January 23, 2022

Conference Paper: “Techniques to Understand the Changing Needs of Library Users”

This paper will be presented at the upcoming World Library and Information Congress, 78th IFLA General Conference and Assembly that will take Helsinki this August.


Techniques to Understand the Changing Needs of Library Users (11 pages; PDF)


Susan Gibbons
University Librarian, Yale University


IFLA General Conference Web Site


This paper demonstrates a set of techniques development by the River Campus Libraries at the University of Rochester (USA) which have facilitated a tight alignment between the services, collections, facilities, and digital presence of the Libraries with the academic needs of the undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty at the University of Rochester. At the heart of what has come to be called the “Rochester method” is a belief that a greater understanding of the academic work practices of a university or college community can reveal unintentional misalignments between a library’s services and user needs, as well as overlooked opportunities for a library to provide new services. The focus and study of academic work practices has been achieved through the adoption and adaptation of methods from anthropological and ethnography, which are then applied to the study of segments of a university community.

The process begins with the identification of a question, such as “what does a student do between the time a research paper is assigned and the paper is complete?” A suite of research methods are then developed to explore the question, such as in situ interview, photo elicitation exercises, design charettes, and academic diaries. The application of those study methods result in data in various forms including photographs, drawings, interview transcripts, and blue-sky descriptions of ideal tools, spaces, and services. Diverse teams of staff from across the library study the data and develop findings. At this point in the cycle, those findings require an organizational response that results in real change which can vary from improved marketing, altered physical facilities, new services and web tools.

The success at the University of Rochester has demonstrated that a greater understanding and appreciation of the academic needs of library users is not overly difficult nor costly to obtain. While the findings of the Rochester studies are unique to the unique community of the University of Rochester, the methods of study can and have been applied successfully to the study of library users on other campuses.

Direct to Full Text Paper (11 pages; PDF)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.