Breakout Session B (22) Knowing Your Users: Research You Can Do - Judi Briden, Digital Librarian for Public Services, University of Rochester, NY
- IMLS grant 2003-2004 to study facility work practices - there was an institutional repositories in place (GSpace) but it wasn't being used properly/enough
- Libraries hired an anthropologist - this was a very useful move. After studying staff they began studying (the around 5000) undergraduates as it had been so valuable.
What do students really do when they write research papers was the key question but generally they wanted a better understanding of students and how their library facilities, web pages etc. can work better for them. Plans were originally submitted to the research board and the libraries have been very very careful about protecting data and respecting privacy. Consent forms and the right to leave the study were both used.
- Recently Completed Papers - wanted a concrete example with details
- From receiving the assignment to turning it in (step by step questions through the process)
- Each step illustrated on a poster (students would draw in the step as well as describing it)
- Interviews video recorded and transcribed.
Judi showed an example poster of the processes of writing an assignment. Students did not ever write in a step about talking to librarians though they did include use of the library website/services. Various stages of outline and feedback etc. described and informative for libraries. Some students consulted with teaching staff, some consulted with family (a revelation to the librarians). Students included information about the stage where they got distracted and why, what spaces are better for studying.
Judi showed a senior student's honours paper process poster - a complex poster covering several years. His process much more closely resembled a graduate student.
The next step, after collecting the data, was to look at the data. Research team and librarian staff co-viewed videos, transcripts and drawings in viewings with discussion and brainstorming. The process engendered widespread staff participation and was used at every stage of the project.
What did they learn?
- Work on their papers in chunks, with days or weeks in between
- Asked family and friends for help choosing a topic or editing their papers (one student said her dad had edited all her papers since the 3rd grade!)
- Some students assumed that if they did a Google search it included the library resources (so they didn't go back and look at the library stuff afterwards) - so services must be better but also resources must be on Google!
- Did evaluate resources - just not in the ways that librarians recommend (e.g. find and print out articles but don't read for a few days and then discard some)
- Don't remember who gave their library session
Another technique used were photo surveys - this allows you to investigate environments you would not normally be able to see. When you look at photos with interviewees you learn more than you would be just talking to them. They gave students a disposable camera and a list of photos they should take (the places they study, what they always have with them, how they keep track of time etc.) as well as a few "free" pictures they could use. All images were developed and put on CD and then a session to discuss was scheduled.
Judi showed a students photo (from 2004): mobile phone is present (and almost all students on campus had cell phones). Dorm room pictures were rich in detail that research team would never have thought to ask about otherwise. The things that students take to class photo revealed that no students were taking their laptop to lectures. Once alerted to this the team knew they needed to ask about. An image of a colour coded diary shows the one thing a student couldn't be without. The team found that students were highly and complexly scheduled with work and activities but no days looking the same.
The team also gave students a map of campus and asked students (for one day) to write down where they went and when. It was very very easy to do but very informative and again gave information that was not being given in any other way. Example map Judi shows covers 8am to 12am the next day and covers a complex pattern over the campus covering 2.5 miles (on a fairly compact campus). Students are out all day and take all their stuff around all day. This explains the laptop issue - they didn't want to lug it round all day but would use it when sat in one place for a long time, usually the library at night.
The team also looked at the website design with Design Workshops
- Create a device that did everything that students wanted it to do and yet could still be small and light
- They also had to redesign the library webpage and, in another session, marked up a version of the current library homepage with any changes they would make if they could.
Judi explained that even the warm up session devices was informative in terms of the concerns of students.
The marking up of homepages was very valuable and they repeated this exercise with faculty and graduate students later on.
Another study focused on library space. There was an area they wanted to make into a collaborative work space so students input on what should be there was sought. Trying to get participation was tough. In the end recruited on the day with posters, pizza and small payment for taking part in a design workshop. This walk in workshop asked students to imagine that the library has a big new empty space that they can design to be their space in the library, it's build and you love it... what does it look like?
Students were asked for 20 minutes of their time but many stayed for over an hour and got very into the design process. Many pictures go into lots of details. Comfort, daylight, wifi, bookshelves etc. all important to different students. Quiet but not silent seemed to recur as an idea. Talking all the ideas and analysing them they cover five key areas:
- flexibility to meet variety of needs (need to be able to move things in the space/do several things in same space
- comfort with family room feel and attention to environment (natural light etc)
- technology - computers, printers, scanners, whiteboards, "mini Kinkos" (copy centre machine), chargers (phone and ipod) etc.
- Staff support from checking things to "making a killer latte!"
- resources - books, dvds etc.
Additional student interviews took place in the student union at a time of year when papers were being worked on - student worker at the library (same age as students) recruited participants. Interviews were done by recent anthropology student who'd just graduated. By using young research team the libraries expected to get more honest answers to questions. They asked if students felt they had enough time for papers, if it mattered and who they have asked for help (and they were prompted as to whether they'd asked a librarian), also when had they last worked on their paper and when would they next work on it.
The results showed that most students had used library resources and had been able to find what they wanted. They also felt they had enough time. They didn't feel that organizing and writing (especially narrowing topic) was going as well. Professors and TAs are subject experts (specifically professors) but saw librarians as experts on finding specific books. All students expected to do well or as well as needed (many were prioritizing several papers).
Faculty study had included interviews in offices which had proved valuable. For studying undergrads it seemed important to go to their dorm rooms. It was felt this could be tricky but students were extremely welcoming and open (putting onus on researchers to be responsible with what they do with data). 2 Dorms were studied and the anthropologists went out between 11pm and 1am as other research showed that students worked at that time of night. Only went to rooms where explicit permission and asked students to do what they normally would do (students did this!) as team observed them. What was interesting was students use of technology, particularly use of computer desktops. Judi showed a video of a student using his computer (a mac with lots of items on dashboard - conversion tables, sticky notes - with reminders, quotes etc (mostly not assignments)). Judi said that you can see from this how little physical space was being taken up by assignments (one paper sticky note on monitor) - assignments are not so large in students general sphere of activity as librarians expected. Librarians have a better sense of proportion about discussing papers as a result.
- Lots of distractions - music, video games, people, IMs, Facebook, NOT a lot of reading
- My room is your room culture - sort of communal - people wander in and pop through. Lots of sharing going on
- Freshman much more active vs. Upperclassman dorms (busy but less chaotic) - makes sense but seeing that made librarians realise that the library is a refuge and it's a place where students count on a lack of distractions to get things done when they need to.
What are they doing differently?
- Gleason Library - 24/7 collaborative space - when architect selected they had to incorporate ideas of students, architects willing and excited to do that. Work went on during summer when students not on campus else they would have been included. However members of research team worked with the architects about what students wanted though discomfort about properly consulting students. When it came to final layout students were returning to campus so were asked to place drawings of furniture around as they would like. Consistently the students did 2 unexpected things: the space had a new wall of windows and architects had put comfy chairs there but students wanted natural light for work tables so that actual work rather than relaxation could take place there; demanded quiet study areas not just open space (no doors but divisions to separate noisier from quieter areas. The students love the place. Judi showed images of the room - it's busy and popular all the time, the furniture moves all the time. Judi walks through the area to get to her office and it always changes. There are some frosted glass cubicle areas where the glass walls are whiteboards - they are always being used and prove really really useful. Flipcharts asking about what students thought of the space also asked for even more whiteboards so they are there. Students multitask (image of one knitting and reading!)
- Night owl reference at paper crunch-time - Judi showed a "Whooo's working late" promoting help with assignment papers (at key times in the year) until 11pm several nights a week when students were busiest. Proved useful and it's now been fine tuned and happens every semester around crunch time to accomodate students needs.
- Parents breakfast at orientation - given importance of parents to learning process the library now hosts the orientation breakfast and listen to concerns, talk about process and then they tell parents that every single class has a librarian who knows about that class and about resources for that class - so parents can refer kids back to library later on.
- Experimenting with webpage redesign - will go live in the fall and the new design based on student ideas. Widgets are being used making it customisable and/or rearrangable for specific sessions. This will make pages more attractive but they will also be able to learn from what students choose to include/exclude.
- Changing the way that library sessions are tought - now feel much more comfortable with experimenting with students, one librarian is now a writing instructor, sessions include discussion of what's going on. We understand how confident and competant students feel - pairs of students are given a resource that they can play with and must present to group about what it does, how to search, when you find something you like how do you get it and finally if you find something you like what are two many ways to get it. Librarians add extra info as needed but just facilitate, students lead and share and it works really well.
Long term benefits
- understand how our undergraduates live and work on campus - this 2 and a half year project has been fascinating and really fun. We like and know our students a whole lot better and we are feeling motivated to make the library better for them
- Understand their use of library
- High staff engagement and participation - librarians now have a more personal perspective and communicative with students
- Greater comfort and lower overhead for trying new ideas - major change
- Continuing this type of research
All students and users are different so you need to find out about yours. You don't need an anthropologist. You can do great things with low tech low cost small programmes. Get a small team of interested staff together and build it from there, staff will become interested and it will be fun and find great results!
Q & A
Q: what was the sample size?
A: varied. space designs formed from 19 drawings, 8 students did photo project, 20 students in interview etc.
We've written a book, Studying Students, which is available for free download and have a project website with lots more info:
Q: Are you reviewing this process?
A: All the time. We know students love the library and we are listening to them. It's granular and hard to add up. Over time we're looking for more interaction though and writing and library classes very much following that and much more participative. No metrics yet though.