A talk with Nancy Foster

Nancy foster is an anthropologist at the University of Rochester libraries. For the past six years, she with her colleagues has been conducting research on the work practices of academics in order to build new technologies and improve library spaces and services.

The links to some of their projects  are given below:
i). eXtensible Catalog:  www.extensiblecatalog.org or webcasts at http://www.screencast.com/users/eXtensibleCatalog. And a preliminary report can be found at: http://hdl.handle.net/1802/6873.

ii). digital repositories: http://www.dlib.org/dlib/january05/foster/01foster.html

iii).  website design: http://journal.code4lib.org/articles/53

iv). Student work practices: http://hdl.handle.net/1802/6053

v). A book called Studying Students – http://www.amazon.com/Studying-Students-Undergraduate-University-Rochester/dp/0838984371/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1265379664&sr=8-1

Although her work pertains to academic libraries and mine to public ones, there is an overlap when it comes to changing technological trends, user behavior and needs and socio-cultural issues. Given below is a summary of the conversation.

On virtual lending:

Libraries pay a vendor a subscription fee so that the users can download them for free.

On their collection:

Adding to the physical collection + making digital content accessible on the internet. Members can check out and check in physical resources. Digital resources are open to memebers and or can be downloaded only at the library itself.  Special collections have controlled access, thus giving privileges to a certain member type.  Apart from that the library is accessible to anyone with a good reason.

*The giving of special privileges to certain people seems like a model museums try and follow too.  In case of public libraries, it would mean for special occasions/events have restricted entry (going against their public nature) or making some events for which tickets need to be bought. Comes from the psychological stereotype of thinking “anything thats cheap or easy to get, is probably not the best”. Thus as a value creating exercise it could be interesting for the library to introduce a system like that.

On what do the users (scholars + students) need:

Scholarly  journals, peer reviewed papers

* what people want when they look for information in the library and outside?

On searching and acquiring information in an academic setting:

Through personal scholarly networks, browsing literature and experts working in the area, conferences and seminars. These networks are mostly face-to-face, the people concerned know each other from papers published, are professional colleagues or have studied together or who keep themselves updated on each others work.

The concerns of these people are primarily based on specific scholarly interests (unlike social activity in case of public libraries).

* Again, can social networks become a source of information in a public library?

On collaborative work:

Mostly by way of physical location condusive to group work and a co-authoring document management system.

On private partnerships:

A lot of scholarly journals which had been published by scholarly societies, are now being published by commercial publishers. This dries up the funds for the scholarly societies who used to earn primarily by this.  And many people  now refuse to contribute content to a journal run by a commercial publisher.

* For more details on this topic see – savage minds

On user generated content:

Mostly pre prints of scholarly papers or supplimentary materials. Tagging and user comments is something that they are not sure if people want (users might say they do, but they haven’t really been using it enough).

*People seem to be more kicked about tagging information, than actually using it later when searching for something. For example the library in Haarlem was a victim of its own experiment on tagging books.

On the location of the library:

The Rochester library is a collection of specialty libraries (lazer, physics etc), so people go to a specific library because they want specific material that is present there. But quite lot of the time people go to the location where they find the people they want to be with or a place which is close to another place they are going.

* Thus, the importance of the library to be in places the people are and not the other way around.

On user research methods:

– Mapping exercises, to plot user activity on a map – plotting the days movement, and places where information was required and how they got it.

– About people who dont come to the library, how do they do the things that are done by others in the library.

On the book vs  ebook readers:

For many taking a real book is a ‘switching off’ moment from work, technology and suchlike…

On books and transit :

Many people read books (quite often library books) in trains, trams etc. The younger generation is probably more prone to be using their phones and reading gadgets to read online content.

On Pop up Libraries:

The practice was seen in the retail industry, in new york. The important thing in this case is  ‘explosure’ for example for a tulip festival or in a gardening shop could have a pop up library with books on gardening, plants, sustainability etc.

On citizen participation and story telling:

Check out the story corps


*Some questions for myself:

– Why are bookstores getting more important than libraries ?

– What does the library have, how do you describe to another, what products make its character?

– Is there anything that the library provides, that the people cant get by another means?


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