Studying Students

The undergraduate research project at the University of Rochester.  Keynote speaker: Katie Clark, Associate Dean, Public Services.

Two year project to study undergrads – how they work and how they live.

From the “other Rochester.”  Campus has no non-traditional students; all students live on campus for all 4 years.

Project background:

IMLS grant to study faculty work practices.  Libraries hired an anthropologist; used ethnographic methods.  Results made them want to use more.

Decided to then study undergraduates.  Not grant funded; hired the anthropologist to staff – Dr. Nancy Foster.

Methodologies: retrospective interviews, photo surveys, mapping diaries, interviews in student union, late night dorm visits, design workshops for web page, design Charettes.

Retrospective interviews – interviewed students that had just written a paper.  Students would make a sketch of the process.  At the end, had a video tape of the interview and the graphic representation.  Learned that individual students studied in many different places.  (In the dorm, in the library, in the study lounge, etc.)  Saw the library over and over – librarians, not so much.

One of the things that surprised them a lot was how involved the parents are in the writing of the paper.  Freshmen talk to their parents all the time about their papers.  

Students: worked on papers in chunks, with days or weeks in between.  Asked family and friends for help choosing a topic or editing their papers.  Use Google, but not only Google.  Did evaluate resources – just not all the ways the librarians recommend.  Didn’t remember who gave their library session.

Used disposable cameras – gave students a list of pictures to take.  Some were social – take a picture of something funny, or your friend.  Some were academic.  They didn’t have the nerve to go to the dorms themselves – thought it was kind of creepy.  Asked the students to take the dorm photos.  Later interviewed the students to tell them about the pictures.

Shows a photo of a dorm room – it’s an unbelievable mess.  Amongst all the mess is a laptop.

Picture of “something you couldn’t live without” – one took a pic of her daily planner.  

Pic of “your favorite place to study” – dorm rooms, and the library.  Found that the same student would like to work in many different places.  Perhaps they come to the library because it’s quiet, it’s clean, and it’s a way to get away from the mess.

Pic of “what do you always carry with you?” – cell phones were ubiquitous.  Nothing unusual.  One thing they noticed was that the students weren’t carrying their laptops.

Pic of “what in the library is confusing to you?” – stacks.  Not only did one student find them confusing, she was actually afraid of the stacks – she had gotten lost in them.  

Mapping diaries – traced where the students went all day, using the campus map.  Were interviewed afterwards about the process.

Found that students: are on the go for hours at a time. Do more than just attend classes.  Eat quick meals, at odd times, sometimes just snacking wherever they are.  Carry their belongings with them.  Use technology everywhere.  Peak study time 11pm to 1am.

Late night at the student union: have no problem finding materials for their papers; if they have problems finding materials, they just switch topics.  Have some problems organizing and writing their papers. Knew about the college writing center.  Ask professors and TAs for help – didn’t ask librarians, as they were strongly tied to print books and not help in papers.  

Finally did go to the dorms, and were welcomed by the students.  Students were flattered to be asked for their opinions.  Went to two dorms at 10:00 on a weekday night.  Were invited into the rooms.  Impression of the dorms was that of chaos – lots of noise, music, gaming, movement back and forth.  Meanwhile, lots of multitasking going on.  

Surprise that students were not as technology-savvy as they thought.  Some were very geeky, but most weren’t.  Students would have interesting ways to get themselves offline – would unplug their computers and move to a place where there wasn’t wireless.  Many students used the library as a place to disconnect and focus.

Webpage – has students circle the things they liked, cross out what they didn’t, and add postits for things they wanted to add.  Add – IM, Facebook, email, scrolling news link.  Liked catalog search box, article search box, borrowing information.

Brought students into an empty space that was due to be renovated.  Asked students if they could have anything in the space, what would the space look like?  Some students spent over an hour drawing very complex pictures.  Students wanted windows, long tables with barstools, fruit and other healthy snacks, someone to staff,  “the sun should be shining all the time”, meeting room with tables and chairs but comfy and not utilitarian, “overall atmosphere is quiet but not silent, lots of bright colors and semi-modern but not too weird-looking furniture”, computers with rolling chairs, glassed-in super-quiet area, etc.  

Renovation of new student space: collaborative study spaces, 24/7, power and data, importance of food, comfortable seating, lots of big tables.  

Issue of helicopter parents: have a breakfast for the parents, because they knew the students were talking to the parents.  One message: every class has a librarian.  Not sure whether it works or not, but they’re a much more attentive audience than the incoming freshmen.  (big laughter on that one.)  

Impications: understand how undergrads work and live, understand undergrad use of the library, high staff participation and engagement, new organizational culture – stopped the whole “when I was in college” thing.  Project was great fun.

Book available as free download.



Filed under Academia, Libraries and Librarianship

2 responses to “Studying Students

  1. Katie

    Hey – thanks for the nice write up!

  2. Thanks, Katie! It was a great talk and gave me lots of ideas for my campus here at the other Rochester!

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