Ethnography for impact: a new way of exploring user experience in libraries

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Presented by Andy Priestner at the SCONUL Winter Conference at the Royal College of Physicians on 21st November 2014. A brief exploration of why librarians should be adopting ethnographic research methods in order to secure a more complete picture of user experience in their libraries. Incorporates details of three recent ethnographic research projects at Cambridge Judge Business School which have delivered many practical outcomes and directly impacted and improved service delivery.


  • 1. Ethnographyfor impacta new way of exploringuser experiencein libraries__________________Andy Priestner(@PriestLib)

2. Judge Business School, University of Cambridge -one of the top business schools in Europe- very high-fee paying students (MBAs 40k per annum)- students consistently rate our library service as excellentBut I KNOW its not perfect, and untilrecently I really didnt knowenough about the libraryexperience of ourusers 3. I, like most librarians, was more usedto and more comfortable with sending out annual surveys, andchiefly recording quantitative factsMy only qualitative approacheswere comment boxes and, veryoccasional, focus groupsand usability studies 4. As a result... too much of my service data wasonly coming from those peoplewho filled in the library survey I was using too many closed orleading questions and routinely interpretingincreases and decreases blindrather than researching further largely ignoring qualitativefeedback as it was difficult and when the comments boxeswere left empty, as they so oftenare, I was not following up tofind out more and I knew full well that self-reportingis largely unreliableand what was the answer? 5. Ethnographya way of studyingcultures throughobservation,participation andqualitativetechniques 6. Conjured up the image of a white mangoing native in the South PacificEthnography - MalinowksiCredit: London School of Economics 7. The final goal is to grasp the natives point of view,his relation to life, to realise his vision of the world(Malinowski founding fatherof ethnography, 1925)Ethnography - MalinowksiCredit: London School of Economics 8. final goal is tograsp the users point ofview, their relation tolife, to realise theirvision of the worldChange justone word andhighlyrelevant tolibraries 9. Ethnography Interest in context and culture Explores personal and social More holistic Less structured More detailed Immersive Breaks down preconceptions Time-consuming Embraces complexityAnd offers a more complete picture(but Im not saying ditch the quantitative data) 10. Once Id decided to engage in ethnographic research: revised a post withinmy library service to incorporate this activity. Renamed as UX Librarian asconcerned with exploring and improving all aspects of User Experience (UX)(I advocate a broader definition of UX - not just about websites and usability) 11. Some ethnographictechniques Behavioural Mapping Cognitive Mapping Diary Studies Usability Studies Focus Groups Affinity Diagramming Card Sorting Directed Storytelling Touchstone Tours Love- break-up-letter Graffiti Walls Personas 12. 3 EthnographicResearch Projects@ Judge Business School 13. ~ 1 ~BehaviouralMapping 14. Observing use of theInformation Centre andmapping the resultsBehavioural mapping(Our UX Librarian- Georgina Cronin)Photo: Andy Priestner 15. The study (undertaken in a series of hour-long observation sessions) involved:mapping routes; volume of traffic; duration of stay; activities undertaken;interaction between users; choice of desks; staff assistance, food and drinkconsumed (we allow both); devices used; databases used; use of self-service. 16. As well as recording movement and activities on a map, information wasrecorded in a narrative log and colour-coded for later affinity sorting.Photo: Andy Priestner 17. A visual representation of all the maps combined clearly shows the mostpopular route through the Information Centre, known as a desire line 18. Desire lines areeverywhere, butyou might not haveknown that this is whatthey are formally called 19. Key findings / impactTRAFFIC:Most users use the groundfloor in order to walkstraight up to the first floorNOISE: Users are quieterthe fuller the space is, andmore irritated by noiseACTIVITY: Huge variety induration of stay (some verylong stays) and in print /digital use Re-siting our display screens so theyare seen by more people Opening up our first floor entrance fordirect access Sending staff print jobs elsewhereduring busy periods Reducing staff noise (conducting 1-2-1selsewhere, closing office door) Adjusting door springs Ensuring space redesign does notassume device-only culture. Offering more comfortable furniture 20. ~ 2 ~Show-me-round 21. Students guide us around the Information Centre space and explain thechoices they make, what they like and dislike - recorded for later analysisPhoto: Georgina Cronin 22. Key findings / impactWORKAROUNDS:Users are failing to access keyservices (WIFI, printing,databases) and invent timeconsuming workaroundsWORKSPACES:Very definite ideas aboutwhat makes a goodworkspaceKIOSK TERMINALS:Users felt these preventedaccess to information anddidnt use them Less front-loading ofinformation and ensuring werepeat key access messages More joined-up dissemination ofinformation with other depts More desks and desk spaceneeded. Cushions purchased(see next slide). Recognition of two tribes upstairs and downstairspeople with different needs Accepted they were not workingas we anticipated and removedthem in favour of full PCs 23. Photo: Ange Fitzpatrick 24. ~ 3 ~CognitiveMapping 25. Subjects wereinvited to draw amap of theirresearch andlearning landscape sharing whereand how theyworkN.B. 1Most library use happensoutside the libraryN.B.2Ethnography oftenfollows the user homefor a fuller picture ofexperience 26. Example faculty map 27. Example student map 28. Key findings / impactLIBRARIES:Faculty members did not usephysical library / studentused many for differentpurposesBEDROOMS:All subjects drew bedroomsas key study areasOVERALL LANDSCAPE:Most subjects are regularly onthe move and using a varietyof research environmentsoffering varying degrees ofconcentration/distraction Faculty members need moreassistance with productiveworking methods mobile tech,cloud computing, timemanagement tools. We intend tooffer more 1-2-1s/support inthese areas Recognising that for thisparticular group of students ourlibrary service is only part of thepicture stop selling ourselvesas a one-stop shop The variety of places from whichsubjects accessed our resourcesunderlines how vital it is that weoffer our services remotely andseamlessly 29. Todays library services are so complex, accessed in manydifferent ways and from many different places, that we mustadopt ethnography to reveal the full story of user experience 30. Further informationMore info 31. The definitiveethnographyhandbook by NancyFried-Foster andSusan Gibbons(available as a freePDF 32. Dr Donna Lanclos,anthropologist and libraryethnographer at the J.Murrey Atkins Library atUniversity of NorthCarolina, CharlotteBlogs & Residents inplace of Digital NativesRight: Donnas library sleep map 33. A UK blogexploringethnographyand userexperiencein libraries(run bymyself,GeorginaCronin &MegWestbury) 34. The new openaccess peer-reviewedjournal oflibrary 35. UX in libraries - conferenceUX in Libraries bookby Andy Priestner & Matt BorgSummer 2015 36. Ethnographyfor impacta new way of exploringuser experiencein libraries__________________Andy Priestner(@PriestLib)