Library Staff Development – Why UX?

I delivered a short UX session to all library staff as part of our staff development fortnight,  here is what I said.  Thanks to Lisa Bolt, Customer Services Team Leader for guiding everyone through their cognitive map.

Thanks to Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos) and Matthew Reidsma (@mreidsma) from who I took inspiration. 

Lisa and I represent Customer Services at this event and I’m here to talk about data this afternoon. Yes data, hands up who had a little part of then die inside when I said that. How many people have asked, why are we collecting this? What are we going to do with it? That’s fine, I’m with you there…kind of. We have a lot of data in the library, we know have between thirty five and thirty six thousand people come through our turnstiles each month during semester. We know how many books are taken out every week, month and year. We know how many people use our study rooms, we know how much money we take in fines and we know how many people visit our website. We have a lot of data! We like that sort of quantitative data, if feels comfortable, it feels credible, it’s tangible our line managers like numbers.

So what does all that data tell us? For me, not that that much, other than we are very busy. We have a lot of people coming through the library and using our services. Great! The trouble is we don’t have a clue what they do when they get in here. We certainly don’t have a clue how the library fits into their larger learning landscape. The library is a small (hopefully significant though) part of what is happening with one of our users/customers. (I really don’t mind which terminology is used) If we can understand how we impact on their lives and how their lives impact on our services it can only help to improve things, not just for the customer, but also for us.

So how do we do that? What about surveys? (Who here likes surveys?) I don’t! In fact I’ve started to loath them. I was recently on the train where the conductor was asking who would like to fill in a survey. This thing must have been 5 pages long. I was tired, hot, I’d had a very busy day, the train was crowed, I didn’t like the bad language from the guy on his phone opposite me and my bag was annoying me because there wasn’t any storage. I didn’t take survey, but I doubt my experience would have been expressed through a number of tick boxes. If we survey students they I could tell you what the results will be before the survey happens. Students will tell us that they want more computers, more library books, more silent study space and they want to be able to eat and drink throughout the building. We wouldn’t even find out why they want these things.

So how do we get the data we want? How do we get valuable qualitative data? We need to take a big step back and reframe things a little. We need to think about what our library really is. Donna Lanclos (@DonnaLanclos), Associate Professor for Anthropological Research at the J. Murrey Atkins Library at UNC Charlotte, suggests some of the things our library could be. Our library is an artefact, it’s built by humans, it is of historical and cultural significance, we could say it is an artefact. It’s a culture, there are behaviour and expectations, we have rules and structures. Yes, we can say that it’s a culture. We could also say that it is a place, both physically and digitally. I speak about these spaces merging relatively often, something that you can read about in my other blog post. So yes, it’s a place. Just as importantly though, our library is people.

peopleblogThinking back to something that Matthew Reidsma said, Matthew is the Web Services Librarian at Grand Valley State University, Michigan. People built our library, all those books, people put them there. All the information in those books, written by people. Our website, built by people, much by me and Mike Ewen (@mike_even), all those links that you can never navigate around, yes, people.

Matthew suggests that we often forget about the people, he’s right. We often think only in tasks when developing our services. The issues is that people who use our library don’t live in task based silos, they come from places with emotion and culture, they have a life. We then wonder why they fail to accomplish the tasks we set. We wonder why they get angry. We forgot about the people.

All that said, we shouldn’t forget about the tasks. We need to understand the tasks, we need to understand the process behind our services. We also like tasks, they are easily understood, they are quantifiable, feel credible and we can put numbers alongside them. That’s one kind of story, but the experience of fulfilling those task is another kind of story. It’s a valuable story and it’s a way of us understanding the bigger picture.

So task based thinking is still important, we need tasks. But if we can move between task-based thinking and experience-based thinking and develop our services based on the way people experience and behave in our library, we can really transform the user experience.

One way we’ve been doing this in Customer Services is by using maps. Here is a map, it’s a satellite view of the campus. It starts to tell a story, it shows us what the campus looks like, it shows us that it’s pretty green, there is grass and trees and it shows is how the library is central on the campus. Here is another map, this time from our friends at Google. It shows the roads running around campus and they are all labelled. It shows us where the campus sits in the local community. Then the University provides us with a map of the campus, this time in 3D with all the building names, catering outlets and carparks included. This starts to help us understand what is available on campus.

map2What if we had maps that looked like this, or this. These are both cognitive maps which were drawn by our students last year. We asked them to draw a map showing their experience of the library. Everyone in the room today is going to draw one of these maps. I would like you to draw a map of your experience of working in the library. Lisa will take you through the process.

You have 6 minutes to draw a map of your experience of working at the library. Every two minutes you will be asked to change the colour of your pen in the following order. Blue, Red, Black. After the six minutes is complete you will have time to label your map. Try to be as complete as possible and don’t worry about the quality of the drawing!

Your 6 minutes start now…   Everyone enthusiastically draws….

You now all have a cognitive map in front of you, it’s personal to you and your experience. The reason we use three colours is to help illustrate and understand what is important to you, what are the things that are at the forefront of your mind or most important to you. What are the things that are there in the background and you don’t think about so much. When we did these maps with students we following them up with a short interview to help put some context around each one and we got a lot out of it. We then went on to code all the maps based on the method described by Andrew Asher

Does anyone want to stand up and share what they have drawn and why?

Three examples shared.

These maps are yours to take away today, you don’t need to hand them to me, we don’t want to analyse them. But perhaps they are something to go away and reflect on.

Over the coming year we will be undertaking more UX work, using this and other techniques to dig deeper into how people really use our library services. If you have any questions or are interested, please don’t hesitate to come and have a chat about it.

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