21.5 Andy Priestner “Space and Place: Insights from Ethnography”

bournemouth sign
We, as librarians, believe we know what our students need.  But we bring our own preconceptions when creating the library environment and delivering the library service.  We are not students, cannot know what students want and are condemning ourselves to not satisfying them.  Our interactions are too helpful, needy and verbose.  And our efforts to discover students’ needs are overly reliant on quantitative survey methods.  We create leading survey questions and depend on notoriously unreliable self-reporting from students.  These methods simply tell us what we want to hear and not what we need to know.

However, we must not despair.  We may turn to the qualitative research methods broadly known as UX (User eXperience).  Once the preserve of website usability, UX is now widely employed within the service sector.  UX can determine how someone feels when using library services and the value they ascribe to an experience of library services.  That such sentiment can influence NSS results in undeniable and, therefore, should be of interest to us.

To reveal the student experience we can employ specific methods from Bronisław Malinowski, the originator of ethnography. These methods were pioneered in libraries by Nancy Fried Foster (see http://bit.ly/1fA5zSl). Some methods useful to libraries include:

  • behavioural or journey mapping
    student experience is documented by observation, to determine, for example, routes taken through the library, length of time spent in the library and the most popular library locations to work
  • touchstone tours
    students tour the library with a smartphone, recording where they go and what they do
  • graffiti walls
    students use a designated space to ask questions or feedback on issues
  • cognitive mapping
    students draw maps of their learning landscapes, revealing their library use.

Andy’s presentation was lively, engaging and informative and, above all, challenged our existing methods of determining student need.  His presentation was replete with examples of positive and popular changes implemented in his institution as a direct result of employing UX methodology.  Andy’s main message was that, to satisfy student need, we need to get into the shoes of our users.

Andy Priestner works as an independent trainer in UX, LEGO serious play, leadership, marketing and communication, social media and teambuilding. He may be contacted via his website http://andypriestnertraining.com.

Review by Sarah Nicholas, Cardiff University

Photo credit: Sally Bell



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