March 16, 2017

UX-led changes at York and beyond

By Ned Potter, Academic Liaison Librarian 

As anyone who has embarked upon User Experience work will have learned, ethnography is actually the easy part. For all its messy, complicated, time-consuming complexity, getting the go-ahead for fieldwork and undertaking it is relatively straightforward compared to designing (and getting approval to put into place) changes to our services. It is vital to have a cut off point where we as UX practitioners stop collecting data, bite the bullet, and move on to phase 2 of the process. After all, it's the design and service tweaks that make this UX - otherwise all we're really doing is ethnography.

I think it's really important to a) push as many small tweaks through as possible, and then learn from them and assess their impact, and b) make details of the changes publicly available so others can get not just inspiration but a use-case to push through their own change.


Last month I talked to an audience from the libraries, museums and archives sectors at the LAM Marketing Awards put on by the Welsh Government. The image above is from the presentation, which was on UX, how it relates to marketing, and potential application for ethnographic techniques outside the library sector. If you're interested I wrote more about the day on my own blog here, and I'll embed the presentation below, but in this post I want to focus on UX-led changes, which was one section of my talk. What have institutions been doing as a result of what they've learned from ethnography? I have several examples from the University of York and some from further afield too.

I thought it might be useful to group the examples of UX-led improvements into categories. In all these instances ethnographic fieldwork has either instigated the change or supported the change - it's interesting that often UX can be the trigger to get something done which library staff and users have been considering and / or suggesting for a while. Often the fieldwork is one source of feedback alongside a couple of others in the examples below, which combined to be a strong enough argument to make a change.

Catalogue improvements

At York we've made several small changes to Yorsearch, the (Primo-based) library catalogue, in addition to the full user-interface change which will arrive shortly. 
Classmarks visible in results screen 
  • The classmark for books now appear in the search results screen, rather than the user needing to click on a title to reveal its location. It's only a small change but we get around 25,000 views a day for Yorsearch - that's a lot of people now having to make one less click to get what they need. This particular change came from our first UX project with Postgrads, along with work from the Discoverability Group, and from seeing that that Imperial had successfully achieved the same thing with their Primo interface already, following their own UX work...
  • Talking of Imperial, they've made the full report of their 2016 UX work available for anyone to download [*applauds*] - have a read, it's fascinating and useful material.
  • We changed the terminology in the catalogue on the buttons you press to access books and ebooks - from Get It and View It, to Find in Library and View Online. Again this came out of several sources of feedback, including the Discoverability Group, and front-desk staff reporting that users simply didn't seem to get it when it came to View It and Get It.

Library space and environment improvements

  • We made a hot-water tap available 24/7. Our UX work revealed that particularly in winter  students from Asia like to drink hot water in the way that in the West a lot us like to drink chilled water; this gave more context to previous requests for a hot drinking water tap. One has now been installed alongside the chilled water fountain.
  • We made the Burton Library accessible 24hrs a day. Our library is open 24 hours, but previously only the main Morrell Building (the one with the books) and the Fairhurst (lots of study space) stayed open all the time; the silent reading room in the Burton closed at 10pm. Our UX work constantly demonstrated that the Burton was not as highly valued as we imagined it was - for example several students left it out of their congnitive map of the building, almost no students included it in their touchstone tours, and in our behavioural mapping we even observed students wandering up to the entrance, peering in to the stairwell that led up to the reading room, then just turning around and coming back, apparently not feeling like they wanted to cross the threshold. As part of the UX unstructured interviews we discovered that even some students who knew about the Burton didn't like using it because even if they had no intention of working past 10pm, they loathed the idea of setting up all their work and devices etc and then having to move them to another building at 10pm if they were still there at that time after all.

    So we upped our promotion of the Burton, it had a very nice re-design (although that wasn't directly related to anything we'd done with UX, it was happening anyway) and we made it accessible 24 hours a day. We're now monitoring the space as part of a new UX Project and the initial impressions are that it's already busier.
  • We've given the students blankets. A pile of blankets in a basket near the entrance - people can help themselves and deposit the blankets back there when they leave. I cannot tell you how popular this has been... There are examples of effusive tweets and feedback on our graffiti wall in the presentation below - it's so nice to do something simple but effective! Temperature is always a problem in libraries, and there's often a more or less even split between people who are too hot and too cold. My History of Art students came to me to say they found working in King's Manor (our City-centre site which is nearly 500 years old so not overly warm) really hard when it was so cold. So we managed to get Estates to get some more heaters, and we bought blankets - this idea came from some UX work undertaken at Cambridge in 2015. We also bought blankets for our main library and the Minster library too.

    (Top tip: buy really drab and unexciting looking blankets. They keep people just as warm but are much less likely to go missing...)
  • Thanks to Ingela Wahlgren and Andy Priestner who gave me examples of their (current or former) institutions having changed the locations of digital screens as a result of behavioural mapping, in order to put the screens somewhere people will actually look at them. This could be displaying key info in areas where people have to queue, or it could be as simple as putting them in the direct line of site as students move forward through a space, rather than off to the side in people's peripheral vision.
  • Sometimes students describe an area as noisy even though it's ostensibly a silent study zone. Truly observing the space can often solve the mystery of why this is happening - Jenny Foster gave me an example of her institution realising the beep of the self-issue machine could be heard four floors up! So they found the volume and turned it down. At Cambridge they discovered there were loud hinges on office doors so they oiled them...
  • Like with the noise examples above, small changes really do add up. Carl Barrow told me some of the changes his HEI had made based on their fieldwork: additional signage (both analogue and digital), more printers, phone charge stations (why aren't we all doing these?) and a new coffee cart. Together all those minor tweaks will have a significant impact on the user experience, which is the name of the game after all.
  • UPDATE: At the #NCLXUX event I've just heard Carl say they also re-positioned digital screens, having noticed no one looked at most of them. One, which was positioned in the entrance as people came through the turnstiles, DID get looked at - so they used that exclusively to promote the Skills Team's workshops, and as a result saw a much bigger uptake for those sessions... I love this - a great example of the impact UX can have in unexpected ways...

Library service improvements 

  • At York we've moved academic staff onto our part-time package for borrowing books, giving them a little longer to return items without impacting too heavily on the rate of circulation overall
  • We've changed the way we run our annual review of subscriptions to allow for more time and stop it clashing with other key things in the academic calendar
  • We've changed the way we communicate key information to academics
  • We've used academics' detailed views on our current reading list system to inform the choosing and customisation of the new one
  • At Cambridge the FutureLib developed a whole app for finding study space

UX and Impact

I'm excited to hear a load more examples of UX-led change at UXLibs III (the third annual User Experience in Libraries Conference). The paper submissions we've had this year are fantastic, and the emphasis of the conference this year is on the impact of UX.

Finally, here are the slides from my talk which mention a lot of the examples above, along with some next steps if you want to try ethnography at your own institution, and introductions to ethnography and design:


If you've got more examples of UX-led changes at your organisation, leave them in a comment (or leave a link to where we can read about them) to make this post more useful! Thanks.

February 13, 2017

Fostering a creative culture: trying, but not too hard...

By Ned Potter, Academic Liaison Librarian 



In the Relationship Management Team we work on several projects across the year. Some of them recur year on year, some of them are one-offs. An example of a one-off project was three of us being tasked with looking into creativity: how could we be more creative and allow ideas to flourish in the team?

As part of this process I spoke to a few librarians, both in this country and abroad, who I considered to work in creative environments. I wanted advice and ideas and experiences around creativity not just as an individual but for an entire team. Some of those I spoke to I knew well, some of them I'd not interacted with before.

I'm not going to quote the individuals directly (because the conversations happened before this blog existed, so I didn't mention to the participants that I'd be writing them up) but I can point to several key themes which came out of more than one chat.

Before we get to the list, a summary of the consensus across all the conversations: the culture that encourages people to try things is usually more creative than the culture where 'creativity' is a specific goal or something that happens at assigned times. Talking about it too much makes it awkward. So it's easier to work towards a goal in a manner which allows for flexibility and new ideas, than to introduce creativity as an end in itself.

How can you encourage a culture of creativity in your team?

  1. You can't force it. As soon as you create any constructs around creativity (like having 'creative Tuesday' or whatever, where people are encouraged to spend the morning doing creative things) it prohibits the very creativity you're attempting to instigate.
  2. So it's more about a culture of trust, and of allowing experimentation. Rather than making a big deal of creativity, the most productive way forward is to foster an environment where people feel able to be creative. This means encouraging people to try new things, and trusting them to go off on their own path. It also means bringing back fresh and new ideas to the team, and cultivating an environment where new and innovative practices are shared. 
  3. Flexibility is essential. If you work a 40 hour week and all 40 of those hours are fully assigned before the week begins, then of course there will be no room for creativity. You HAVE to build some give into the working week, or month. The capacity for chaos. Allow people to be creative in a way which suits them.
  4. Start small. Make a change in the way you approach a smaller project. If it works, be more experimental with something a little larger, and so on. You get more confident as you go - even if the experiments don't always work. Which brings us to...
  5. Celebrate success, give permission to fail. This came up time and time again. People need to feel they can take a punt on something and not be embarrassed or told off if it doesn't work. And examples where things DO work need to be celebrated, to encourage others. Both success and failure should be a source of discussion so everyone can learn from both. And success shouldn't be the same for everyone - you have to be realistic about what the different personalities in the team can achieve, and set different people different goals.
  6. Think beyond the sector. We can learn so much from looking outside libraries, but we need to do this proactively rather than just hope it happens...
If you've got any more tips on fostering a creative culture, let us know in the comments.

February 06, 2017

Using Google Q&A in large teaching sessions

By Martin Philip, Academic Liaison Librarian

I’ve always been a default Microsoft PowerPoint user, however Google’s recently added Q&A feature to their Slides product may have persuaded me otherwise.


PowerPoint still seems to be the most ubiquitous piece of presentation software. It’s certainly the one programme that I’ve spent most of my student and professional life using and the one I’m most comfortable creating slides with.


Nowadays, however, there are many presentation programmes to choose from; Google Slides, Apple’s Keynote, Prezi, Canva to name a few. They all essentially do the same thing which is to present your topic and/ or ideas, using, texts, graphics, photos and video.


I remember when I was first used Prezi around 2009. I used to use it quite extensively and was impressed with the animations between slides and the way you could present the slides or sections in a non-linear style. It seemed to work really well. However, I quickly moved back to PowerPoint for, as I saw it, the increased functionality especially when it came to the design of the slides themselves. I felt more comfortable with the wider font choices and editing tools available in PowerPoint..
Since joining York, around 3 years ago, I was introduced to, what is now called, the ‘G Suite’ of applications. I was familiar with Gmail having used it for many years in a personal capacity, however the other applications such as Docs and Sheets, I’d hardly ever used meaning I wasn’t hugely comfortable with them. The benefits of these tools quickly became clear due to collaborative nature of the applications. No longer did documents need to be emailed to colleagues, using the G Suite of applications we could all work ‘live’ in the same document, meaning versions were always up-to-date and stored in a central place online.
Until this academic year, ‘Slides’ was the main Google application I’d not really used, in part, due to my preference of PowerPoint. It was only recently, at a White Rose Consortium TeachMeet last year, when a colleague demonstrated a new feature in ‘Slides’ called ‘Google Q&A’ that I considered trying it out again.


What is Google Q&A?
Google Q&A is designed to enable interaction with a large audience. In addition to the ‘Present’ button, there is now a Q&A option that opens a pop-up window and places a URL/ web address above each slide visible to the audience. The audience can then, using the browser on their mobile device, go to the web address displayed and begin asking questions to the presenter. The questions do not appear immediately on screen, they are displayed to the presenter in a pop-up window. The presenter can then, at a time they deem appropriate, respond to any of the questions asked by the group. They simply click on a question in their pop-up window and it then appears to the whole audience on the large screen.
I was really impressed with this functionality, it was definitely something not available in PowerPoint! I logged it in my mind thinking of some scenarios that I could use it in.



In the Summer, when planning a new lecture with a Politics tutor for the Autumn term, he expressed his frustration to me when trying to get students to interact in large lectures so when I mentioned Google Q&A to him, he couldn’t wait to use it!


We were already planning a joint lecture for the new ‘What is Politics?’ core 1st year undergraduate module and agreed that my 30 minute talk would use the Q&A feature.


The setup was a bit complicated. I could only get Q&A to work if I connected a laptop to the projector and changed the laptop settings to extend the display. This is required because the podium PCs seem to be fixed to the ‘duplicate’ setting which means the audience see the same as what the presenter sees meaning the pop-up window is visible. Extending the display of the laptop (pressing Win key + P) means I can drag the pop-up window onto my laptop screen so only I could see it.
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At the start of my talk I highlighted the URL that was above each slide and asked all the students to take a minute to open up the link in their browser to encourage them to participate by asking a question if they wanted to. Q&A allows students to contribute anonymously which I think encourages participation.


Over 30 questions were asked throughout the lecture, concerning the content of my talk and the tutors. We were both able to, there and then, answer questions from students providing an immediate response. Some students asked for clarification on the assignment that was set or other questions regarding the topic which the tutor was able to answer. Others asked questions about YorSearch and how to find specific resources.    


Reflecting at the end of the session, the tutor was extremely pleased as he has never had such an interactive lecture! He planned to continue to use Q&A throughout the term.


I encourage you to have a look at Google Q&A. From my limited experience, it’s definitely something you could incorporate into your larger teaching sessions to try and stimulate some interaction with your audience/ students.





January 25, 2017

Using Kahoot to enhance Induction talks and Information Skills workshops


By Tony Wilson, Academic Liaison Librarian

Throughout the Autumn Term, the Academic Liaison Team have been using the online quiz software Kahoot in Induction talks and workshops. I have used it in both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching sessions and have found that it offers an interesting and engaging option for delivering information about the Library and Information Literacy to students studying at all levels and stages.

This post will cover what Kahoot is and how it works and will provide examples of how we have used it at the University of York.

What is Kahoot?

Kahoot is a free to use learning platform that enables you to create games or ‘kahoots’ based around any topic that you wish. There are three options available to you. You can choose to create a Quiz, Discussion or Survey.

If you choose to create a Quiz, you can choose how many questions you wish to ask and you can choose up to four answers and indicate which of the answers are correct. You can have as many correct answers as you wish. Alternatively, you can have just two answers and ask a True or False question. Participants in the quiz will then compete to score the most points when they play the quiz. The quiz tool enables you to introduce the students to new information such as details of library services or different search techniques, for example. This is the tool that we have used this term.

The Survey tool works in the same way as the quiz tool but you don’t indicate a right or wrong answer and there is not a competitive element. It can be used to test what students have learnt during a session or gather information about what they already know before you start a teaching session and you can then use the answers given to generate discussion with the students and to inform what you choose to focus on.

The discussion tool is designed to be used during a presentation and if you want to ask a question that might generate a discussion. It works in the same way as the survey but you only have the option to ask one question. So, the idea is that the question would be very focused on one issue that would be designed to encourage students to choose different points of view that could then be explored further based on the answers that the students give. It could be useful if you were doing a workshop exploring a variety of different resources and you wanted the students to discuss the pros and cons of using one database compared to another.

Using Kahoot in Induction

Throughout the induction period at the start of term, Academic Liaison Librarians are invited to come and talk to the new students in their departments and make them aware of the services that are available. These talks can be 5 minute ‘quick hellos’ or hour long induction lectures so Kahoot is not always going to be a helpful tool. However, quite often, Librarians will have between 10-20 minutes to talk to students as part of a set of talks organised by the department and in these circumstances Kahoot has proved a brilliant tool for introducing students to the Library in a fun and engaging way.

In order to play the quiz when in a lecture hall, students are asked to use their smartphones to go to the web address Kahoot.it. From there, they are asked to enter a code which is made available on the screen by the person running the quiz.



Once players enter the PIN they then need to give themselves a nickname and they can then join the game.
Often in the induction quiz, there were as many as 150 students taking part in the quiz.  The Induction quiz had 10 questions and could be played as a straightforward quiz, taking each question in turn or alternatively, the question could be used to as a springboard to show the students more information on the library website.

The questions covered a number of different topics including study space, how many books students can borrow, opening hours and also questions about borrowing laptops and Google Apps for Education. The Quiz has received some really positive feedback from staff and students and the Academic Liaison Team has felt like this tool has really helped to increase the levels of engagement from students in the service that we provide which is fantastic.

Using Kahoot in other workshops

In addition to induction, some of colleagues have also used Kahoot in other workshops as an alternative way to present information to students. These sessions have been at Undergraduate and Postgraduate level.

Kahoot has proved effective in a number of different contexts. In one Languages workshop, a six question Kahoot was used introduce the student to six different specific aspects of the Library services and collections that was relevant to them.

Kahoot was also used to test knowledge and understanding of literature searching techniques. In a number of Education workshops this term, students were asked to look at a number of online tutorials on our Digital Skills Guides in the week ahead of the workshop.



Then, at the start of the workshops, students did an Education Information skills quiz so that the Librarian could assess whether they understood the content from the tutorials.

Kahoot proved an effective tool in these workshops as well although it did not tend to cause the same buzz of excitement in the PC lab as it did during induction.

Next steps

Kahoot has the potential to be used in variety of ways and more work needs to be done to consider which approaches are the most effective. As with all tools that can be used to enhance teaching and learning there is always the risk to over use a tool and reduce it’s impact as a result.

The survey tool may very well prove very helpful during the Spring and Summer when delivering dissertation workshops as it could be an effective way to test which resources students are familiar with already.

Work will then need to be done on a new Induction quiz for next year!