Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Anthropologists and architects to study students’ use of library at UIS

The Brookens Library at the University of Illinois at Springfield is one of five recipients of a grant from the Illinois State Library. An award of $177,000 will be shared by five Illinois universities to study the research methods of non-traditional and underserved students in an endeavor called the Illinois “Anthropologists in the Library” project.

Additionally, a master plan study of the Brookens Library will be conducted this spring with funding provided from the University of Illinois Academic Facility Maintenance Fee Assessment (AFMFA). Information gathered from the “Anthropologists in the Library” project at UIS will be utilized by those involved in the master plan study to increase their understanding of how students use the Brookens Library.

The grant for the Illinois “Anthropologists in the Library” project is from the Library Services and Technology Act administered by the Illinois State Library, a part of the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office. It was awarded to address the question: “What do students, especially those in the underserved and non-traditional group identified by each library, actually do when they are assigned a research project for one of their class assignments, and what are the expectations of students, faculty and librarians of each other with regard to this assignment?”

The Brookens Library will study the approaches to research of traditional college-aged students and those of non-traditional, older students who commute to campus. Guided by project anthropologist Dr. Andrew Asher, the library will employ methods such as photo diaries, interviews and observation to gain understanding of how research assignments are approached by students.

Four other universities will focus on different populations. Northeastern Illinois University, the coordinator of the grant project, will study Hispanic populations. DePaul University will look at first-generation college students, first-generation Americans and students who work more than 20 hours a week off campus. The University of Illinois at Chicago will also study first-generation students, and Illinois Wesleyan University will focus their research on international, African-American, Latino-American and Native American students. UIS is the only member of the grant project that will also be studying students’ library facility requirements.

This study is based upon and extends the methodology of a groundbreaking study performed at the University of Rochester library in 2005 that used ethnographic methods to understand students’ needs and improve library services. One of the authors of the Rochester study, Dr. Nancy Foster, is serving as an adviser to the Illinois “Anthropologists in the Library” project.

The Chicago architectural firm Holabird and Root has been chosen to work with the UIS campus on the master plan study to produce a master plan for the Brookens Library. The architectural team will work with the “Anthropologists in the Library” project to get a multifaceted picture of students’ wants and needs from the library building. The Brookens Library building, dedicated in 1976, is the oldest permanent building on campus. The master plan will recommend a direction for the building to meet 21st century needs for library services and related teaching and learning services.

“These projects will allow us to hear from the students themselves as well as faculty members who assign research projects,” said Jane Treadwell, university librarian and dean of Library Instructional Services at UIS. “We will use findings from the studies to modify existing services or begin new ones, and the feedback from students will inform the design process for a renovated Brookens Library. We’re going to learn so much about what our students need and want from the library, and we plan to use our findings to make the library a better place.”

For more information, contact Jane Treadwell at 217/206-6597.

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