Anthropologist Librarian Nancy Turner

Nancy Turner is not your typical librarian. One day she’s roaming the floors of Bird Library jotting down notes about how students are interacting with one another while they study. The next day she’s sitting with a student on the first floor of the Library while they draw their ideal library with markers and crayons. Some may wonder what she’s up to, unaware that she’s conducting serious research as a part of her anthropological study of library users.

Nancy is head of user research and assessment at the Library, charged with finding out what library users need and how effective the Library is at meeting those needs. Equipped with her degrees in anthropology, social science, and library and information science, Nancy uses a ‘toolbox of methods’ to make her discoveries. She conducts personal interviews, structured surveys, and usability testing with Syracuse University students and faculty to better understand how they are using the Library and what improvements they need to help them succeed academically. “I believe talking with patrons directly is the best way to gain honest insight into how they view the Library,” Nancy says.

Nancy also conducts quantitative research to determine the Library’s impact across campus. In one fifteen-minute block of time, Nancy discovered that students from 24 departments at seven schools and colleges came in to use Library resources and services. She collects information like this in a systematic way to help uncover ways the Library can change as new technologies emerge and students’ research needs change over time.

She often takes her findings to library administration, where the students’ concerns are addressed and their requests considered. Dean of Libraries and University Librarian Suzanne Thorin believes Nancy’s work demonstrates the Library’s commitment to supporting the entire campus community. “Nancy’s position exemplifies Scholarship in Action. She’s putting students’ needs first to ensure that we’re doing all we can to help them succeed.”

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