Karen Merguerian has always been interested in connecting with library users, both in person and online. In her new position as User Engagement Librarian, she works in assessment of library services and development of the library's relationships with students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
How are you assessing current campus needs?
For many years the library has done surveys and interviews, and they’ve been incredibly valuable to us. Now we are interested in trying to extend those methods by asking our users to share a little more intimately with us how they study and do research. For example, we might ask them to keep a diary of their work habits or take photographs of their favorite locations for working and creating. This information is a rich source to us for thinking about building renovations, new programs, new collections.
Then we think about how we use this data to understand what resources and services are most popular and with what populations. Surveys are useful for assessing practical needs. For example, a survey of students last spring identified a demand for concrete things like power outlets, reliable wireless access, and good-sized tables to accommodate all the things we need at our fingertips for research—textbooks, laptops, phones, notebooks. We also held focus groups, and those identified more ephemeral needs—the need for a comfortable library, a “home away from home” at the university, balanced with the need for inspirational surroundings that fuel creativity.
How does technology change the way libraries engage with users?
The communication is increasingly two-way, transparent, and hierarchy-free. Users engage with us in forums like Twitter and Facebook where their comments are public. And they expect the library to be there for them not just as a building or a web site, but as a friendly, supportive, dynamic presence online.
Does your work only encompass students?
No, although students are our biggest user population. Students are also a barometer. With what they are doing today, we can expect creative professionals, researchers, alumni, and faculty to be doing tomorrow. At the same time, there are rituals of research and study that are common to many types of users: for example, even the most social and collaborative people need quiet space at least some of the time. We’re also interested in communicating our observations to faculty and university leadership. We want them to know the Northeastern community is using electronic collections in ever-increasing numbers, that they are studying increasingly in groups, that they are seeking increasingly specialized research support. All of that is happening here in the library.