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My last few postings have been about ArcHop and plans for developing more affordable, high-density living spaces in downtown Fresno.  But now that the Feb. 5 exhibit is over and we’re in data analysis mode on that one, I’m back to having the library on my mind more than ever.

Fresno State just opened a new library this month — find it on facebook by searching “Henry Madden Library.”  But already for the last six months, The Anthro Guys and our students have been studying student life for the library.  Dean Peter McDonald commissioned the study last year.  His goal is to increase student usage, enhance the experience of all users, and make the library central to campus life.  That’s a tall order, but when we met him, Dean McDonald was already aware of Nancy Fried Foster and Susan Gibbons’ “Studying Students: The Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester.”  Rochester anthros Foster and Gibbons, in collaboration with their campus librarians, probed student study and paper-writing habits and translated the results into design insights for library services.  Dean McDonald saw the potential for an ethnographic study of Fresno State students to help him achieve his goals for library services, and the study was off and running.

What are we doing?  Over the next few weeks, I’ll try to post about our actual research activities.  Last fall, we attended the Participatory Design Conference at Indiana University and came away with a wealth of new methodological ideas.  Most are united by the reality that merely asking people what they want in products and services is woefully inadequate to inspiring better design for rich user experience.  In general, people simply can’t tell you what they want from something as complex as “the library.”  However, they do know — at some level — what makes for a rich experience.  The challenge is to get that out of them, find the design insights, and translate them into actions and policies.  Consequently, one thing we’re deep into right now is Student Theater. In Student Theater, we direct some student participants in the first half of a skit that implicates the library somehow, then invite other student participants to direct the players toward a conclusion.  In a related exercise, Bootlegging, students induced elements of library use (who uses the library, what do they do there, what technologies do they use, etc.) onto index cards.  We then shuffled the cards, re-dealt them, and asked the students to construct skits based on the new combinations.  In these exercises, we are all moving, laughing, thinking on our feet, and creatively trying to put our understandings of the library into action.  This catches people off guard and breaks down the barriers of the usual “tell me, what do you want from the library” approach.  The value of this technique is that it inspires subjects and analysts to think outside of the box.  Looking at the video, we can then induce design insights from the latent, off-the-cuff things the student-subjects produce.

In the last round of skits, a common theme was that someone was misbehaving in the library and other users call them to task.  The line, “call security,” kept coming up.  Interestingly, our library doesn’t have “security” per se, though we do have campus police who sometimes patrol the building.  So why did this “call security” line keep coming up?  These are the sorts of issues that our team is now focusing upon.

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