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User-Centered Design Approach in the Dartmouth Library

The Library states in its Strategic Objectives and Priorities that we want to ‘stimulate innovative thinking through user-centered design approaches’.  We are excited to be introducing our first initiative.

Background: User-Centered Libraries

A user-centered library is oriented to the people who use libraries in teaching, learning, and research; that is, to faculty and students as well as other community members who work in the library or rely on it. A user-centered library is one in which continually refreshed information about people’s use of the library, its programming and services guides planning and decision-making.

We recently launched a new initiative to develop a more user-centered library by learning and implementing a user-centered design process. This initiative will allow us to realize our Strategic Objectives & Priorities (Partners in Research; Co-Educators in Teaching and Learning; and Inspiring Environments for Inspiring Ideas) in new and innovative ways.

Our First Project: User-Centered Design of Research Service Hubs

The objective of the initial project is to devise ways to bring the best possible research services to Dartmouth’s faculty members, graduate students, and professional school students, online and in person, collaborating with key partners to enhance services. We are doing this through two main sets of studies. One set of studies is reviewing current services at Dartmouth and peer institutions. The other set of studies will focus on the practices of Dartmouth researchers.

Members of the project team are:

  • Jennifer Taxman, Associate Librarian for Research & Learning
  • James Adams, Data & Visualization Librarian
  • Laura Barrett, Director of Education & Outreach Program
  • Laura Braunstein, Digital Humanities Librarian
  • Lora Leligdon, Physical Sciences Librarian
  • George Morris, Director of Research Computing
  • Mina Rakhra, Cataloging & Metadata Services Librarian

Once the team has completed data gathering, it will conduct analytic and interpretive activities to understand the needs of our researchers and the kinds of services we may be able to deliver to them. We will then implement some focused changes based on what we have learned beginning Fall 2018.


The Library is working with Nancy Fried Foster, a design anthropologist, who is facilitating the project and providing outside expertise. Nancy helps libraries, colleges, universities, and cultural institutions use ethnographic and participatory methods to understand their users and then design spaces, services, and technologies to meet their needs. She has supported projects at Yale University, the University of Maryland, Purdue University, Central European University, Lebanese American University, and many others. Her work at the University of Rochester is best known through the book she edited with Susan Gibbons: Studying Students.


Current research services

The project team is developing a picture of current research services at Dartmouth that includes an inventory of services offered by the library as well as a review of services considered relevant and important by key administrators and service providers. Our conversations took place with several key stakeholders at Dartmouth.  We also talked with colleagues at peer institutions to learn about their practices and to get additional ideas and information.

Studies of Dartmouth researchers

The research process varies across disciplines and from one individual to another; but it is possible through user studies to characterize the process and identify common research activities, preferences, and needs. During the week of May 7th 2018, we will interview faculty members, graduate students, and professional school students, asking them about an ongoing or recent research project. We are recruiting representatives of science, social science, and humanities departments and professional schools for these interviews.

Separately, we are holding drop-in activity sessions (30-40 minutes) in which we ask respondents to depict an ideal research hub comprising both physical and online services. Team members will conduct a structured debrief of these depictions. We are recruiting faculty members and graduate and professional students who represent a range of departments and professional schools.


After gathering, analyzing, and interpreting the data, we hope to:

  • Develop models of the local research lifecycle and the full range of services that have emerged as relevant and important for current and emerging research practices;
  • Develop concepts for coordinating and delivering those services in a way that is integrated across Dartmouth Library and partner units of the College;
  • Draft a plan to implement small-scale improvements in pilot service hubs; and
  • Reflect on the user-centered design process and envision how this approach may be incorporated into planning and decision-making at Dartmouth Library.

The Project Team welcomes your questions and comments at:  Library Research Service Hubs





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