5 Dec 2016

UCC Library Seminar Report

Guest post by Marta Bustillo, Assistant Librarian in the Digital Resources and Imaging Services department at the Library of Trinity College Dublin

The inaugural UCC Library Seminar took place on Tuesday, November 15th, and was possibly the most thought provoking library event I have attended this year. It focused on User Experience and on new ways of thinking about library services. All four speakers posed controversial questions, rattled a few cages, and altogether made us re-assess how we think about what libraries do and who our users are. 

The opening talk, entitled ‘Invisible users: Libraries and the messy practices of academia’ was by Donna Lanclos, Associate Professor for Anthropological Research at Atkins Library, in the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Donna has carried out ethnographic research on user experience in the libraries of U.S. and European universities, asking users to map their activity in order to understand where learning occurs during their busy lives, and what their digital practices are. An interesting project called ‘A day in the life’ involved students and academics from several U.S. and European colleges tweeting about where they were, what they were doing and how they felt at various times of the day. The results of these mapping and ‘day in the life’ projects paint a fascinating picture of where students learn, how they use digital resources in their learning, and where the library fits into all of that. The first lesson from these projects is that there is no such thing as ‘invisible users’. They are far from invisible: we are simply not looking in the right places, because libraries are just one of the possible learning spaces they use. In other words, libraries must stop thinking about their ‘users’ and start trying to understand their communities. The second lesson is that students and researchers in similar institutions in the Western world are not that different from one another: they tend to look for spaces with access to food and good coffee, wifi, easy parking and quiet to study. Their learning spaces tend to be places where they can also meet friends, or that are close to their child’s crèche, or that have some other social/ convenience aspect, and they often use public transport as a learning space –particularly if they live in a noisy student apartment or they have children at home who distract them from their study. Rather than replicating UX studies that have already been done elsewhere, we should learn from them and apply their conclusions to our own libraries, trying out initiatives but avoiding ‘solutionism’, as there are often no tidy solutions to the messy complexity of academic lives. Donna cautioned against using the results of these studies as a means of fuelling the metrics-based culture so prevalent in our institutions. Instead, she called for a richer, more qualitative narrative, which makes clear the contribution of academic libraries to the well being of our communities, without reducing it to simply a matter of numbers.

The second talk, entitled ‘Consciously Connecting: a snapshot of CIT Library initiatives enriching the User Experience’, was by Jean Ricken, Institute Librarian at the Cork Institute of Technology. Jean discussed new initiatives aimed at providing a more consistent and relevant library service across all different campuses of CIT, which includes students at the Marine Institute who may be literally at sea when trying to access library resources. She talked us through the re-design of the CIT library website, and provided ideas for engaging students with the library site such as an online ‘scavenger hunt’ with a ‘golden ticket’ prize. Jean also talked about how to solve signage issues [colour coding resources and linking to a strong logo], tackle noise problems in the library when there is little budget for it [remove partitions between desks] and told us that creating bookable spaces for group study has been extremely successful. As well as re-designing the library website and the physical spaces, CIT libraries also set about re-thinking their library induction, and collaborated with the broader institution in the Good Start induction programme to engage first year students with the Library. Jean’s main message was that communicating the library’s user experience plans to colleagues outside the library can bring substantial benefits, both by making the wider academic community aware of what the library can offer, and by engaging students with the library.

After a lovely lunch break with delicious food and a tour of the fabulous Boole library, the afternoon started with Matt Borg’s talk, ‘A matter of perspective. User Experience, Libraries, Human Centred Design and You’. Matt is Senior Librarian and Solution Expert at Ex Libris in Sheffield, and his talk analysed how a change in perspective can have a large impact on library services. He illustrated this by looking at the experience of H-Day, September 3rd 1967, when the Swedish changed the side of the road on which they drove. Although there was extensive planning for the event, with education, extensive media campaigns and preparation for possible problems, the planning process did not take into account how the change would affect entire journeys, and as a result people got lost: the planners had not seen the event through the eyes of road users. Matt emphasised that we as librarians are not our users: we don’t spend as much time in the library itself as they do, and therefore we don’t know enough about their experience of it. Library surveys are usually filled in by experienced users, and don’t tell us how the average user feels about the service. Matt discussed a number of UX techniques such as behavioural maps, visitors and residents diagrams, cognitive maps, interviews, usability testing, graffiti walls, love/ breakup letters, and touchstone tours that can provide a glimpse of the users’ perspectives.  However, he also noted that these techniques can also lead to bad UX studies, and pointed out how design often fails to take into account real-life use. Perhaps the most egregious example of this was the ‘Too cool to do drugs’ pencils used in an anti-drugs campaign which, when sharpened, could be made to say ‘cool to do drugs’. Clearly, the designers had not sharpened their own pencils when planning the campaign! Matt’s main conclusion was that libraries are about connecting people with resources, and human-centred design can help deliver a more meaningful service that caters to the needs of our communities.

The final talk of the day was by Fiona Greig, Head of eStrategy & Resources at the University of Surrey Library. Entitled What does a future oriented library look like in terms of staff roles, flexibility and adaptability?, Fiona’s talk made some controversial statements which at times left us feeling uncomfortable, yet knowing that those questions need to be asked. She started by pointing out that, although online resources attract the highest percentage of traffic in most libraries, this is rarely reflected in staff allocation. Fiona advocated strongly for streamlining library operations to provide excellent online service, so that expert staff can then be freed up to focus on making the unique collections of the library available digitally, and on providing the type of training and research support that requires face-to-face contact. Fiona believes that physical collections of contemporary material must ‘earn their keep’ in order to justify their space on the shelves, and that anything that can be offered in digital form successfully should be. She called on library vendors to make their data open and available for mining, in order to improve the searchability of electronic resources, and she also highlighted the need for leadership from library management to negotiate forcefully with vendors for improved offerings in digital form. Finally, she highlighted the need for flexible and adaptable staff, calling on library leaders to foster a culture of adaptability, encourage staff to branch out into new areas and promote meaningful professional development.

These are the main points that stayed with me at the end of this first UCC Library annual seminar:

  • Libraries must stop thinking about users and start engaging their whole communities.
  • We are about connecting people with resources, and sometimes those resources can also be other people.
  • We are not our users, so in order to understand their needs we have to step into their shoes.
  • We should focus on complementing what’s already available online, rather than trying to replace it – we are not Google, but we can be something else equally necessary.
  • Librarians must be flexible and adaptable, and library leaders should foster these qualities in their employees.

I would like to thank the entire UCC library team involved in organising this seminar – they thought of everything, including providing phone chargers for attendees [impressive or what?]. I am also really looking forward to next year’s!

(A Storify of the #uxlibucc event has been compiled of the event by Jack Hyland)

1 comment:

  1. Really great review Marta, thank you! It was a great day, thanks to all involved, looking forward to next year!