User voices in the library – listening to users to create better services

One of the most heartening parts of the recent Libraries Global Excellence Tour was hearing each and every speaker emphasise the importance of putting users front and centre of everything we do in libraries. This includes reimagining existing services and creating brand new ones.

In the crushing pressure to collect evidence of impact, to show usage figures that rely on legacy measurements, this can easily be sidelined. As Erik Boekesteijn described, the job of the librarian is “curating curiosity. We need to listen to our users”.

The user experience of both physical and digital spaces matters. Its inspiring to see so many libraries put this at the fore of their planning and creating services with a bit more empathy.

Libraries are for their users

Meeting the needs of users (current and future) supersedes our need to collect the right kind of statistics for funders. This can involve rethinking some of the inhouse-designed hurdles that get embedded in library services.

Many of the rules we enforce in libraries and the ‘way we do things’ are remnants of a pre-digital world. Nothing illustrates this better than a demo of a new library mobile app that shows a user placing a reservation on an ebook.

Jane Cowell (Director of Engagement and Partnerships at the State Library of Queensland) talked about the ways in which user expectation is driven by how they engage with content and knowledge every day online, on phones and via other network devices. Listening to users and building things for users is a great way to get rid of excess library service baggage.

The State Library of Queensland are big proponents of data-based decisions. They’ve conducted research that shows that users really rate personalisation in the services they engage with. They’re now developing a discovery layer system (LUCI) that will deliver personalised discovery for library users (think a location-aware, Spotify-type library platform).

Hearing user voices (not in a scary way)

One step towards developing a user driven service is to review your service points regularly to find ways to reduce friction – getting your users to A to B (and on to the rest of the alphabet) as quickly, as painlessly as possible.

Geoff Strempel (Associate Directory of Public Library Services at the State Library of South Australia) demonstrated ways they are actively working to remove barriers with initiatives like the one-card network.

Neil MacInnes, Strategic Lead for Libraries, Galleries and Culture in Manchester also shared how Manchester libraries are working to improve the experience of their users through initiatives like a shared library management system (LMS) and shared library card across 10 local authorities. They’re aiming to become ‘(t)he city’s living room’.

Adding different and frequent ways for users to be involved helps ensure the services you provide are meeting user expectation and need.

There are lots of great examples of ways that libraries are embedding feedback from users into services. For example, Feedback walls like these used in UCL Libraries.

User-generated content and recommendations are also a great way to build user voices into your library. The now-defunct Awesome Box project was a great example of this.

These return chutes at UTS are another example of frictionless user input.

another example of capturing user voices – [More info](–signage?rgn=main;view=fulltext)

Speaking their language

It’s also useful to continually review how we communicate with users, it’s easy to fall into traps of jargon and missed wayfinding opportunities.

A tool to help you do this is this template shared by LIBUX.CO as the basis for your own core content audit to rate your content.

You can read more about conducting a Core Content Audit here.

Surveys and polls are both weary and wary-inducing methods that should be used sparingly. But they can offer a low-fidelity way to get user input into both new and existing service design. Keep it short and keep the language you use simple and straightforward (and jargon-free).

Surveys and polls work best as a starting point for conversations with users, not an end unto themselves.

There are plenty of free (and freemium) survey tools out there, including PollDaddy, HotJar and even Twitter Polls that you can utilise to get initial answers from users.

Survey screenshot

Don’t be afraid to take an interative approach to surveys and polls. You can roll out your questions gradually, using the previous insights to inform follow-up questions.

The important thing is to make sure you are collecting actionable feedback, not just platitudes to sit on the shelf.

Check out these tips for writing great survey questions for your users. And these suggestions from the Usabilla blog about making sure you’re asking the right questions to get actionable feedback.

Putting ideas on ice

You may not necessarily be able to put suggestions from users into action right away, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t collect it and draw on it in the future.

An icebox is a term derived from agile software development. It’s also sometimes called the ‘backlog’ (we just think that icebox just sounds a bit more encouraging).

An icebox is a place to keep ideas and feedback that’s not currently in development but will be at a time in the future. Suggestions and ideas put on ice.

Don’t be afraid to put this icebox of user-generated ideas somewhere public. Like lots of companies put their roadmaps on their websites, libraries shouldn’t be afraid to be open and transparent about future plans. This also shows your users that they are being heard.

The Development roadmap for Trello is a public Trello board (naturally)

Start new conversations with your users

All services should reflect their users and the best way to do this is to hear from your users at every opportunity.

This can be via gentle prompts, embedded in your library spaces as well as via the more overt collection of feedback.

Involving the user in the design and development of services results in better services and spaces as well as a more active community of users.

If you’ve got any other examples of ways libraries hear from users, we’d love to hear about them.