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.

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