Coming Full Circle: Education Ethnography in Librarianship

Azure J. Stewart

I have always had a fascination with libraries as a space, the books, the documents, the archived texts, and the systems that have been used to organize all of these mediums. While my curiosity for libraries has always existed, my journey into the library world has come full circle through the CLIR fellowship opportunity. Prior to my doctoral studies, I entertained the thought of becoming a librarian, but there were a multitude of factors that swayed me toward the Ph.D. path. Little did I know that the path I decided to take for the Ph.D. would still allow me to build and develop practices that I would then use toward my CLIR fellowship at New York University (NYU) Libraries. During my doctoral studies, I learned about research as the process of “(re)seeing,” which  means developing research questions, collecting, and creating archives from original research and primary sources. Furthermore, I engaged in data collection and archiving of my data guided by a particular lens and ethical decision making. Each of these practices mirror or align with how librarians engage in their field. Indeed, besides managing large databases and published works by academics, librarians in academic settings work with the community of students and faculty to provide them with the resources needed for their success. This requires an understanding of each group and its needs to create appropriate and responsive programs or materials.

Though as a CLIR fellow my working title is engineering educational designer, my experiences as a fellow for almost two years has entailed so much more.  I joined New York University’s Division of Libraries at an exciting and transformational time. I have been able to work on innovative projects such as the Student2Scholar (S2S) Program, a co-curricular program that has been in partnership with the Dibner Library and Tandon School of Engineering. This program aims to prepare undergraduate students with professional literacy skills (e.g., what is research, ethics in science, leadership, science communication, and beyond), in engineering.  We are developing information literacy practices as well as professional literacy skills umbrella. I have been able to draw on my expertise in curriculum and instruction, in collaboration with our engineering librarian, to develop online instruction around professional skills. As a trained ethnographer I draw on a logic of inquiry to create a student-informed approach.  Developing this approach, at this position and within the field of engineering, has led me back to my ethnographic roots, to my approach to research questions, and to how I implement change.

 

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