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Improving your Library’s UX: Go On a Service Safari

by on August 30, 2016

With this post we continue the series of articles that aims to demystify the concepts of user experience, design thinking, and human-centered design for public librarians. 

The first step in improving your space is understanding what you already have. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, and enlisting the help of someone who isn’t a regular library user for a “secret shopper”-style visit will provide some great information. A secret shopper is someone who comes into the library posing as a patron with the aim of evaluating the service—either something very specific or the library experience in general. They make extensive notes after the visit and report back to the management (or whoever commissioned the visit). This is a technique used extensively in business—retail and restaurants in particular.

Let’s say you want to understand how patrons navigate the library, how people find a particular item on the shelf, or why they don’t understand how to print a document or sign into your wireless system. Think of a specific goal or task that a library patron may want to complete. Ask a colleague, friend, or relative who isn’t familiar with the library to come in and attempt to do that thing. Find the bathroom, or locate a particular book. Ask them to think about and document every decision point and misstep in the process. This will require them to slow down and pay attention to their process. They should also make note of any interactions they have with staff or other library users.

If you can’t find a non-user to do this, try it yourself with a “beginner’s mind” point of view. Pretend you don’t know the building and the library’s organization inside and out. Think about what it would be like to attempt the task if you don’t speak English well, for example, or you haven’t been in a library since you were in grade school.

You will likely see some things that can be improved immediately, like signage or furniture placement. You might decide to move the copier to a different spot or simplify the signs. Library jargon is a particular problem—many users don’t understand the difference between “circulation” and “reference” or what a proprietary database is.

Going on a service safari is fun if you approach it as the first step in a long process. You can divide your ideas into categories by ease of implementation or cost. Be sure to solicit the opinions of your staff (and some patrons as well, if appropriate) before you make major changes. This will create support for your process.

Next month: Design Thinking and How it Shakes Things Up.

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Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to your Library (ALA Editions, 2014) by Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches

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