Erin Dorney

Blogging life & librarianship

Posts Tagged ‘user experience

Student Panel at PaLA Lehigh Valley Chapter

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Last week I got to facilitate a really fun session for the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the Pennsylvania Library Association. For my breakout session I decided to copy a format I had seen Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches use back in November 2011 at the Library Journal Summit in Philadelphia.

We recruited students from four local colleges/universities and basically ran a live focus group, talking openly with them about why they use the library, how they do research, and how they use technology. I’m not going to name names to protect these innocent students who so kindly shared their honest opinions about libraries, but we had representatives from Northampton Community College, Widener University, Penn State, and Muhlenberg University. And guys, they were amazing. Everyone was professional and had great, well-articulated thoughts to share. It was really inspiring to work with them (thank you!!!).

In my introduction I shared a little bit about why I wanted to do a session like this instead of just talking to attendees about academic libraries. We talk a lot about initiating change from within (or outside of) our institutions and change-resistors. “User experience” is also a phrase that has gained traction in recent years. In my position, I’ve found that talking directly with users has provided me with the tools I need to initiate change in my library. I realized when we started our Library Student Advisory Board that when I talked with students about different projects or initiatives, they gave me actual evidence as in “yes this is a good idea” or “no, no one would use it like that” that I was able to leverage to bring about changes in the way things were done and the projects I pursued. I think it’s really important for us to talk to our users, to be open to what they have to say, and most importantly, to make changes accordingly. Sometimes it’s difficult to do this because there are so many things vying for our time but I think it’s critical in terms of designing the future for academic libraries.

I remember walking away inspired and excited from Aaron and Amanda’s session in 2011 and I hope attendees had a similar experience after participating last week. If nothing else, perhaps they learned one new thing about the life of a college student, or left feeling empowered to talk to the users at their own institution. Personally, this was one of the most fun presentations I’ve ever done.

A couple of people wanted to see my list of questions, so you can steal those here (no worries, I borrowed most of them from Aaron and Amanda and added some of my own—you have permission to steal this entire idea!). Mine are at the top—the numbers are the initial questions I started with and the indented letters are follow up questions that I asked on the spot based on student responses. If anyone has questions about how this worked, just leave a comment and I can share more details.

Sending huge thanks out to Aaron and Amanda for sharing their questions and advice for the student panel, to LVPALA for inviting me to present at the workshop, to Courtney Eger for being an excellent speaker contact and helping recruit students, to Tina Hertel and Muhlenberg College for helping recruit students, and of course to the students who volunteered their summer time to participate in what could have been a very uncomfortable experience (I hope it wasn’t too bad!). This was truly a session that couldn’t have happened with just me alone. Collaboration for the win!

I’m planning to do another post about things I thought were intriguing about the student responses but I have to transcribe the audio from the session first… stay tuned!

Written by Erin Dorney

May 28, 2013 at 10:53 AM

On Library Websites

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Quick evals from two different upperclassmen (in the same class) following a library instruction session I did a few weeks ago. Please discuss:

2 student evaluations side by side

  1. “What confuses me is how the university thinks we don’t understand the website – we know how to find everything online, it’s what our generation does.”
  2. “I think the whole library page setup is confusing and difficult to navigate.”
If you really love library websites (gag), the Journal of Web Librarianship is offering free access to my summer 2011 article “A Use of Space: The Unintended Messages of Academic Library Web Sites” as part of their Back to School Reading List.

Written by Erin Dorney

September 20, 2012 at 7:39 AM

On Brainstorming

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My colleague Greg and I recently facilitated a fun and successful brainstorming session at my library. We had everyone watch this video, asking them not to focus on the specific technology being used, but on the possibilities— how the technology impacted the experience of the family depicted. Then we talked about how the new library (including our new building, new website, changing staff and services) is shifting to focus on the overarching experience students have when they encounter “the library” on or off campus. We also talked about how the Millersville library has been soliciting user feedback for years about the renovation— what chairs would students prefer, what kinds of spaces do they need, what technologies should we support? We are moving in that direction with our new website as well, and at the moment are privileging input from our target audience over internal input in order to ensure that our “digital branch” exists primarily for the user, not the library. It’s a shift that has been happening for years (ever since I arrived in 2008), but I don’t know that anyone has ever presented it quite so holistically before.

Then everyone split into groups and did a brainstorming exercise. We had people count off by fours to ensure diverse representation in the groups— we wanted to get the broadest intermixing of the minds: front-line staff with administrators, student employees with librarians, etc. You can adapt/re-purpose our Brainstorming Handout if you’d like. The handout asks participants to consider a few everyday situations: buying and drinking a cup of coffee at Starbucks vs. a local coffee shop; listening to music on Spotify vs. iTunes; shopping for produce at the market vs. a grocery store. Greg and I asked the groups to use markers and big pieces of paper to brainstorm about an experience listed on the handout or another transaction/interaction, considering the following questions:

  1. What did you prefer and why?
  2. What made your experience better at one or the other?
  3. What would make the experience even better?
  4. What do you imagine this experience looking like 5 or 10 years from now?

Everyone started working and Greg & I circulated the room to observe and chime in. Interestingly, all of the groups decided to discuss the experience of grocery shopping. Here are notes from some of the groups (I lost one of the big pieces of paper before getting it typed up):


  • Convenience
  • Social interaction
  • Central Market – Better customer service – local is better
  • Drive-up grocery
  • Co-ops (but land is disappearing)
  • Ordering online
  • Customization
  • Continuing to meet expectations
  • Convenience – Depends on location, more process/services coming to you vs going to it
  • Grocery stores – convenient, open space, variety, cheaper, self checkout/single checkout
  • Market – specialty items, freshness, fun, expect to spend more time
  • 5-10 years from now – Electronic – order from fridge – personal grocery shopper – Multifunction cooking device – Ordering of items based on prior purchase

My purpose with this post isn’t to compare libraries to grocery shopping. But honestly, who can ignore the similarities when you look at the brainstorming results? Many of the things that came up as memorable parts of the experience of shopping have been talked about when discussing the future of libraries. Making services/resources/spaces convenient for the user. Providing an element of social interaction. Good customer service. Locally-focused collections. Electronic access. Customization and personalization. Multifunction devices. Recommendation services. Open spaces. Self-service points. Interesting…

Coming back together in a large group, we did a debriefing where each team talked about their brainstorming for a few minutes. Observations included that what is convenient for one group or person might be inconvenient for another (echoing the differences between target audiences at an academic library – freshmen vs seniors vs commuters). Another interesting point was that much of the discussion revolved around the customer experience (service, convenience) rather than the content (quality of food). Although one team did mention freshness and specialty items, it wasn’t the focus. It’s almost as if content is a given, a certain standard upheld so that consumers can focus on other factors when making their decision of where to shop. I wonder how much transferability this has when considering the library. Should we be staking our name and our futures on content alone? Should we downplay our content to focus more closely on other reasons users would want to choose the library as an integral part of their lives?

I deemed the brainstorming session a success. People didn’t feel threatened. They weren’t being asked to brainstorm about the library specifically, which could unintentionally underscore fears of job/organizational re-visioning. Instead, we deconstructed the everyday experience of grocery shopping. I think it was the first step towards opening a productive line of dialogue for the future of our library. Have you had success with brainstorming at your library? I’d love to learn how to do this better and more frequently!

Image CC BY-NC 2.0 courtesy of ericmay

Written by Erin Dorney

February 28, 2012 at 8:04 AM