methods. I took limited notes because I was listening so intently to what everyone was saying so I hope my write-up is at least a fairly accurate representation of what was discussed.  We hope to be able to present a more detailed picture of some of the content summarised below on this blog in due course, thereby covering anything that I’ve missed.

Lots of tweets came out of the seminar and I have collated them all as a Storify.


The Next Big Thing (TM)

medium_5568637762Occasionally in library and information work the ‘Next Big Thing’ readily presents itself, it becomes impossible to ignore and once you’ve heard about it, the Next Big Thing crops up everywhere. Now if you weren’t already on this #UKAnthroLib blog there might be an element of suspense to this post but as you are here – welcome by the way – no prizes for guessing that the current Next Big Thing is indisputably the adoption of anthropological research methods in libraries. What? Oh you thought it was Open Access… WRONG!

Anthropology as Wikipedia will tell you (Oh you hadn’t heard that it’s like completely OK to use that now? Keep up!) is ‘the study of humankind, past and present’ and in recent years major companies such as Google, Microsoft and Adidas are hiring anthropologists and ethnographers (ethno-whatties?) in a renewed attempt to understand their customers better. You see these anthropologists are far better placed than marketing or advertising execs (or anyone else on a company’s books for that matter) to derive accurate insights into customer experiences and viewpoints because they are trained to consider people more holistically than most of us mortals would ever think to. They take a wider more detailed interest in the role that the products or services in question play in the lives of the customers and do weird things like follow them around 24/7 in order to uncover information that would otherwise remain invisible or undisclosed – this approach being the aforementioned ethnography. So what have these anthropologists actually helped these companies to do? Well in the case of Adidas the result was an entirely new understanding that most of their customers were not inspired or motivated by slogans and taglines about them winning or beating the rest, but instead by a simple desire to lead healthy lifestyles (come back and read Drake Baer’s post on why companies are desperate to hire anthropologists after reading the rest of this post).

OK, so you get the basics, what then has this got to do with libraries? Well for some years now over in the good ol’ US of A there has been a keen understanding that anthropologists have a role to play in libraries to help us understand how we can engage with our users more effectively and better meet their real needs. Needs that our users often don’t articulate either because they find it difficult to describe them or because they’re unwilling to disclose them as they consider them to be irrelevant, off-topic, or because they genuinely think that we don’t want to hear them (e.g. that they mainly use library PCs to access Facebook). One of these pioneer ‘anthropologists in the library’ was Nancy Fried Foster who carried out her research at the University of Rochester. In more recent years the baton has been taken up by Donna Lanclos at UNC Charlotte (she’s on Twitter follow her) – you may well have heard of her Visitors and Residents research – who has also recently been engaged in fieldwork in academic libraries in London. She has been using techniques like photo diaries and cognitive maps of learning landscapes, followed up with 1-2-1 interviews and  is uncovering fascinating information on how library users actually research. So what of the UK? Well librarian Bryony Ramsden is currently carrying out ethnographic research at various UK institutions while studying for her PhD at the University of Huddersfield, and LSE recently hired an anthropologist called Anna Tuckett to explore use of the library space there.

However this stuff is not just about space, just as libraries are no longer just about books, anthropological research also takes in usability of digital library resources and spaces. It feels the right point to mention UX or User Experience, a term that some librarians are now redefining as not just about designing good user interfaces but as more widely about how our users experience all of our services, physical and virtual. Some places <cough> now actually employ User Experience Librarians <cough> to examine these issues. However, we can’t all make successful bids for User Experience Librarians (and even those that do then find that they are too overstretched to let the employee do this kind of research even part-time, eh Georgina?) And, unless she has cracked cloning technology, and I wouldn’t put it past her, we can’t all hire Donna Lanclos, but this shouldn’t be an excuse for us not to start exploring these new approaches and methods on a smaller scale. But, here’s a thing, even if we decide we haven’t got the resource for this, there’s definitely nothing stopping us from checking all out the data that Donna and others have already collected and I’m assured that there’s masses of it and moreover that it reveals much the same information about our users regardless of whether they are using libraries here or over in the US.

Anyway, for what is meant to be an introductory post this has gone on rather longer than I intended. So finally, why this blog? Well, partly because Meg Westbury and I had a ‘power lunch’ last week and decided that the world or at least the UK needed a go-to place to share information about anthro/ethno research and that it would be easier to share the load by creating a group blog that any librarian with a relevant interest, a point of view, or findings to share could post on. Then on Monday at a UCL anthropology seminar entitled ‘Spaces, places and practices’ (at which Donna, Anna and Bryony all presented, and supported by the excellent UCL-IOE Ideas Incubator fund) it became clear both in the room and on the twitters that there was indeed an appetite for such a thing. So here it is. We’re too good to you, I know.

So what next? Here’s a handy bulleted list:

  • Check out the Toolkits and more page by clicking on the menu button at the top right to see what we’ve got here already – some useful toolkits and links, and a Storify from Monday’s event for a kick off;
  • Tweet about the blog and related matters using the hashtag #UKAnthrolib;
  • Get in touch with Georgina Cronin (twitteremail) if you have an idea for a post for this blog to share with the world and between us we’ll schedule it in. It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking and the research you refer to doesn’t have to be finished. Even if you simply want to write a post about what you think of this new approach we want you, so don’t be shy.

Thanks to everyone who responded to the tweets on Monday you are already on our ‘in stone’ list of blog contributors: Jo Alcock, Penny Andrews, Shauna Barrett, Becky Blunk, Helen Jamieson, Libby Tilley – now just let us know a bit more.

Think that’s it. GO!

Andy Priestnerandypriestlib
Information & Library Services Manager, Judge Business School,
University of Cambridge
Personal blog:

Main photo credit: Jonas Tana via Flickr Creative Commons