A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Dispatches from PLA 2014 — Crafting Excellence: Using Research to Build the Best User Experience

by on March 24, 2014

Libraries of every size can evaluate their online user experience and their physical spaces. At the above-titled program, during the PLA 2014 conference, Aaron Schmidt, Denise M. Davis, and Jill Porter described how they assess libraries and the challenges and outcomes of their User Experience (UX) testing. Challenges in UX testing include overseeing staff expectations and managing user needs. Overall, libraries big and small can test their user experience. According to Schmidt, “You do not have to have a big budget, but a change in attitude.”

Schmidt, Principal of Influx Library User Experience Consulting explained that UX testing is necessity to identify physical and digital touch points. UX testing is not just for tech fixing, but can also be used to improve customer service. Per Schmidt, here’s what can you do to improve your user experience:
• User Research: Observe library users and record behavior attributes in the library space. Conduct user interviews and ask people about their lives to learn about the community. Schmidt recommended twelve interviews in each user group. If repeated needs and behavior are recorded, then that will lead to the creation of new programs.
• Usability Testing: Observe how users navigate the library website.
• UX Audit: Assess your library and identify what is good and bad. Have neighboring libraries analyze your library.
• Create an UX team to form a unified vision of your library, set goals, and lists the changes required to realize that vision.

Jill Porter is Assistant Director for Public Service at the Traverse Area District Library in Traverse City, Michigan. Traverse City is a summer town with a large elderly population. The library has a $4.7 million budget, with 86 public computers, and 757,440 annual visitors. Porter recently encountered an increase in demand in services and lower revenues, changing patron expectations and difficulties reaching the younger population, and therefore conducted UX testing for three years. The library’s UX testing revealed the following:

UX 2010: High visibility problems
• No Self-Check Out and long lines at the circulation desk.
• The catalog was difficult to search, holds not widely utilized and patrons were unable to participate in statewide lending.

UX 2013: Backroom Information
• Collection data: collection HQ software allows libraries to see what items are circulating in other libraries and creates auto-generated reports.
• Impact Survey: Observed shift in public computer usage. Porter provided laptops to give younger patrons more mobility. Whereas, the elderly patrons preferred desktop computers.

UX 2014: Looking Out
• Forming partnerships with the local community college, genealogy society, and local government.
• Patron observations and discussion. Where are patrons getting stuck? Observe patrons by exchanging staff between library branches to observe different spaces.

Denise M. Davis, Deputy Library Director, of the Sacramento Public Library in California also discussed her library’s UX testing. The Sacramento Public Library System is a rural community with 28 branches, a book mobile, 280 staff, and 870 PCs. It is a diverse community with a large elderly population. The library determined hoped to answer the following questions with their UX testing:

Are we providing the best user experience possible with the resources available? Can we establish minimum staffing levels by locations? Are there patterns? Can we predict capacity?

The library also:

• Utilized existing assessment tools, observation and self-reporting. For example, staff observed patrons in each branch and placed signs, “Pardon our Staring” around the library. Through observation, Davis noticed library users did not want to sit together, so she replaced couches with individual chairs. Davis also noticed that library staff was apprehensive about UX testing and asked many questions about recording their observation of patrons.
• Recorded demographic data for each circulation branch, the check in and out by hour, and location data by zip code of patrons.