User Experience in Libraries: Insights from the Digital Finna Services at the National Library of Finland

Interview with Riitta Peltonen and Pasi Tiisanoja

For our introduction: Can you briefly introduce the Finna services?

Finna services are a family of digital services

  • Finna.fi – a search service that collects science and culture material from hundreds of Finnish organisations under one roof. Finna.fi is meant for everyone (professionals and amateur groups) interested in materials that could be found e.g. from libraries, archives and museums.
  • Search platform service – allowing Finnish organisations to create their own personalised search service sites focusing on their own materials e.g. most Finnish Public libraries, University libraries and University of Applied Sciences libraries have built their websites on top of the Finna platform.
  • APIs that allow anyone (organisations or individuals) to access Finna searches and materials through programmable interfaces enabling their direct usage from other digital services.

Finna services were originally created as part of a National Digital Library project, it has been established for several years already and continuous service funded directly by the Ministry of Education and Culture.

Copyright illustrative Finna pictures
© National Library of Finland, photographer Paavo Pykäläinen.

Today Finna services are among the most popular online service solutions in Finland. For example, 90 percent of public libraries are using a Finna online library interface. The total amount of visits to Finna services is yearly over 40 million.

The National Library is the administrator for the Finna services and is in charge of its development along with Finna’s partner organisations. The content in Finna is provided by the organisations (the libraries, archives and museums – LAM) that participate in the services.

What is so special about Finna? How can it be used? Who uses it?

Finna services are unique in way how they break organisation and even industry borders. From an end users’ perspective Finna.fi is one single place to look rich selection of materials related to their topic from hundreds of Finnish organisations. For example, if a user would be interested in the history of a certain place, they could find loanable books and other library materials about that place, they could find digitised pictures, maps, artwork, objects or documents from museums and archives related to that place and even information about non-digitised materials in archives related to that place. From Finnish LAM organisation’s perspective Finna services facilitate innovations cross the whole Finnish LAM sector and enable co-operation cross organisations. Organisations building their own search web services on top of the Finna platform can select with just a few clicks to include materials from other Finna member organisations into their service. For example, several university libraries also show local city library materials and materials of The National Repository Library in their own search User Interfaces (UI) meant for their students.

How does Finna services fit into the context of Open Science?

Finna services contribute to the discoverability and access of publications. Finna platform-based search services in university libraries are important channels for students and researchers to search and to get access to publications. Finland is also a small language area and hence the Finnish scientific journals are not necessarily findable through international publication databases. By integrating Finnish Open Access journals to Finna.fi we add their discoverability to everyone. Universities offer theses (doctoral and master) as digital Open Access publications, and they are also all findable through the Finna.fi for everyone.

Copyright illustrative Finna pictures © National Library of Finland, photographer Paavo Pykäläinen.

Finna.fi has a specific importance for social sciences and humanities (SSH) scholars, who use cultural heritage resources as a source material for their research. Open cultural heritage data available via Finna.fi’s APIs create possibilities for data-driven SSH research. Finna’s metadata is CC 0 licenced to ensure easiness of further usage e.g. in data-driven research. In 2022, Finna and its partners will also launch a service concept called Finna Reading Room which allows, after strong authentication, researchers to access cultural heritage data that includes restricted personal information.

You are working in the field of User Experience (UX) in the pure digital Finna.fi project at the National Library of Finland. When and why did you start? What does that mean practically?

Riitta: I have started working for Finna in 2017. Before that I had worked as a UX designer in telecommunication and digital B2B services for twelve years and I have a master’s degree in interactive digital media. I applied the lead UX designer position in Finna services since the National Library of Finland and their Finna team gave me the impression that there you don’t have to start from scratch and that there is potential to push UX practices further in the organisation. Finna services have been very pro-usability since the early years of the service. It has employed professional User Interface (UI) designers, has done regular user surveys and used usability testing companies for consulting for several years before I started there.

Around 2017 there was a moment when the organisation had to go without UI designers for a few months, but it was about getting the basic design work back up and running and then starting to look to the future and raising the aspiration level rather than starting from scratch. I have always considered that in UX you can do more in-house instead of being in consulting, inside the organisation you have more possibilities to impact and develop the practices than if you are an outsider invited to contribute just for a short time.

I do most UX processes related tasks except graphical design and frontend coding. I am at my best at user research and concepting. I do research, I facilitate workshops, I do feature design on wireframe level, I do usability testing and surveys. I am also responsible from planning the work of our UX team, I develop our UX processes, and I mentor younger designers.

Pasi: I have started working for Finna in 2017, shortly after Riitta joined the team. Before that I had worked as UI/graphic designer in several design consultancy firms for over ten years. I applied the UX designer position in Finna services since the position seemed to fit perfectly for me and I was interested in working with services which are based on Open Source. I was also interested in working with both library and museum sectors.

I do mostly UI design related tasks. I do tasks related to the accessibility and frontend coding. I undertake general UX tasks, including evaluating the results of usability tests, and turn them into a design plan to improve Finna’s usability. Occasionally I participate our organisations to UI design by organising workshops for them.

What are your goals with UX? Did you achieve them? Which UX methods do you apply at Finna.fi?

Riitta: In my experience in digital development the UX acceptance roughly follows a maturity path: first, an organisation starts to use professional UI/graphical designers, next step is embracing usability evaluation (walkthroughs, surveys and testing) and after that further user engagement starts to interest and you can start push user research usage into earlier phases as well.

When I joined Finna the UI needed a visual style update and the new accessibility requirements were coming inside couple of years. So, my first goal was a major style update, we started addressing accessibility requirements and as a part of that work we started to push the organisation to use usability testing in more agile ways and build in-house capability to do it. The style update was successful, our Net Promoter Score (NPS) did a good jump up in that year. We have managed to start to do usability testing systematically (both outsourced and in-house) as part of our regular development work, and our NPS has continued to steadily climb up.

My next goal was to establish the use of user research as part of the design and strategic decision-making process. The National Library of Finland provides services to other libraries and has a lot of experience to facilitate co-creation with LAM organisations (LAM professionals) and this was true to the Finna team as well, but Finna had less experience in using end user research. Achieving this has been my goal for a couple of years and we are now at a point where we can almost say that we have integrated user research (mostly user interviews) into our concepting practice.

Can you give us a practical example that worked, where you applied UX to solve a problem?

Riitta: The first case where we suggested using user research as a part of strategic decision-making was related to replacing Finnish bibliography and discography services old OPAC UIs with a newer system where Finna was the strongest candidate for the UI platform. The decision-making was hard because no one really had up to date understanding of how the different end user groups used the services in practice, which features were most important and which outdated. User research helped the services to understand what the main use cases are, recognise future development needs, compare the platform options to the true needs of users and to negotiate with Finna what feature development was mandatory before launch and what was not. In this case, the research was purchased from a neutral consulting company.

Our first in-house user research was related to findings, that elementary and high school teachers were aware and interested in Finna.fi, but somehow, they never ended up taking the first step and really used it. We used user research to confirm that yes, the culture heritage materials are useful to schools and that the problem is that the number of scattered materials in Finna.fi feels overwhelming for teachers and that they would want easy starter packages. The findings enabled us to workshop with cultural heritage material providers (the LAM organisations) and innovate the new concept Finna Classroom (only in Finnish and Swedish available), where LAM organisations can curate readymade packages with pedagogical utilisation ideas and make the decision to pilot it. Without the hard facts from user research and co-innovation workshops with LAM organisations, we probably would not have made this decision. Since this was one of those chicken-and-egg problems where UI cannot exist without content, and content without place in UI and developing both required considerable amount of effort and commitment from both sides.

Copyright illustrative Finna pictures © National Library of Finland, photographer Paavo Pykäläinen.

Pasi: At the moment we work with mobile usability and search filters, it is almost impossible to know without usability testing that the new solution is better or just challenging in different ways. After testing we evaluate test results and make the decision to take the new solution to the production, reject it or iterate it more.

To apply UX methods, you need library or online users who are willing to participate. How do you manage to find and motivate them?

Recruitment ways differ from one user group to another. We consider on a case by case basis, what the best channels would be. If we need a certain type of researcher or student, we try contacting university faculties directly. When we need teachers from a particular school subject, we go to their Facebook groups. If we need city library users, we ask library contacts to help with recruitment etc.

Copyright illustrative Finna pictures © National Library of Finland, photographer Paavo Pykäläinen.

For motivating end users, we typically use gift cards from a big retail chain (they have shops around the country), and we promise workshops to have refreshments.

What are the – lets say – three most important lessons you have learned from applying user experience methods in the Finna.fi project?

    Riitta:

  1. Someone needs to have a vision what is a next new method you want to try and to scout actively for an opportunity to try it.
  2. An organisation learns from practical experience. Finding that first opportunity to try some new method is important and the bar should not be too high for trying out new things. If something was successful, try to find another opportunity to use the same method e.g. usability testing for a second time. After a few times of positive experiences others may start to proactively propose opportunities. Try it more often and you are close to embedding it to practices.
  3. Timing of user research is important. If it is not convenient for users to come to participate, they won’t come.

Have you also used methods that did not work at all? What have been your biggest or funniest fails?

Riitta: So far, we have used basic methods: for digital development e.g. surveys, design walkthroughs, usability testing, user interviews and diary study. The failings we have had have been related to timing and user recruitment not with the method itself. Once I tried to find volunteer teachers just before Christmas which is the busiest time of the year for them. I had much more luck a month later in January. For one longer user study – also related to teachers – I thought that I have managed to invent a good and valuable incentive: participation in a conference. It turned out that the challenging part was that, although the teachers would have loved to go there, they would have needed a vacation day from their work, a substitute hired for that day and they had difficulties getting their bosses to agree with that.

What are your tips for libraries that would like to start with UX? What is a good starting point?

With digital services usability testing is always useful and it gives concrete improvement points and is a widely accepted method in digital industry so it’s also easier to sell it to your management.

Read more about Finna.fi

Read more about Open Science in Finland

Read more about UX in libraries

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Where Does Enhancement End and Citation Begin?

As more publishers semantically enrich documents, Todd Carpenter considers whether links are the same as citations

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Guest Post — Fifty Shades of Hybrid Conferences: Why Publishers Should Care (and How You Can Help)

Since in-person events are likely not going away, and neither are virtual ones, conference organizers are left with the most complex of options: hybrid. How can scholarly publishers help?

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User Experience for Libraries: A multi-site approach at the University of Westminster

Interview with Aimee Andersen and Sinead Beverland

The application of user experience (UX) in libraries is an exciting and multifaceted topic. Lastly, we therefore looked at “User Experience for Libraries: The Best Tools and Methods for Beginners” in a blog article. We also showed “User Experience in Libraries: 4 Best Practice Examples from the ZBW” and spoke to Larissa Tjisterman, who works in the field of UX at the Library of the University of Amsterdam.

Today we talk to Aimee Andersen and Sinead Beverland about how they are using UX to get the most out of the four libraries at the University of Westminster (UoW). They started there in 2019 as UX and Engagement Coordinators with a UX project. The main aim was to make the libraries and within the library spaces places where students like to work and work well. In addition, they were to use UX methods to improve the library search. In the middle of the project, they were surprised by the coronavirus and the lockdown and had to rethink.

In the interview, they share their experiences, their best methods and their tips for UX beginners with us and also reveal what didn’t work at all. They explain how to get students involved in improving libraries through UX, what to look out for and why the right timing is so important.

Aimee and Sinead, you are working in the field of User Experience in the University of Westminster Libraries. When and why did you start? What does that mean practically?

Aimee: A unique role of User Experience and Engagement Coordinator was created in 2019 by the Head of Library and Archives Services, Helen Rimmer. It was a secondment role which was shared equally between Sinead and myself. The role was initially for a year, in which we prepared a vision of what we would do and hope to achieve within that year. The role was then extended for another six months to focus solely on UX around our library catalogue.

In practical terms, it meant that we could roadmap out our projects around what we hoped to gain from the UX work and time them accordingly. The managers had already conducted Break up letters/love letters and cognitive mapping with great success and the aim of the role was to allow a staff member (in our case, two members of staff) to dedicate time solely to UX.

Sinead: Our brief at the beginning of the role was to focus on space and communication within the library. This was quite the challenge in that we have four libraries within the University that serve a varied range of students and staff. We had to devise and implement UX projects that would engage this broad demographic of users whilst providing us with useful, tangible results that could improve our service.

Ultimately, we wanted to see our space and service through the eyes of our users and this dedicated UX role allowed us to do just that.

What are your goals with UX? Did you achieve them? Which UX methods do you apply at the UoW libraries?

Aimee: As mentioned, this was a very unique opportunity to try anything! We got to dip our toes into UX work and explore . Having said that, we were asked to conduct some UX work around staff well-being (we were in lockdown by that time and used an online storyboard) and we focused on communication and space. Knowing that we were only in role for a specific period of time, we spent quite a bit of time deciding on the vision for the role and then explored techniques that focused on this vision, namely the ideas of space and how the library community communicates within that space.

Sinead: With the initial goal to look at space and communication within the library, we chose our UX methods accordingly. This meant they ranged from an induction Graffiti Wall (canvassing new students), to a Photo Journal (asking students to design their ideal future library), to Storyboarding (understanding staff challenges during the pandemic).

These specific projects gave us insight into what information students want from us, how they would like us to deliver it and how they envisage the physical library space developing.
– Sinead Beverland

Having started our UX work on site, we did have to move online when the coronavirus pandemic began and lockdown hit the UK! Working on projects during a global pandemic was not easy and brought with it a whole new set of challenges. We had to adapt to the new situation, for instance, moving our storyboard project online and utilising our social media to engage with the university community.

During this time of working remotely, we were also tasked with looking at Library Search from a UX perspective. This became a huge piece of work within itself, incorporating remote staff and student interviews, whilst analysing statistical data and chat transcripts pertaining to the Library Search user experience. The work culminated in a report of our findings which included a number of recommendations for changes to Library Search that could enhance the usability and experience for all.

Can you give us a practical example that worked, where you applied UX to solve a problem?

Aimee: Prior to coming into the role, the managers had conducted the UX technique of love letters/break up letters to the library, of which I was a part. It was very successful in that we received without a doubt enough break up letters to a particular floor of one of our libraries regarding the temperature. Having learnt from that experience, it was easier going forward with our future projects to be able to solicit how to develop recommendations that are both forward thinking and practical.

Creating a collage of proposals from students of the Libraries at the University of Westminster©

In our photographic journal, we gained a lot of information from students’ collages of their visions of their ideal future libraries. Although there were some very impractical, but fantastic suggestions (such as a sun filled meditation room, a clothes exchanges and a bar), we garnered invaluable ideas around what we could practically implement, such as more the importance of more communal study spaces, greenery within the library and using student artwork around the library.

We also were able to understand how important the idea of community within the library space was to our students as well as the isolation they sometimes feel and how the library space helps them to meet, and interact.
– Aimee Andersen

Sinead: For each of our UX projects we collated reports, including recommendations which were circulated within the department and to senior management. From our UX Library Search report, a working group was established and changes are in the process of being made to improve the experience and usability of the system. A specific example would be amending generic and unhelpful icons that are used to denote “databases”, “journals” etc.

To apply UX methods, you need library users who are willing to participate. How do you manage to find and motivate them?

Aimee: This was one of the toughest parts of the role and I feel like I learnt a lot from trying to garner engagement. We put a lot of thought and effort into peripheral ways of reaching students, such as social media, student union and other departmental connections. We also had a healthy budget for the role and were able to offer Amazon vouchers as incentives. I found that it also depended on the activity and levels of engagement.

With our graffiti wall project, we had no direction or control over engagement, apart from deciding where to place the wall for maximum interaction, however we did need to recruit students for the photo journal project. The students that participated with the photo journal were students that were attracted to the project and their interest level contributed greatly to the project’s success.

We also asked for feedback from students with each project around ways we could improve our student engagement and participation.
– Aimee Andersen

Sinead: Finding participants can often feel like a struggle and we learnt that a lot of factors come into play when you are “recruiting” for a UX project. Timing is incredibly important. In an educational environment it is important to be aware of exam and deadline dates – we tried to schedule our activities at quieter times of the year so that people had more time to offer. When wanting to capture information during a busy period, like induction week, we chose a UX technique that was bold, quick and easy to use – a Graffiti Wall. Students could jot down their question on the wall as they passed by, which meant anyone could access it at any time.

Graffiti Wall, University of Westminster Libraries ©

We also put a lot of time and effort into designing eye-catching posters, flyers and online posts to encourage participants. We wanted to make these as appealing and diverse as possible to capture the attention of a wide demographic. This was a little time consuming but well worth it as we had many students reach out to us from this marketing.

We were fortunate to have wonderful and engaged participants for all our projects. For our part, we did also ensure that we kept in contact with them throughout and adopted a very collaborative and informal approach, in keeping with the tone of our UX work.
– Sinead Beverland

Liaising with other university departments and developing a good relationship with the Student Union undoubtedly helped us to promote and find participants for all our UX work. Working with student and staff communications and student union representatives gave us a greater insight into how to appeal to our users and more scope to reach them through their channels.

What are the – lets say – three most important lessons you have learned from applying user experience methods in UoW libraries?

Aimee:

  1. Ensuring that projects are conducted when students are a) around and b) have enough time to commit and participate
  2. Creative thinking: Our most successful project by far in terms of positive feedback was the collages for the future libraries; students loved it. We were also enamoured with the idea as collaging removes the pressure of having to “draw” whilst allowing a creative and reflective expression.
  3. We also needed to think outside the box around how to manoeuvre lockdown, given that we had created the role for the year as being on campus. It was an incredibly unique opportunity to capture the experiences of that time whilst we were in the midst of it, as opposed to reflecting back upon the experience of attempting to study during the strange time that was the initial lockdown.

  4. Never assume! We tried to keep this at the forefront of everything we did, and we created projects around this idea, hopefully allowing students and staff to express themselves within the project. We constantly conversed around the idea of our assumptions and job sharing in this respect was incredibly useful.

Sinead: I would totally agree with Aimee’s three lessons! Thinking outside of the box and finding creative ways to engage students was key. I learnt the importance of creating a dialogue with our users and to go beyond just listening to what they told me. It was equally important to observe how they instinctively interacted with space and services.

Have you also used methods that did not work at all? What have been your biggest or funniest fails?

Aimee: As the lockdown continued, we were thinking of different ways to launch small virtual projects, and one of these was the idea of book shelfies. We did not have as much engagement with this project as we had with previous work. This could have been because it was just after lockdown and everyone was trying to adjust to a new way of working.

Sinead: As a small side UX activity, we tried to canvas opinions on a new library welcome desk however, not having much time available we put together a simple online padlet and encouraged library users to share their opinions over the course of a week. This lacked the creativity of our other projects and was not well promoted, thus, we got very little input! A lesson learnt to give your all to everything you do!

What are your tips for libraries that would like to start with UX? What is a good starting point?

Aimee: I attended the UXLib-Konferenz a couple of years ago and I found the talks and workshops incredibly interesting and inspiring. Reach out to other staff members doing similar things to what you would like to do. I met a few people at the conference that were very helpful in keeping in contact and were happy to exchange ideas etc. We also started a twitter account in which we posted promotion and post project photos as well as tweeting and retweeting any interesting UX related stories. It was a good way to keep a running record of what we were doing and what we were learning as well as networking with UX colleagues elsewhere.

Sinead: To look at what other institutions are already doing is a great starting point. In terms of UX, for example, the Glasgow University, the University of Southampton and the University of Kent were inspiring for me. Learn from those that have gone before you! We found that the Library User Experience Community is strong and incredibly supportive and helpful. If in doubt, reach out to people and ask some questions. In our experience Library UX’ers are more than happy to chat and share advice and thoughts. Be sure to check out“Exploring UX research and design in libraries” and engage with social media, try hashtags such as #UXLIB.

We were talking to Aimee Andersen and Sinead Beverland.

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Start-up Stories: Cassyni — The One-Stop-Shop for Online Seminars — Or, How to Get Your Product Built and Launched in 6 Months

Continuing a series looking at start-ups in the scholarly sector, from what they do and how it could be useful, to how they have got started, and tips they would share with other entrepreneurs. This time, an interview with Andrew Preston and Ben Kaube, two of the founders of online seminar platform Cassyni

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Revisiting: Theory of the E-book

Joe Esposito revisits his 2012 post on the unstated theory of the e-book, which assumes that a book consists only of its text and can be manipulated without regard to the nature and circumstances of its creation. This is only one theory of many, but it is now the prevailing one.

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Popularizing Cosmology: The Example of Katie Mack

It also can be something of a trap for a well-intentioned academic who wants to write for this audience, as writing for the lay person is often contemptuously dismissed as “popularization.” Woe to the academic who puts an article from The Atlantic or a book from Simon & Schuster into her tenure portfolio! It takes courage. My view is that these brave souls should be called out and celebrated. They are my heroes.

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Revisiting — The Google Generation Is Alright

How much has changed in a dozen years? Lettie Conrad looks back at Ann Michael’s post from the 2009 SSP Annual Meeting, “Publishing for the Google Generation”.

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Libraries as a Place after Corona: Hybrid and Participatory?

During the corona pandemic, libraries and their diverse functions have been “on hold” as analogue spaces. Users find information, advice and seminars digitally. But an exchange of ideas, networking and cooperative learning can hardly take place. What should libraries, as places of learning and event venues, look like for our users in the future? Is hybrid the new solution? Nicole Clasen and Alena Behrens from the ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics are currently exploring these issues. The ZBW runs libraries in Kiel and Hamburg.

Interview with Nicole Clasen and Alena Behrens

The ZBW in Hamburg will be moving to a new building in a few years. For this reason, you have recently defined which spaces and room elements are needed for modern library operations in all their facets and which are not. What was important for you?

It’s important for us to create an attractive place that inspires discussions and a sense of cooperative working and learning. This includes an open and modern architecture that makes the library an enticing place to enter.

New building for the ZBW – Hamburg (exterior view) on the university campus. Photo credit: Andreas Heller Architects & Designers

There will also be areas where the furnishings can be arranged flexibly. This can be done with chairs and tables on castors, or by selecting light furniture. The users can thereby design the working areas according to their needs at that time: Smaller or larger furniture sets can be created – group tables or arranged in a circle – depending on how one wants to work at that time.

New building for the ZBW – Hamburg on the university campus. Photo credit: Andreas Heller Architects & Designers

Good technical facilities are also fundamentally important. There will, naturally, be wall-to-wall WLAN and sufficient plugs at all workstations, to allow visitors to work with their own devices. We will also be offering various large computer screens to enable and to support collaborative working.

New building for the ZBW – Hamburg on the university campus. Photo credit: Andreas Heller Architects & Designers

How did you know what was important for the users of the ZBW?

Since 2016, we have been carrying out studies annually with the User Experience (UX) methods. We introduced four best practice examples in this article. UX focuses above all on the actual behaviour of the users, and the results differ significantly from those of the classic questionnaire. Through this, we have a good idea of the working methods and desires of our users. Observation methods also examine the unconscious behaviour of users. These are things that could and should never be entered in a questionnaire in this form. In the post “User Experience for Libraries: The Best Tools and Methods for Beginners” we explain how libraries can start using User Experience. Our users are also participating in the further development of the library.

User Journey Map, a method of user experience in which the feelings of users during certain tasks are visualised. (UX Libs Conference 2018)

This is joined by the daily contact with users – whether at the service desk, the central contact point in the library, or via our digital advice services such as Chat or training sessions.

Were there elements of the classic library that were no longer needed for the new building?

One thing traditionally associated with libraries is the seemingly endless rows of shelves with books. We have not used open-access shelving for a long time for various reasons, and there will be no freely accessible shelves in the new building either. This means that we have more space for workspaces. All books are initially stored in the stack-room and are inaccessible to users. If someone orders a book, it is available within an hour. Moreover, during their research in EconBiz our users use analogue and digital inventories to the same extent.

We will also be offering fewer computers. Users prefer to use their own devices and we will supplement these with computer screens only. Remote access gives users the ability to view licensed literature.

We will also offer more group rooms instead of only group workplaces. In the rooms, users can meet up to work together. Having a closed area means that other groups are not disturbed and every group can have discussions and work in the way they want. This means that it is possible to work together using video tools from the library, without being disturbed by noise or by people walking around in the background.

There will no longer be an extra consultation space at the service desk. We will of course continue to be available there if users have any questions and problems. More complex consultations regarding research will then take place digitally.

Corona has taught us that it’s possible to do many things digitally. So do we even need libraries on site? For what? For whom? And who will be using libraries only digitally in the future?

Libraries will still continue to be important places. They are one of the few places that you can visit without having to pay any money. What’s more, using libraries on-site gives them a decisive added value as a place of learning and an event venue.

As a place of learning, libraries offer a meeting place where people can work together. It’s not always practical for people to meet at home, if there isn’t enough room in their apartment for several people to work together, or if they do not have equipment such as computer screens to make working more relaxed, for example. Students who live in flat shares or with their parents don’t always find the peace & quiet they need for concentrated individual work. The library offers space for all these different working needs.

The library will continue to play a role as an event venue, as well as to exchange know-how and network.

Library tours will take place more digitally in future. At the moment, we are offering these purely virtually via video tools. We intend to combine and extend this in the future. Even before corona we had started to develop a guided tour of the library with the help of augmented reality, which will extend the physical library through digital services. Other similar projects are feasible in the future. The participation of users is important for digital services like this. After all, they are supposed to take some knowledge away with them and learn something. Ideally, they should exchange ideas with each other.

What were your positive examples for libraries as places? Which other (library) locations have inspired you? And why?

We have been very inspired by the Scandinavian and Dutch libraries (German). Impressive new buildings have been built there in recent years that do not always correspond to the classic idea of a library as we imagine it in Germany. These countries have a conception of libraries that is more unconventional and modern. We wanted to incorporate elements of that here.

The Dokk1 in Aarhus (Denmark) was a positive example. The uncomplicated interaction really impressed us. The students sit near the event space when studying; a few metres further you can find the kids’ space where the little ones can run around. Yet no group is disturbed by the others – the acoustics are controlled very effectively. The design of the library is very playful. Posters and other presentations illustrate the projects that the library is involved in and the topics that are currently being worked on.

Utrecht University Library (Netherlands) is another inspiring library. It is an academic library and the university has an Open Science focus, meaning that it is comparable to the ZBW library in the requirements it must fulfil.

At re:publica 2021 you recently organised a session on “Libraries as a place of learning – hybrid and participatory?” (German). What were your three most interesting insights? What are the concerns of the library community at the moment?

  • Library employees are very interested in getting to know their own users.
  • They actively wish to reshape the spaces and adapt them to the users’ needs.
  • We are all aware that changes will occur and that after corona we are not going to be able to continue exactly where we left off in March 2020.

We have noticed that it’s important to discuss this topic. That’s why we will start a round-table discussion group on UX in libraries. Interested users will be able to exchange ideas and brainstorm on user research projects in order to disseminate these ideas more widely and accommodate the needs of the users better. Those who are interested in an exchange of ideas can get in touch with us via userservice@zbw.eu.

Why will media technology in libraries play an important role in the future in this context?

Media technology is a criterion that adds value to libraries. If users can find media in libraries that they cannot access at home, it makes their visit even more appealing. This could be large computer screens for working together on presentations and projects. But also the makerspaces in many public libraries. These offer many things that people don’t have at home and therefore become attractive for new target groups.

Good hardware and software are also important for library employees, to be able to implement digital services appropriately. A digital Coffee Lecture (German) should be able to take place with good sound, image and without the screen freezing due to poor internet quality. And even allegedly small details, such as image stabilising aids for cameras, help to improve video quality.

The importance of media technology in libraries can be seen in the fact that it is now included in the (practical) training curriculum. Apprentices training to be specialists for media and information services and university students are thereby prepared better for their everyday working lives.

Will hybrid become the new normality in libraries? What could that look like?

Libraries will have many hybrid elements in the future. They will be a physical space for getting together, learning together and exchanging ideas.

The literature, however, will primarily be available digitally. Similarly, services, training courses and workshops will increasingly be offered digitally.

Even before corona, we were considering designing these services more digitally. But at that time, there were still many uncertainties and doubts as to how this would function and should be implemented. Nicole Clasen talks about this in the podcast “Experiencing a digital library” (German). The past few months, during which there were few other opportunities and so we simply gave it a try, have shown that it is possible. The pandemic has brought new dynamics and possibilities to the field.

We spoke with Nicole Clasen and Alena Behrens.

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The post Libraries as a Place after Corona: Hybrid and Participatory? first appeared on ZBW MediaTalk.

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