July 26, 2016

UXLibs II Reflections

By Martin Philip, Academic Liaison Librarian 

On 23-24 June, I attended UXLibs II, an international User Experience in Libraries conference. Here are my reflections... 

Ironic name badge

Welcome - Andy Priestner

“We need trained anthropologists and designers.”

Andy is very much the brains behind UXLibs and opened the second conference by providing some background to the work he has done at the University of Cambridge. Initially the type of research he was engaged with was dismissed by some academic colleagues and the work was often criticised. When Andy (and team) were looking at different types of furniture used in Library spaces, some labeled it ‘The Beanbag Project’. His team, were seen, by some, as people who spend too much time using Post-Its and also regarded UX and some of the techniques as merely another ‘emperor's new clothes’.
Andy explained that the challenges he faced getting the use of UX techniques off the ground were the same kind of challenges facing the rest of the world (i.e. ownership, territories and empire). Cambridge is a notoriously conservative environment where it is far easier to criticise and pick fault than to engage. 

One success they’ve had in the last year is spacefinder.lib.cam.ac.uk – ‘the website that wil change your studying life forever!’ is how one student described it. Spacefinder was aiming to help Cambridge students who were regularly struggling to find spaces matching their study needs and preferences. The end result is a kind of TripAdvisor for study space.

As Andy finished opening the conference, he proclaimed ‘Live with uncertainty and embrace UX!’ We would rather be wrong than uncertain so let’s prove it by research.

Keynote 1 – Donna Lanclos

Donna spoke last at the first UXLibs but was so good she got invited back! Donna is an anthropologist (at UNC Charlotte) working with ethnographic methods and analysis to inform and change policy in HE at large not just libraries.

Donna believes that UX work that has ‘failed’ (or ‘derailed’) can arguably be more important than ‘nailed’ due to the lessons learnt. She applies her mother's gardening philosophy to much of her work – plant what you think might work - if it dies, don’t plant it again. You try something because something needs to be done. Caveat – sometimes the plant dies because of you. Donna believes it’s important to figure out where the failure lies. In the places we work, in HE/ Libraries, there are people that have been around long enough to remember all the failures. She also suggested that some of us (delegates) can say we wouldn’t be here today unless we’ve had a moment in our life where we had been thoroughly derailed. A criticism she points at Library conferences, which I think I agree with her on, is that the talks are full of ‘yay me’ and not enough about failure.

Donna points out that, in ethnographic research, so often you can’t fix things, which can feel frustrating, however it doesn’t mean you’re not doing things. She feels, and there is definately something in me that thinks this way, that a major challenge is that Libraries want to fix things however she deems this obsession as ‘rigid solutionism’ that can sometimes stifle other types of research. She explains that ethnography is about gathering a different understanding of what is going on around and not just being fixated by numbers. She asked the question, ‘How do we get people to trust us and these practices?’ I guess it was kind of rhetorical or up to us to answer in light of our context but she continued by saying that our methodology will not save us from what she refers to as ‘the culture of libraries’. And provocatively asked what would our libraries look like if all our research was qualitative?!

In her applied work, which is what Donna does for a living, she makes the point that it becomes necessary to stop collecting data. Some of Donna’s archaeologist friends spend their entire time talking about their methods and data and leave no time for interpretation and meaning. At some point we need to make changes.

Donna asks ‘What is action?’ It can be, describing and interrogating formal structures. Leaders need to be on board (and leaders aren’t just the people at the top). Organisations need to allow for change she said and if we think about who the leaders are - she proclaimed to an unsure room that we’re all leaders! And that’s why we’re at UXLibs! We need to aim to create space for change and a toleration for risk.

Donna finished by talking about ‘networked leadership’. We are more powerful at effecting change if we (delegates) are working together. This became a theme of the conference, certainly from my perspective, the need to pool each other's resources no matter where we are based. I think it was this type of encouragement that led myself and 3 other delegates (from Hull, Roskilde and Kristiansand) to set up a Whatsapp group to keep in touch and share what we’re doing UX-wise and who knows, maybe work on something together in the future.

Keynote 2 - Lawrie Phipps

By his own admission, Lawrie was new to this world of librarians however he coped well! Lawrie’s works in HE predominantly in the area of change management so he brought an internal (HE) but external (of libraries) perspective to all this UX stuff which I think is needed.

I felt Lawrie’s key message was one of encouragement that everyone has the ability to enact change no matter what we’re doing and where we’re at. He cited Dave Brailsford, known for his work with British Cycling. His focus was to make 1% gains everywhere he could imagine and the cumulative effect of all these incremental changes/ ‘marginal gains’ soon became transformative leading to Team GB topping the cycling medal tables in 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
He encouraged us not to compromise with our ideas especially around UX, that is the job of our managers!
Lawrie, like Donna, talked about change, in your organisation, happening faster if you leverage your external network. “Use your network here at UXLibs” he said! If you bring someone into your organisation from a different place with different experiences, different success (and failures), that can often help persuade management (if they need persuading!)

To finish with, Lawrie, again with encouraging words said that we are all leaders but leadership is ours to own, we need to grab hold of it. Whatever change we think our institution needs, we need to own it, engage with it, write a proposal with other people if necessary but go for it. You can’t fail, you just learn from it were inspiring words. Key - learn how to communicate in different ways with different people.

Talks and Workshops 

Modern Human Method Cards

Outside of the keynotes, I went to Creative Bravery: The Value of Embracing Failure (Paul Jervais-Heath) which was really interesting! Paul runs a design practice and innovation consultancy. In his own words, “I know how to design stuff!” His company, Modern Human, provided delegates with some cards that are really helpful in visually showing the various steps he uses to design things.

Key things that stood out to me from his session included using the ‘How might we?’ principle. Turn your findings into questions You would use this when analysing your results.
‘Create a concept’ was something else Paul talked about. He argues that the concept needs to be a clearly articulated idea outlining the features or benefits of the product/ service. 

Paul suggested borrowing from the film pitch idea, eg. Alien was pitched as ‘Jaws on a spaceship’ whereas the Spacefinder project he was involved with was described as ‘TripAdvisor’ for study space.’ It makes the concept/ idea more relatable to line managers/ decision makers. This is probably something we could do?   

I also attended a talk by Eva-Christina Edinger, from the University of Zurich, entitled Speak, friend and enter: Labyrinths, symbolic spaces and gated communities in university libraries. Eva does Library research but from a sociologist's point of view and took delegates on a walk-through her findings.

Knowledge of the existence of the library. I found it really interesting when Eva began by saying that in Germany at least, libraries exist to provide free access to knowledge thought and culture. She explained that lots of universities are not like this, they are hidden and kind of secret. Even when the libraries are in public open spaces, she found that people aren’t always aware that the building is a library! Libraries with windows seemed to fare better as they made it visible to those outside.

Access to the library - a gated community. Eva found that most libraries she studied forced users to pass a gate to be part of a ‘special’ community. Participants in the study felt privileged to use the library as not everybody can walk in.

Orientation and navigation within the library. Users reported that understanding the ‘library language’ is challenging which can created social exclusion. Libraries were described by some as ‘labyrinths’. Many libraries have multiple floors, further complicated by lettered sections. There are often different exits and entrances. Mental maps drawn by users show confusion. Eva asked how can we improve orientation and navigation in our libraries? And she also noted one library that had created digital maps hadn’t thought to make them mobile friendly, so not really fit for purpose considering the proliferation of mobile devices.

Symbolic spaces - place identity. Eva’s research showed that library users often use the same place in the library again and again. Users like making a miniature office in the library. Association with other scholars. It’s definitely a challenge to try and create this kind of space for users whilst not realistically being able to offer this to everyone.

Take home messages. Make libraries visible! The entrance of the library needs to be where it can be seen and good tools for indoor navigation including visible, non-cryptic shelfmarks, would be appreciated. Eva says that we should know our users and use friendly language and strive to create human-centred spaces not merely buildings full of books.

Journey map template laid out by Matthew
On the second day of the conference, I attended a User Journey Maps workshop, hosted by Matthew Reidsma 

Matthew, like Donna, gave a keynote last year, however this year, he was tasked with a more practical session introducing us to user journey maps.

Matthew explained that user journey maps are like empathy maps. They enable you to think about what your user feels when they use a product, service or anything you offer them. The way he presented user journey maps was by considering first which persona or profile of a particular user group or personality type you are going to use. So you would do multiple user journey maps for different personas. The beauty of user journey maps is that the aim is to map every step, what the user is doing, thinking, feeling, saying etc.

To the right is the template we were working with that forces you to consider as many steps as possible when mapping out a user's experience. On the vertical axis you would have rows stating do, think/ say, feel and then opportunities. And along the horizontal axis you would write the steps (as many as you can think of) of the user journey. You would then fill in the sections or use post-its which are easier to move around. 

We used a simple example and mapped the journey of looking for a book in an academic library. You can see the map we did in the picture below. When we were discussing in our groups, we thought that you could do touchpoint tours (where the user takes you on a tour of the space).
I think the big takeaway messages from this session is that doing something like a user journey map can highlight the pain points within our service and forces you to keep asking the question ‘How can we make something less frustrating?’

Journey map attempt from our team

Team Advocacy Challenge

The informal and interactive nature of UXLibs means it’s not really like any other conference I’ve been to. As part of attending, we are all put into teams for a challenge!

In teams of 9, we had to prepare a 7-minute pitch on a specific advocacy theme. In my team’s case it was on the theme of ‘recruitment’, recruiting participants for our research project. My team didn’t win but it was fun meeting new people and working together on the challenge.

In a really short space of time, (2ish hours) we formulated an idea that we thought (still think!) might be workable! We called it ‘The Pool’ and the idea was to, in collaboration with the Student Union, create a pool of students who we can draw upon as participants and/ or recruiters whenever we’re thinking about conducting some ethnographic research. We even started to consider long-term goals of ‘The Pool’ such as ethnography being a normal part of university life at York and we also considered the prospect of trying to build it into appropriate modules at appropriate times much like we are considering with digital literacy skills.

You can read more conference reviews on the UXLib site http://uxlib.org/conference-reviews/


For fans of beer, Port Street Beer House is a must when in the Northern Quarter of Manchester. It was a great place to have discussions and debates about the EU!

July 19, 2016

PGR UX outcomes and reflections

By Michelle Blake, Head of Relationship Management

This blog has already covered some of the original work we did looking at PG use of the Library when we had Emma do an internship with us. We followed this work up with another intern, Oliver, in January this year.

This post will discuss the results from that work and what we’re now doing - as well as what we learnt from the process more generally.

Some of what we learnt came as no surprise but there were areas I don’t think we could have predicated.

Sense of community and space

PGR students really valued the sense of community that they get in their departments (but not all students have dedicated space in their department) and didn’t want to miss out on the water-cooler type conversations that can take place. They like a variety of spaces to work in with no one size fits all. Being able to choose the type of space they wanted depending on how they were feeling at the time was really important to them, but they did note they often wanted to be close to those who were working on similar things to have quick, informal chats.
Some of the study spaces in the Library at York

Just in time access to help/support

PGRs told us that they only wanted to know about services, training etc when they needed them but often they weren’t then sure where to find them. It was also clear from the interviews that many students were unaware of some of the services that are on offer to them. One of the things they did tell us was some of our services weren’t working for them, interlibrary loans was one of these where the way the students are working mean that the delay in waiting for resources to arrive was seen as being too long and hindering their work. This was particularly the case for Arts and Humanities students.

PGR journey

Our research found that regardless of which faculty a student was from all PGR students use the Library in the first year of their PhD, particularly in order to undertake their literature review. However, use of the Library alters after this point dependent on their faculty, with Arts and Humanities students being much heavier users of the Library for the duration of their PhD while Social Sciences and Sciences, in particular, start to use it less as they conduct experiments and field work. While this isn't ground breaking I think highlighting how the Library is used during the course of their study was really interesting.

We completed this study nearly four months ago so what’s happened? Well I’ve broken down what we’ve done or are doing into the following four categories - confirmed findings from the original work which Emma did, simple things, medium term changes and longer term things.

Confirmed findings from our original study

  • The need to display the classmark of the book in the catalogue search results screen, which we'd been looking to do for a while and have now done
An example of the classmark of the book appearing in the results screen, rather than the user needing to click on the specific item to find where it's located 
  • The need to have a hot water tap for food and drink prep which we were looking at and have now done
  • The Burton (part of the Library building) being under-explored by PGs at peak times so needing more promotion which we already knew about but have now done
  • It discovered part of the reason people were reluctant to study in the Burton was that it closed at 10pm so you knew you'd have to leave eventually; it's now open 24hrs as part of a redevelopment of the space (which added in additional seating and made the whole Reading Room space look a lot nicer too)
Part of the redeveloped Burton Library 

Simple things

  • We’re adding white boards to the PG lounge in the Fairhurst (they should be arriving soon)
  • We’ve found a more appropriate space for PGs in the silent area of the Library (it’s a room) that we hope will help them to create the kind of space they want. We realise we can’t manufacture this sense of community for them but hopefully by providing them with a nice space this will help them to shape it to what they want it to be
  • We’re talking more to the students themselves about what they want. We’ve always had a good relationship with the GSA (Graduate Student’s Association) but this is also about talking to students on the ground as well
  • All new PGR students in 2016/17 will be sent an individual welcome email from their Academic Liaison Librarian with option to come and see them (hopefully thereby making them more aware of everything they can access)

Medium term

  • Reviewing interlibrary loans (ILLs), how they’re used and really understanding why they aren’t working for our Arts & Humanities students in particular. To do this we’ll be looking at the data we already have about ILL use across departments as well as reviewing data from a GSA intern study. We hope to be able to be able to understand more about how the students are really working and then ensure our services fit these needs
  • We are establishing PG Wednesdays with the Graduate Research School and other support services. These are afternoons dedicated to PGs which will involve a series of training, talks, and continue the Shut up and Writes events we organised last term (we hope to have a blog post separately about this once they’ve been established)
  • We want to review the rest of the PG space in Fairhurst once the white boards are in place. It may be that after installing these nothing else needs to change or that we want to make further changes in this area
  • We are organising supervisor training with our Graduate Research school so that supervisors know what we offer and can signpost their students appropriately
  • We will be reviewing all the training we offer - is it the right stuff at the right time

Longer term

  • We are looking at how we might re-purpose some of our space in the longer term - areas that we know don’t work and which might result in another UX project addressing space more generally (hopefully more on this later this year or early next year)
  • We have begun some work on a digital humanities project to better understand needs of humanities researchers, this may well take into account some of the findings from our Arts & Humanities PGRs


So finally I wanted to finish on what we’ve learnt from the project and what we might do differently next time.

  • While having an intern is great, one of the things we came to realise is that it can be useful to have someone who has more intimate knowledge about your services or someone with a library background. It was this thinking that led us to the approach we’re taking in our Understanding Academics project (we’ll blog about this project separately soon)
  • You really need to do things quickly - I don’t think we did them quickly enough with this project but it’s been a good learning curve
  • It’s really important to agree timescales and ownership and be clear what the outcomes are from any work you do
  • People will “challenge” relatively small sample sizes. You need to consider how will you back up your findings e.g. what other data do you have that help to triangulate your findings
  • Getting people to take part was hard work - we tried a lot of different approaches with this project and none of them were very successful. This has been in stark contrast to our Understanding Academics project where attracting participants has been much easier
  • Originally we had wanted to attract students from particular departments who had lower satisfaction rates in the PRES (PostGraduate Research Experience Survey) but were unsuccessful in doing this. In total we had 11 participants for the PGRUX project and while this might sound like a small number the data that we got from these interviews was incredibly rich.

So has it all been worth it? Absolutely, without a doubt the PGR UX project has really given us a solid foundation on which to continue to build our UX work. I hope to post on here soon about our latest project, Understanding Academics.

July 15, 2016

A second UX Intern writes... Oliver Ramirez on User Experience

This is another guest post in the Embedding Ethnography series, this time written by Oliver Ramirez. He completed some hugely detailed work for us at the start of 2016, on what we called the PGRUX Project, and these are his reflections on the whole process.

Oliver is now based in London and enjoyed UX work so much he wants to pursue it further, perhaps with another internship - if you're reading this and you are potentially interested in having him come and work with you, send me an email and I'll put you in touch!

My UX research internship: More than ticking boxes | by Oliver Ramirez

I was interested in seeing how my user experience knowledge from my Computer Science degree could apply to physical services. So, when I was offered the chance to conduct a UX research project for the library team at the University of York, I took my chance to see how library UX works.

The motivations behind the project were straightforward; among postgraduate research students (PGRs), there was a large disparity in satisfaction scores when it came to certain areas of research life. In conducting the project, I was to identify the reasons for this.

For this, the UX research approach made sense. I was to report on how PGRs conducted research, in particular their habits and reasons behind study space choices and resource choices, their interactions with others during research, and their use of study services. Through this, I would identify the pain points for less happy demographics, try to understand what worked for happier demographics, and suggest ways to try and bridge the gaps between those experiences.

As part of this research, I ran 1 on 1 sessions with PGRs across different departments. The team also gave me a couple of UX techniques to test out, so as well as a “non-directed interview”, I ran Cognitive Mapping and Love & Break Up Letter exercises with each participant.

Cognitive Mapping

The first exercise that I ran with participants was cognitive mapping. Participants were asked to draw a “map” of the things that they interacted with while conducting research (limited to the areas I outlined earlier), mostly adopting the methodology outlined by Donna Lanclos. I say “map” because, in reality, few participants drew anything resembling a conventional map – participants mostly favoured writing down concepts (for example, ‘their office’) and linking those to other related concepts (‘their office’ may be near their ‘supervisor’).

It was a great way of getting the participants to think about the areas I would end up interviewing them on, and the temporal and relational information captured in the map made it easier to pick up on each participant’s thoughts. One good example of this is how a participant placed importance on their desk: they drew it as their map’s central element early on, and branched everything off of that central element. This was reflected in their interview, where they emphasised the importance of that desk to them.

A Cognitive Map from the PGRUX Project

“Non-directed interviews”

Using the participant’s cognitive map as a ‘guide’, I would then conduct a non-directed interview. This involved taking an almost passive, neutral stance in everything I asked about, primarily allowing the concepts brought up on the participant’s map to direct the conversation – then, after those points had been exhausted, I would consult my own discussion guide to cover the rest of the areas of interest.

Conducting the interview in this way was initially difficult for me – it was sometimes hard to probe without being ‘aggressive’ (asking weighted questions or changing the topic), and I sometimes struggled to facilitate the conversation without suggesting topics to talk about.

There was immense value from conducting the session in this way, however. By focusing the interview on the topics participants brought up, gathered information more closely reflected the participant’s “perspective” – their habits, their opinions and their choices, mostly on what they were aware of in the discussed areas. Gathering the information in this way allowed for me to more effectively deliver insight on issues of awareness.

Love/Break Up Letters

Finally, participants were asked to write a ‘love’ or ‘break up’ letter. By asking participants to address this letter to a personified IT or library service, we hoped to draw out the emotions of participants towards those services, and easily establish positive/pain points.

My participants seemed to be very polarised by the exercise; people either really got into it, or they really didn’t. Upon reflection, the abstract nature of the exercise may have made some participants uncomfortable, especially knowing that their letters would be scrutinised. However, while I feel that while this technique didn’t work in a 1 on 1 session, there is merit to trying it out in a pop-up-desk context, or a ‘prize raffle’ format – this would allow for many responses, and for the easy identification of pain points across services.

All in all, I felt that the techniques allowed me to attain some real insight into PGRs, and despite the initial nerves, I really enjoyed conducting these sessions with participants. But while I’m singing the praises of these techniques now, back before I started my internship, my mentality for designing around users (or stakeholders in general) was one of appeasement – design a website that does what stakeholders need it to do, and fix any issues preventing its smooth use. A real ‘checklist’ oriented approach. Historically, I had followed this approach in my degree through a type of observation called ‘usability testing’, where I noted any issues users had when doing tasks that I had set.

So, heading into this internship, I had expected to do just that: more observation, make a list of issues to fix, and suggest some solutions - tick those boxes off, one by one, on the way to a “good UX”. But, throughout my internship, I realised this approach just yields a ‘passable’ user experience – you end up with something that works, but not necessarily something that’s good.

Example of Findings: Lonely Researchers

For example, one of my participants told me something that really struck me: they said that when they were based at a general desk, that they felt disconnected from their department. It was always possible to contact or visit their supervisors, or use the department testing rooms, or go out of their way to interact with their peers, but not being based alongside all of that meant that they felt ‘distant’ with their department. This changed when they were offered a desk inside their department. Besides improvements on all of those fronts, they reported feeling ‘valued’ as a member of the university because of it.

The importance of ‘department community’ - being alongside your researcher peers and supervisor so that interaction is readily possible – was prominent in my discussion with some participants. During my research, I found that while non-department PGR study spaces covered various noise levels (something participants valued), those spaces did not facilitate this kind of ‘natural interaction’ that only happens when PGRs and supervisors are all based together – and so PGRs based outside their department missed out on this.

My approach of “observation to find issues, fix issues” would not have yielded this type of insight – I would have thought along the lines of “they don’t really like the silence in this building”, suggested to change the noise level policy and called it a day. It wouldn’t have made much headway in creating a better UX for the people based outside their departments.

But, it finally dawned on me during my time with the library team at York: good UX necessitates understanding what your user values, what is important to them, and actively working with that in mind. Which worked out for me, in the end: UX is a more satisfying when it isn’t just making something that works and ticking boxes.

July 12, 2016

Planning and delivering an Intern-led UX Library Project

By Ned Potter, Academic Liaison Librarian 

Emma talking to one of our Liaison Librarians
Last time out, as part of the Embedding Ethnography series, Emma Gray wrote about what it was like to be a UX Intern here at York, and the techniques she employed while she worked with us. 

If it's in any way possible to get an intern to help out with your ethnographic project I'd highly recommend it, so this post is about our process for setting the project up and working with Emma.

(For an overview of UX, ethnography and design, please see our What is UX? page.)

Stats from the Library's summer UX project at York. Our intern worked for 125 hours, conducting a study that involved 26 participants.

Recruiting an intern

This was the part of the whole project we struggled most with, and were fortunate in how it worked out. 

Five of our staff went to the first UXLibs Conference in 2015, and came back wanting to immediately implement some of the things we'd learned. But we all had not nearly enough day-to-day time in our roles to do any serious amount of ethnographic observation and interaction. So I submitted a proposal to a University-wide Intern scheme - but despite making it attractive as a I could, all the applicants chose to go for other Internships on offer from the University. If anyone has any tips on writing a great UX Intern job spec and advert, I'd love to hear them in a comment below... 

We then got an email from the Head of HR in the Library saying a student at Durham University who lived locally wanted to work for the library over the summer, and did anyone have any suitable work? Naturally I jumped at this and sent Emma the existing job spec, she agreed it looked interesting, and she came in for an interview.

It was a very informal interview, just me and my manager and Emma without a huge list of pre-prepared questions. Emma didn't have any UX knowledge prior to coming in, but that didn't matter. As it happened she did have experience of working in a public library but that wasn't essential either. For us, the essential qualities were to show some initiative (Emma ticked this box, having found my website and read my reviews of the UXLibs conference...) and above all to be a good communicator. UX work involves a LOT of dialogue with users, so if that isn't something you enjoy it's going to be a slog... Emma was naturally communicatory so we had no doubts about offering her the role.

Pre-arrival set up

As Emma's manager I set about doing several things before she started at the Library:

1) Putting together a resource list on UX in Libraries to get her up to speed with an area she was unfamiliar with - I made that publicly available here

2) Putting together a document that outlined the aims of the internship so Emma would know exactly what she was working towards - I've put this on Google Drive here for anyone interested. I've not edited this from the original so there's some York-centric language - also I said 'emoji' when I meant 'emoticons' so you'll have to forgive me. Here's a preview:
Part of the Aims of the Internship document we put together

(It's worth noting that we didn't achieve some of the aims - for example visiting Cambridge and Sheffield Hallam, or trying out group interviews.) 

Essentially the thing that made this project different to future UX projects we'd undertake is this one was at least partly about understanding UX processes as well as our actual users - so Emma was tasked with setting up a UX Toolkit for our future use 

3) Sort out all the admin stuff associated with a new member of staff - entry card, username and password, where Emma would sit, PC she'd use, access to Google Drive folders etc etc 

4) Put together a timetable for the first week or so of her employment, after which she would become more self-directed. This included inviting Emma to a number of meetings and a couple of teaching sessions, so she could go away with a more rounded impression of what life in an academic library, and particular in the Academic Liaison Team, was like. We wanted it to be as rewarding and CV-enhancing as possible for her, as well as focusing on our project.

All of this took AGES. Any work you can put in beforehand is worth it though, otherwise it quickly takes up most of your job generating work and things to do for the intern. (This is something I've heard echoed across other sectors too.) 

Feel free to re-purpose the reading list or the aims document if they help at your own organisation. 

Planning the project

As mentioned part of the aim was to build a UX toolkit - a suite of information and resources to call upon for future projects. As such as we decided Emma would use, as far as possible, all four of the interactive ethnographic techniques we'd learned (cognitive mapping, unstructured interviews, touchtone tours, love/break-up letters) with each participant, as well as doing behavioural mapping. My explanations of how to do these are in the 'Aims of the Internship' document, or see Emma's own post her description of each of these

This meant that a) Emma could start on the behavioural mapping and general observation while we recruited participants, and b) we'd need at least an hour of each participant's time. This would in turn mean a large amount of time spend interpreting and analysing the results; as a rule of thumb UX work takes 4 hours of analysis and reporting for every 1 hour of ethnographic fieldwork - a 4:1 ratio. 

The UX Team (the five conference attendees) met to discuss what sort of thing we should focus on in the project - I found this tricky because you want to provide a framework and guidance for an intern, but also part of the spirit of UX is to let the data tell you the story and not to go in with preconceptions to, or even seeking specific answers to questions. In the end we settled on using the project to better understand Postgraduate students simply because, during the summer holidays as this was, there were many more of them around. There were various things we hoped to learn - or various aspects we hoped to learn about - but we didn't put these into the project documentation or ask Emma to focus on them (or even tell her about them); we wanted the process to be as neutral as possible. 

We agreed that the five of us would meet during Emma's 6 weeks with us to discuss progress, look at the results, steer the further direction and so on.

During the project

Once Emma arrived and worked her way through the reading list, we started with observation and behavioural mapping. Observation is a great way for an intern to settle in because it's a relatively low pressure environment - it's a break from ingesting huge chunks of written information and a chance to be in your own head-space, and actually DOING ethnography where the stakes are much lower if you're not familiar with it yet. Not being sure about how to label a map of someone's path through the lobby is less intimidating than not being sure how to ask someone to write love-letter to a library service! 

The biggest problem we had was recruitment. We put requests for participants on social media, e.g.

... and we put similar info on a giant whiteboard in the Postgraduate Lounge area. We also approached people face to face and left them with info about the project and Emma's contact details. All in all these approaches yielded just three participants.

So all the Academic Liaison Librarians emailed their PostGrad cohorts via Departmental administrators: this was much more successful and yielded lots of emails to Emma, most of whom went on to book appointments with her. 23 people in total were recruited this way. The students were a mixture of PGTs and PGRs, from a variety of Departments and a variety of nationalities. 

As it happened this project would conform to the 4:1 analysis to field work ratio almost EXACTLY: Emma was with us for 125 hours in total, and engaged with 26 participants in that time for around an hour each, spending the other 99 hours doing everything else: analysing, interpreting, transcribing, and writing up (and getting to grips with UX in the first place). It must be said that Emma was an incredibly proficient transcriber, having done this kind of work before: for mere mortals (me, for instance) the 4:1 ratio would not be remotely possible with transcription included, and in fact transcription itself often comes with a 4:1 ratio of its own, before you even get as far as analysis.

In general we consider ourselves incredibly lucky to have got Emma as our first ever UX intern: she was extremely bright and showed a great deal of initiative and confidence, as well as working extremely hard. She produced a brilliant report detailing her experiences across the 26 participants, with the findings clustered around the areas of: study space, noise levels, the catalogue, the library building, and facilities. We learned more about those 26 students than we'd ever learned about any students before.

Working with an intern is a brilliant way to free up enough time to actually start the process of UX and ethnography, although it still takes existing staff time to manage the project.

Michelle Blake, Head of Relationship Management at York, will write a later post about the findings of this and our second PG UX project in more detail.