UX-rated

x-rated stamp

Don’t worry, this article is not X-rated; it’s UX-rated, which means it is most definitely safe for work…

I think we all know what X-rated means, without the need for a picture to explain it. However, what about this UX thing? Simply put, UX stands for User Experience, which is a method of learning about how users experience library services and spaces, through gathering qualitative and quantitative data. This might sound terribly academic and technical, but it really doesn’t have to be.

I was first introduced to various UX methods when I attended a training course at work last year, presented by Andy Priestner (I have previously mentioned him here). He demonstrated the different UX methods, explained how they can be applied to libraries, and how they are closely related to anthropology.

As I have said in a previous post, the academic library that I currently work in is undergoing a period of great change; half the campus is moving this summer to a different part of the university, and our library is shrinking and being reconfigured as a result. The library team thought that this would be a great opportunity to use some UX methods, to try to find out what the library users (i.e. the university students) would like our reconfigured library to look like.

The UX method we decided to try was the graffiti wall; no, this does not involve cans of spray paint (although that could be fun, just as long as the books didn’t get painted), but it does feature asking students to write on walls. We covered a notice board in plain white paper, left some marker pens next to it,  stuck a question on the board: What do you like or dislike about the library? and sat back and waited for students to cover the paper with their insightful comments and ideas. We waited quite a long time (two weeks) and didn’t get many comments at all. What were we doing wrong?

Firstly, the question wasn’t very good; we were trying to ask for two different responses to the same question, which was confusing. Secondly, the graffiti wall was a new concept in our library, so maybe students were just not used to the idea of it. Thirdly, we had set up the graffiti wall in a relatively quiet area of the library, close to where students study, so maybe not many students were seeing it, or perhaps they felt too self-conscious to be seen writing comments on the wall.

Despite the poor response, we did not give up. We came up with a better question; Where do you like to study?, and in addition to the graffiti wall, we also set up a graffiti table in a different part of the library. A graffiti table is incredibly easy to create; you just need some blank paper, a pen or two, and some tape. I taped two sheets of A3 paper onto a table, stuck the question on it, and left two pens next to it. We set up the table in a social learning zone, which is in a separate room, away from the main part of the library. This time we received lots of comments from students; again, the interaction with the wall was minimal, but the graffiti table was a great success.

Within the last month we tried the graffiti table idea again, this time specifically seeking student comments that could help with the redesign of our library. We set up four graffiti tables, in four areas of the library: silent study, the library entrance, the social learning zone, and in a general study area. We posed two questions in relation to the forthcoming changes: What aspects of the library would you like to keep? and, separately, What would you like to be improved? This approach successfully yielded lots of comments, which I subsequently collated into a table, to better interpret the results. These results were then shared with the relevant department at the university, to hopefully inform any decisions that will be made about what our reconfigured library might look like.

A graffiti wall (or in our case, graffiti table) is just one of many UX methods you could try, with minimal effort and minimal cost, to gain insight into how users experience your library. In other words, get yourself UX-rated!

As always, comments are welcome below.

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