About Adriane Koenig

Sr. Academic Program Coordinator at the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University

EXTRA! EXTRA! Potty Publication Pleases Patrons

Like peanut butter and jelly, bathrooms and reading material just seem to be made for each other. After all it’s where we do our best thinking, right?! Short of relocating the stacks to the stalls, how can we engage this, ehem, captive audience?

That’s the idea behind (haha, get it, behind!) Lav Notes. This full color bi-monthly newsletter with a tag-line of “help for the stalled” is posted in every library stall and above all urinals. Being mindful of the academic calendar, each issue addresses the changing needs of our patrons over the course of the year. For example in the fall we create one around a “back to school” theme with library basics like how to check out books, where to access your online account and who to ask for help. Then over the summer we get all relaxy with book and DVD recommendations. Each issue includes changes in library hours and upcoming events like instructional workshops and author readings. We even encourage user-generated content in exchange for a gift card to the library’s café.

While I can’t take credit for this ingenious idea, I can heartily encourage you to give it a try. Only a handful of academic libraries including UVA and Dartmouth are currently taking advantage of this brilliant marketing opportunity. I’m here to testify–patrons will thank you! I’ve gotten emails and Facebook posts–even Valentines–from students expressing their appreciation. And when I talk to people about my various job responsibilities, only Lav Notes catches their attention.

If you want to get in on the magic, here’s the deal. You’ll want to make a basic design template that you can reuse for each edition. Ours has a simple text header with the name, date and volume of the publication. For aesthetic purposes we also include a rotating graphic, which can be your library’s logo or an open source doodle. To compile the newsletter I like to use the Adobe Creative Suite, specifically Illustrator and InDesign. Publisher will also do the trick and comes standard with Microsoft Office. Then you just stick in a few text boxes about library happenings and hit print. It’s all done in house, so it’s cheap and easy. Our custodial staff kindly posts them in reusable holders affixed to every library bathroom stall door and above the urinals, both in public and staff spaces.

Truly the only complaint I’ve ever received is that they’re not updated frequently enough. So there you have it: a way to reach the hearts and minds of your students… through their, lets say, excellent hydration habits. Believe me, everyone will think you’re a superhero.

The Social Media Policy Breakdown: Educational

Now that I’ve finally digested all my Tofurkey, it’s time to dive into our bread and butter—the social media policy. We’ve already covered frequency, responsiveness, entertainment and neighborliness. Coming attcha now is the seemingly obvious call to be educational. While we certainly have a lot of fun with our social media channels, and we’re big advocates of using informal language and making cultural references to entertain our target audience, this engagement strategy ultimately serves our overarching mission: to be educational. Whether in person or online, it is our duty to highlight library resources on a particular topic and share professional insight.

Appropriately enough, the library forayed into social media for this very reason. We had an outdated website that more often than not obscured the very information people were seeking. Launching a blog gave us a platform to highlight our resources. We’ll certainly include links to popular sites such as YouTube, but the emphasis is always on our collections, especially hidden gems. Just the other day we asked a blog contributor to change a link from Wikipedia to a library resource. The author initially switched it to a catalog record, but we ultimately decided it would be even better to highlight one of our lesser known databases. We even added a further endorsement in the closing paragraph.

While in the reference office, librarians serve as generalists, but on the blog we give them a chance to show off their subject expertise. This value-added type of approach where librarians not only recommend what resource to use but also their reasoning. If they suggest a particular database they can give some context as to why that one might be better than another for what they are seeking. In this way social media augments our in-person service. In fact, there are occasions in the reference office where we’ll even pull up old blog post by way of an answer, like for example, why we don’t have an institutional subscription to the New York Times.

So there you have it, an educational post about writing educational posts. Whoa.

Are You Being Served?

Apologies for the radio silence last week. Several of my cohorts and I snuck out of town just before the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy to attend the ARL Assessment Conference in Charlottesville and present our beautiful poster, “Coding Reference: An Analytical Approach to Assessment.”  I gave you a brief preview just a couple weeks ago, so now I wanted to spend some time getting into the meat of what our service model is actually servicing.

Our two-tiered model places the Info Desk, staffed by grad students, directly in front of the Reference Consultation Office. The student workers screen basic, straightforward questions like “where is Special Collections” or “do you have a copy of Cat’s Cradle?” More involved queries such as incomplete citations or help gathering sources for a research paper are referred to the librarian on duty. The difficulty of each question is rated according to Dr. Bella Karr Gerlich’s six-point scale. Based on these rankings, we found that 41% of questions that came through the reference office could have been answered by an Info Desk student.

Now this is not any reflection on the aptitude of the student workers. They are so great, and they catch the lion’s share of the questions—17,000 last year compared to the Reference Office’s 2,400. The unexpected traffic we’re seeing in the office may be a simple matter of overflow, which could be corrected by additional staffing during heavy periods.

Of course if you give a mouse a cookie…he’s going to ask you to code the Info Desk data. Before we make any knee-jerk changes to the front line service, we will first need to conduct a similar analysis of the stats we’ve been collecting at that desk. We have also realized that we need to consolidate all front line stat forms so that everybody is entering standardized data into a central location. Makes sense, no?

Our assessment revealed some other surprises. A full 20% of reference transactions serve non-affiliates; 25% of questions concern subject searches; at least 50% of patron requests are for printed materials. We also had some unsurprises as well. For example, did you know that because of the high visibility of the librarian on duty, they often serve as a catch-all “fact machine?” I mean, you guys know everything, right?

As you can already gather, the implications are far-reaching and touch on staffing, budgets, marketing, information systems and collection development, among other areas. The completion of this assessment is by no means an end, but rather the beginning of many conversations on how to optimize the service model for us and for our patrons.

Soft Stuff, Hard Numbers

We collect qualitative data all the time, and I’m sure you do too. But the challenge has always been translating information-rich media such as e-mails or reference transactions into something substantial, i.e. hard numbers. Ellen recently touched upon the importance of qualitative data and how she began to assess these exchanges, namely through the READ Scale. But with the expertise of our User Experience Director, we have finally been able to do some substantial analysis of our service model. If you’re not lucky enough to have a UX person, you can still apply the principles of coding to any free text field and magically transform feedback, opinions and observations into sweet, sweet, quantitative data. The trick is to identify patterns and apply a code(s) to each entry. But let me back up.

We started by exporting our reference data for FY12. Thanks to Ellen, we had been recording all questions that came through the office. (We do this in RefAnalytics, though you could just as easily use Google Docs.) As you can imagine, tracking the kinds of questions we receive is critical in determining how to better serve patrons. Sure you could scan through all 2,400 entries and have a general sense of areas for improvement. However, these inklings don’t exactly stand up in a court of law (or in a departmental meeting, as the case may be). So we can apply a more formal structure through a process called coding.

The first step is to create an information architecture comprised of child nodes (like “book” or “article”) grouped under parent node headings (format). You do this by going through several entries and thinking about how you would categorize them. As you can see, we began by outlining the common themes on a chalkboard. Once you’ve established a comprehensive classification system, you can apply it to each entry. Keep in mind that you only tag with child nodes, and you can use multiple descriptors for each text field. For a patron wanting to get a specific article through Interlibrary Loan, I would tag it with “article,” “known item” and “ILL.” We used the qualitative data software NVivo to tabulate the distribution under each node. If you want to track this manually, you don’t necessarily need NVivo, however the software can also perform some valuable manipulations such as cross-referencing all questions from undergrads with time of year in order to determine appropriate staffing.

We’ve just taken our first pass at the data, and are setting up meetings with the librarians to not only share this comprehensive overview of their work, but also to pick their brains to see how we might begin to apply our findings. I’ll be presenting a poster on our process at ARL Assessment Conference at the end of the month, so please stop by!

What is a Usability Lab?

…is the question we got on Facebook after inviting our followers to come join us for this nebulous experience. I must admit I didn’t know too well myself, as this was the first one we’ve held since the arrival of our UX Director last year. After having helped conduct the lab one afternoon last week, I now have a better idea of its purpose and an appreciation for its value.

Based on the formal (LibQual) and informal (Ref Office) feedback we’ve gotten over the years, we knew we had a couple of problem areas to tackle to help users efficiently locate research materials. In response, our Systems people have identified two different discovery tools for books and articles. The first is a program called StackMap, which integrates with our online catalog to display the precise location of the desired items. We’ve also had repeated requests for a tool that allows searches across multiple journals, and we’ve identified a few product options to address those concerns.

The usability lab gives us an opportunity to check back in with our audience and make sure we’re heading in the right direction. Have we fully addressed users’ research needs? Are the tools working as expected? Is the interface clean and logical, the wording accurate? Sure, we think we’re on the right track, but do users agree???

We selected hard-to find books and DVDs and really put StackMap to the test. Armed with this new tool, were users now able to independently locate these materials? We showed participants the beta online catalog entry with the embedded mapping feature and asked them to write down whatever information they would need to find the items, sharing their thought process with us. We then followed them to the stacks and noted whether they were successful in the completion of the task–and they all were! Back in the lab, we asked for their final thoughts on how the information could be clearer or better presented.

To help narrow down our choice for article search services, Systems devised an evaluation process that would return results from any two of the five search products for each person’s query. The participant can select if they prefer column A, B or neither. Being able to sit alongside them as they were making these decisions gave us some insight into what kinds of features are valuable to users—whether the results were relevant, how they liked the display format and what details were necessary for inclusion on the results screen.

Whereas a focus group is very structured, this usability lab was just an informal exchange, giving us an opportunity to observe users’ interactions with Systems prototypes and solicit feedback. Critically, these trials were led by a small but diverse group of people, including a member from Systems, Research Services, the Digital Research and Curation Center and even a student employee. The next step in the design process is identifying the patterns in what users were asking for, determining what is possible and implementing those recommendations.

A number of people said that when they need to find a book or article they just ask a librarian for help. And we’re certainly happy to assist with that…until 10pm. After we’ve launched these new discovery tools, our hope is that users will be able to independently locate known items quickly, whether or not there’s a librarian on duty.

Less is More

Excuse our absence last week—I was totally consumed by back-to-school madness! Now that the dust has settled, I want to share a new social media strategy the library has just embraced this month. After years of requiring that librarians participate in blogging and/or tweeting in a regimented way, we are switching to a voluntary model with less work for all remaining contributors and absolutely no decrease in output. Here’s how.

In a way I guess you could say we’re returning to our roots. After all, our social media presence was started by a group of volunteers. By the time those founding members (including Ellen!) had built a sufficient case for the value of these emerging technologies, they needed a mechanism to maintain consistent material—you’ll recall frequency is a key mandate in our social media policy. So participation in social media became part of the librarians’ job description. And while this was a necessary measure, we never stopped campaigning for the value of these outreach tools.

Since we were the ones who started this social media train rolling, the responsibility for maintaining it always resided within our department. In reality, though, we weren’t speaking on behalf of Research Services, we were speaking as the library. So while we have always invited submissions from all staff, this summer we took steps to formalize that. We put out a call for volunteers to commit to one post per month for the next year. Much to our delight, we had nearly two dozen people eager to join our team. This month we have started receiving contributions not only from members of our department, but also Scholarly Resources and Special Collections, Facilities and Support Services, Technical Services, Access Services, Systems, GIS and Data Services, our DC branch and even our sister organization The Homewood Museums. Our User Experience Director will be joining the Twitter rotation. This incredible breadth of coverage will ensure readers are up to date on all facets of library services and will also give a voice to many who don’t have regular opportunities to interact with our patrons.

With such an outpouring of enthusiasm for blogging, we were able to make social media contributions voluntary for those veterans in our department who wanted a break. To our great delight, only a couple people bowed out—after those years of preaching social media, it seemed perhaps we had won some converts. The influx of new contributors now means that everyone has enjoyed a decreased workload. Bloggers only need to submit one post per month and those on Twitter duty only cover two weeks per semester. Additionally, with a volunteer group, we’re finding we need to hold fewer meetings because those who are contributing are enthusiastic and engaged, so there aren’t as many performance issues to address. Why didn’t we do this years ago??

No Rest for the Weary

Summer lull is a myth. People in academia so want to believe that we can spend June, July and August catching up on the craziness from the spring semester. Once again, the season has flown by without warning. One of the biggest projects we’ve been working on at MPOW is revamping our freshman orientation programs. Don’t get me wrong–we’re still going to give the standard library tour and introduction to resources this September, but we’re doing things a little more systematically and creating content with our audience in mind.

In the past our tours had always been a reflection of the librarian leading them. With no standardized route or formal agenda, we weren’t all singing from the same sheet—some of us weren’t even singing the same song! So with the opening of the learning commons this month, we had the opportunity to establish a more structured walk-through for our new users. We’re even switching to a peer-to-peer learning model by inviting grad students from the Info Desk to lead the tours. That way they can have a candid exchange with the group and share real insight about how the spaces are used.

Writing the script was truly challenging. I worked closely with our fabulous User Experience Director, Steven, to get a sense of how freshmen are using the library. The data shows that underclassmen view us as a social space where they can work on homework alongside their friends. We certainly want to encourage and facilitate that behavior, so we’re skipping over all the quiet study zones and instead leading them through the talking levels, group study areas and our brand new café. We’re also highlighting the fluffier areas of our collections like the popular fiction and nonfiction shelves and our extensive AV collection. Meanwhile my fabulous colleague, Heidi, is working on creating a scavenger hunt to familiarize freshmen with the library functions they will most need, such as lockers and printing. It will be more fun than it sounds, promise!

Librarians live to be helpful and often try to cram every little bit of information possible in the 45 minutes we have with groups; after all, you never know if or when you’ll ever see them again. Our goal is to avoid information overload. We aren’t expecting freshmen to learn all our library resources forever; this is actually a PR opportunity. As Cynthia Hart from Virginia Beach Public Library explained at Computers in Libraries 2011, the library’s brand is about more than a logo or even books–ultimately it is about the emotional response we elicit from consumers. Take Coke, for example, and their Happiness Machine. They’re not demonstrating how to quench your thirst, they’re trying to make you smile. Along those same lines, we want people to leave this tour thinking of the library as a fun, welcoming place and equip them with just enough information that when they are ready to delve into more complex research, they know where to go to ask those questions.