by Louise Dahlberg
At Umeå University Library located in northern Sweden, a team working in library facilities has conducted several User Experience (UX) studies to understand user behaviour and needs. The findings provided useful data and showed that many students use the spaces for lengthy time periods and that the furniture provided did not meet their needs. The results demonstrated that rethinking space planning at the Library was required. The solution was perceived to be the provision of ergonomic work stations which would improve the work environment and function as a relaxing setting for the user to unwind. The desired goal was furniture to be used for studying that would not impact negatively on the body. The end result would be workspaces that were creative, fun, useful, comfortable and productive and part of general health awareness thinking in relation to ergonomics.
Learning from User Behaviour: Guerrilla Research
The team at Umeå University Library made observations and undertook guerrilla interviews which are easy and efficient. Guerrilla interviewing involves asking interviewees on the spot if they might be able to respond to a few questions. It is an inexpensive way of gaining reliable insights into user behaviour. Impromptu but rigorously planned questions seek immediate feedback into use of a specific library area or service. Best of all, it does not require extensive work in market segmentation or sampling because people are chosen randomly on the spot. Graffiti walls were also used to record the feedback from users. It is a simple and low-cost method consuming minimal resources. A query can be placed on a big flip board located in the targeted library space on which feedback is sought. Users can answer highlighted questions.
Think Like a Patron
Another way of noting users’ actions and engagement with services and the library environment is to observe people and surroundings from a patron perspective, that is, think or act like a patron. Questions on areas to be observed are developed. The observer blends in with the environment, absorbs the setting and discovers the library’s strengths and flaws. At Umeå University Library, observers sat in quiet areas at the library for about twenty minutes at a time and wrote down their observations. Some of the questions considered were:
Is there an electricity outlet nearby? Everyone knows that this is the most important part of choosing a study space, right?
Is the room actually quiet?
Does the lighting work for me?
Can I easily find the bathroom or see other signs where I am sitting?
How effective is the ventilation?
Does the space feel safe?
Are there any staff about?
There are many interesting questions that could be asked, and it is important to focus on the outcomes from the beginning so that the resulting data can be easily handled. Is the ambience the major area of investigation? Or wayfinding and signage?
What do Library Users Really Do?
Evidence-based practice has become very important in libraries and monitoring user behaviour through qualitative and quantitative research is vital to developing ideas for service improvement. The Track the Traffic (TTT) method where traffic in the library is monitored and activity measured is an extremely useful approach. Questions are devised:
Where are users sitting?
How do users move and interact with spaces and library staff?
How often do users seek assistance and which library services are they using?
Using the TTT method, it was observed that many students regularly visit the silent reading rooms during the day but seemed to abandon them at night, moving closer to the main information desk which is located near the entrance and staffed during all opening hours. This was an interesting observation to consider when thinking about the environment. Such observations must be followed up with interviews or other survey methods to help determine the reasons for users’ choices and to investigate why users were moving closer to the circulation desk during the evenings. The TTT method was a great way to start gathering information. It is easy to think one knows how library users behave but watching what they do often provides surprisingly new and unexpected insights.
During another session watching what students were doing, a student placed a chair on a desk and then his laptop on the chair. Placing one piece of furniture on another was an interesting and puzzling choice. When questioned about his behaviour, the student explained that he was seeking to produce a situation where he could stand and work with his laptop as no adjustable desks were provided. The observation was a revelation to library staff and led to the realization that many students today think more about how they work in regard to their health. They do not wish to sit and work all day in the same position but want to adopt varied stances while working, standing or sitting, throughout the day. The Library realized that additional ergonomic work stations for users must be incorporated into the space.
Active Sitting in the Library
Careful examination of the data from the various studies of user experiences revealed that many students were sitting in the Library for more than eight hours a day and some for over ten hours. It is important to have appropriate furniture and settings for extended hours of work. More and more students wrote comments on the graffiti walls and mentioned in the guerrilla interviews that they would like adjustable desks in the library where they could modify desks for standing up to work, and then lowering them when they felt like sitting for a while.
Understanding these needs led to moving beyond adjustable desks to the concept of active sitting and ergonomic thinking. New purchases were made including adjustable desks; ergonomic standing plates; exercise balls; balance plates; office bikes; and new lounge chairs and plants to provide an inviting relaxing space.
Much has changed in thinking about standing versus sitting for long hours of the day and new approaches must be applied to students’ work and wellbeing. Students often have hectic schedules with intense, focused work in particular time periods. It is important to encourage everyone to be flexible in the positions they choose for studying and working and to help people choose active and fun ways of sitting and/or standing.
After the ergonomic work stations were introduced, a small evaluation was undertaken to gain feedback from users. Flip boards were placed next to the ergonomic bikes and exercise balls. Very positive responses were recorded. Some comments were that the users wanted more and differently-sized ergonomic devices. Users applauded the changes in the study environment. Some comments indicated that while students did not use the ergonomic plates, desks or bikes themselves, they were glad that others could use them. Some users also took the liberty to point out that they wanted longer opening hours and that the library needed a better ventilation system.
By using varied methods to observe user experiences, the Library secured the feedback needed to appreciate the library space’s imperfections and to obtain the basis for focusing on creative and inspiring improvements.
Louise Dahlberg is a librarian at Umeå University Library and works in the department of Customer Services. Louise is currently a member of the Standing Committee of the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section. She has also been a Board member of the Västerbotten province regional section of the Swedish Library Association. email@example.com
 Rezende, Maria (2017) Guerilla research: quick, not dirty http://www.foolproof.co.uk/thinking/the-hidden-value-of-guerrilla-research/ Accessed 3 July 2018
 Høivik, Tord. “Tracking the traffic in modern libraries”. Journal of Library Administration, 54:6, 529-541, DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2014.953396