52: AnthroNews:Library Study

26 10 2008

Anthropology and the New Campus Library
By Henry D. Delcore and James Mullooly
Dept. of Anthropology and Institute of Public Anthropology

What does the opening of the new campus library this January have to do with the College of Social Sciences?

Dean of the Library, Peter McDonald, has commissioned the Institute of Public Anthropology (IPA) to conduct a year-long ethnographic study of student life, with an emphasis on data that can inform the design of the new library’s services.

To complete the project, Anthropology Professors Hank Delcore and Jim Mullooly are working with interdisciplinary graduate student, Jason Scroggins, and a team of nine anthropology undergraduate students. The students are conducting fieldwork and analysis on the project as part of their ethnographic field training.

In typical anthropological fashion, Mullooly, Delcore and their team are using an inductive methodology to try to get at the “student’s point of view.” By treating students’ lives and study practices as unknowns, they hope to turn up unexpected insights into student life. Specific methods include traditional ethnography of students on and off campus, and a range of innovative design research techniques aimed at drawing design insights out of student library users. For example, the team will be conducting participatory design workshops on physical and virtual library spaces.

The marriage of regular coursework and IPA projects is key to the IPA’s mission to bring anthropological skills and knowledge to bear to improve the quality of life in the Central Valley while providing real world fieldwork and service learning opportunities for students.

Asked what it has been like to be involved in the project, anthropology major Ashlee Dotson replied, “It has been really interesting. I like the idea of learning how to do ethnography by actually doing it. It is exciting to be a part of this study because I love the idea of playing a role in something that seeks to improve the campus and help better facilitate education. I feel that the library has a lot to offer the students at Fresno State.” She went on to express a hope widely shared by the research team and the library faculty and staff: “I love learning and think that knowledge is a powerful thing. It is my hope that the library will be seen as a pivotal place on campus; not simply a place to house books, but a place that houses knowledge.”

The study takes its lead from a similar project at University of Rochester, “Studying Students: The Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester,” by Nancy Fried Foster and Susan Gibbons. http://docushare.lib.rochester.edu/docushare/dsweb/View/Collection-4436




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