January 09, 2018

Reading Lists: finding out what users really want

By Elizabeth Simpson and Kirsty Whitehead

In summer 2016 it was decided that the Library would look to upgrade its reading list system. The in-house system we had developed was at the end of its life and we wanted to switch to a product provided by a commercial provider. Members of the Academic Liaison team were on the project group and their primary responsibility was to engage our university community in the process of selecting the new system.

Gathering user requirements
We were fortunate to be able to pull feedback from a variety of sources. In addition to the knowledge that we already have through our work with academic departments, we were able to draw on existing feedback from our subject emails, CRM, and most importantly, the Understanding Academics project that had recently started. Rather than going back out and asking people to comment again, we started by synthesising the rich commentary we already had. The aim was to be able to clearly articulate what features people would like to see in the new reading list system. 

What did we do?
Initial work had already been done to code up the Understanding Academics interviews. During the summer of 2016 we looked at the 30+ pages of comments related to reading lists, and the first step we took was to analyse the comments in more detail and identify the main themes that emerged. We also made a note of our initial thoughts and ideas about how we could take this forward, and created a summary of them. Below is a snapshot of the document:


Number of comments
Summary of comments
Take forward....
Alternatives to EARL
Currently using paperpile to generate lists

Needs to be more user friendly for staff and student users. Issues raised:
  • multiple screens, slowness, too many clicks, it’s ugly, difficulty moving items within lists and between lists (esp if scans are attached), only works properly with IE.
  • rolling over could be smoother or automatic
  • should be able to hide specific items for future use.
  • difficulty finding items which are already in stock
Invite staff/student reps to the supplier demos.
  • make it easier for staff to input the details of the item(s) they want to include (importing/bookmarklet) esp. for items on the catalogue.
  • provide more flexibility for editing lists
  • make it easier to find items already in the catalogue?
  • improve rollover (automatic if possible)

However, this didn’t provide clear enough criteria that we could use further on in the project in terms of assessing potential systems. We developed a second document that really drilled down and listed each requirement separately, stating the needs and goals of our academic staff and students. Below is a snapshot of the document, in total there were 39 requirements listed. This was also useful to share with other colleagues in the project team who came from Collections and the Electronic Learning Development Team (ELDT) team.


Epic Category
I Want....(to do)
So That (Goal)...
Would Like to Have
HL Acceptance Criteria
Create a new reading list
Academic staff
Import references from a list I have already created e.g. word, paperpile, google doc, Endnote or other reference management software i.e. batch import.
I don't have to spend hours/days to create the list in a new piece of software. And it is easy to include things that I know we already have in stock.
Must Have
Must be able to import files from a variety of locations in a variety of formats (eg RIS).
Must be able to identify resources which are in stock from imported list, and automatically create links to these on reading list.
Create a new reading list
Academic staff
Import a list of references from our library catalogue e.g. list of starred items, rather than having to type everything into EARL individually and hope I've included the right information to find the item I want.
I don't have to spend hours/days to create the list in a new piece of software. And it is easy to include things that I know we already have in stock.
Must Have
Must be able to import files from a variety of locations in a variety of formats eg RIS.
Must be able to identify resources which are in stock from imported list, and automatically create links to these on reading list.

How did this feed into the selection process? We decided that we needed to involve academic staff and also students in the process of selecting a reading list system. Using the feedback we had gathered via the process above and also from our conversations with other institutions, we devised 3 scenarios for the invited suppliers. These 3 scenarios covered all the points from the user requirements spreadsheet.

Five people from the project team were the official scorers but the staff and students who attended were also given a scorecard with which to score the scenarios, and prompts were provided. There was also space for them to write any other further comments. The feedback from the university community was to act as a benchmark should we all have wildly different scores. As it happened, we all scored the suppliers in a very similar manner.

"What does EARL* even mean?” This was one of the comments about our old system (called EARL) from one of the Understanding Academics interviews. We used switching to the new system as a chance to update the name and simply call the system Reading Lists. This has elicited lots of positive feedback from academic staff and students, who refer to lists as ‘reading lists’ and were often confused by our use of ‘resource’ lists. The new name reflects this user preference, regardless of the fact that lists contain much more than just reading.

What’s next? 18 months later, as part of reflecting on how successful the project has been, we’ve been able to return to the user requirements spreadsheet and evaluate the system that we have now. Having looked at each requirement individually, 91% of them have been met either partially, fully or, in some cases, requirements have been exceeded. The few requirements which haven’t been met relate to referencing styles, which is work in progress, and restrictions in the library catalogue system. After a really busy few months combining the start of term and the switch to the new system, being able to go back to the user requirements spreadsheet and use this to evaluate the work that’s been done has been invaluable, especially in helping us to plan our next steps.

Indeed, the work that we’re doing around this shouldn’t stop now that the system is fully up and running. We need to sustain a dialogue with users of the system in order to remain aware of their experiences of using Reading Lists: what they like and don’t like about it, and how this should shape proposed developments in the system.

For instance, in November we ran a focus group to which we invited staff and students from all departments. We felt it was timely to do this since we had reached the end of Reading Lists’ first term, and it seemed a good way to keep the conversation open with the academic community who had been so engaged with the process right from the start. The session allowed to us to gather some useful feedback about how people are using the system, and most of it was very positive, and it also gave us the chance to talk to people about the proposed changes that we want to make to Reading Lists. We will continue to run regular focus groups so that we can continue this conversation, and we are also continually collecting feedback that we receive during Boards of Studies in our departments, anecdotally from staff and students and via the training sessions that we provide. One of the great things about having a new system means that we can finally be more responsive to the concerns that our user community have and we are keen to ensure that we continue to actively engage with them.
*Easy Access to Resource Lists

September 26, 2017

"The library blankets are lush, grab one"

By Ned Potter

I've had a number of emails recently asking after our blankets in the library. So I thought I'd write a post about it here.

Getting blankets for the library is probably one of the best things I've ever done in libraryland, honestly.  It took almost no effort and very little money. The students LOVE them. Everyone's a winner.

The quote in the title is from our feedback board where we asked students for tips for their peers. Here are some other quotes from the Graffiti Wall and from Twitter:

So the short version of this post is, get blankets in your library! It's 100% worth doing.


We bought 30 blankets for each of our sites. We get them from a local laundry who also launder them for us - but you can also buy perfectly serviceable and cheap examples from for example IKEA if you have your own laundry service to hand. They're laundered termly unless there's a reason to bring that schedule forward... 

They sit in a bucket near the entrance of each library, and people can help themselves to them as they come and go. Here's a picture of the main campus library blankets: 
You'll notice the blankets are a fairly drab grey - this is deliberate, to make them less tempting to abscond with...


Like all academic libraries, our number 1 complaint for users is about the temperature - and it's equally split between too hot and too cold most of the time. We don't actually control the temperature anyhow, so we adopted the UX mentality of 'if you can't fix the problem at least make the user experience better in any way you can' and tried to improve things in what small ways we could. 

We'd heard at UXLibs I that a college in Cambridge had given out blankets and that this had reduced their complaints about the cold. Some students of mine from the History of Art Department came to me as part of Library Committee and told me it was basically too cold to work in Kings Manor, our town centre site which is in a building several hundred years old, so I immediately thought back to what Cambridge had done and resolved to steal their idea... (Sonya Adams and Libby Tilley at Cambridge were both really helpful to me in advising on how to set this whole thing up.) 

The students involved were really pleased but the great thing is EVERYONE was really pleased. 

So as we head into the colder months, see if you can do this for your library. Or even better, get your students SLANKETS so their arms are still free for reading. :) 

July 06, 2017

UXLibsIII: reflections from a regular

By Martin Philip, Academic Liaison Librarian

I just keep coming back for more!

There have been three UXLibs conferences so far (clue is in the name!) and I’ve been to all of them. For me, there’s no other event, let alone conference, that I’ve been to where I meet so many interesting people from so many different countries. It’s brilliant! And in one sense, as fantastic as the keynotes, delegate presentations, workshops, team challenge are, the international feel to this event brings it to life. It adds something extra. When I think of UXLibs, in addition to UX, I always think of the people I’ve met and the UX stories I’ve heard from all over the world.

The conference this year was in Glasgow, yet again utilising the creative space(s) provided by the studio. (If you need somewhere for an afternoon, a day or two, then try these guys!) The space and structure of the conference was great! Much like the previous two years, the regular coffee intervals and plenty of break-out areas all add to the conference dynamic, creating a relaxed, informal setup which allows you to move about the whole space quite freely.

UX is about living with uncertainty and being ok with that

In opening the conference, Andy Priestner gave a bit of context and set the scene for the event which I think was helpful both for those of us that have been to UXLibs before and any first-timers, of which there were many!  

The first UXLibs in 2015, was, for many, the first time we’d looked in detail at UX principles and techniques or certainly in the context of libraries. At UXLibs II last year, we looked at advocacy of UX in our institutional context, how can we get those in senior management, colleagues and students on board. This year Andy got us to consider UX maturity in libraries and reflect where we are on that journey by introducing his new model of UX Adoption in Libraries. This model looks at the success or not of UX adoption at your institution. After a few years of using UX techniques in quite a few projects at York, I’d definitely say we’re moving in the SUCCESSFUL direction. More and more of our internal groups and projects are keen to use UX techniques in the Library after being made aware of the quality data we’ve been getting and positive changes we’ve been making on the back of it. The challenge I take from this model is to keep progressing - to make UX business-as-usual and part of all that we do, whether it’s projects or the day-to-day activities.
Experience map from 'Experience Mapping' workshop with Anneli Friberg & Anna K├ągedal.   

Design represents the values of those who created it

For me, a big takeaway from the conference this year was around values, principles and social responsibility. In their keynotes, Matthew Reidsma (Grand Valley State University Libraries) and Meredith Evans (Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta) both talked about this in relation to their roles and projects they’ve been involved with.

I like to think of myself as a values kind of person, someone who thinks more than simply about the surface-level interaction with a user. However, both Matthew and Meredith's talks showed me that I probably don’t! Values and social responsibilities aren’t things that just happen, you need to be purposeful and deliberate about them. You need to talk about them with each other and if you have them remind each other of them.

Matthew posed questions such as ‘If our tools only work on the newest technology, what are our values?’ If we are attracted to the bright shiny new thing more than helping, assisting and empowering all our users do what they need to do, then we’ve got things the wrong way round. As best we can, we need to make sure our services are accessible to all, whether they are on a £1,500 laptop or a £300 one. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, there comes a point when folks have to upgrade, however we should not assume everyone has the latest device.

In relation to our Library Catalogue, Matthew asked us ‘What is (our) relevance ranking? Is it about satisfaction?’ The relevance ranking is often controlled by Library vendors, but this got me thinking, perhaps it’s something we should be scrutinising a bit more? Matthew reminded us that behind every algorithm is a human and therefore, despite our best efforts, bias will be in the design. How many other areas of the library are affected by our biases? All of it probably!

Matthew concluded his talk by defining the Library as people and thus our mission is to help people. So in order to do this we need to keep in mind the full humanity of people we design for, always ask if your design is going to limit or create choices for those who use design.

Documenting Ferguson

Meredith talked about the Documenting Ferguson project - a collaborative, community-driven digital repository to preserve both local and national history surrounding the police killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 9, 2014.

Meredith’s talk focussed on social responsibility and community archiving. She explained that these kind of collections tend to be built without the input of the people represented in the collection but instead the faculty and donors. The goal of the project was to make sure that a diverse range of perspectives and core communities related to the event was represented in the collection.

To make sure the communities involved were represented in Documenting Ferguson the project team made a way for original documents to be uploaded to a website. This seemed really innovative to me - a great way to capture different types of media in a relatively straightforward way. The project had no money either so Documenting Ferguson was done using open source software (Omeka).  

This kind of approach, however, began raising some interesting ethical questions, questions that had not really been considered before. Did the people who tweet give consent to their tweet being archived? How should they deal with this?

Meredith passed on a helpful practical tip that came out of this project - she often did things without the support of senior leadership for various reasons, however she got their support it in the end and ultimately, the project was a hugely rewarding achievement for all involved.  

Meredith concluded her talk by challenging us to listen to your users and not necessarily your administration. Shake it up, be open to change and try something new. Social responsibility can be implemented by strategic vision and specifically, community archives have ability to alter public understanding of events if they do something like this. By making sure they represent the people involved.


The final big takeaway for me from UXLibs III was around personas. At York, over the last few months, a few of us have been trying to come up with Customer Profiles particularly for different customer groups however, after receiving some feedback from an academic at York (UX expert), we've subsequently shifted our thinking to personas. He explained to us that personas are best when developed from UX and other sources of data, which we have lots of, so we plan to develop these over the next year.
Despite this feedback, I shared our customer profiles during the UXLabs session on the first day as I was really keen to get some input and advice from others at the conference who might have some experience in the area of personas.

Deidre Costello (EBSCO) recommended a fascinating read by Indi Young which provided me with loads of things to think about regarding personas. Like others, Indi believes that creating and making use of personas enables staff to develop empathy for their users. Indi also feels that creating personas is easier than you think however, make sure you slow down and try to understand what’s beneath a person's statement or question rather than try to solve problems immediately. You cannot collect this information via survey but rather more open techniques.

Indi’s post provides some really useful tips for when you design personas. Writing descriptions of the Persona in the first person can help however Indi argues that generally, including demographic information in your personas can distract and limit your creativity when considering your users however there are times when they may be essential (for context). They can probably be removed by default.

I also found it interesting that, in Indi’s experience, the names and descriptions of personas can trigger anti-empathy so it’s best, if possible, to do this in a way which aligns with how staff would describe themselves. Eg. The Frustrated is better than The Grumbler.

I also had a great conversation with Lauren Ray from the University of Washington (UW) during UXLabs. Lauren explained to me that UW created Libraries Patron Personas in 2009 as a tool to initially support website design however since then, these personas and other tools have been used to facilitate a variety of design work and brainstorming activities, as well as provide a useful framework for discussing how customers use the library.

This is how UW broke down their Libraries Patron Personas: Brooke the Beginner: undergraduate student (66% of student makeup), Paul the Professional: professional online student (3.6%), Richard the Researcher: graduate student (22.4%), Sharon the Scholar: faculty (7.7%) and Vincent the Visitor: alumnus.

UW thinks of their personas as archetypal library patrons and are meant to be used as a tool for framing their services and information to ensure they are user-centered and evidenced-based.

In 2013, the personas were updated: the format simplified, statements were validated by more recent research, and the scope broadened to facilitate use beyond just designing for the web, but for use in a variety of design thinking scenarios to improve web content, library space, library services, outreach, and communication.

UW thinks of their personas as archetypal library patrons and are meant to be used as a tool for framing their services and information to ensure they are user-centered and evidenced-based.

Lauren informed me that UW are currently in the process of updating these personas again, they definitely see personas as a continuously developing thing something that you need to be prepared to regularly look at and reflect if they still match your user groups.

June 27, 2017

UXLibsIII: impressions of a novice

By Vanya Gallimore, Academic Liaison Team Manager

First time attending the UXLibs conference and it was, quite simply, phenomenal! I've heard so much about the previous conferences (everyone seems to come away completed exhausted and inspired) but I've never been able to attend myself until this summer. Turns out, it really is exhausting and inspiring...and so much more.

We've been busy doing UX activities at York for the last two years and have written various blog posts about our work. We've tried a range of techniques including love-break up letters, cognitive mapping and semi-structured interviews, but what struck me at the conference was how much more there is to learn and put into practice. People came to the conference with lots of new ideas and their experiences of what works (and sometimes what doesn't work, which is always interesting to hear too). The conference is hugely international, with the Scandinavians leading the way on a lot of UX innovation, and it was fascinating to learn more about the reach of UX in libraries across the globe.

There were some key take-home messages:
  • The importance of being able to articulate what UX actually is in a succinct and meaningful way to get engagement from your institution: rich and deeper knowledge of user experience (Andy Priestner).
  • UX works well when you get everyone involved, not just one or two individuals in an organisation. How can we democratise UX and truly empower teams?
  • We need to understand that the services we offer in our libraries reflect our core values. When we build things, we want them to be expressions of US, of our values. Our expertise, our service ethic and our values remain our greatest strength.
  • Ethical design matters hugely: how will the objects that you design affect your users? When we create products and services, we need to really care about who is actually going to be using those products and services.
  • Never make assumptions about how your customers use your services!
And some things that we would definitely like to consider taking forward at York:
  • UX meets information literacy: getting students to use capture technology to record themselves using the library catalogue to find resources for a specific assignment. They don't use the catalogue in the way that you expect them to - at all!
  • Idea originally from Manchester: "If students did libraries..." what changes would they make to improve the library experience?
  • Visitor and resident mapping exercise to understand use of, and engagement with, digital tools.
  • Design Think: how can we introduce new design thinking methodologies into our planning processes and practices?
  • Creating effective personas that take the data about our users, humanise it and communicate patterns of behaviour to other people, while still reflecting the complexity of users.
So, there is a lot to think about and trial out over the coming year, and I'm really excited about the ongoing opportunities that UX presents to really understand and improve the user experience for all our users at York.

For my part, I gave a presentation about the Understanding Academics project that we have been doing over the past eighteen months, focussing on how we managed all the data associated with such a large-scale project. We're nearing the end of that project and will be posting our final conclusions and next steps shortly. It's just one of many, many UX projects taking place globally and I'm grateful to UXLibs for bringing some of these together and allowing us all to learn from each other. Here's to UXLibs IV...