December 18, 2018

Branding the academic library

By Ned Potter, Academic Liaison Librarian

Earlier in the year I got to head over to Denmark, to deliver a keynote at the Danish Academic and Research Library group's annual conference. The subject of the conference was marketing, and I was specifically asked to talk about the academic library brand.

Here are my slides:

Branding the Academic Library from Ned Potter

There were a couple of key points I wanted to get across - one is that the brand is everything your users experience! Colours and logos are branding, and they are part of a wider attempt to positively influence the brand - but we can't control the brand. The voice we use in our communications, the experiences people have at the front desk, the collections and services we offer: all of this makes the brand.

We also can't influence the brand on a national or global level - at least not without a great deal of difficulty. It's a lot more realistic for each specific University library to try and build a better brand; rather than to try and change the overall perception of the academic library as a concept.

I also stressed, as I always do, that the key to marketing libraries well is to do so in campaigns. Any questions or comments, let me know below! 

November 19, 2018

[Video] UX keynote all about ethnography and design at York

By Ned Potter, Academic Liaison

This month I had the honour of giving the opening Keynote at the Stellenbosch University Library Symposium, the theme for which this year was User Experience.

I've travelled to South Africa for a conference before and it was one of the best professional experiences I've ever had, but this time I couldn't quite make the huge journey time work, with it being Autumn term, so we decided to do it virtually. We chose a mixture of recorded and live - I created a video, using Screencast-o-matic which I love, and then we did the Q&A live via Skype. I thought this was safer than trying to do the whole thing live and risk technology failure...

Although my colleagues and I have talked about UX at various events over the last three years, this was the first time we'd had the length of time afforded by a keynote, and my hosts had specifically asked to hear about the projects we've done at York - so essentially I pulled together all threads we often write about on this blog into one big presentation. I've embedded the video below and of course you're more than welcome to watch the whole thing if you'd like to! But given that people often have specific areas of interest around UX, here are some shortcuts to the various parts of the presentation:
  1. After the preamble there's an introduction to UX and ethnography. What it is (and isn't), the way it has spread across the industry, why it's so powerful. 
  2. Part 2 is a A timeline of UX at York. I discuss the various major UX-led projects we've done, our use and non-use of interns to help us, and the various ethnographic techniques we've used
  3. The massive up-scaling involved for the Understanding Academics project, plus some of our findings and the changes we made, are discussed next
  4. How we try to disseminate our findings and experiences is covered here
  5. Next I cover steering and guidance for UX. How it fits strategically, our UX Group which includes our UX book club, and so on
  6. Training and Support for UX is discussed here: our internal training sessions and the way we've been trying to bring this techniques to other parts of the University
  7. Finally, some tips for embedding UX at your own institution

There were some great questions afterwards not captured by this video. One of them was around the use of interns and the pluses and minuses of this. At York our first two UX projects were intern-led and we found this hugely beneficial for a number of reasons: someone having the time and space to focus on the fieldwork and analysis without other distractions was part of it, but so was having a completely fresh pair of eyes involved. There are advantages to non-library staff speaking to users as part of the fieldwork and bringing an outside perspective to the design recommendations.

That said, we did all the fieldwork for our two biggest UX projects to date ourselves, partly because it was such a good opportunity for as as staff to be learning about our users first-hand. It's also a fascinating process to be part of and a good opportunity for staff to learn new skills.

So without wanting to sit on the fence, there are good arguments both for using interns and for doing everything yourself...


Thank you so much to everyone at the Conference for inviting me and allowing me to present virtually. It was fun to put together.

November 06, 2018

Building the Fabrik Wall

By Ned Potter, Academic Liaison Librarian 

At the start of the academic year we reached a significant milestone in our use of UX at York (about which you can read many, many more posts elsewhere on this blog). We made our first major purchase as part of a re-design that came directly from an ethnographic project - woohoo!

We bought a sound-absorbent wall made of 'Fabriks' - it works like giant Lego, looks pretty cool, and controls the acoustics of the environment around it.

Here's what it looks like:

The Fabrik Wall as seen from the front

The Fabrik Wall as viewed from 'inside' it
To get the context to all of this we need to go back to 2017.

The UX Space Project

During 2017 we undertook the UX Space Project: ethnographic User Experience research into how the Morrell Lounge is used and how it might be improved. This is the area you see as you enter the Library at York - on average around 3,000 people pass through this every single day, making it perhaps the busiest area on either campus. At peak times there's around 7,000 entries.

The fieldwork consisted of more than 40 sessions of behavioural mapping. We actually had to modify the 'standard' way we'd done observation like this before, because the area was simply too busy to track people's routes through the space. That element was removed from the list of responsibilities, but we made other tweaks too: for the first time we used a template map of the space (based on our floorplans), we put a definition of the AEIOU framework on the back along with other guidance to remind people what they were looking for, and left space for notes on the map itself.

Here's an example of the map and notes from one observation session:

A behavioural map with notes 
The fieldwork was undertaken by Customer Services staff (each of whom had individual training before their first session) and they were absolutely brilliant at capturing key info, and then feeding into the design process to find solutions too. All CS stuff kept notes of their thoughts on the space when working at the desk too, so we built up a picture of how the area was used even on days when we didn't have a Behavioural Mapping session planned. This turned into a massive 19-page Google Doc, which also included feedback from students and staff as it came in.

The initial phase of fieldwork lasted 6 months. The project identified problems including the area being too loud for those wishing to seek guidance at the Help Desk, it being unsightly to visitors as students are sprawled on the floor, and fundamentally the space not being used as we intended.

Design Prototyping

We ruled out trying to change the way the space was used, early on in the process. Instead we wanted to change the space to better suit the way it has been adopted by students and staff: this included swapping furniture with other areas of the Library to suit the way people congregate in groups, which was our first proper attempt at design prototyping. The changes we made went down so well, getting so much positive feedback (we had people emailing the library just to tell us how much they liked it!), that following another round of observational fieldwork we ended up leaving the temporary furniture in situ. It's still there now, although long term we'd like to improve the space further - we have a full design ready to go, based on all the research and suggested changes we've come up with, but it will cost a lot of money to realise.

Most costly of all we really wanted some kind of acoustic baffling to both contain the sound and make the entrance lobby a visually arresting sight with which to greet our regular users and visitors. We went through several rounds of a bidding process to try and win some Alumni funding to make big changes to the space - in the end the 'YuFund' scheme provided us with the funds to purchase what we're calling the Alumni Wall that you saw at the start of this post, made of special sound-absorbent ‘fabriks’ to change the acoustics of the space. And the acoustic difference is absolutely remarkable, significantly reducing the noise spilling from the Lounge, and in particular better enabling staff and students to converse at the Help Desk. Many staff have commented on the effect this has had - it is now noticeably easier to help people with queries - and the students like it too: ’Wow I really like it!’ one returning student exclaimed, coming to the desk especially to tell us… It also looks fantastic, and gives the whole area a more cohesive feel.

The whole project felt really exciting to be part of. It involved people from different teams in the Library working together, which is always good, and the Alumni Office (and the Students' Union) were really enthusiastic about what we were doing. Ultimately we were able to make a significant change to the space, and overall it works much better for both students and staff than it ever has before.

Finally, here's a short time-lapse video of its assembly:

July 19, 2018

Understanding Academics: themed analysis (presentation at LIBER 2018)

Two weeks ago I presented our themed analysis from the Understanding Academics project at the LIBER conference in Lille. We've previously published our results from the project on what it means to be an academic at York. For this conference, we focused on the three main themes emerging from our research: skills, scholarship and space. These have now formed the basis of the new Library and Archives Strategy at York.

Michelle Blake and I will be publishing our full themed analysis shortly. In the meantime, you can get a flavour from these conference slides. Please get in touch if you'd like to chat through our results. We're always happy to talk about our work!

Vanya Gallimore
Academic Liaison Team Manager