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!




Insights, Ideas and Post-Its!

I wrote about our cognitive mapping, student interviews and the love/break-up letters in an earlier post. These exercises provided us with some very useful insights and a lot of data! I wanted to start thinking about how we transform that data and those insights into tangible idea for changes to both the library building and the services offered therein.

Again, being consistent with my intentions to keep the frontline team involved in the work, I ran two ‘ideation’ workshops with the staff. This was as much of an experiment as anything before running similar workshops with students, but it did keep the front line staff involved, engaged and allowed them to see how the work they began last month forms the foundations of things to come.

Exercise 1

FirstSortI had a group of ten staff members and wanted to start by detailing as may of the insights as possible, some were written down, others were drawn and some were just in the heads of the staff who had been involved.   I started by asking them to spend ten minutes on their own without talking and write as many insights as they could onto post-its and put them onto the wall,  in any order. I was a little nervous about this part of the session because the success of the workshop relied on those insights getting up onto the wall, and there being plenty of them. This however, proved to be successful and I was pleasantly surprised by the both the amount and range of insights.

The next step was to arrange the post-its into themes, and if possible sub themes. The group worked well and produced a well-structured version of the data on the wall. It was interesting to see the type of themes that came out, some expected, others not so much. The themes are listed below:

Workshop 1

  • Resources
    • Electronic
    • Physical
  • Equipment
    • PCs/Laptops
    • Printers
  • Moving around
    • Lifts
    • Stairs
  • Library Space
    • Study areas
    • Ground floor
    • Group learning
    • Teaching rooms
  • Reading Room
    • Negative
    • Positive
  • Service
    • Staff
    • Food & Drink
    • Late night study
  • Café
    • Queues
    • Food options
    • Pro café

Workshop 2

  • Study Spaces
    • PG Lounge
    • Reading Room
    • Silent study
  • Moving around
    • Lifts
    • Signage
    • Turnstiles
  • Resources
    • Finding
    • Availability
  • Food & Drink
    • In the library
    • Café
  • Environment
    • Space
    • Other

Exercise 2

CatogoriesI spit the group into two and asked each to choose a theme, or subtheme with which to work. I then asked them to try and think at a higher level and identify what that theme was really about, what would dealing with issues in that theme fix? Getting the groups to do this was a challenge, particularly in one of the workshops, but we just about got there. I then asked the groups to come up with a ‘How might we?’ question relating to that higher level theme. Once example that came out of the first workshop was ‘How might we make it easier to study in the library for long periods of time?’I thought it was an interesting one to work.

Exercise 3

658The groups had five minutes to come up with six to eight ideas each (without talking) which would help to answer their ‘how might we?’ question. I explained that the ideas needed to be really crazy, really out there. At the end of the five minutes each member of the group explained a little about their ideas and stuck them onto the wall.   We then went through the process again, but team members had five minutes to write six to eight ideas that built on what was already on the wall, again explaining their ideas at the end of the five minutes. We went through this process twice more and at the end came out with a number of tangible ideas, some more large scale than others but all good ideas. I’ll write about these in a later post as things progress.

HowNowWhy2Exercise 4 (HOW? NOW! WOW!)

I asked each group to feedback their ideas and when doing so add post-its to a HOW? NOW! NOW! axis to help us get an idea of which ideas we should focus on. This was really just to demonstrate an example of how ideas might be prioritised.



I explained that we would work with the other themes over the coming weeks and asked if the group saw the benefit in working in this way as opposed to just having an unstructured brainstorming session, the response was a definite yes! Everyone enjoyed the sessions and felt that they got a lot out of them.

The next step will be to run the latter part of the sessions with more staff over the coming weeks, tackling the other themes. At the same time I will run the full sessions with a group of our student volunteers. I hope that the ideas we come out with can be prioritised and taken forward.

Views and opinions are my own – Or are they?

I’ve had this on my mind for a while now so thought I’d write something down. Maybe it’s a little controversial and I’m sure not everyone will agree.   I see all the time on the bottom of email or social media profiles

Views and opinions are my own and do not represent those of my institution

and I’m not sure I agree. Institutions are made up of people and cultures, each one of those people have opinions, views and values which contribute to that culture. They contribute to how we interact with those who engage with our  institutions.  By default then, don’t those opinions, views and values become those of the institution simple because of those people?

Maybe this just highlights the importance of values base recruitment, if there is such a thing. Maybe it’s me thinking too much about something that doesn’t really matter. Or maybe institutions should start using the strap line

Views, opinions and values are those of all who work here

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 pic.twitter.com/be4DeuA758


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 http://www.andrewasher.net/BiblioEthnoHistorioGraphy/coding-library-cognitive-maps/ . 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.

UX at the BJL

The first post on this blog was of my experience at the UXLibs conference in March 2015. Almost a year on I thought it was about time I followed it up with a ‘What have I done as a result’ post.

As it did for many, 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 would lead to service improvements and developments.

On my return I constantly emphasised how important this sort of research is and read more about it. I managed to gain senior buy-in by meeting with a number of people and writing a short paper which highlighted the research I wanted to undertake. Within a couple of months I was in a really great position to move forward. However, after a few more months the reality was that this just wasn’t happening. With an already busy schedule and a small team (at the time just me), finding time and getting willing participants always seemed to be a barrier. Perhaps it was a reflection of my commitment to moving forward in this area, perhaps it was a fear of failure in a relatively unknown field, or maybe there really just wasn’t enough time or people.

Following a departmental restructure I moved into Customer Services at the BJL and was given two new posts, an Online Coordinator (@mike_ewen ) and a Digital Library Services Officer ( to form a real Student Engagement team. This has placed me in a much better position to progress the work and my enthusiasm has been reignited. To an even greater advantage, I am now able to involve our large frontline team, which has sparked their interest and enthusiasm. By involving them in research that is clearly relevant to their daily roles and developing our services based on the insights they discover, I hope to gain further buy-in and bring them along for the ride, embedding UX research as an integral every day component in the work we are all involved in. I also hope that during their experiences of working with students in this way, they will gain insights that will change their understanding and perceptions of the students they interact with every day and enhance the student experience as a result.

So what are we doing?

We started off small, with some student journey mapping, from which we have produced a number of service improvements and recommendations. One example being simply to animate our Information Point screens when they are idle so that students have more information on what can actually be done at these points. You can read about the InfoPoints on my blog post.

Following this, we will be undertaking library cognitive mapping in early February before moving onto touchstone tours and photo diaries. I hope these will produce equally useful insights into service/building use and as mentioned, develop our frontline staff and enhance the general student experience as a result.

I am interested in how others have managed and analysed the data they obtain. I plan to code the cognitive maps using the method Andrew Asher (@aasher) describes on http://www.andrewasher.net/BiblioEthnoHistorioGraphy/coding-library-cognitive-maps/ and follow it up with short interviews to ensure there is a context around the maps. If anyone else has any advice or useful links, particularly how I might do this in NVivo please let me know. I would be more than grateful as it’s all a little new!

So, watch this space! I’ll keep you informed.

Interactive Map Prototype

Frontline staff at the Brynmor Jones Library are constantly asked for directions. Where is Teaching Room 6? Where can I top up printer credit? Where can I print? Where do I return books? I’m sure it’s the same at other Academic Libraries too. This led to thinking about signage and particularly how we might use interactive signage in the future to make it easy for our library users to find their way around the building and accomplish tasks.IMG_0254

Our first thinking has been around an interactive map which would be displayed on a 60” touch screen (We were lucky enough to have one around). The prototype has been built using Adobe Flash, for the simple reason that I knew how to use it and could do the work relatively quickly. Since our sole purpose has been to display it on one screen and gather feedback, Flash as a platform hasn’t been an issue. We do however, understand that if we wanted to develop it into a mobile friendly map we would have to rethink the technology.

In the first prototype stage we have asked our staff and volunteer students for feedback on the following:

  • Usefulness
  • Functionality
  • Visuals and animations
  • Usability
  • Additional features
  • Additional services/markers

Following on from this feedback we will consider the value of further development.

If you are interested in having a play with the prototype  (and have the flash plugin) you can access in here.  It is designed to run at 1920 x 1080.  If you are interested in knowing more or want to send feedback, please get in touch.


A collision of two worlds

I often said in the past that as an academic library we need to ensure that our physical services work alongside and complement our digital services.  I have also talked a lot about delivering the same experience on line as we do in the physical world. People aren’t always comfortable talking to a member of staff and of course people aren’t always comfortable interacting digitally. It’s important that we give our library users the choice, let them interact with us and our services in a way that works for them at a time that works for them.

This isn’t new and I think we are doing that now, as are most other academic libraries.  We allow online book renewals and inter-site transfers, we provide a large amount of online support material including videos, self-help databases, online chat and online courses.  This is all great but these two worlds, the physical that you can see hear and touch and the digital, the one that is online, in a computer system, buzzing around a network are still very separate. They do work, they do complement each other but they are parallel and often have little interaction.   So is this an issue?  I think maybe it is, because people are increasingly living their lives in these two worlds.  The key thing for me at the moment is that there are people, not just in the younger generations who are starting to not make a distinction between them.

Have you ever lost your phone? What’s the first thing you do?  For me, it’s panic! It’s like I’ve lost a limb, I break out in a cold sweat.  On a recent holiday I spent almost as much time checking that my phone was still in my pocket as I did checking that my two children were still with us.  So why is this? Probably because that small digital device is so much more than just a phone.  It’s a camera which has catalogued just about every moment of the holiday, it’s a SAT NAV, it’s an encyclopaedia and it’s a link to people back home.  This digital device is like a portal that I use to travel between worlds, it’s like Star Trek.  It’s so connected to my physical world that I feel like I can’t live without it.

Because of this, an attitude of ‘don’t think just share’ is adopted by many these days, me included.  We can share photos, sound, and video very easily and very quickly.  I certainly did whilst on holiday.  People could experience where I was and what I was doing without being there.  My physical world very quickly became part of someone else’s digital world, whether they liked it or not.  I joked at a recent conference that my colleague and co-presenter @mike_ewen didn’t need to go on holiday this year because he just came along with me in my digital world.

So, it’s very easy to take your physical world and have that become part of someone’s digital world, even if they are 4000 miles away. For many of us these worlds are colliding at an alarming rate, the boundaries have blurred, disappeared or just become irrelevant.   Why is this important for us at an Academic Library?  It’s important because people are coming to University already unable to distinguish between the physical and digital worlds, it’s a new era, people are learning in news ways traversing these two worlds as they do so.  When we develop our services we need to ensure we take into account both worlds and treat them as one.  We need to develop our services and our spaces with the lines blurred and our worlds collided.