Building a customer centred space – using observation to inform library design

Rachel Van Riel from Opening the Book gave a thoroughly inspiring talk about observing library users and how to adjust your library to suit your user’s needs. This is something that I was particularly interested in from a work point of view as I am responsible for a special collection for our trainee teachers and I’m not sure how it is currently used but feel it could be better utilised if it was laid out differently.

Rachel spoke about how libraries can learn a lot from retail and recommended Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy: the Science of Shopping (which I’ve added to my wishlist!) as well as the TV programmes Mary, Queen of Shops and I’m Running Sainsbury’s. Rachel referred to some of the interesting findings of Underhill, including the fact that 2 out of 3 shoppers want no assistance, and 50% of those who touch an item buy it. Obviously libraries are slightly different to shops, but many of the principles are transferable to libraries.

Rachel emphasised the importance of observing your library users, as we often have assumptions which may not be correct. Much of Rachel’s research so far has been with public libraries, but she has also observed in academic libraries with surprising findings. Some examples of her research include:

  • Leaflets in an entrance area which were observed by security from 9am until 7pm. 1726 visitors entered the area; only 15 looked at the leaflets and no one took a leaflet. The institution re-considered the placement of the leaflets. Rachel’s advice is to try different places and observe – how many look, how many take – get evidence to help your decisions.
  • Time of visit – could be observed by head counts or using the counters at entrance/exit. Evidence shows that libraries tend to be busiest around lunchtime, although this may well vary at different times of year and on different days, particularly in academic libraries (e.g. if there is a key lecture at a certain time). This information could be used to aid decisions with staffing and where priorities should be at different imes of the day – e.g. shelving, staffing circulation desk, roving enquiries etc.
  • Observing age of visitors at a public library service, estimated by front line staff. The library service concerned thought most of their visitors were over 70, but in actual fact there was a wide range across all different age groups, with the most common age group 30-40. This helped shape the future direction of their service. Could also be used to look at gender differences or different demographic at different times.
  • Length of time of visit, either by asking people on their exit (although perception may not be accurate) or by issuing slips of paper on entrance to be collected at exit. At a UK academic library, they found that the most visits range from 6 to 20 minutes; taking into account that many visits will have been well over this, there must also have been a lot of very short visits. In this case, the institution needed to make sure the needs of those who visit for only a short amount of time are met.
  • Flow from main entrance – where do people go? A study in the academic library showed that the majority of people either went to the main circulation desk (near the entrance) or to the area on the ground floor with journals, book stock and study tables. Very few people visited the enquiries desk or IT desk, demonstrating that staff time may be better utilised by roving in areas of high traffic to assist users at their point of need. A more detailed study looked at how many users were using stock from the library – often difficult to measure if it is not borrowed. Interestingly, they found that the shelves had as much traffic as the IT area which surprised staff.
  • Browsing – how do people browse the shelves? Do they suffer from the uncomfortable “browser’s neck”?! Important to make material easy to browse for those not looking for a particular item – use forward facing feature fillers and locate pertinent material at eye level if possible.

Whatever observation you undertake, it is important to have an easy to complete observation chart and ensure all staff observe in the same way.

The talk really highlighted the importance of observation and how such a simple thing can add so much more understanding about your service than just listening to those who volunteer feedback, as this is such a small proportion of your users. Certainly food for thought, and also encouraged me to buy Rachel’s book, The Reader-Friendly Library Service, which is primarily written for public libraries but has a lot which is also applicable to academic libraries. I felt really inspired after Rachel’s talk and hope to suggest some of the observation ideas in my own workplace.

The development of Library 2.0 and the use of Web 2.0 technologies in FE library services

Andrew Eynon, Library Resource Manager at Coleg Llandrillo Cymru, shared the work he has been doing with Web 2.0 and Library 2.0 technologies in FE. I subscribe to Andrew’s blog and follow him on Twitter, so it was good to meet him in person to see the work he has been doing in FE. He even mentioned my blog in his presentation too (thanks Andrew if you’re reading!) but I forgot to give him one of my lovely new Joeyanne Libraryanne cards.

Andrew started the presentation by asking is to discuss in groups the concept of Web 2.0, Library 2.0 and if they are the same thing or fundamentally the same. My group decided that Web 2.0 = user-generated, interactive, read write web; Library 2.0 = use of Web 2.0 in library context. Andrew added his thoughts that Library 2.0 is about the outcomes and processes rather than the tools and technologies.

The project he was involved in aimed to employ a Web 2.0 librarian to support library and teaching staff, discover how Web 2.0 is currently being used, look at the development of Library 2.0 in FE, and develop an online tutorial on Web 2.0 technologies (see presentation for full list of project aims). They also aimed to used these technologies as part of the project (e.g. using a blog to document the project progress).

The main outcomes of the project included a number of useful resources collecting current use of Web .20/Library 2.0, such as the FE Library 2.0 wiki, Library 2.0 in Wales wiki, the Library Web Quest (a staff training tool adapted from the Learning 2.0 programme) and the LibeRaCe blog for Coleg Llandrillo Cymru. Andrew spoke about the different uses of the LibeRaCe blog including lirary news, current awareness, marketing, suggestions, book requests, reference enquiries and a discussion forum. They currently get around 1000 hits per month on the LibeRaCe blog which is great to hear.

It was nice to see so many at the talk discussing the use of Library 2.0; some who are yet to try anything but eager to find out more, others who are experimenting with numerous different uses. 🙂