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CLIR Publishes Participatory Design in Academic Libraries: New Reports and Findings

Eight academic libraries report on how they improved services by involving users in the redesign of space and technologies

Washington, DC, February 26, 2014-The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) today published Participatory Design in Academic Libraries: New Reports and Findings. The report looks at how staff at eight academic institutions gained new insight about how students and faculty use their libraries, and how the staff are using these findings to improve library technologies, space, and services.

Participatory design is a relatively recent approach to understanding library user behavior. It is based on techniques used in anthropological and ethnographic observation. The report’s editor, Nancy Fried Foster, led several participatory design workshops for CLIR from 2007 to 2013.

Rapid advances in technology have profoundly affected how teaching, learning, and research are done, so Foster believes that it is more important than ever to understand how students and faculty work. “Library spaces, technologies, and services that are built with broad participation work better and are more responsive to the work practices and needs of real people,” she says.

“Participatory design begins with the belief that relying on precedent-on the way things have always been done-no longer serves us as well in these times of rapid and even disruptive change,” writes Foster in her introduction. “It used to make sense to build an academic library that looked and worked like other, older academic libraries. To imitate older academic libraries now would be to build a library that is obsolete even before it opened.”

The report is based on a series of presentations at the second CLIR Seminar on Participatory Design of Academic Libraries, held at the University of Rochester’s River Campus June 5-7, 2013. Chapters focus on projects at the University of Colorado, Boulder; Colby College; University of Connecticut; Columbia University; Rush University Medical Center; Purdue University; Northwestern University; and the University of Rochester. David Lindahl, of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, provided the keynote.

The report is available in PDF format only at It is the second of two volumes published by CLIR that focus on participatory design. The first, Participatory Design in Academic Libraries: Methods, Findings, and Implementations, was published in October 2012.

CLIR is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning. It aims to promote forward-looking collaborative solutions that transcend disciplinary, institutional, professional, and geographic boundaries in support of the public good.

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