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Library Champions: Improving how we help users in our libraries

by Eve Jamieson on 2022-07-21T10:58:39+01:00 | 0 Comments

As part of a whole host of services Libraries & Collections provides, one of our key goals is to provide a great ‘frontline’ service, which means offering a welcoming and friendly service at the point of need, primarily by providing accessible information, answering questions about our spaces and collections, and signposting Library users onto our in-depth services for additional support. You might see staff who are contributing to the ‘frontline’ service by answering questions at our helpdesks, walking around the libraries to offer help (look out for the purple lanyards!), or you might interact with them online via our live chat service (LibChat). But how do we know if we’re achieving our goal?

The aim of our Library Champions project was to better understand the user’s experience of being in and getting help in the library building, and to explore how we might improve it. 

We were especially interested in how library users feel about making initial contact with staff to ask for help:

  • How do they access help/make first contact?
  • Do users know where/how to access help? Do they have preferences? Why?    
  • Can users find help at the point of need? 
  • Do they feel comfortable approaching staff?
  • Do they feel comfortable using other touch points (e.g. LibAnswers, website)?

Three students volunteered to become Library Champions for this project - Saaniya Anand, Elsa Donnat, and Shokhbozbek Makhmudov.




The Champions took part in three different User Experience (UX) methodologies:

  1. Touchstone Tours: Each Champion gave a staff member a tour of the Maughan Library from their perspective, and their dialogue was recorded. This gave them the opportunity to explain which spaces they preferred, what facilities they used, and what services they engaged with. Staff asked probing or clarifying questions to fully explore their responses.
  2. Focus Group: After the touchstone tours, the Champions came together for a discussion with staff. The focus was on their experience of asking for help in the libraries, and on their use of our online help services LibAnswers (a searchable set of frequently asked questions) and LibChat (where you can speak to a member of staff 24/7). This session was recorded, again with staff prompting to flesh out their responses.
  3. Guerrilla Interviews: Now the Champions became the researchers. They each visited a different library site – Franklin Wilkins, New Hunt’s House, and the Weston Education Centre. Staff performed a brief interview with each Champion about their experiences finding help in the library, so that the Champions could see the guerilla interview method in action. After this, the Champions approached other users to ask similar questions and explore different experiences. 

Insights and Ideas

After this information was gathered, we hosted a 'Thematic Analysis and Ideation' session online. Using a virtual whiteboard, we transferred the data we had collected onto post-its, and then sorted these into themes. 

The insights we learnt included:

  • Library Staff were perceived as friendly and helpful
  • Some students preferred asking for help at the desk, others preferred having staff on hand on other floors
  • Help desks were easily identifiable and in a good spot by the entrances
  • Some students found it hard to identify staff when they are walking around
  • Purpose of roaming staff was unclear and some thought their role was focused on behaviour monitoring (not helping)
  • Many users felt they did not need to approach staff as they did not have questions
  • Little awareness of our online help services LibAnswers and LibChat (and a misconception that we used chat bots instead of Library Staff)
  • Hesitancy/lack of ownership of the library spaces (e.g. ‘are we allowed to use this?’)

Champions and staff then brainstormed some ideas in response to these themes. These included:

  • Increasing promotion of our 24/7 live chat (LibChat) service and emphasising that it is staffed by Library Staff (not chat bots)
  • Webinars/inductions for all users at start of year
  • Making staff easier to recognise with t-shirts or “here to help” badges
  • Making the purple colour more visible across all our help points and staff
  • Bigger/more visible maps and signage
  • Signage with suggested questions for staff to show how they can help you
  • Footprints/lines on floor to guide users to help point/desk

What worked well, what didn’t work so well, and what we learnt

The Library Champions were engaged and offered insightful comments throughout the project, and as researchers, they were able to reflect critically on the methodologies and suggest improvements as we went. For example, from the suggestion of one Library Champion, we refined some of the language we used during guerrilla interviews to be less leading, e.g. “do you feel comfortable asking for help?” was changed to “how do you feel about asking for help?”.

We finished the project by asking Champions and staff involved what they thought worked well, what didn’t work so well and what they would do differently next time. 

The Champions found the guerrilla interviews quick and easy to do. They found that rephrasing and reordering the questions to make them conversational elicited the best results from participants. They found some of the answers were too vague or seemed like participants were being overly polite, and therefore not completely honest in their answers. 

The Champions suggested that if we were to run the project again, we could include some scenario-based questions in the guerrilla interviews to encourage more honest and in-depth answers. They also suggested that an additional method should be used alongside the guerrilla interviews to provide another perspective. We often asked participants questions as they came and went from the library, in sight of the help desk. Therefore, one improvement could be to move to another space, and to try a more welcoming set up, to encourage students to sit down, and take more time to answer questions (perhaps with the offer of refreshments).


Next Steps

This research is part of a wider project to develop the frontline service in Libraries & Collections. The next stage will be to present this data to staff contributing to our frontline services, discuss the findings, and further develop ideas for prototyping and trial. We will be focussing especially on activities during space monitoring (where staff walk around the libraries to offer help), making staff more visible/identifiable, promoting our LibAnswers and LibChat service, and on communication during the induction period for new students. We’ll keep you posted on this blog so that you can see how this work informs improvements. Thanks again to our brilliant Library Champions for making this possible!

Jess Sprake, Library Quality Manager
Eve Jamieson, Service Development Manager
Susanna Davies, Library Frontline Coordinator
Library Champions: Saaniya Anand, Elsa Donnat, and Shokhbozbek Makhmudov

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