UXLibs II – Getting back on the rails


Batman! If you could be any super hero, who would you be?  That’s where it all started for me. Batman and the first UXLibs conference.  That was the ice breaker question we were asked before we arrived last year. As it did for many others, some of you in this room today, UXLibs changed the way I think about service development and customer feedback. What I learnt sparked interest and enthusiasm in innovative UX research methods to provide insights which were routed in user behaviour and which would lead to service improvements and developments.

I went home from UxLibs full of enthusiasm (who else went home feeling like that?), I spoke constantly about how great the conference was, I wrote a blog post about it, in fact it was the first ever blog post I’d written. But more importantly I spoke about how it was essential that we started to think about, plan and undertake some of this UX work in Hull.  I spoke about how if we surveyed students, we knew exactly what they would say before we started and how we needed to unearth the things we didn’t know.

I knew I couldn’t just get on and do something, I needed to get buy-in from senior management, particularly from the director who I knew was a little sceptical about some of the work.  I wrote a paper which detailed what I wanted to try.  At this point, I sold it very much as a learning exercise more than anything, a chance to experiment on a small scale with some new techniques and to help me better articulate why these methods were important.

The director was relatively easy to get on board, in fact after a number of conversations he became very much an advocate of this work.  So I had the buy-in I needed,   I wrote the UX work into my student engagement plan for the coming year and that was it, ready to get going.

Or was I!? A few months past, and a few more, I’d done nothing but further reading, which was great in the fact that I was getting a more in-depth understanding of the work and how it would help us. I did have a very small team, it was just me and as I’m sure you are all aware, student engagement is a wide remit which anything could fall under. So I had plenty of other work and there just wasn’t time.  It also always seemed hard to get students involved, there were always barriers. Students want incentives, they have exams, it’s vacation time (who else has experienced those barriers?).  This stalling became an increasing issue as I needed to get on with the work.

In my mind, there were three main real issues:

  1. My commitment to the workFear
  2. Fear of failure
  3. Time

Then after a little more reflection I realised there were two:

  1. Fear of failure
  2. Time, there really wasn’t enough time

Firstly, I was kind of a victim of my own success. I’d sold this work so well that I’d put too much pressure on myself to succeed at it. Or at least that’s what it felt like.  What was I going to say to the director if it all failed? What would that do to my credibility?  Secondly, there really were time and resource issues.  I didn’t realise just how much effort you need to put in to do a good job and with just me, I was stretching myself too thin.
Then I was thrown a lifeline of sorts, or at least that’s how I saw it at the time.  A departmental restructure!  What better reason to put the brakes on and wait until there was more clarity about roles and responsibilities?  I was saved!

Actually what happened was that after my brilliant job of selling UX work, and brilliantly articulating its importance to the BJL, I was given a team!  An online coordinator  (@mike_ewen), and a digital technologies officer (@johnasteph12) to help take some of the pressure off and provide more focus on the student experience. This was great! Or was it, all it meant was that the time and resource barrier had been removed – I was now left with my own fear of failure, the only reason not to progress.

So how to progress?  Firstly I acknowledged to myself, that it was my fault we hadn’t, or at least partly as time and resource were also very real contributing factors.  I really reframed the whole situation, thought about who I wanted to involve in the work, why I wanted them to be involved and who I needed to get buy-in from again.  I already had buy-in from senior management and the director but that wasn’t working.   I think this was a very important turning point, this reframing and rethinking.

This played on my mind for a while, and then driving to work, I had a lightbulb moment! If I wanted this work to be a success, I had to make it an everyday part what we do, it had to be embedded.  I had to involve the people who were doing the ‘what we do’ and UX work had to become part of our culture, not just something I did in isolation.  As a first step, I had to involve the frontline team in the work, in fact, what if they actually did some of it. If they were involved in research that was clearly relevant to their daily roles, if they were involved in developing our services based on the insights they discovered, it might actually work well at the BJL, it might ignite that enthusiasm and energy that I brought from UXLibs in others.  Also as a by-product, I would be developing staff and maybe working with students in new ways might change some perceptions and as a result enhance the student experience in the library building! – That was the utopian ideal anyway.

TrainingI started off by speaking to the head of customer services and our operations managers to form a group of around twenty people who would be interested in working with me.  I ran two workshops, at which I spoke about why we wanted to undertake UX work, much of these things I’d spoken about before.  I then got them all to do a cognitive map and then a love/break-up letter, two of the methods I was interested in trying out.   The response and interest was great, to be honest I wasn’t expecting it.  They were excited to get going with some students!  We are lucky enough to have 60 student volunteers at the BJL and I suggested that they used these students as a starting point and I would be around to support them when needed. Within 24 hours, I had cognitive maps, supporting notes, and love/break-up letters on my desk.  For the first time in around ten months this work was moving forward and we were getting some good real data too!   This enthusiasm continued and before I knew where I had twenty maps and love/break-up letters.  We also went out to our Academic Council meetings and gained another 40 love/break-up letters from there.

I coded the maps to understand how frequently each element is drawn, based on the method described by Andrew Asher http://www.andrewasher.net/BiblioEthnoHistorioGraphy/coding-library-cognitive-maps/ .   I dropped all the letters into NVIVO and coded those.

InsightsWe were getting a lot of new insights, some big, some small, but all valuable.  Some of the insights we gained are listed below.

Our Reading Room is very popular but currently not suitable for silent study.  With a staffed desk, laptop loans, printers and our high demand collection, it is a high traffic area.  We are now looking at the services offered from this space to help facilitate silent study going into the next academic year.

Our directional signage is inadequate.  As a result we ordered temporary popup signs and have subsequently gone on to complete a signage review and have ordered additional permanent signs.

People really like the café on the ground floor and it is well used through the day and into the night. 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.  As a result we have been having conversations around providing a grab & go drinks cart on the ground floor to cater for some of the traffic.

Students want to eat and drink throughout our building, particularly on the 7th floor.  The reality is that we probably aren’t going to make huge changes to our food and drink policy.  As a result of our findings we have realised that students do spend long periods of time in our building, perhaps much longer that we originally thought. The requirement for food and drink when working for such long periods of time is a very obvious and valid.  This sparked conversations and has led us to think about how we cater for those students studying for very long periods and is something we will do more work in over the coming months.

Almost everyone uses the lifts in the building, they don’t use the stairs. It is probably a reflection of the building having seven floors. However, it is clear 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, we have started to think about how we could make more of a feature out of the stairs. Maybe running a get fit whilst you study campaign, including steps climbed and calories burnt printed on the walls. Perhaps we could include quotes and facts relating to the different subjects on the way up too.

People weren’t sure what our information points were there for.   This resulted in an attract screen being added highlighting what was available.  We have also added the information points into our induction package, both for new staff and students.

Two closing points from me:

Like Batman, you don’t need super powers to get great results.  You do need:

  • Commitment
  • Faith
  • Time and resource
  • A plan (including time and resource)

Like Lego, small bricks/insights/changes add up to big results and great experiences!




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