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Imagining the Future of the Library by Studying Today's Researchers
Lessons from Cornell

Is the library of the future something that will come into view once we crest the next hill? Or will the library of the future be what we make it, based on the best evidence we can collect on current, emerging, and anticipated practices of researchers and the needs of the research community and society at large?

Ithaka S+R recently had the opportunity to explore this topic with Dr. Kornelia Tancheva, associate university librarian for research and learning services, Cornell University Library, and a team from Cornell that included Gabriela Castro Gessner, Darcy Branchini, Erin Eldermire, Heather Furnas, Gail Steinhart, and Neely Tang.

The team asked researchers to map or log a day on which they did at least some research. On the following day, the team interviewed the researchers to learn how they had found, used, and shared information in the course of their activities. This “Day in the Life” approach was based on a mapping method developed at the University of Rochester and refined in a study conducted in medical schools in Illinois.[1] Importantly, the researchers who participated in the study were asked to map or log the entire day, regardless of whether their activities were academic or recreational.

The objective of Cornell’s Day in the Life project was to gain an understanding of the lives and information practices of researchers at all levels, from undergraduates through senior faculty members. The largest number of participants were either advanced graduate students or junior faculty. These early-career researchers were highlighted specifically to aid in capturing emerging practices and trends that may become more prevalent in the next couple of decades. Through interpretation of the data on what academic researchers do day to day and how they acquire, use, and share information in the course of their daily activities, we imagined new models for the library.

The Cornell team’s report, “A Day in the Life of a (Serious) Researcher: Envisioning the Future of the Research Library,” describes the project’s information-gathering and analytic methods, presents findings, and proposes ways in which the research library may respond to changing researcher practices. A companion piece by Ithaka S+R provides additional context and reflects on study findings. We encourage other libraries to study their researchers’ work practices and share their findings so that we do not wait for the future to happen but rather create the best possible future for our libraries based on individual, community, and societal needs.


[1] Katie Clark, “Mapping Diaries, or Where Do They Go All Day?” in Studying Students: The Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester, ed. Nancy Fried Foster and Susan Gibbons (Chicago, IL: Association of College & Research Libraries, 2007); Andrea Twiss-Brooks et al., “A Day in the Life of a Medical Student: Applying Ethnographic Methods in Academic Health Sciences Settings,” in Medical Library Association 2015 Annual Meeting Paper Abstracts (Medical Library Association 2015 Annual Meeting, Austin, TX: Medical Library Association, 2015), 2–3,

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