SU Library awarded Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to conduct ethnographic study of academic and library cultures

Syracuse University Library has been awarded a $53,000 planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to conduct an ethnographic study of academic and library cultures. The purpose of the study is to gain insight into how teaching, learning and research in a highly ranked professional school are being conducted and how closely the library’s services and resources synchronize with the school’s needs.

The study focuses on the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, whose programs cover the convergence of media in society and the use of content in any format, whether it is the written word, photography or film. The grant, “Patterns of Culture: Re-aligning Library Culture to Meet User Needs,” will continue a pilot study of Newhouse faculty and delve more deeply, working with students, faculty and staff.

“The library has proposed some innovative research that has the potential to provide benefits not just to Newhouse, but across campus as the library deepens its ties to academic work,” says SU Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor of the grant award.

Results of the project will inform changes to library organizational structures and services, including new models for developing library collections and the creation of customized services for faculty and students. The project team, which includes librarians and a graduate assistant, is being trained in ethnographic research methods to equip them with skills in listening, observing, interviewing and understanding contemporary research practices and information-seeking behaviors. The project will create a model for data gathering and analysis that could be used to investigate other SU schools, departments and colleges, or by other institutions interested in conducting similar studies.

Suzanne Thorin, University librarian and dean of libraries, and Nancy Turner, senior program officer for research and analysis, are co-principal investigators on the project. Turner, who holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a master’s degree in social sciences, in addition to an M.L.I.S., will serve as the project manager. She will be assisted by Ilka Datig, a graduate student in the School of Information Studies, who has a master’s degree in cultural anthropology. Other project team members include librarians Nicolette Dobrowolski, John Olson, Michael Pasqualoni, Bonnie Ryan and Ann Skiold. In addition, SU anthropology professor Michael Freedman will give guidance to the team.

An advisory group of Newhouse faculty, staff and students is being formed to work with the library team, to provide assistance with access to classes and to help in identifying participants for various project activities.

The project will run through September 2008 in four phases: training, testing and team building; fieldwork and data collection at Newhouse; fieldwork and data collection at the library; and analysis, report writing and proposal for next steps.

For more information on the project, contact Nancy Turner at 443-2237 or

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