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[Final Report recently posted on the IPA website at]

We are excited to announce the acceptance of a session of papers we organized about our Library User Experience Study.  We include the session abstract here and posted all of the paper abstracts at

Practicing Anthropology in the Shelves: Designing Academic Libraries via Ethnography, a Presentation at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Philadelphia PA

Session Abstract: Anthropology is most relevant to the public when it improves the lives of non-anthropologists. Practicing anthropology, as a type of research done to solve practical problems with relevant stakeholders who stand to gain or lose from a project, has a long tradition outside academia. Conversely, practicing anthropology on a college campus, across disciplines is a relatively recent phenomenon. Responding to this year’s theme, the papers on this panel speak to an “academic public” comprised of non-anthropologists across college campuses. Acknowledging one potential “end” of anthropology as an independent university discipline, panelists illustrate a bright future for practicing anthropology amongst this “academic public”.

Using ethnography to empirically investigate the factors that influence human relations between each other and their environment, practicing anthropology helps provide stakeholders invested and interested in this research to adopt effective and efficient responses to the problems relevant to them. California State University Fresno’s Institute of Public Anthropology (IPA) is an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in California’s Central Valley through practicing design anthropology. By utilizing a mix of traditional and innovative methodologies, members of the IPA are able to make ethnographic approaches relevant to areas normally ignored by academic anthropology programs. The papers on this panel represent some of the latest research on user experience based upon a 15 month ethnographic investigation of CSU-Fresno’s Henry Madden Library.

In the first paper, Visser presents the context of the study, illuminating the relevance and use of traditional university libraries to “21st century students”. The following two papers by Barela, Arnold and Dotson provide a detailed explication of the background and methods of this study while emphasizing the strategies involved in ascertaining emic conceptualizations of “scholarship” (Barela) and ”library resources” (Arnold and Dotson) by predominantly ”first generation” college students. The next pair of papers by Mullooly, Ruwe and Scroggins explore some of the initial findings and that have evolved from the Library Study in terms of student/librarian disjunctures: disjunctures of the meaning of “reference” (Mullooly and Ruwe) “and of perception of time (Scroggins). The final paper by Delcore concludes the presentations with a discussion of the relevance of this sort of investigation to the evolution of design anthropology in relation to a variety of publics. Nancy Fried Foster, a leading voice in anthropological investigations of libraries, will discuss the papers at the close of the session.

The papers represent practicing efforts that analyze pressing issues in the contexts of scholarship, design, integration and innovation. Each presentation will be a rapid, data rich presentation (following the Pecha Kucha format) which will allow for an open discussion to follow including a critical analysis of the benefits of such approaches as well as the potential problems inherent in facing an “academic public”.

images1I sort of made it on the Oprah show; well actually that is not true. What is true is that her website mentioned my new living situation called “CoHousing”.  It is being referred to as a sort of “tribal lifestyle”. As an Anthropologist, I find this oddly fascinating. The story, by Jeanie Lerche Davis is from her byline called  Single and Loving It.  In an article entitled “New-Style Communities”, Lerche states that,

“Cohousing” is one answer. It’s a form of group housing much like a ’60s commune, but yuppie-style. These are condo-style developments built around a “common area” with kitchen, dining, laundry, exercise, and children’s playroom facilities. Cohousing communities are typically designed to resemble old-fashioned neighborhoods. Members get together often to share meals, socialize, and handle the ordinary stuff of daily living although they live in individual units. “Intentional community” is an inclusive term for ecovillages, cohousing, residential land trusts, communes, student co-ops, farms, urban housing cooperatives, and other projects. Intentional communities can be found all over the U.S. and Europe, their growth spurred by the Internet. Typically, community members jointly own land that has multiple dwellings. Frequently, members share a common bond—a religious, political, or social philosophy that brings them together…….

w_cavemen2The above is all fairly true in my case but the comparison to a “tribe” is not very helpful. You can call me a “hippie” or a “green commie” as my students do but to claim that we live at a very simplistic level sociopolitical complexity is way off base. I’m not taking offense at being compared to being a member of a“band-level society”. Rather, I feel the need to point out that complex societies allow for small “pockets of temporary simplicity” and that these pockets are temporary in nature. Such pockets stand in opposition and in fact “maintain” the very things that they are resisting. Lerche continues, 

“Urban tribes form in a vacuum,” Watters (author of the book Urban Tribes) tells WebMD. “Our generation has not joined the traditional social organizations our parents did, the churches and civic groups. We don’t stay in our jobs as long. That leads to a social vacuum, and humans don’t do well in a social vacuum. Something will fill it. That’s where Thanksgiving dinners started out as stopgap measure, then 10 years later, we realize these friends have become our family.” Read on at Single and Loving It.


You can read the rest of the article but if you are hoping to find any systematic anthropology there, don’t hold your breath. Now that I have lived in the Fresno CoHousing community for a couple of months, I can echo Kermit’s point that “it ain’t always easy being green”. The assumption that I’m a churchless single and drifting from job to job smarts. I’m active in my church, I’ve had the same job for the past six years (with no plan on departing) and I’ve been married for over ten years (and have a couple kids to boot). I guess my beef is mostly with Watters who, in an effort to make a point, has been a bit too reductive for my taste. This is one angry villager who is standing up for his subaltern status!

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