The Ideal Place for Students to Learn: Results of a ZBW Photo Study

by Alena Behrens and Nicole Clasen

In this article, Alena Behrens and Nicole Clasen from the User Services team at the ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics report on the background, method, questions and results of their photo study among students. The key feature: the participants were only allowed to answer the five questions with photos. Text answers or comments were not possible. 19 students took part and sent 108 photos: of how they work, take their breaks and what their after-work rituals are. Alena Behrens and Nicole Clasen present the most interesting findings, draw conclusions about how new learning spaces in libraries need to be designed, and reveal what role candles play in this:

Pandemic challenges

User experience research (UX research) is characterised by spending a lot of time with your users, including their emotional level and questioning behaviours to learn as much as possible about the users. But how can you build this connection when libraries are closed for weeks and people are called to physically distance themselves from each other? The ZBW’s User Services team has dared to attempt a UX survey during the pandemic.

Approach and setting

Due to the pandemic-related requirements at the time of implementation in autumn 2021, it quickly became clear that the project should be carried out online as far as possible. The opening hours of the libraries were very limited. Only a few users worked in the library on site, and most of the staff worked from their home offices.

The question for us, however, was obvious: How do students learn at home during the pandemic? What stresses or disturbs them about this work situation? How do students deal with these changed learning conditions without a lecture hall or library? And what can we learn from this to adapt and improve the future design of the learning spaces?

A suitable UX method quickly emerged for these questions: the Photo Studies (term after Andy Priestner).

Photo Studies from home

In the Photo Studies method, the participants answer the questions posed with photos they have taken themselves. This was suitable for our question for two reasons: First, it gives us a very good insight into how the students set themselves up to study at home. Second, we were able to comply with all hygiene measures by establishing contact via email and sending the photos to us digitally. In addition, the students were quite flexible in terms of when they answered the questions. They could take the photos at their leisure and decide what should be in the photos.

The following five questions were to be answered with photos:

  1. Where is the favourite place to study/work and what is the most important object?
  2. What did the workplace look like (during an online lecture)?
  3. How is the break organised?
  4. What was the most annoying/challenging thing in the last few months?
  5. What does the after-work ritual look like?

Photos and findings

A total of 19 students participated in the study with 108 photos. So not everyone sent the exact number of five photos. The User Services team analysed the photos anonymously. By sending them, the students agreed to this and also that we could use the photos in presentations, articles, etc. The number of photos gave us a good insight into the working and learning conditions of home studying.

Workplaces and stress points

Important for working are a stable internet connection and good work equipment, such as technical equipment, a desk and chair. These are also the biggest stress points if they do not meet the requirements: An interference-prone internet connection is a hindrance for online lectures, and uncomfortable chairs cause back pain.

Only half of the participants work at a proper desk, the other half sit at the kitchen table or other converted tables. The space situation in general is often cramped. It is usually not possible to switch between work and leisure time.

Breaks and after-work rituals

The participants like to spend their breaks outside and in motion, e.g. on a walk, also with friends. After work, on the other hand, they spend most of their time at home. This is also in line with the usual pandemic-related requirements at the time of implementation.

As an after-work ritual, we received many sports pictures, from boxing and running to the yoga mat, many individual sports were included. The cosy sofa for relaxing should not be missing either.

Environment and decoration

As we already found out in our 2018 survey, the environment and atmosphere of the learning space play a major role. Implementing these needs in their own homes presented challenges for the students, but they were able to solve them. For a pleasant dose of daylight and fresh air, the learning spaces were often close to the window. They decorated the space with plants and candles. Drinks, especially coffee and tea, and snacks were also not to be missed.

  • Conclusion 1: Equip learning spaces well

    For us, it was rather surprising that after three semesters of purely digital study, many students still work with rather provisional solutions. Many work at the dining table or have placed a small table in the corner of the room. In most cases, there is only one laptop available, and there are no additional monitors. This is definitely a starting point for libraries to provide well-equipped learning spaces. This starts with large tables and comfortable, ergonomic chairs, and can be extended by technical equipment, e.g. by offering additional monitors to make working easier. Areas where you can work alone and still participate in online seminars were rare in libraries before the pandemic. We will consider this form of work in the future.

  • Conclusion 2: Create spaces for social interaction

    What has often been missing since the beginning of the Corona pandemic, but is all the more essential, is social contact. For libraries, this means on the one hand that places to work together in groups are important. There is often not enough space for this in small shared rooms. Areas for common breaks and social meeting places to exchange ideas and continue working creatively are also desired. Areas where small yoga and relaxation breaks can be taken can also offer added value. After sitting for a long time, many people feel the need to move, as the photos have confirmed.

  • Conclusion 3: Developing the library together with students

    It is very exciting to get an impression of students’ personal workplaces. The very positive feedback from the participants also showed us that they appreciate it when you want to respond to their personal needs. What was surprising for us was that we were given such open and personal insights. Thus, we can draw on an instructive and informative pool of knowledge and inspiration to design user services for the changing needs of learning and studying after the pandemic. With this knowledge, we can further develop the services in a targeted and needs-oriented manner.

Reflection on method and procedure

For the circumstances (Corona pandemic, home office/studying) and the question from this context, the method of photo studies was very well suited. We gained an insight into students’ private learning environments that we could hardly have gained otherwise. In this online implementation, in contrast to previous face-to-face on-site studies, we did not conduct any subsequent interviews. If we were to conduct them again, we would also combine the online studies with a small interview. This would give the participants the opportunity to explain their images. For some, there was a lot of room for interpretation and an explanation would have facilitated the exact interpretation.

However, this kind of implementation does not replace personal contact. Being able to talk to the students on site and to personally guide the UX methods is a great benefit. It enables a fluent dialogue and exchange.

This text has been translated from German.

This might also interest you:

About the authors:

Nicole Clasen is Head of User Services at ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics. Her work focuses on information transfer, digital user services and the usability experience. LinkedIn and Twitter.
Portrait: ZBW©, photographer Sven Wied

Alena Behrens works as a librarian in the user services department at the ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics. In addition to working at the service desk, her work focuses on information mediation and user experience. She can also be found on Twitter.
Portrait: Alena Behrens©

The post The Ideal Place for Students to Learn: Results of a ZBW Photo Study first appeared on ZBW MediaTalk.

User Experience in Libraries: Insights from the Central Economics Library at the University of Ljubljana

At the University of Ljubljana (UL), there is not one central university library. In fact, each faculty or academy has its own library: 38 in total. One of these 38 libraries is the Central Economics Library (CEL) at the School of Economics and Business (SEB LU), where Tomaž Ul?akar works.

He attended a conference in Glasgow in 2017 that opened his eyes to User Experience (UX). Since then, a lot has happened at the CEL: there was a pop-up library, a shift in focus onto the main users and the whole concept of user training has been reworked.

An interview with Tomaž Ul?akar, Central Economics Library and Publishing Office at the School of Economics and Business, University of Ljubljana.

What are your goals with UX? Did you achieve them?

The goal of the Central Economics Library is to transform itself into a modern Centre of Knowledge (CeK), where activities such as the classical library, the digital library, the information center, the publishing, the Open Access, the infrastructure centre with two laboratories (behavioural lab and financial lab) will work together as one large modern knowledge incubator.

Which UX methods do you apply at the CEL?

We use mostly: brainstorming, stakeholders and users interviews, sometimes also kickoff meetings.

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

A good example of the use of UX in CEL was the design of online services for users at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, when we used all of the above methods in combination in our Zoom meetings to launch the new online product CEL outside the library.

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

I find this part as the hardest. Yes, it is true; you need a lot of energy for persuading users to participate. We have some very enthusiastic colleagues who are willing to enter the user comfort zone and motivate them: with words as we are trying to improve our services. In the past, we also used our social media channels to encourage the participation in UX with an award for the best idea (when we were searching a new name for our study places or for the e-tutor).

When and why did you start working with UX? What does that mean practically?

Based on Andy Priestner’s presentation at the European Business School Librarian’s Group (EBSLG) Annual General Meeting 2017 (German) in Glasgow and on his book “User Experience in Libraries: Applying Ethnography and Human-Centred Design”, we decided to change the whole user concept of the library.

In 2017, we segmented the users, observed their habits and made the first decisions that we need to adapt the services to the main users: full-time students. Therefore, at the beginning of the academic year in October 2017, we went out of the library with the pop-up library and presented the services at the booth.

Pop-up-Library: Registration

In 2018, we worked a lot to change the focus of the librarians in the circulation department and also to do some research among users on how they behave in our spaces, what they are looking for, how they use our facilities, etc. We also have a young staff member who, with his fresh perspective on the library and its services, has motivated other colleagues to make even bigger changes in the UX dimension.

In 2019, after analysing the existing model and based on users’ wishes expressed at the counter, in personal conversations and surveys, we decided to change the whole concept of user training. We offered narrowly specialised presentations with e-resource workshops for areas of study. We also approached professors with this concept, inviting library experts to individual courses to present relevant e-resources.

All training presentations and workshops for an academic year are presented on the LibCal platform. We also use the platform as an e-tutor for all library services, such as membership and loans, remote access, trainings, etc. For each trainings promotion is prepared with leaflet and promotion channels.



For each trainings promotion is prepared with leaflet and promotion channels

This move toward users was critical during Corona 2020 and 2021, when the library kept in touch with users through brief online-zoom service presentations. We put almost all services online. Statistics show a sharp increase in the use of remote access to e-resources:

Statistics show a sharp increase in the use of remote access to e-resources

In 2020 and 2021, we also worked hard to provide a good user experience on Open Access, support for researchers, and a good information service on Open Access. The OA experience at our school is well represented in a colleague’s poster at the Open Science Conference 2022. In the colleague’s presentation, we could see what was done to achieve such a strong use of the institutional repository by researchers in the last year.

The results of the decision to use the methods of UX when introducing new services are reflected in the increased number of active users, increased use of resources, and, last but not least, greater awareness of the importance of the library among school administrators.

What are the most important lessons you have learned from applying UX?

UX is a quite convenient method for applying new services but it also takes a lot energy at the beginning, when you start planning it. You need a lot of strength to manage the process and to organise ideas. But it can also be very pleasant, you do some team building with colleagues and you are getting to know your users.

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

To start UX, I would recommend an observation of library users, e.g., what they do, where they go, how they use the library, and then systematically start with the services you want to change or (re)design. Start with a UX method that you think is easiest to use, or rather, that you think can get you results.

This might also interest you:

We were talking to:

Tomaž Ul?akar is the head of the Central Economics Library (CEL), the European Documentation Centre and the Publishing Office at the School of Economics and Business at the University of Ljubljana (UL). From 2019 to 2021, he was the president of the Library Council, where the library activities of the 38 academic libraries at the faculties and academies of the UL are coordinated. Tomaž Ul?akar can be found on SICRIS, the Slovenian Current Research Information System.
Portrait: Tomaž Ul?akar©

Featured Image: SEB LU© Yearly Review, academic year 2020-2021. All other graphics: SEB LU©

The post User Experience in Libraries: Insights from the Central Economics Library at the University of Ljubljana first appeared on ZBW MediaTalk.

User Experience in Libraries: Building a Human-centric Organisation at the National Library of Estonia

Interview with Margus Veimann and Jane Makke

The National Library of Estonia sits enthroned on Tõnismägi Hill in the centre of Tallinn. Here, Margus Veimann and Jane Makke work in the Library Services Development Centre to make the library a user-friendly and inspiring place for staff and users. In the interview, they reveal which methods they use, what the key to successful UX is and why it is so important to change your own organisational culture first.

You are working in the field of User Experience (UX) in the National Library of Estonia. When and why did you start? What does that mean practically?

Margus: My relationship with UX began three years ago when I was working as a marketing specialist and social media designer in the National Library of Estonia. Back then the library had a collaboration project with the members of the Department of Business Administration of Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) who were the first to introduce me to service design as a methodology. During this project the master’s students of service design and marketing came to our library and got acquainted with the real services of our library, and started to solve the design tasks using the service design methodology.

The result of the project was twofold – on one hand the students were able to solve real-life problems, and on the other hand, the library got to know the service design through this process. The most valuable experience I got from this collaboration project was the opportunity to understand the value of design – as a way of thinking and as a toolbox in the service development process, also, an understanding that introducing a designer toolbox and transferring knowledge across the organisation is the way we need to go.

Our vision is to be a next-generation library and to act as an innovator in the world of librarianship through an open, inspiring, and inclusive operating environment.
– Margus Veimann

By the end of this collaboration project, it was clear that design as a mindset is a journey that we want to explore further on as an organisation who has implemented a service-based managerial model. For example, our vision is to be a next-generation library and to act as an innovator in the world of librarianship through an open, inspiring, and inclusive operating environment. But how do we achieve this vision? What are the tools, methods, and skills that would foster innovation and support the creation of user-friendly services in the library? I am sure that the user-centric approach is the key to unlock this mystery.

I think the key here is to introduce the service design as a toolbox, teach our colleagues the key principles of User Experience, as well as teach them how to use different design methods that designers and non-designers practice to achieve significant and long-lasting positive change. It is all about the willingness to experiment and keep in mind that our responsibility is to create value for the users.

Jane: Although I have been working in the library for many years, 2017 was the first time I had an opportunity to get acquainted with the concept of UX. The next time was in 2018, when I was given the task of forming a working group and try to apply UX principles to an extension of the library’s website. Our team produced a rather nice prototype, taking into account that we were beginners and self-learners. The idea of having such an extension is still on the to-do list of the library and I hope that one day we end up in developing it as well. Starting from 2020, when I became the head of the Library Services Development Centre, Margus joined my team as a service designer and our cooperation began.

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

Margus: Which method to use depends on many different aspects of the project or problem you’re facing. Would it be best to use surveys, interviews, observations/job-shadowing – to name a few. I believe that most important is to start with users and keep in mind that first of all, it is important to understand why and what kind of problem we are about to solve and what we want to achieve.

Leaving the house at an early stage and interacting with the users is a key. It is customary that we think that we know all the answers and have the best solution how to solve users’ problems but usually this is the source of the failure. It is mandatory to experiment and always include user research and small learning experiments in every project. This is a cornerstone for creating services that are valuable and accessible for different user groups.

It is customary that we think that we know all the answers and have the best solution how to solve users’ problems but usually this is the source of the failure.
– Margus Veimann

I truly believe that in every organisation there is a lot of good ideas and the will to do interesting things, but one has to choose. But to what to give priority to? Where to invest resources and where not? Design as a methodology and a mindset helps to create evidence at an early stage that can be used to make decisions. Secondly, you need to create value for your users, if any activity is not beneficial for the users, it is better to leave this activity behind. The third and the most important thing is to change the organisational culture. The other two goals are also important, but the day-to-day journey of innovation is to change people and culture and then to create value for our end users.

Jane: Indeed, the first and the foremost goal has been the inception of the design thinking concept as such into our organisational culture. For that, we have organised two training programmes. The last one was rather extensive involving quite a large number of our staff, including the management. However, I think there is yet plenty to do.

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

Jane: One of the first attempts to apply UX was in 2017/2018 when the library decided to redesign the library’s foyer. We started a proper UX project: interviewed the guests, partners as well as the members of the staff. We asked about their feelings when they entered the lobby and during their stay, what they value and miss the most, and how they would create the welcoming area if they had an opportunity to rearrange things by themselves. After the interviews, we built a real-life prototype for testing a new look together with our customers. As a result, we actually did redesign the lobby – the welcoming area, the information desk and the security area, they all found a new place and role. Yet it is important to mention that during the testing it became evident that the most popular solution to welcome our clients did not work out though. The constructional peculiarities of the library building have led to our staff developing health problems. So, we had to find other options. This is what the testing is for.

Reading room on the first floor of the National Library of Estonia©

In March 2022, the renovation of the National Library’s main building is about to begin. The doors of the main building have already been closed since December 2021, and the library is moving out its collections, staff and offices. But what did we do? We opened our doors in two new places instead – one is our new temporary main building and the other one is an outpost in one of the entertainment and shopping centres in the heart of Tallinn.

Small House of National Library of Estonia©

The outpost is located next to one of the largest bookstores in Tallinn and a popular cinema, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants where people can relax and enjoy themselves, and in the same building there is a concert hall as well. So, this is a wonderful place for the library to be among other businesses of similar type. The idea of an outpost was born during the design-thinking training programme. By the way, during this training, many came up with the idea of opening outposts of the library in various places throughout the capital of Estonia – starting from supermarkets and ending up with the Tallinn main railway station and even the airport.

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

Jane: This is obviously the trickiest part. Luckily, we have a group of loyal users who are willing to participate every now and then. The keywords to success are consistency and respect. If you ask for an input, you have to take it into account, otherwise you lose credit, and those who would have been willing to participate will feel left behind.

Margus: It is all about respect and empathy to truly listen and gather users’ perspective.

A good practice would also be to build your own database of different users’ groups. Of course, it requires some time investment upfront, but in the long run, it creates a sustainable process for finding research participants quickly and easily. In my experience, it is also important to have a strong collaboration and partnership with different organisations and companies who are willing to share your call to participate. Collaboration and empathy are the key here to build trust and also interest between different user groups.

What are the most important lessons you have learned from applying User Experience methods in the National Library of Estonia?

Jane:

  • To create customer value, you need to engage users. We are not users and cannot know what they actually need and want.
  • Keep it simple. Often users want simplicity and, those simple things to work well. But we tend to overthink and overdesign. That is why you need to validate your perceptions with the users.
  • If you want to engage users, you must abandon your own vision and ideas, be open and listen. Otherwise, if it appears that they want something else than you have imagined, you end up ignoring the users, which is bad taste.
  • Be patient and consistent. To get results, you must invest time. First, you are probably all alone in your organisation. So, you have to make your colleagues understand what User Experience is and convince them that UX might be a helpful tool. Your goal is to make them dare to test UX design. Now you have paved the road to the second milestone that is to change their mindset – when they see the first results, they start to take UX seriously and dare to trust UX, and soon it will become a normal part of your colleagues’ (working) life. And finally, when they become true believers, they start to speak about UX on behalf of you. Then your mission has been accomplished.

Have you also used methods that did not work at all?

Jane: We are yet in the beginning of our UX journey. That means we have not yet experimented with all the different methods to make conclusions which methods work and which do not.

But as to the fails, I think about the situations when we eagerly engage users to get their input and then forget to use it.

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

Jane: First and foremost, it is very important to have a sponsor to support your goals. When referring to sponsors, I mean management. If they believe in the idea, they are also willing to invest the necessary resources.

Margus: Start mapping out what are the goals and strategy of the organisation. Map existing services and identify bottlenecks that need to be addressed.

Find out the users´ needs: Interact with your users and try to find out which problems they face and what their goals are. How are the services used and what are the main concerns or problems users face?

Define/specify user needs: Map customer journeys and determine how users use your service. How does he/she get there? What are the touch points of contact along the way? If the users do not reach your service, find out why.

Identify interesting analogies: Does another organisation offer similar services? What are they doing differently?

Check out the UK´s Design Council´s framework for innovation “Double Diamond” and start experimenting and learn by doing.

And ask your librarian to put together a list of books about service design and User Experience. I would suggest to start with “Good Services – How to Design Services that Work” by Lou Downe and “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman.

This might also interest you

We were talking with:

As of January 2020, Jane Makke works as the Head of the Library Services Development Centre at the National Library of Estonia (NLE). She has been working in the library sector for many years in the areas of customer service, data management and IT development. During the last years her focus has been on the design and development of country-wide library services.
Portrait, photographer: Teet Malsroos© [CC BY 4.0]

Margus Veimann is Service Designer in the National Library of Estonia . He believes that in a rapidly changing world, human-centred design has become an important component in creating successful products and services, regardless of whether we design spaces, services or products. Guided by that he would describe his job shortly as: Simplifying complexity to facilitate user-centric design solutions through co-creation that leave a positive impact on people, environment and the society.
Portrait: Margus Veimann©

The post User Experience in Libraries: Building a Human-centric Organisation at the National Library of Estonia first appeared on ZBW MediaTalk.

Iterative Development, User-centered Design, and the Fear of Getting it Wrong in Publishing

User-centered design provides a model for improving services, but is the history of print holding publishers back?

The post Iterative Development, User-centered Design, and the Fear of Getting it Wrong in Publishing appeared first on The Scholarly Kitchen.

User Experience in Libraries: Insights from the University Library of Hildesheim

An interview with Jarmo Schrader and Ninon Frank

It’s impossible to cover the many facets of User Experience (UX) in a single article. We are therefore approaching the topic with an international interview series that provides many examples from best practice, personal insights and tips for all those who would like to start with UX themselves: to the UX interview series.

Our guests today: Jarmo Schrader and Ninon Frank from the University Library of Hildesheim (German). Their insider tips:

  1. “you can go a long way simply with a smile and a friendly tone of voice”,
  2. first gather the “low hanging fruits” and
  3. then if you are not sure, simply give things a try and rearrange the furniture.

Their “Mission UX” started with an inspiring in-house workshop on the topic. Their methods range from guerrilla interviews to think-aloud tests and flip charts with a question that they would like their users to answer – their favourite method, by the way. In the interview they tell us why it is so important to supplement qualitative observations with quantitative methods, their three most important take-aways from 2.5 years of UX experience and why a red couch created a minor storm of indignation on their Facebook account.

Jarmo and Ninon, you work in the User Experience field at the University Library of Hildesheim. When and why did you start this? What does it mean in practice?

Jarmo: It was always important for us to offer a service that is oriented around our users. A workshop with the UX expert Andy Priestner, which I attended in spring 2019 was the starting point for our conscious exploration of the User Experience topic. I enjoyed the seminar so much that we invited him to an in-house workshop at the University Library of Hildesheim during the summer. The one and a half very intensive and fruitful days of the workshop ultimately formed the basis for our activities in the field of UX.

Ninon: The workshop provided the impetus for various projects. For example, we were wondering how we could make our reading room more attractive to users or how we could furnish an area, where magazine display cabinets used to stand, in such a way that it meets the needs of our users.

University Library of Hildesheim©

In practice this meant that we rearranged and then tested various furnishing scenarios as prototypes with the furniture that was available to us. We made it possible for the users to give feedback (mostly via a publicly displayed feedback form). However, we also measured the usage statistically, in order to be able to make a comparison between the statements made and the actual usage.

Ninon: It is our long-term goal to adapt our services and premises more towards the users, thereby achieving higher usage. However, needs are continually changing – it’s not as if we will ever have reached the stage where we can say: Things will stay like this for ever.

Jarmo: I also regard UX as being part of a mindset, a skill which one can continually work on and not necessarily a fixed objective that we must achieve.

Which UX methods are you using at the University Library of Hildesheim?

Ninon: During the workshop we learned about various methods. Since then, we have been doing guerrilla interviews as well as making observations. By “guerrilla interviews” we mean that we develop a small group of questions and then approach people in the library or on the campus with it. We also lay out feedback forms or set up flip charts for comments and notes.

Jarmo: The relaunch of our online catalogue HilKat was accompanied by UX methods. In the process we were greatly assisted by a student who carried out think-aloud tests via video conference in the context of his master’s thesis. Test persons solved various tasks in the new HilKat and “thought aloud” while doing so, so that we could understand where there were stumbling blocks in using the catalogue, which functions were popular, and which may not have been correctly understood.

Could you give us an example that worked in practice, where you used UX to solve a problem?

Jarmo: At the library we have a small reading room which is used far too little in our opinion. Based on our observations, we suspected that we could increase the attractiveness by using fewer but larger tables. We tested this theory by rearranging the furniture of half of the room and usage did actually increase; we also received positive feedback in accompanying surveys. Ultimately, a reduction of seats led to usage increases of between 25% to over 50%. A complete success!

Reading room of the University Library of Hildesheim© after the redesign

Ninon: A further example was our idea to position mobile partitions between the tables so that users had more privacy. Our prototypes received very negative feedback in the feedback forms so we didn’t pursue this idea any further. And we actually saved money too.

Mobile partition walls in the University Library of Hildesheim©

In order to use UX methods, it’s necessary to have library users who are prepared to participate. How do you manage to find and motivate these users?

Jarmo: As yet, we’ve limited ourselves to simpler methods which do not take up much of the users’ time, meaning that we didn’t have major problems here.

In our workshop with Andy Priestner we also tried out techniques such as interviews or cognitive maps and discovered that you can go a long way simply with a smile and a friendly tone of voice.

Ninon: Many users are amazingly willing to take part in such participation methods. We always receive feedback – especially when setting up flip charts with a question. This is really great!

What are – let’s say – the three most important lessons that you learned in applying User Experience methods at the University Library of Hildesheim?

  • Just do it!
  • You can always learn something from failures.
  • Users don’t know what they want either. (They first have to be able to try it out.)

Have you also used methods that didn’t work at all? What were your biggest or funniest failures?

Ninon: We took up a request and experimented with allowing users to eat and drink in our reading lounge. For this, we removed the cosy furniture which was there to “chill out” on – including a red couch – to other places in the library, and put wipeable tables and chairs in its place. The feedback was: Yes, this is great but where on earth is the red couch?

Feedback “”where’s the red couch?”” – University Library of Hildesheim©

Even on Facebook, where there had been very little response before, this absence was noted. We then brought the couch back, which was promptly rewarded with positive feedback.

What are your tips for libraries who want to begin with UX? What is a good starting point?

Jarmo: Start with the “low hanging fruits” – namely problem areas you already know about – and with changes that can be made with relatively little effort. Being successful here will then give you the required motivation to continue, and for these projects, simple UX methods are usually sufficient. You can save advanced techniques for later.

Our experience has also shown that you should supplement qualitative observations with quantitative methods, as otherwise there is a great risk that, filled with enthusiasm, you will only see what you want to see.

This text has been translated from German.

Read more about UX in libraries

About the authors:
Dr Jarmo Schrader has been deputy head of the University Library of Hildesheim since 2008, where he is head of the IT department and supervises specialist units in the STEM area. He holds a doctorate in molecular biology and works mainly in the field of digital library services.
Portrait: Jarmo Schrader©, photographer: Isaias Witkowsk

Dr Ninon Franziska Frank is a subject librarian for education, social sciences and economics at University Library of Hildesheim and also works in the areas of public relations and information dissemination. Before becoming an academic librarian, she completed her doctorate in French literary studies in the Cotutelle procedure (a binational doctoral procedure) between the University of Erfurt and the Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense. She is particularly interested in insights into the needs of users.
Portrait: Ninon Franziska Frank©

Featured Image: University Library of Hildesheim©

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User Experience in Libraries: Insights from the SLU University Library Sweden

An Interview with Kitte Dahrén

The Swedish SLU University Library has about 50 employees. They are spread over several locations throughout the country; the main locations are Uppsala, Umeå and Alnarp. Kitte Dahrén is one of them. Her mission: to improve library services through user experience methods together with her colleagues.

For Kitte, it all started with a course on Design Thinking back in 2014: a pure epiphany for her. Since then, her potpourri of UX methods has grown steadily – usability tests, interviews, observations, cognitive mapping, card sorting…

In the interview, she tells us what her secret weapon is for motivating users, what her three most important learnings from seven years of User Experience are, why she considers it essential to bring all colleagues along, and what an onion has to do with it. Finally, Kitte also reveals who inspired her and gives book tips for UX beginners.

The interview is part of our series on User Experience in libraries. All interviews from the series can be found under the keyword “User Experience”.

Kitte, you are working in the field of User Experience (UX) at the library of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). When and why did you start? What does that mean practically?

Back in 2014 I participated in a Design Thinking course which was kind of an epiphany for me. Before that, I often felt frustrated that librarians seemed to think that they focused on users’ needs, when they in fact just created services from their own point of view. During the course I learned how to research user problems and needs, prototype possible solutions and further iterate these. I felt empowered and finally had the tools needed to take action. This is where it all began for me on a personal level, but officially I got my position as UX Coordinator in 2017. At that point, User Experience was a goal in our library’s strategic plan and today the intention to work with user centred methods like UX methods is more established among staff, as well as in our management. UX work no longer depends on individuals being interested.

Illustration of the UX Button by Börje Dahrén©

My role is to coordinate the library’s internal method support called “The UX Button”, where I, together with my brilliant colleagues Ingela Wahlgren and Sarah Meier (who have graciously helped me with the answers to this interview) provide support to colleagues wanting to work with User Experience in order to improve services. The support is scalable, from just brainstorming potential UX methods to one of us being project leader. It all depends on the priority of the project and on how much time we can spare at that moment.

My role is to coordinate the library’s internal method support called “The UX Button”, where I, together with my brilliant colleagues Ingela Wahlgren and Sarah Meier (who have graciously helped me with the answers to this interview) provide support to colleagues wanting to work with User Experience in order to improve services. The support is scalable, from just brainstorming potential UX methods to one of us being project leader. It all depends on the priority of the project and on how much time we can spare at that moment.

The SLU University Library has around 50 employees, spread over different campuses all over the country. Just as the university itself, we work together as one library and in consequence the UX method support needed to rely on digital tools long before the pandemic.

What are your goals with UX? Did you achieve them?

Perhaps it goes without saying, but our main goal with UX at our library is of course to provide relevant and usable services and systems to our users. The work bears fruit slowly but steadily, and perhaps one explanation to the slowness is our way of embedding UX. We don’t want an expert team doing all UX work, we want everyone on board. In order to understand why we choose to embed User Experience in this way, you need to know that our organisational structure and culture is not hierarchical, and our library has a strong internal culture of co-creation. Our professional roles and job descriptions are not set in stone and there is a lot of room for self-leadership.

Illustration of the onion is by Kitte Dahrén, adapted from a model by Malin Jenslin©.

The model, originally made by Malin Jenslin, explains our concept for embedding UX on an organisational level. It is like an onion, with all its layers.

  1. The innermost circle, called the core, is the library’s internal UX support – “The UX Button”. Our job is to both deepen and broaden the organisation’s knowledge on UX methods, and it is our responsibility to make sure that our library continues to move forward towards our strategic goals.
  2. In the second circle, you will find colleagues who are actively working with User Experience methods in order to make sure that our users’ needs of our services and systems are met. It is our management’s responsibility to create the best possible conditions and organisational structures for us to be able to work like this.
  3. In the third circle, you’ll find the people who are aware of UX and how they might contribute to the goal, but they are not actively engaged in any UX activity from day to day.
  4. In the outermost circle, we have the people who are still unaware of what UX is all about.

The long-term goal is that the outer circle no longer exists. And when it is no longer there, the innermost circle is not needed at all. When all our colleagues are either actively working with UX or are aware of its importance, our work is done.

Which UX methods do you apply at the SLU University Library?

We always choose methods depending on what we want to uncover. Through the years we’ve done usability testing, interviews, observations, cognitive mapping, card sorting and much more. We like to try out new methods by applying them to an actual project – learning by doing. At the moment, we are for example interested in finding out how students are using the library when it is unstaffed (they can access it with their key cards). Is it easy to understand how to use the self-service machine or find a book on the hold shelf? To survey this, we plan to experiment with letting users themselves document how they perform basic library tasks using an action camera and this is a method completely new to us.

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

I think it’s important to point out that many small changes to our services as a result of findings from UX research leads to improvements for our users. User Experience work doesn’t have to result in cutting-edge innovation to be considered a success story. One example from our library is a project where my colleagues were creating a new search tool for the databases that the library offers. With support from “The UX Button”, they did usability testing as described by Steve Krug in Rocket Surgery Made Easy – The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems. Observations of test participants trying to use the tool revealed what problems needed to be solved before launching and resulted in a more useful product.

I really recommend Krug’s method for usability testing – it’s easy to set up, can be done remotely, and always leads to actionable insights. To observe a student or researcher using a service is a quite powerful (and sometimes even a bit painful) experience because it makes you realise that it’s perhaps not as self-explanatory as you might think. We will present our work with remote usability testing during the pandemic at the excellent conference International Conference in Performance Measurement in Libraries (LibPMC) in November.

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

Since a couple of years back, our number one solution is a library user panel. Everyone can join the panel, it does not matter whether they are students, staff or not affiliated with SLU at all. We strive to work against discrimination in our services, so we wish to create a panel that is as diverse as possible.

When we want to recruit for a user study, we simply send out an e-mail to selected members of the panel asking them to participate and in most cases a few people volunteer. Students will receive a small gift as a thank you for their time, usually a movie ticket. But our experience is that users see the gift as a bonus and that they are happy to contribute to the improvement of services and systems that they rely on in their work or studies.

Our user panel mainly consists of students, we’ve had a harder time finding researchers and other employees willing to sign up (but this might also be because we’ve mainly marketed the panel towards students). When we recruit university employees, we often need to rely on personal contacts but usually we find people willing to participate in the end.

What are the – lets say – three most important lessons you have learned from applying User Experience methods at the SLU University Library?

  1. Design is harder than research. It’s easy to just gather a lot of data on user behaviours and needs, but you must properly analyse this data and design solutions to test and further iterate if you want to improve your services. Make sure to solve the right problem and not just the lowest hanging fruit, and don’t fall in love with your solution.
  2. You need to have a great deal of patience to embed UX in your organisation. I want to point out once again that the UX Button team is not employed to conduct all user research. If we did, perhaps that would make the quality of the actual research better because we’ve got experience. It would speed up the process for sure. But I think that the fact that our colleagues have ownership of their own UX research and design process makes it easier to get approval in the long run.
  3. Sometimes colleagues initially find UX methods scary because it might push them outside their comfort zone asking a student to draw a cognitive map or interview a researcher about their publication process. Give them time to articulate their fears and doubts, but at the same time don’t be afraid to challenge them. Colleagues that previously claimed they are useless at for example interviewing or ideating new solutions often overcome their fears and excel when they are allowed to practice their skills without being judged.

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

I don’t see it as methods that don’t work, it’s things like suboptimal circumstances, bureaucracy or just rushing to conclusions when you analyse your data that make your project fail. And even then, I wouldn’t call it a failure because you always learn something valuable during the process, either about your users or about yourself and your organisation.

A couple of years ago, we did a touchstone tour (PDF) with a student and she showed us a wall in one of the campus buildings covered with gold framed portraits of prominent figures from the history of the university. These portraits happened to be all male, and she told us how this “wall of shame“ made her “blood boil”. We prototyped a wall of photographs of female honorary doctors at SLU to show that times are changing, and when we tested it, students and employees welcomed it.

The wall of shame and the prototype female honorary doctors

Since our prototype was just temporary, we eventually took it down. I know that as a result of the study, the university management planned for a project aiming to create a more modern and inclusive environment in the public spaces of this particular building, but so far nothing has materialised. I really dislike when you borrow your users precious time to help you, and then fail to deliver solutions to the problems they express.

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

Don’t try to move mountains the first thing you do. Start small, and preferably with something where you control the whole process and can act on stuff that you learn. Let’s say that you and your colleagues argue about some detail, solve it by simply asking or observing your users. In order to make UX truly embedded you need your management on board, but with time and patience, this way of working in your team can create a ripple effect in your organisation.

UX and Libraries – Recommendations from Kitte Dahrén

More about UX and libraries on ZBW MediaTalk

About the author
Kitte Dahrén works as UX coordinator and librarian at the SLU University Library, Sweden. She also coordinates the library’s strategic communication and is a part of the website editorial team.

Porträt: Kitte Dahrén©
Featured Image: Victor Wrange©

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User Experience for Libraries: Insights from the University Library of the Cergy Paris University

Interview with Nicolas Brunet-Mouyen

User experience (UX) in libraries all over the world is a complex topic. That’s why we’ve been dealing about UX a lot lately on MediaTalk. All MediaTalk contributions can be found under the keyword User Experience.

Today we are talking to Nicolas Brunet-Mouyen from the library of the Cergy Paris University, who started the “UX mission” with a usability audit among library staff shortly before the corona pandemic hit. He found a good book to start with and formed working groups. Just as he was about to start his UX work with students, the pandemic made all on-site activities impossible.

In the interview, Nicolas reports how he still managed to make the library more user-friendly. He also reveals why it is so important that students’ basic needs for light, warmth or more space, for example, must first be satisfied before it makes sense to confront them with improving library services.

Nicolas, you are working in the field of User Experience (UX) in the library of the Cergy Paris University. When and why did you start? What does that mean practically?

When I started working at the library of the University of Cergy (CY), three years ago, I started with the communication management of the library (website and social networks). By promoting the services and activities of the library, I realised that the library did not offer enough services that were designed for users, or even sometimes that required an effort to understand them!

Entrance and Desk of the Library of the Cergy Paris University, Photographer: Nicolas Brunet-Mouyen

I couldn’t solve everything with communication so we decided with my manager to think about the user experience to improve our services. This is now my main mission.

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

My first goal was to do a “usability audit” with all the librarians. For me it was important because I realised that many of the librarians did not see that our services no longer corresponded to users’ expectations. For this, I used the book “useful, usable, desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library” by Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches (from the French translation, produced in 2016, directed by Nathalie Clot).

I organised several working groups where librarians were asked to record their observations to find out:

  • if the spaces are clean and welcoming,
  • if the signage is simple and user-friendly,
  • if the rules are easy to apply.

I also asked someone who had never been in a library to take a walk through it with a goal to achieve, and then I spoke with her to understand what the difficulties were. Unfortunately with the coronavirus, this work was then interrupted.

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

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was unable to work with the users and I mainly worked with the librarians only. The observation work made it possible to review the organisation of the help and welcome desks, such as removing certain items that unnecessarily cluttered the library. It also allowed some analytical work on the management of collections and the need to provide more space for users.

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

Unfortunately, I started my UX mission just before the first lockdown and haven’t had the opportunity to work with users directly yet. To find users (university students for our library), we will call on student associations. We also have students employed by the library to welcome and inform users, they often have a different perception of the problems and often have very good initiatives to solve them!

What are the – lets say – three most important lessons you have learned from applying user experience methods in the Library of the Cergy Paris University?

  • The first lesson is “we are not our users”. Often, we set up a procedure by saying to ourselves “we know, it will work”, and of course, it does not work…
  • The second is that it is difficult to solicit user participation. Users see fewer problems than we do and often mostly need services related to comfort (heating, light …), which the library does not fully understand, because the buildings are managed by another university department. If we can’t provide that initial comfort, then how can we ask them to think about other services…
  • The third is that it is important to consider both users and librarians. Some librarians see the changes as extra work. You always have to be careful about the balance between paying attention to users and the work that it takes for librarians to organise and deliver the service.

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

We wanted to create a space for the students to relax, and we designed this space only from observations made on their behaviour. We thought it was going to respond to what we had observed but in the end it doesn’t work and there is never anyone in this space.

Creation of space at the Library of the Cergy Paris University, Photographer: Nicolas Brunet-Mouyen

< As I said earlier, I think we made the mistake of not considering their "primary" expectations, by having a warm and welcoming space as a whole. Just adding a small welcoming part in a big space that isn't, it can't work.

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

For me, it all started with watching Twitter, which allowed me to understand what is being done and offered in other libraries. Then I followed a training course with Nathalie Clot, director of the Angers University library, to understand and use UX methods. Angers Library also publishes a lot of useful information and shares its UX experiences on its blog BUApro (French). I also learned a lot from Nicolas Beudon (French), who works with UX methods.

Read more about UX in libraries

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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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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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