Shaping the Library to the Life of the User: Adapting, Empowering, Partnering, Engaging

by Merrilee Proffitt, James Michalko and Melissa Renspie


This report provides a recap of the October 2015 Library in the Life of the User meeting that featured insights about ways libraries can provide more meaningful support based on what students, scholars and other library users really do.


  • Users increasingly have choices outside the library, and those choices are both networked and social.
  • It is far too easy to make incorrect assumptions about users’ needs and motives. Mixed methodologies, including practices based in ethnography and design, help libraries to better understand their constituents and to make wise choices.
  • Libraries need to adapt, empower, partner and engage in order to successfully shape their future services around users' needs.

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What began with a few libraries' early application of ethnographic methods to learn more about user behaviors and needs has grown to become a significant body of work done across many institutions using a broad range of methods. User-centered investigations are increasingly influential in discussions about the shape and future of the research library. User-centered design that builds on such work is becoming deeply embedded in library planning and service development in some research libraries.

This brief report captures several topics covered at the October 2015 Library in the Life of the User meeting which include: environmental factors that are driving libraries to reconsider their role; the range of users served by libraries; the range of choices that will be made when undertaking user research; and achieving a balance between serving the needs of user communities and fulfilling institutional goals. Additionally, the report encapsulates considerations and guidelines for planning and conducting a study. Finally, the report records some core themes that flowed out of the meeting—the need to adapt, empower, partner and engage and concludes with some suggestions for future action.

The intended audiences for this publication include librarians, information scientists and library and information science students and researchers as they think about new ways to provide user-centered library services and to conduct research that will inform practice in ways to engage and build relationships with users and potential users.

This work is part of our user studies theme, in which we study the ways in which individuals engage with technology; how they seek, access, contribute, and use information; and how and why they demonstrate these behaviors and do what they do. The goal of this work is to provide the library community with behavioral evidence about individuals’ perceptions, habits and requirements to ensure that the design of future library services is all about the user.

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Suggested citation:

Proffitt, Merrilee, Jim Michalko and Melissa Renspie. 2015. Shaping the Library to the Life of the User: Adapting, Empowering, Partnering, Engaging. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research.