A recent five-campus ethnographic study examining how students view and use their campus libraries: students rarely ask librarians for help, even when they need it. The idea of a librarian as an academic expert who is available to talk about assignments and hold their hands through the research process is, in fact, foreign to most students. Those who even have the word "librarian" in their vocabularies often think library staff are only good for pointing to different sections of the stacks.
The ERIAL (Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries) project -- a series of studies conducted at Illinois Wesleyan, DePaul University, and Northeastern Illinois University, and the University of Illinois's
Chicago and Springfield
campuses -- was a meta-exercise for the librarians in practicing the sort of deep research they champion. Instead of relying on surveys, the libraries enlisted two anthropologists, along with their own staff members, to collect data using open-ended interviews and direct observation, among other methods.
The goal was to generate data that, rather than being statistically significant yet shallow, would provide deep, subjective accounts of what students, librarians and professors think of the library and each other at those five institutions. The resulting papers are scheduled to be published by the American Library Association this fall, under the title: "Libraries and Student Culture: What We Now Know."
The study was reported in an August 22, 2011, edition of USA Today.
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Labels: Education, Library, Staff, Students