Published July 5, 2018 | Version v1
Presentation Open

Understanding Academics: a UX ethnographic research project at the University of York


In Spring 2016 the University of York launched a research project to better understand academic staff. Ambitiously titled ‘Understanding Academics’ the aims of the project were threefold: to gain a better understanding of how academics at York approach their research and teaching activities; to consider how Library services currently facilitate and support those activities; and to integrate the ‘academic voice’ into future service planning and development of support for academics, ensuring that the Library continues to engage departments in innovative ways that respond to both current and future needs.

The project centred around the use of specific ethnographic methodologies and in particular two UX techniques: cognitive mapping followed by semi-structured interviews carried out by Academic Liaison Librarians (ALLs).

Following the interviews, a five-stage methodology for managing and analysing the research data was developed. All interview data was coded using NVivo and a list of key themes was generated to help build a picture of academic life at York and articulate some of the opportunities and challenges facing academic staff. Themes were wide ranging from collaborations in academia, to accessing resources, research data management, use of social media and digital literacy skills. Results were analysed across faculties and set within the wider national and international context through close analysis of the professional literature including the Ithaka S+R Library Survey 2016.

Ultimately, the research has led to four key outcomes: a set of ‘quick wins’ whereby the Library was able to make immediate changes to services for academics; a set of longer-term practical recommendations which are currently being implemented; an evidence-based synthesis which seeks to define and explain academic life and understand the key motivations, frustrations and aspirations for academics; and an analysis of the key themes emerging from the interviews.

Emerging from the synthesis were three core questions around collections, space and digital literacies which have formed the focus of the development of the new Library Strategy (2018-2021).

A research article is due for publication later in 2018 which will cover the synthesis of academic life at York. It is therefore proposed that this paper will give an overview of the project with a focus on the themed analysis and the implications of these findings particularly to support digital humanities.


Understanding Academics LIBER 2018 presentation Blake Gallimore.pdf

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