Digital transformation in libraries: 6 user personas for the modern library

There are lots of reasons to be talking about digital transformation and innovation in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector right now. The sector has been irrevocably impacted by changes in digital and information technologies. It’s changed the way we work, the work we do and the services we offer. It’s one thing to talk about innovation but quite another to implement the changes needed – too often we’re constrained by procedural and technological baggage that no longer suits our purposes.

New services have emerged and more traditional services have been transformed. Existing collections are often digitised and managed online alongside new, born digital collections. We also provide spaces for exploring digital technologies and the creation of new content and experiences. Some of our users will rely on the library as a physical space while others will not visit the library’s physical location at all.

And things still keep moving forward. The expectations and needs of our users have also fundamentally changed.

Digital transformation is a comprehensive, complex and ongoing process. We need to rethink how we approach and design our services. But it starts with our users.

In order to make meaningful changes to libraries, we need to focus on who we’re providing services for. Our users need to be part of the design process from the earliest possible stage. User personas can be a great tool for this.

User personas are detailed descriptions of archetypal users of your services. They’re fictional but based on real data about our users. They’re an integral, incredibly useful part of service design.

So we’ve put together a short list of user personas for libraries today. Consider it a starting point ready to use and build on when you start a new project scoping a next-generation library product, kicking of a new initiative or working to improve an existing one.

(these are extracts from a larger, more in depth collection of personas focusing on how users interact with the library services and spaces).

Kaylee – the busy, tech savvy student

Kaylee is a full-time student at the local college and also works weekends at a local cafe. She values and relies on the library as a study space. She tends to visit in the afternoon and early evenings (often staying until closing). She brings her own laptop but relies heavily on the free wifi and the printing services. She gets very frustrated when the printer or photocopier is out of order. She doesn’t borrow books very often.

Derrial – the digitally anxious grandparent

Derrial is a long-time library member who has recently retired from full-time work. He doesn’t have much experience with using the internet and finds it quite overwhelming but is keen to pick up a few skills like email and video conferencing to help him keep up with his grandchildren who live in a different country. He’s considering attending the digital training class but is worried that it will be about a lot of things he’s not interested in (and that he won’t be able to keep up). He’s read a lot about online fraud in the newspaper and is nervous about using it for anything more.

River – the curious creative

River is a 25 year old knitting and crocheting enthusiast. She works fulltime in a non-profit organisation as a website editor. She has mild dyslexia which was only recently diagnosed. She lives in a flatshare in the central city.

She’s a long-time Ravelry member and uses Instagram a lot. She comes to the library to borrow graphic novels and also borrows audio books via the library app.

She also belongs to the writing group (although attends infrequently) and is active in trying to set up a crocheting group that will meet in the library once a fortnight.

Malcolm – the busy working parent

Malcolm has 3 children and works part-time as a consultant from home. Sometimes he works from local cafes and the library too. He comes to the library Story Time each week with his youngest child.

He’s visited the library makerspace during open days out of curiosity but hasn’t participated in any of the regular events. He’s interested in the potential of these new technologies he’s heard about both for his work and for their future impact on his children’s education.

Inara – the active community organiser

Inara is a long time local who uses the library occasionally as a meeting point as well as for borrowing fiction – she borrows books both in her first language as well as English language titles. The social activities held in the library are of particularly of interest – she’s considering joining knit and knatter group but so far hasn’t been able to attend. She receives the library newsletter by email and sometimes shares her own events on the library noticeboard.

Zoe – the remote researcher

Zoe is a busy and stressed postgraduate student who also teaches part-time. She uses the library’s digital resources a lot and has occasionally interacted with library staff through the library’s instant messaging service for additional support.

She hasn’t visited the library in person since her undergraduate orientation (at a different institution). She uses journal alert subscriptions to keep up with the latest research in her specialism and is keen to publish her own research in reputable journals.

Digital transformation is an ongoing and complex process. Using user-centred techniques such as personas when you start designing a new service or reviewing existing services helps keep the focus on your users and how you can best help them achieve their goals (both now and in the future).