Learning from library users
User experience and libraries
Subject Librarian, University of Huddersfield
User Experience in Libraries
Too many numbers…
All stats courtesy of Dave Pattern
“We need more computers”
“There aren’t enough books”
“Where are the books?”
“The journals/ebooks/[insert any kind of electronic resource here]
“You should come up with a system to organise your books by
What is user experience?
How much time do you spend in your library as a
Do you use your library’s services?
User experience is about everything
that happens during any interaction
(physical or virtual) with something
you provide: feelings, sensations,
what can be seen/heard.
“Wink” by Tom Hilton licenced by CC BY 2.0 “Margaret Mead stamp” by John Curran licenced by CC BY 2.0
Designing for who?
Jacques Carelman: Coffeepot for Masochists
What people ask for vs. what is actually useful…
“Hunt Library, NC State Univ.” by Payton Chung licenced by CC BY 2.0
UX in context
“During our pilot survey, some 33 different kinds of
activity were observed. Of these, 22 suggested
distraction or relaxation, with some students
endlessly checking their watches as if they were
about to leave, others chatting continually with their
neighbours or getting more involved in what their
friends were doing than in their own work.”
Bourdieu and de Saint Martin,
research conducted in 1964
How do we find things out? Observations
Photo by Guilherme
Romano on Unsplash
Retrospective process interviews
User journey/empathy mapping
Photo courtesy of Andy Priestner
How do we find things out? Photo diaries
Photo by sarandy westfall on
Photo by Aron on Unsplash
Love/break up letters
Dealing with the data
◦ Don’t trust what people say they want, watch what
◦ 6/8/5 – 6 to 8 ideas on post-its in 5 minutes
◦ Prototype, experiment, test, but always ‘fail
Library users and UX
Gif via Giphy
Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash
◦ Delcore et al. (2009). The library study at Fresno State
◦ The ERIAL project (2012) http://www.erialproject.org/
◦ Foster, N. Fried, & Gibbons, S. (2007). Studying students: the
undergraduate research project.
◦ Hobbs, K., & Klare, D. (2010). User driven design: using
ethnographic techniques to plan student study space.
◦ Lanclos, Donna (2015). Cognitive mapping
◦ McKay, D., & Buchanan, G. (2014). On the other side from
you: How library design facilitates and hinders group work.
UX not new, but libraries only just really getting into the idea that it’s useful. UX is often about telling stories, about products, about spaces, about experiences. Our library users tell us stories, sometimes without realising it, and UX methods help draw these stories out. Let me start by telling you my own story
My own interest stems from working as a research assistant on a project designed to create a tool for assessing the success of a library redesign. Started reading about the work being done in the US, started a PhD!
I’m a librarian at UoH, with responsibility for UX as an added extra.
A lot of what has happened seems accidental – I don’t think I ever set out in librarianship with the intention of making this kind of work my focus, but the more I do the more fascinated I become.
UX methods overall have been used for a long time in market research, product design and for apps and software. We develop a familiarity with our own environments to the point that we can lose touch with what people do, where problems arise, how people manipulate and modify and adapt provisions to their own advantage to fix something we don’t know about. Spending time with people, observing what they do, the problems encountered, where things work well for our library users and, crucially, looking beyond just what people say they want to understand what we can develop, improve and provide to enable and support our library visitors.
Ethnography has its roots in anthropology and sociology. Researchers ‘go into the field’ to research particular cultures, behaviours, peoples. Margaret Mead was a huge influence over the development of the feminist movement in the 60s, and the wink relates to Clifford Geertz, an anthropologist who developed ‘thick description’ in reference to the density and depth of field notes taken and written up when researching. The wink is a reference to developing an understanding of how behaviours can be very open to discussion and interpretation: what is a wink, who is it for, what it communicates, is it a conspiratorial wink or just a twitch?! Modern anthropologists have placed themselves at great risk, such as Punch and his research into police corruption, or can be much more fun like working for Lego to help create productive innovative environments for staff, plus areas like design anthropology that help study how products are used, where their design fails.
For anyone new to UX in libraries, here’s an overview of some seminal research:
Bourdieu: they were observing, learning about usage patterns, but had a lot of preconceived notions about how a library should be used and what for. While we’ve come a long way in our perceptions of library use since then, we can still relate to this portrayal, and the methods utilised are relevant
Using anthropological methods e.g. observation, spending time with people during the daily lives, asking them to share what they do and when
Observations, cognitive mapping, semi-structured interviewing, diaries (including photo diaries).
Qualitative methods are the core of UX research, but quantitative data can be useful to supplement this information, and certainly for the purposes of justifying spending to management.
For everything we learn about that is familiar to us, we will learn something new that is unfamiliar, that we know nothing about. Something that to a library user is normal, acceptable, even common. This is where UX methods can really make a difference