TOOLS: Targeted Outreach for Optimum Library Service Ethnography and Results

By Laura Burt-Nicholas, Reference Librarian at College of DuPage and Derrick Willis, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the College of DuPage


Spring 2015: Derrick Willis and Laura Burt-Nicholas submitted "TOOLS: Targeted Outreach for Optimum Library Service" as an IMLS Sparks grant.

Summer 2015: Laura works to research what other library ethnographies have discovered.

Fall 2015: Laura and Derrick are notified that they have been awarded an IMLS grant in September.

Derrick Willis worked to identify 3 students who would be able to participate in the research process. Derrick and his students conducted an ethnographic study aimed at discovering student usage of and feelings toward the COD Library faculty and staff, spaces, and services. Derrick and his students also worked to discern what routines students utilized when conducting research, as well as what emotions they felt when doing so.

See the questions asked of study participants here

Spring 2016: Derrick and his students work to code the interviews. Laura established a Marketing Focus Group, which will discern what and how to market little-utilized or greatly appreciated items from the study.

See the Focus Group Questions list here.

Derrick and students Sharon Grimm, Allen Garza, and Amber Julius presented their ethnographic findings at SfAA in 2016 and then to the library faculty, staff, and administration, as well as College administrators. Presentations were as follows:

  • “Collaboration and Student Centered Services: Closing the Gap Between Librarians and Students,” by Derrick Willis
  • “Help in the Age of the Independent Student/Millennial” by Sharon Grimm
  • “Imagining the Library in the Digital Age” by Allen Garza
  • "More than Noise in the Library” by Amber Julius.

Summer 2016: Laura worked with Multimedia Services to film a library orientation video, as well as student interviews with 4 students, focusing on four questions gleaned from the interviews and focus groups:

  • What is the one thing you wish you would have known about the library when you started?
  • What is your favorite library space? Why?
  • Have you ever used the reference desk? How did it go?
  • What is the most important thing you’ve learned about research in your time at COD?

Laura also worked with Marketing and Creative services to design a series of posters we could use to highlight these topics on campus.

Fall 2016:

  • Laura worked to advertise the completed marketing videos, including the orientation and interview videos, on the library website and Facebook account.
  • Marketing posters were completed and printed, ready for distribution in Spring 2017.
  • Laura Burt-Nicholas and Debra Smith also premiered the No Paper Necessary series for Science and Health Science faculty, which was designed to get faculty thinking of new ways to incorporate research and library resources into campus courses.
  • Laura and Derrick presented at Forward Focus.

Spring 2017

  • The newest set of videos were placed on the library home page, on library blogs, and on Facebook.
  • Library posters were distributed around campus.
  • All library videos created were broadcast on a flat panel TV in the lobby during National Libraries Week, in order to promote what different students had to say about our library, research, and resources.

Fall 2017
The library orientation video was used during student orientation. Laura also re-used foam posters describing the services students can expect at the reference desk ("Get Answers"). Phone stands were distributed at orientation and to different classes in order to promote the library.

Marketing Materials Produced

Blog Posts

Here are the blog posts that were used to announce each set of videos that were posted. Blogs were linked in the main image on the library home page.

Spring 2017
Fall 2016

COD Library Facebook postings of individual videos began on the date the blog was posted and finished within two weeks of the original blog post.


Check out our videos based on the research project!


Check out our campus posters: Get Comfy!, Get Answers!, and Get Creative!.


Check out the Sciences/Health Sciences Faculty Information Literacy Series workshops and information here.

Students can now make a Research Appointment with a librarian, starting Fall 2016.

Final Results will be posted December 2018.


Catch "Studying Up: Designing an Ethnographic Research Study and Marketing Library Spaces and Services to Students" in March 2016 at IACRL!

You can also check out the following presentations at the Society for Applied Anthropology conference, Vancouver, March 2016:

  • “Collaboration and Student Centered Services: Closing the Gap Between Librarians and Students,” by Derrick Willis
  • “Help in the Age of the Independent Student/Millennial” by Sharon Grimm
  • “Imagining the Library in the Digital Age” by Allen Garza
  • “More than Noise in the Library” by Amber Julius.

Laura and Derrick presented at "They Said What? Designing and Implementing An Ethnographic Study For Your Library"at Forward Focus 2016 in Peoria.

Finally, Laura and Derrick presented " Access, Libraries, and Patronage " at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology in Santa Fe, New Mexico.