Winding Up in Heaven (aka, CLIR and Nancy Fried Foster at the University of Maryland)

Alas, it’s the last day of this third, outstanding CLIR Seminar on Issues of Participatory Design in Academic Libraries here at the lovely University of Maryland, in their stunning McKeldin Library. It has been an extraordinarily educational and stimulating meeting — and I’ve finally figured out that Nancy Fried Foster has probably cloned herself, because it’s hard to believe that any one person could have as much energy and enthusiasm as does she, while doing so much.

In addition to Nancy and the wonderful folks from CLIR, I’m incredibly impressed by the colleagues who are attending, and presenting at, this seminar. The amazing range of institutions represented here includes the American University of Central Asia, Brandeis University, Brigham Young University, Bryn Mawr, the Claremont University Consortium, Colby College, Defiance College, Harvard University, MIT, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Oklahoma City University, Purdue University, Rice University, Saint Augustine’s College, the University of Connecticut, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan, the University of Richmond, University of Rochester, Wesleyan University, Westminster College, Woodbury University, and Sandra Vicchio & Associates (an architectural firm). These are some of the folks with whom Nancy has worked in previous seminars and on consulting projects (see now why her being cloned seems to be the only explanation?), and this seminar has been a combination of Nancy’s instruction along with many of us reporting back on work we’ve done as a consequence of having worked with, and learned from, Nancy.

My colleague Laura Farwell Blake and I did a presentation about the participatory design workshop we led for the Larsen Room in Lamont Library at Harvard. Other presentations on participatory design, assessment, and engagement have focused on faculty research and teaching practices, how undergraduates learn the ropes about a university library, collaborating with an undergraduate anthropology course on a library space / use study, on-the-spot interviews, work-space monologues: methods and issues, photo booth: a “budget” method, data analysis: process and challenges, from concept to implementation, design your ideal study space, participatory design of a library renovation, re-programming a library, and the architects’ view of user-centered design. Nancy has given us participatory design refreshers and strategies for gaining support for user engagement from deans, directors, and colleagues. She’s also led discussions on resources and strategies that help us carry out engagement projects and improve library design, programs and services, as well as recognizing what some of the challenges can be that we encounter in trying to do participatory design in our institutions (and how to meet and overcome them).

A couple of overall observations: the people here today really are an extraordinary group of incredibly articulate individuals, dedicated to user-centered libraries and library services. (As an aside, many of them have wonderful senses of humor and irony that obviously serve them well in their work.) Our University of Maryland hosts have been so gracious, and kind, and informative, and helpful, and I hope to keep in touch with them (and others I’ve met this week) in the future. And finally, I can’t express sufficiently how great the CLIR folks, and Nancy, have been. There is no hyperbole here, believe me — just ask anyone who’s participated in one of these seminars, and they, too, can tell you how outstanding they are.

BTW, in case you’re looking for a writeup of this 3rd seminar at the CLIR site, I should mention that this is a brand new, “experimental” seminar, and it’s not yet known if it will be repeated, since it’s a first timer (and of course they assess routinely to keep the seminar program highly relevant and dynamic). But stay tuned at the CLIR site for more information.

This has been such a worthwhile experience, and it has re-charged my batteries enormously. My thanks to CLIR, the University of Maryland Libraries, and Dr. Nancy Fried Foster, anthropologist and goddess of library participatory design.

More as it happens, engagedly,

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980's, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early 90's (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.