Wednesday, June 1, 2011

AnthroLib map

Nancy Foster, one of the editors of "Studying Students: the Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester" has published a map of anthropologically based library studies that is not only shows the geographic distribution, but shows an impressive number of projects.

In Berlin's "winter" semester (that begins in October 2011), I plan to offer a seminar with a colleague where some students work with her using psychological experiments to evaluate digital libraries, and I use ethnographic methods. Many of the projects in Nancy's map seem to address physical library spaces, but my interest is in digital space.

In talking about cultural anthropology with students I often quote Clifford Geertz:
The "essential task of theory building here is … not to generalize across cases but to generalize within them. ...The diagnostician doesn't predict measles; he decides that someone has them…" (Geertz, 1973, p. 26)
In looking at a particular digital resource the goal should not be not to generalize about all users, but to understand the culture and quirks of those who use (or do not use) that particular source. This is very much like the goal of those studying students at particular libraries, except that the users are not necessarily physically there -- which can be a problem.

For the seminar we may well use some portion of the digital presence of our own university library. One possibility might be to repeat some experiments from Studying Students (for example, the one in which students redesign the library website), but to use culturally different sets of users (humanists and natural scientists? German students and Germanists in the US?) to understand different design preferences.

If anyone has done ethnographic experiments in digital space, I would be interested in hearing about them.

Geertz, C. (1973) Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture, In: The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York, Basic Books, pp.3-32.

1 comment:

  1. The new AnthroLib Map project is hosted at