Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Initial findings of our UX interview project

The aim of this survey was to further understand the work, study habits and preferences of our students and where we (as their College library) fit in within this.  As a typical student’s work day does not necessarily revolve around the library, we wanted to look at where they might choose to work – whether in the library or elsewhere - and why, but also what might hinder their study.  Our intention was to investigate behaviours to see how we could further support our users.  

We interviewed 32 students in total.  We had a broad coverage of the entire student population:
1st year UG
2nd year UG
3rd year UG
Total subject
Modern Languages
History of Art
Anglo Saxon Norse & Celtic
Human Social & Political Sciences
Development Studies
Earth Sciences
26 UG
6 PG

Out of the total student population we interviewed approximately 8% of the undergraduates and 3% of the postgraduates.  The postgraduate number is low, but they don’t tend to stay in college during the day – they work more in their departments.  This is also true of many undergraduates, especially science and medical students.  If we were to carry out surveys in the future, we need to schedule some sessions after dinner when these students have returned from departments and lab sessions.

The main themes coming out of the responses were:
  • A sense of apathy in not reporting problems
  • Lack of awareness of what library resources there are
  • A marked difference of requirements and preferences between different subject areas
This was perhaps the most striking and unexpected finding from our survey.  As we were asking about study spaces in general, this also included their accommodation, IT services, other libraries in Cambridge and public spaces.  What came out strongly was that the students were reluctant to complain about the problems they faced.  They either didn’t know they could or how to report things, got used to it or tried to fix the problems themselves. 

Students seemed more comfortable reporting library problems to library staff as we’re a visible presence within the library.  A couple of students did, however, touch on past experiences, tainting their willingness to approach a member of library staff if they needed some advice or were having problems.  These comments reflected what Bethany Sherwood had written back in February 2017 in her funny but very insightful blog about library (and other) anxiety: “To boldly go: empathy, library anxiety and & comfort thresholds” ('s very easy to forget that our own library functions seem obvious to us, but they are not obvious to a nervous 18 year old who is already coping with settling into a new city, and new life.  We need to provide the firm-but-kind advice so next time they will comfortably know how to carry out these actions independently and feel more confident using the library.

Lack of awareness of library resources available
Some students had decided to work elsewhere as they were unaware of the resources which could help them or make their environment more comfortable.  One student said she used to bring her own cushion to the library as she thought all the cushions already there belonged to other people, she didn’t know the library provided them.  Many commented that the library might not have the books relevant to their subject or enough copies, they were unaware or confused about what they could request to be purchased for the library.  Another student found it worrying coming down the stairs from the third floor but didn’t know we offered a fetching service.  We therefore need to consider how we promote these services to students and how we improve their awareness of what’s available.

Subject preferences and requirements
Being a college library, we support students from across all disciplines and requirements across subject areas naturally differ.  We noticed a marked difference of preferences and tastes between the subjects.  When asked what their favourite working space was, our library and libraries across Cambridge were chosen by many, and this was across all disciplines. 

We were interested in how the different disciplines used the library spaces.   The maths and law students relied heavily on electronic resources.  Development studies, economics and engineering students were the only ones who commented that, although they made good use of the library space, they didn’t use it much for the books.  ASNAC, law, English, history, classics, economics (i.e. social science and languages) students said they use the libraries book collection ‘heavily’, often choosing which library to work in depending on which had the more books available to their subject.  When asked about what they felt were the pros and cons of our (Murray Edwards College) library, the social sciences, languages, arts and humanities seemed to value ambiance and comfort (mentioning lighting, coloured cushions, DVDs, ‘jolly library’, nail art, radiators under tables, temperature being good, architecture, decoration, sofa area and the variety of table types to choose from).  On the other hand, the STEM subjects valued that it was a ‘useful’ space, the light in the IT suite, although it was mentioned various times by these subjects that it was a relaxing library.  All subjects valued the tea and coffee provided in the library, good lighting and the bookrests. 

When asked what they would suggest to improve our library space, again there seemed to be quite a marked difference between the two areas: the languages, arts and social sciences valuing comfort in the library (suggesting blankets, more cushions, lamps for the sofa area, more art); the STEM subjects requested specific software, less noise, whiteboards.  All suggested that the lighting be improved and a group study area added. 

We feel that as our sample survey was quite small we wish to see whether these patterns recur when we continue our surveys in the new academic year.

Positive outcomes
From a library point of view it was lovely to see that we are doing well as most comments were very positive. Students seem to genuinely enjoy spending time in our library, finding the environment comfortable, calming, “jolly”,  fun.  The surrounding gardens, with the water fountain, and the architecture of the library, create a space which is appreciated by many. 

Another good thing which came out of interviewing the students was the ability to alleviate problems and give advice about services at the time.

Moving forward….
We plan to liaise with the student committees in relation to the promotion and marketing of our services. As we no longer have a library committee we rely on social media and email to make students aware of what we offer but this could do with being backed up by the student reps themselves as most of our students check the JCR and MCR webpages. We need to consider whether we can establish a library working group from the student body or perhaps use focus groups to target specific issues.  Having said that we are lucky that our students when touring prospective students, do mention the library facilities and activities.

We need to keep an open dialogue with the students through existing pastoral activities, such as tea and coffee and our Easter Term new craft hour.

Kirstie Preest @kirstiewales and Samantha Percival @Samaanth70

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Just craftin' around......pastoral support

We place a great deal of emphasis on pastoral support at our library, especially during Easter (exam) term.  This is because we're considered to be part of the support team watching for students struggling with the extra pressure during this time.  We therefore try to encourage the students to take breaks and relax.

Over the years, I've therefore implemented lots of things, such as tea and coffee, the nail bar, colouring books and this year a craft hour, "Just Craftin' Around".

Cross stitch with Kirstie

Agnieszka our library assistant had originally wondered about doing crochet during our usual tea and coffee break during Easter Term, but I thought it might be interesting to see how a whole series of craft activities went down.  

Discussions took place between the library staff and we each thought we could take a different activity between us: Agnieszka - crochet, Sam - blind contour drawing and cross stitch for myself. I thought that we would also include our gardening team as they enjoy offering things to the students, so they came on board with flower arranging.  I also knew that our tutorial office manager did sugar craft after the recent college "Bake Off", and asked if she'd be involved as well.  Finally during a conversation over lunch in the Dome with the development office staff, I managed to convince them to join in with crafts they were good at which meant we could cover the whole eight week term.

The craft hour activities were put together on a shoe string.  I put in 
Pom pom making
a small budget for Easter term activities every year, so the cost of the required items came out of the library budget.  However, this was supplemented by some of our own stuff, for example, Agnieszka bought in some beads from home and the cross stitch stuff for my hour was mine.  Sam and I also collected jam jars over a few weeks for the flower arranging but I did buy some small ones. 

Crochet with Agnieszka
We’ve had between 2 and 6 students each time, which I think is pretty good for the first year, especially as we weren't sure whether the students would be interested.  I first booked a room next to the library, but found that the students had a mental barrier about leaving the library for a break.  So after two weeks I moved it to the library office where they have tea and coffee.   I also found that even once it was located in the library office with the tea and coffee students still had to be encouraged to take the first step and join in. I found it helped if we started doing the crafts which in turn made the students curious to ask about them.  Some felt they couldn't spend any more time away from study, where as others thought they could as it was only once a week.  However these tended to be second years who hadn't given themselves breaks last year and had come to realise their importance.

MCR craft hour

One of the postgraduate students who came along mentioned they were thinking of putting something on for the MCR (Postgraduate students union). So I offered to take some stuff over and show them the blind contour drawing, crochet and cross stitch.  13 students turned up and along with scones and tea we had a lovely afternoon. It also gave me a chance to get to know more of the postgraduates. As our library's book stock is mainly for undergraduates, we don't see a lot of the postgraduates the as they prefer to use their departmental libraries. I  loved the fact that we were able to offer them a library service. 

It’s been enjoyable to do, for us as well as the students.   We’ve had positive comments about it from those who have joined in, one student was overheard saying "I’m not revising for my exams anymore … I have to finish this.” Throughout the term we've created a gallery of all the crafts using some boards and drawing pins to put up the pictures and photos in the library. 

Sugar Craft with Beverley
Next year, I need to promote it wider than the library and put posters up around the college.  I also want to liaise more with the undergraduate and postgraduate reps and get them tweeting and facebooking the event.  Whilst I had initially liaised with them and told them our plans, I don't think I asked them to assist in promotion and making students aware of its existence.

However, from small beginnings come great things.  As with tea & coffee and the nail bar, I'm sure it'll become part of the library fabric and be spoken about during open day tours by our students.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

UXLibs - Love your Library: The Results

Finally here is the results from our first foray into the world of UX and user experience, which unfortunately appears later in this blog than our second UX project - the survey.

The library staff undertook a UX project in Lent term 2015 which was very successful as we had more responses than we expected - 92!  The students gave some excellent feedback about the library and IT services we offer.

Lego Library heaters made at Andy Priestners Lego workshop

The students identified the following things that the library does well:
·         Tea & coffee breaks, especially during Easter term
·         Our Book stock
·         The dvd collection
·         The under table heaters
·         Comfy sofa
·         Booksale of previous editions
·         Cleanliness
·         Welcoming and friendly library staff

Students commented that the library felt like a ‘home away from home’,

The following measures were implemented as a result of the study:

Issues raised
No book rests
20 book rests purchased, now heavily used
Uncomfortable chairs
20 cushions purchased, now heavily used
No access directly into IT Resource Centre
IT Resource Centre door now allows student access
Lack of colour
Worked with the Art Curator to introduce more of the New Hall art collection into the library. 

New cushions also provide more colour
Tea break snacks – during exam term
Introduced fresh and dried fruit
Stationary - stapler, hole punch
Purchased for IT Resource Centre
Policing of noise done by library staff and put into May library newsletter, encouraging self-policing by students
Desk lamps not working on the ground floor
Lamps provided, not possible to make repairs until after exam term as the electrics are embedded in the desk casing.
Blinds not working
Blinds checked – students asked to seek help from library staff
Internet explorer not working
Forwarded to IT staff

We're aware that this project only covered students who used the library and doesn’t tap into those who prefer to work elsewhere.  We are currently undertaking a second UX project surveying students in the Dome at lunch, to find out more about their favourite places to work, as well at discussing library use.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Uxlibs Project - The Survey

Following on from our first UXLibs project in Lent 2016 - "Love your Library", we thought we would try and gain some further insight to our students study patterns during autumn 2016.  Having seen how other Cambridge libraries had successfully used interviewing techniques, we thought we would give it go and devised a list of questions.

I was keen to ensure that the survey questions weren't initially about the library and were more based on where our students liked to work, what they liked about that particular space, what work they did there and what would improve the space for them.  We then went on to ask questions about the library and whether they used it & why and if not, why?  We also wanted to find out information about the students use of resources, and therefore didn't specifically refer to any particular one, such as library catalogue, ejournals, books, etc, as we wanted to see what they would say.  We were also interested in how they found retrieving the resources, whether in print or online. Finally as the college IT Suite is attached the library we also included questions on their use of the IT Suite and technology, did they used the IT Suite, what for and how long did they stay in the room; where did they do their printing did they use the college wifi and did they use social media?

Sam, @Samaanth70, (my Assistant Librarian) and I decided to do the questioning in pairs to start to see how it went, with the understanding that we would then split up on other days.  However after our first day's surveys we both thought that having someone else to scribe was extremely useful. It meant that the person interviewing could be more engaged with the participants, actively listening, responding to points and asking further probing questions, rather than writing down answers.  The interviews were therefore very fluid, and allowed the interviewer to change the focus of the questions or jump a few questions if the responses related to another issue we wanted to discuss later on.

Image result for groups
Taken from the EBTA website
We had also anticipated that we would interview people individually, however in practice most students sit in the Dome (our cafeteria) in groups.  We therefore decided to interview the students in their groups of 3 or 4.  We found this worked very well, it meant that the students encouraged each other to answer the questions and it demonstrated quickly the very different working patterns between different subjects and individuals.  It became apparent during the transcribing afterwards that we needed to remember which students gave what answer.  This wasn't too bad today as we typed up the responses the same day.  However if we don't have time to do that straight away in future we need to give students numbers and number the responses in relation to whose talking.

For me the most interesting findings from our first day were that students don't tend to report the problems they face and assume that it's stuff they have to put up with!  ie. slow computers in the IT Suite, heaters not working in rooms.  Fortunately this seemed more prevalent for students working in their own rooms rather than our library.  Students told us they did come and ask library staff for help, presumably because we are on hand and hopefully approachable.

An unsurprising point that came out is that students were conditioned by previous interactions with people and library staff in particular.  A previous bad experience, still resides when using a new library, for example, scared of coming in when they had overdue books.
Image result for overdue books
Taken from The Cotton Ball Conspiracy Word Press Site (22.04.2014)

Another common element was the minimal use of the IT Suite.  All the students, except one said they only logged onto  the managed cluster machines to print.  This meant they were only in the Room for 5 minutes each time.  One student said that if printing could be sent from her laptop to the library printer that would be better.  This evidence coincidences with the data usage of the room obtained from the IT Manager.  The one student, who said they would use the IT Suite didn't, as the machines were too slow and it was easier to use her laptop.

Lego heater model produced at Lego Workshop in Cambridge
We found the surroundings were very important for different individuals wherever they preferred to work, although they had common elements such as warmth and light. Some students commented they could control the heating in their rooms, where as another had the under desk heaters on in the library. Our under desk heaters also came to light at Andy Priestner's Lego Workshop, as one student there said it was their favourite thing about our library. Another commented that students moved within the library at night, as it was warmer in the basement.  3 students loved the light, bright space of the library and found it helped them study during the day, although they also made comments about the desk lighting at night being too low and not throwing enough light upwards.  As this is an original feature I'm not sure how we'll be able to resolve this.

Another common aspect which mirrored the findings of the UL Futurelib project was that students don't like sitting next to each other and prefer to have the desk to themselves.  Space wise this does pose a problem as most of our seating is a desk surrounded by four seats.

We could see there was a definite divide between the arts & humanities and the science & technology students. The arts and humanities students we surveyed today mainly used the library to work, unless they wanted to type up an essay, whereas the science students preferred working in their rooms, where they had their notes and didn't use the library that much as they didn't tend to borrow books.

One comment which was lovely to hear was that Wednesday tea and coffee was "a big draw" for working in the library.  Another commented that they came to tea and coffee for the break even if they were working in their room.

After such an interesting day speaking to our students, I'm excited to see what else comes to light as our project progresses this month.