Understanding Our Users – Thoughts after UKSG 2016

Last week I attended the UKSG Annual Conference in Bournemouth. I’d missed last year’s conference so was looking forward to getting back out there, finding out what libraries were up to and catching up with colleagues from other institutions. This time I wasn’t presenting, so was able to put more focus on attending sessions and take in all that was being said.

As ever, the programme was full of interesting talks and I had to spend some time deciding which break out sessions to go to. I’m going to highlight a couple of key points that struck me or I felt recurred throughout the sessions I went to, though this is by no means exhaustive and there were plenty more I could talk about.

One particular theme that stood out for me was understanding our users. I feel like this is always something we have been striving for and is certainly something I’ve always had an interest in, be it in behaviour around the library space or online – how users find and access information and how they interact with it.

A new angle for me was considering an ethnographic approach – this was a keynote talk by Donna Lanclos at the beginning of day two. The talk was a great wake-up call when it comes to assumptions we make about user behaviour and that we need to be making more effort to speak to our users and find out why they do what they do. She made the interesting point that everyone knows exactly why they do something it’s just that nobody asks them. So why don’t we ask them?

I think it’s far too easy sometimes to read up on user behaviours or rely on old or outdated first hand research and to forget to update our thoughts and practices. Creating an amazing user space isn’t a one-off project, it is an ongoing process that needs constant review. If I consider the library environment when I first started my trainee year six and a half years ago the changes have been quite dramatic and already, what I thought I knew then is in part no longer applicable.

Following along in a similar theme was the breakout session by Sarah Bull and Sarah Roughley which discussed their methods of working with students to improve physical and digital services. Sarah Roughley from University of Liverpool talked about how they used business students to do market research for them around different areas of the library, providing a mutually beneficial arrangement where students gained work experience on real projects and the library received valuable data on key areas of their service. What I found most interesting from this talk was the idea of students as co-creators and consultants and that it resulted in them working alongside library staff and guild members to continually stay involved in library projects.

The talk on putting users first using open source software by my colleagues Sara Osman and Sandra Reed also focussed very much on student input when designing UAL’s new library search using the Koha open source ILS. The ability to have direct input into the design of the new OPAC meant being able to address student needs such as accessibility and that student feedback was included as part of the development process. In this case, the use of open source software means that, moving forward, further improvement and development based on student feedback remains a great opportunity.

I think it is so important to have continued student input into library projects in order to ensure the review and refreshing of spaces (digital and physical) and ideas. Libraries are at the heart of the university campus and should be as connected as possible to the community they support. Though one point made during Sarah Pittaway’s talk on student engagement at The Hive in Worcester is that asking for feedback but then not acting on it, for whatever reason, can be viewed negatively and this needs to be considered when managing users’ expectations.

Another session which really stood out for me was David Parkes’ breakout session on psychogeography in libraries. Psychogeography is the way in which  our geographical environment affects human minds, our emotions and behaviours, and I won’t pretend that I knew that before I attended the session. It was really interesting to hear about and made me wonder why I hadn’t heard of it before. It is so relevant to a lot of work that libraries have been and are doing around improving and making most efficient use of spaces for students and users, from how they navigate physically around the library to the signage and how people will have an emotional response to it – for example lots of ‘don’t do this…’ will create a negative response from many people. In fact this talk wasn’t just about things that could be applied in the workplace but next time I go out for a wander I might just think about changing my routine and trying something new.

And finally, on day three was a talk by Emma Mulqueeny on ‘the digital child’ which discussed the ‘97er’ – people born in or after 1997. This was a really interesting insight into their information consumption behaviours and interaction with social media, particularly the idea of trading personal data for free services and their insistence on transparency to create trust. I would recommend watching this one, it struck me again how quickly our behaviours change and a reminder that what worked for one cohort of students may not necessarily be as effective for the next.

So really, I’m glad I was back. Those few days reminded me of what I need to be doing when it comes to user experiences of libraries, introduced me to new approaches and gave me new ideas on how some of it could be applied and used where I work. Above all it was a reminder that what I like most about working in the information and library world is the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from others. I’ll be on the lookout for projects to be involved in again, and hopefully have the chance to share them at future events. It’s more than just a day job.

Sea view from BIC
Sunny views from the BIC in Bournemouth

University Customers and their Experience

I’ve been meaning to write about this and it has crept up a few times recently in the twittersphere so maybe it’s time to put my few thoughts down.

As someone who has spent the last 6 years working in academic libraries and has a particular interest in user experience these two words have started to grate on me: customers and experience.

Firstly let’s consider the word experience, specifically in the context of universities. Every time I hear the phrase ‘university experience’ I twitch slightly. In my mind it conjures up all the wrong impressions of what going to university is (should?) be about. Maybe I’m being old fashioned but I still feel that going to University should be about education. About learning, gaining skills, meeting people, expanding your thoughts/mind and yes experiencing new things. But more and more I am seeing a shift of the focus from education to the ‘student experience’ and I’m not sure I like its implications. Perhaps I am conjuring up images of ‘buy someone an experience for Christmas’ presents. Here, pay £9,000+ a year and you too can experience what it is like to go to university. It sounds like something you might expect from a day out at a museum ‘experience what it was like to sit in a medieval dungeon’ take photos, put them on your social media page.

Universities have webpages specifically aimed at defining the student experience and what they can expect – we provide you with accommodation, bars, gyms, sports clubs, societies, friends, and of course, lectures and tutorials. It feels as if this ‘experience’ and these features are more important than what is surely the main aim of undertaking any course – to learn. So something now irks me about this promotion of the ‘student experience’ over the quality of the courses. It seems this is perhaps an inevitable result of universities’ shift to being more and more business-like.

So then let’s consider the university, and consequently, the library ‘customer’. I’ve seen a change over the last few years. Working in an academic library now is a very different environment than it was six years ago. Obviously, perhaps, as there have been big changes in technology with RFID adoption increasing and a push towards self-service as just one. But the other thing I have noticed is a change in attitude, from both sides. This is probably not entirely unexpected, as prospective students are increasingly seeing this wonderful university experience marketed to them and with the prices they now pay why wouldn’t they expect all that is promised to them?

Then from the library side, as the fees increased, so did pressure on services. Would they be expecting more, how did we need to change our services to match this expectation? Everything suddenly needed to be faster, better, more high tech, easier. In general, I agree with these things, I love efficient services, not wasting time, utilising new technologies and making people’s lives easier and I think it is important that we are continually striving to improve in these areas. But, why are we doing these things? Why are we creating packs of resources or fully linking reading lists up to the online resources so no research is required and everything is accessible at the click of a button? They certainly do make students’ lives easier, but how far can we go before we are potentially taking something away.

Now, I believe in access to information, I believe in educating people to understand information, evaluate it, access it and use it. I also believe that this is a core role of the academic library (and not just academic ones but this is my current focus). I’ve spent a number of years trying to find ways to improve access to e-resources and information that are paid for by the university and making these user journeys as simple as possible. But I do still draw a line at getting it for you. Handing someone something doesn’t help them in the long run. This is where the term ‘customer’ makes me nervous. If we are seeing students (and other users) as ‘customers’ then what does this mean for the services we offer and are we managing their expectations appropriately? You want me to look up whether we have a book for you? I could, or I can accompany you to the nearest OPAC, show you the interface and explain how you can search for that book/journal/resource yourself.

If our users expect to be considered customers what does that do to their demands? Do they expect everything to be handed to them? There seems to be less tolerance of access limitations, outrage if the desired book is already out and a little bit of the ‘customer is always right’ attitude creeping in. Obviously librarians are working constantly to try and ensure that adequate numbers of books/ebook credits are available as and when the students need them, but sometimes this is just not possible due to budget constraints, increasing student numbers and time. Often the fact that students now are paying a lot of money for the pleasure of attending university is cited as a reason they should be considered customers, but what about our other users? The academics and researchers who rely on the library for its resources so they can carry out their work and the general public who can access reference materials or use the library space for study?

I do wonder, with the shift towards a more ‘business-like’ university idea, are we just expected to feed the customers what they want to get them through their time with us, or should we maybe be demanding more from what we offer?

Would we doing them a disservice by giving in to these ‘customer demands’? Sure, we can package it all up for you and give you everything you need to pass. Or maybe we can teach you the skills to do it for yourself. Skills that you can pass on to others, skills that allow you to evaluate not just a few research articles, but any information, of which there is so much out there.

It’s just a thing I think about.

Chartership Chat 26th April 2012: Future Skills and the New BPKS

Time: 6.30pm-8pm

Posts: 108

Participants: 15

This week’s chartership chat was on the CILIP Future Skills Work and Body of Professional Knowledge and Skills (BPKS).
It was a somewhat quieter evening than previous weeks to begin with but slowly picked up again and discussion continued until 8pm. @joeyanne has archived the chat at http://t.co/Wrl0lIlZ. The CILIPquals wiki which contains links to all archives and write ups can be found at http://t.co/0mzDlMbd.

The chat started with a question to define what the BPKS was. My response was “a means to track our own skills and knowledge and to see where we might want to improve/develop those skills”. @johnmcmahon said he thought it was a good way to measure how your personal development meets the librarian competencies. I think he is right there, and that it has some interesting potential for chartership candidates.

There was definite feeling that the old BPKS was somewhat “woolly” and hard to understand and that the new proposed BPKS, while not perfect, was much more user friendly and accessible. People felt they could see themselves using the new BPKS but wouldn’t have used the old one.

@Readyourbook suggested that new members of CILIP could be given a “pack” which would include information about the BPKS, progression and more. This seemed a popular idea with a couple of people mentioning they hadn’t found the pack they had initially received to be all that relevant (or couldn’t even remember what was in it). He also commented he felt that the reason some people felt they had no real connection to CILIP as it can be hard to see the bigger picture. @JennyRidout agreed she had felt that way initially as her area was very quiet and CILIP HQ seemed very remote.

@SimonEdwards75 asked if people thought the BPKS should be unique or inclusive for the whole profession. The feeling seemed to be that it should be as inclusive as possible but allow individuals to make it unique to them/their work areas. I think it is important that everyone can tailor it to their own development needs, whether it is specifically for the role they are in or for developing interests in other areas of the profession.

Discussion then moved on to how people would prefer to access it. The majority seemed keen on web access and some liked to have PDF formats that could be printed off. The possibility of something interactive seemed popular too with @Readyourbook suggesting and animated interactive chart that could zoom in on the slices and “drill down into specifics”.

There was also some interest in a possible mobile app, though it was felt that web would be more useful and accessible initially and the mobile app could be something to consider as a further development. Some comments that not everyone has a smart phone and not everyone uses Apple were brought up as things CILIP should consider when thinking about the app. @ggnewed suggested maybe doing something similar to Evernote which is to have a web service, mobile app and desktop software which all linked together. It would be nice to have a setup where the mobile app could synch with the web so that you always have your information with you.

So how could this link in to chartership, and what about those arriving via ACLIP? @SimonEdwards75 responded saying if it did become incorporated into chartership then perhaps the same should apply to ACLIP?
A few people, myself included, commented that it would be a useful tool for working out PPDPs initially as some were using online examples for ideas. Another suggestion by @JennyRidout was to set candidates the goal of reaching a certain level in a certain number of areas as not everyone would necessarily be able to excel in all areas. I find this an interesting suggestion and could perhaps be a way to make it a bit more measurable. Though it perhaps begs the question; how do we know when we have reached the “next level”?

A thought provoking session all round! The next chat will be on 10th May at 6.30pm. Topic is still to be decided.

Chartership Chat 12th April 2012: The Mentor/Mentee Relationship

Time: 18:30-19:30

Participants: ~30

No. of Posts: 285

This time chartership chat discussed the relationships between mentors and mentees. Around 30 people took part in the chat and it was nice to see a good number of mentors also joining in to give tips and opinions. @joeyanne has archived the chat here: http://t.co/STCPiSDw


How and when do you choose a mentor?

You can choose a mentor either before or after you register, but it may take a little while to find someone and emailing as soon as you have filled in the registration forms is a good idea.

Some had chosen mentors from the same institution or someone they knew which meant they would have someone straight away. Referring to the mentor list on the CILIP website for guidance is another option. It is always worth sending out an email if you find someone you would really like to mentor you, even if it says they are full, as the list isn’t always 100% up to date. Personally I found mine before registering using the mentor list and it took me a couple of months to find someone available.

A suggestion from @LucileDeslignes was that perhaps CILIP could offer a bit more information on mentors to make the choosing process a bit easier for new candidates. I had initially been more attracted to mentors with profile information on the CILIP page as it gave a brief insight into their career history and interests as well as making it more than just a list of names and emails.

Some took the route of meeting with a mentor informally prior to any commitment to have a chat and express their needs and wants. Both parties were then free to decide if they think it will work. @MariaCotera was particularly keen on this method and said she likes to get to know her mentees before either side commits and lets them decide if she is the right mentor for them.

So should you choose a mentor in your own sector or from outside it? Well again it is up to you, there are no rules. There were a lot of positive comments about having a mentor from another sector as it gave both mentors and mentees insight into each other’s work and can give new perspectives.

Another option was to have a mentor in the same sector who had recent experience of another or even to go with someone from a different sector that may still have overlap with your own. There were still plenty of people who were happy with someone from their own institution though a couple commented that conversation did drift towards work on occasion rather than chartership.

@johnmcmahon31 would prefer to gain more direction within the sector before branching out to others.

@nickiflh did point out that if you do end up with a mentor you don’t get along with there is always the option to change. There is a form from CILIP which can be filled in so you shouldn’t feel trapped with one you don’t share interests with.

Keeping in Contact

So, how often should you have contact with each other and is it better to meet face to face or communicate by phone or email?

This is very dependent on your own needs. It is best to keep in regular contact with your mentor even if it isn’t face to face. Skype seemed quite popular for covering long distances and for contacting mentees abroad as well as emails and phone calls.  A lot of us felt that face to face meetings gave a deadline to work towards. @tinamreynolds commented she prefers to be able to pass papers around and scribble and that monthly meetings keep her on track while @emilylovedhim only met her mentor 4 times and thinks quality is more important than quantity.

I like deadlines to work towards to give me that extra kick up the backside, even if it is just to send something via email. It is really up to you and how you work so make sure you make your needs known when you start up with your mentor. Again, emphasis on the importance of setting out your expectations from the start.

The conversation dipped briefly into how to share work and documents with mentors. Popular choices were Google Docs and Dropbox. Wikis were mentioned but @joeyanne felt they could be a pain to update. Then there is always the simple, word document and email combination. It is also worth thinking about whether you will be doing much of your work while travelling and if mobile devices will restrict you in some way.

First time meetings and expectations

Your first meeting with your mentor is a great time to fill in the agreement forms if you haven’t already done so. This will allow both parties to make it clear what they expect of the relationship and to set out some initial rules. It might be a good idea to have a draft of your PPDP ready so you can go through it together and this could act as a possible icebreaker too.

@johnmcmahon31 asked, “what should you expect from a mentor?” Responses included:

  • Perspective
  • Support
  • Encouragement
  • Motivation
  • Clarification
  • A critical friend
  • Chocolate

The discussion moved on to who should be leading the relationship and it was suggested that it should be the mentee who tells the mentor what they want and the mentor then guides them. One important point to remember though is that while a mentor will be a guide, it is up to the individual to take control of their own development. But if you feel you would like to be pushed more you can always ask your mentor to be stricter, they can’t make that decision for you though!

Mentors were asked what they got out of the relationship. @MariaCotera said for her is was about giving back to the profession and getting a fresh perspective. Inspiration from mentees was also commented on. @joeyanne stated that mentors will get knowledge of your area as well as you do theirs (if different from your own) and developing mentoring skills is useful for managers. A very valid point is that chartership is a two way learning process and mentors are as likely to get something out of it as mentees are.


Important things to remember:

  •  The mentor/mentee relationship is a personal one and it is important to make sure both sides are suited to each other. Different people work in different ways.
  • Draw up a mentor agreement. Forms available from the CILIP website. This means everyone knows what to expect from the outset.
  • Mentors are guides! It is up to the mentees to do the work and be proactive.
  • Both mentors and mentees can learn and benefit from the relationship, remember mentees: you have something to give too and your mentor will likely benefit as much as you do!

The next chat will be on Thursday 26th April and will be on the CILIP Future Skills work. Hopefully see you there!


Karen Blakeman’s talk on spring cleaning your social media – some thoughts and musings

Yesterday evening I attended a CILIP in Surrey talk by Karen Blakeman on social media. One key point of the talk was the importance of keeping track of our social media and in particular making sure what we do use is up to date. She gave some interesting information on keeping track of statistics for different sites and ways in which you can monitor you/your organisation. While statistics weren’t really my area, it was interesting to hear about the vast number of sites capable of tracking and gathering statistics.

What did interest me however was the part about keeping your social media tidy and organised. She asked if everyone in the room could name all the social media they had used in the last 2-3 years? Some uncomfortable shifting in seats followed as we all tried to think back – I can’t remember what I ate for dinner last weekend so who knows what I may have signed up to!?

It made me (and others in the audience) think, how much information, and particularly out of date information about me is there on the internet? Do I actually keep track of every site I sign up to in a moment of inspiration only to forget all about it again days later?

Well, no, not really. But then until quite recently I hadn’t even been using an awful lot of social media. Ok, so I’m on Facebook (I sort of want to shout, well who isn’t these days?!) but I try to keep that a personal space and so am fairly unexciting to anyone who isn’t my friend (possibly not that exciting to those that are!).
I’ve had a LinkedIn account for a few years but must admit I’ve rarely used it, other than to accept a friend request from someone I might have known at school.
I was told to sign up to Twitter whilst on my MA last year and did so (somewhat begrudgingly) but up until a few months ago I didn’t really use it. Having just signed up for chartership I am suddenly finding it rather invaluable for snippets of information, chats and links to articles and blogs, not to mention some light networking.
I do believe I have also signed up to Tumblr at some point, though again I don’t think I have really used it since that first week where I was sure that I would take brilliant and inspirational photos on my phone that the rest of the world would be dying to see…or not.

Hmm, the more I think about it, the longer the list seems to get… So what do these social sites really say about me? Facebook is, well, not going to tell you anything really as I told it not to! Twitter will tell you all I have to talk about is libraries, Tumblr might display me as someone who can’t really take pictures and Linkedin probably still thinks I’m on a pre-masters trainee year. Hmm. Is this what I want others to be able to see about me? Perhaps some updating or unsubscribing is needed.

What was slightly more concerning was the discussion on Google and its new privacy policy. So, just over a year ago I created a Gmail email address for myself. This was due to me buying an android phone which I managed to lock myself out of within 20 minutes of receiving it! Not my finest moment… The only way to reset the phone other than a complete factory reset was to enter your Gmail email address (which of course I didn’t have). I didn’t see the harm in have a spare email address which could potentially save me from future pattern-forgetting-phone-resetting disasters. Of course now we find out that having a Gmail account means you are automatically signed up to Google+ (their version of Facebook) and your profile is shared across all Google sites – YouTube, Picasa etc. (aaah trixy Google!) I’m not sure I set up any kind of profile when I joined but it hadn’t occurred to me to check and so my list of potential social networking sites has just almost doubled!

This leads me to another of Karen’s points: Social media may be free but is also very time consuming! Whether you are using it for work or personal use it is essential to make sure you are sending relevant information to relevant people. Where I work we have our library’s Twitter, Facebook and blog all interlinked. Anything that gets posted on the blog automatically appears on the library Facebook page and twitter feeds. Aside from some formatting disparities between the blog and Facebook this is generally a good way to make sure we reach all our users.

I would not, however, want to do this for my personal accounts. I’m fairly certain my Facebook friends aren’t that interested in snippets of twitter stating that figuring out my chartership PPDP is hard work! Not to mention the few times I’ve been writing in the Twitter #chartership chats. Who wants to see 30 posts filled with @ and # on their Facebook news feed!? So be warned, spamming your friends/users/followers with irrelevant information might just leave you friendless and unpopular! Karen warned of a cycle of having Facebook post on twitter while having twitter set to post on Facebook. An infinite loop of information doom?

This isn’t nearly everything that Karen talked about last night, merely a selection of points that I found particularly interesting and relevant to me and things that made me think about what I’m doing with my online presence. I’ll definitely be keeping a closer eye on the sites I am using from now on!