This is Futurelib reporting back after a fascinating journey into the worlds of chemical computer coding, animal foraging activity and jazz improvisation. Let me explain…

This summer we conducted a cultural probe study with postdoc researchers and PhD students at the University, all of whom were engaged in cutting-edge research in disparate and fascinating areas. However interesting this research was (and it was!) our objective was to uncover as much as possible about their different information and research behaviours.

teja-pic“Snapshot”, the name we gave to our cultural probe, involved participants engaging with a variety of interactive and creative tasks over a two week period including completing a daily research diary, a photo study and a cognitive mapping exercise. The result of the inclusion of these exercises (as well as the actual data gathered from each) was that our participants fully immersed themselves and opened up to us about all aspects their lives conducting research at Cambridge. Similarly, a non-library specific focus meant we were able to learn a great deal about issues such as the importance of inter-disciplinary communication and peer support. We were very pleased to have had participants from many disciplines, which led to fascinating and informative insights into their research landscapes.

Cultural probes were initially used by commercial design companies (find out more in our report), but we are now absolutely convinced that they can be invaluable when used to conduct explorative ethnographic research with library users.

The full report is linked below, including a fully documented account of our methodology and the Snapshot ‘story’, the findings of the project, along with in-person and digital service design suggestions that arose as a direct result of these. We intentionally followed an analogue approach: all the research diaries were written by hand by the Futurelib team, and we met with participants in person before and after the study, keeping email contact throughout.  This relationship-building resulted in a large and varied dataset, primarily gained through in-depth interviews with participants exploring their experience of the study.

The full report can be downloaded here:


David and Andy

Futurelib Programme