In autumn 2016, Delaney Library undertook a research project on library user experience in order to find if we need to make changes to the content or organization of our collection. We were particularly concerned with the perceptions of Native American students, who are important stakeholders as well as a key user group of the library, representing about 36 percent of the current student population of Fort Lewis College. Survey tools addressed questions about representation, browsability, and problematic material on public shelves.
Respondents agreed that it was hard to find books on the shelves, for many reasons: the top shelf is too high for browsing; oversize books are separate from regular-size books; shelf labels need to be clearer; and students need more library instruction about how to find items using LC classification. Delaney Library is in the process of addressing all those concerns, through reshelving, better signage, and active instruction in information literacy to increase students’ confidence in using the library. We plan to develop workshops in retrieval of print items, classification systems, use of primary sources, historiography, and history of the book, to help students understand the items in our collection in their historical context—they're not just "old books," but expressions of the culture of specific times and places (and we have plenty of new books, too!).
Survey results showed that Native American students were more concerned about appropriate terminology, representative content, and effective organization of the library than non-Native students were. White students either did not notice or did not mind material that many Native American students found offensive, such as the use of the outdated term “Indian” to refer to this continent’s indigenous peoples. Much of the Delaney collection falls in the “E” (History of the Americas) classification section. Students browsing the “E” section used language like “annoying,” “biased,” and “confusing” to describe Library of Congress classification and “tough,” “struggle,” and “difficult” to describe their search process. Their reactions echo previous research showing that academic libraries that use LC classification to serve Native American communities often create an alienating and detrimental climate, an institutional barrier that causes harm to learners, faculty, and scholars. About half of all users surveyed, regardless of race or ethnicity, requested changes to the organization of the collection, so Delaney Library will look at options for reclassification, to provide better access through browsing.
Photo info: Student employee Candra Yazzie, in her fingerbone T-shirt, matches the bones in our new dinosaur exhibit. Leland Belone, another student employee, provides a tough-looking contrast to our doll exhibit.