Cognitive Mapping and Love/Break-up letters at the BJL

As promised, an update on the UX work at the Brynmor Jones Library (@HullUni_Library).

As described in my earlier blog post, I wanted to get frontline team involved in our UX research and the first stage was to run a practical session with them. This focused on the following:

  • The library as a bigger picture
  • Tasks, cultures and emotions
  • Why we want to undertake UX research
  • Cognitive mapping
  • Love & Break-Up letters

The workshops were really well received and the staff involved really enjoying taking part and creating their own cognitive maps and letters. They not only found it interesting and fun but started to think about their working days and preconceptions alongside those of our library users, something I hadn’t anticipated as an outcome of the workshop.

Not done cognitive maps before–thanks @carlbarrow. Awareness of own preconceptions when developing library services


The next step was to do this with students. We have 70 student volunteers at the BJL and this seemed like a good place to start. Our newly trained frontline team have been working with them on an individual basis, asking them to draw cognitive maps of the library and following this up with short interviews. The interviews put the maps into context and helped to clarify what different areas on the maps represent. This has proved a crucial mechanism by which to gain further insights and clarity. Up to now we have completed fifteen cognitive maps, a selection of which are show below.

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Following the interviews, the students were asked to write a love or break-up letter to a service or space in the library. We found it useful to look at these alongside the maps that were drawn and they helped to validate the insights we were seeing from the maps.

A selection of the love and break-up letters we received.

Coding the maps

I have started to code the maps to understand how frequently each element is drawn, based on the method described by Andrew Asher . A section of the spreadsheet is show below. This is only the beginning and I will be doing further analysis of the maps, interviews and love/break-up letters over the coming weeks.

Map coding spreadsheet

Insights so far

There have been a number of themes and points raised by the exercise so far, but there are three key areas which have jumped out:

  1. ReadingRoomThe 1st floor Reading Room which contains our High Demand Collection (everything on reading lists) is a very high traffic area, evidenced by the number of times it has been drawn in cognitive maps. Students get books from there, maybe borrow a laptop and then move onto other areas of the library. There is some frustration that items aren’t shelved alongside other subject related material in the remainder of the building. This means traveling between your subject floor and the 1st floor to consult material. The Reading Room is also a silent study area but since the traffic is so high and there is a staff desk in there, it really doesn’t meet that brief. Although an excellent space for individual study it falls short of meeting the requirements of some students.

    If the HDC and staff desk were moved, the Reading Room area could be an effective silent study space and easier access to this collection could be provided for through traffic in another part of the building.

    Perhaps a less drastic measure might be to ensure that noise in the area is policed in an effective way and to ensure it is clear that the desk isn’t intended as an enquiry point.   Maybe relocation of the lap-top loan cabinet could be an option. 

  2. StairsAlmost everyone uses the lifts in the building, they don’t use the stairs. This has been evidenced on the cognitive maps. It is probably a reflection of the building having seven floors. However, it is clear from the interviews and break-up letters that the lifts don’t cope well with the demand  at busy times of the day and we need to do something to help divert traffic.Whilst we can’t add more lifts or change them, maybe we could make more of a feature out of the stairs. We could run a get fit whilst you study campaign, including steps climbed and calories burnt printed on the walls as you climb. Perhaps we could include quotes and facts relating to the different subjects on the way up too. 


  3. CafePeople really like the café on the ground floor and it is well used through the day and into the night, again evidenced through the cognitive maps. However, at key times people would rather go and get a drink from another place on campus and bring it back to the library, rather than wait in a long queue.Perhaps there is an opportunity to introduce a drinks cart elsewhere on the ground floor to cater for the grab and go market.

These are only very initial insights and quick thoughts on what we could do as a result. The exercise has certainly highlighted how valuable this kind of UX work is and we will certainly be continuing over the coming months.

All the staff involved in the process have thoroughly enjoyed it. They feel they have gained a lot from the experience so far, both from the insights they have gained and the opportunity to interact with students in a different way.


3 thoughts on “Cognitive Mapping and Love/Break-up letters at the BJL

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