A Critical Approach to Library Assessment and User Experience?

As the new year begins, I’ve been reflecting on the exciting changes 2019 will bring to both our physical and online spaces. Projects that previously felt distant or nebulous for some of us, like the creation of a new library website or move to Charles Library, are now fast-approaching. As we consider how to design and assess the user experience of our changing web presence and physical spaces, much of what I learned at last month’s Library Assessment Conference feels well-timed.

The sessions on user experience offered practical insights on methods and tools that can bring user feedback into digital projects like the website redesign and Library Search. Amy Deschenes (Harvard University) described her library’s website redesign project from start to finish including early discovery research (user interviews) and the creation of personas that informed decisions used throughout the entirety of the design process. Her explanation of integrating UX into agile sprints with technology staff felt particularly germane to our own technology development environment. Zoe Chao (Penn State University) made a persuasive case for using comparative analysis to test website navigational structures, and Andrew Darby and Kineret Ben-Knaan (University of Miami) shared online usability tools that make it fast and easy to conduct remote testing of webpage prototypes and site architecture with large numbers of participants. In the pre-conference workshop I attended, Kim Duckett and Joan Lippincott shared strategies and examples of post-occupancy space assessments for understanding the effectiveness of spaces for students, such as learning commons and digital technology spaces.

The presentation I keep coming back to, though, is one that questioned the emphasis on “practical” conference takeaways and argued for a more critically reflective approach to assessment and user experience work. In “A Consideration of Power Structures (and the Tension They Create) in Library Assessment Activities,” presenters, Ebony Magnus (Southern Alberta Institute of Technology), Jackie Belanger and Maggie Faber (University of Washington), highlighted the pervasiveness of the “practical” in librarianship, pointing to how often we create “how to’s” and “best practices” that are intended to make work easier and efficient. In the library assessment world, the focus is often on specific tools and research methods. The presenters argued not that learning the practical— best practices, tools, and methods— has no value, but that we look at those assessment approaches through a “lens focused on power and equity.” Doing so allows us to interrogate how our own positions of power shape the assessment work we do and to consider how to build a more inclusive assessment practice that benefits ALL users, particularly traditionally underrepresented groups. We might look critically at how we prioritize projects, the questions we ask, how we recruit participants, the research methods we use, and so on. During the presentation, I reflected on how we recruit participants for impromptu or “guerrilla style” usability testing of our website. The advantage to this type of recruitment is that it’s easy and convenient, but we are missing out on feedback from populations who do not physically visit the library. In a related blog post, the presenters outline additional strategies for incorporating more inclusive methods into assessment practice.

My favorite conference experiences are those where what I learn feels useful. I want to leave a conference with practical ideas that are easily adaptable in my own institutional context. I’m eager to attend any session that promises attendees a concrete takeaway to the point of skimming program schedules for phrases like “attendees will learn methods, tools, or strategies to use at their own institution.” The Library Assessment Conference didn’t disappoint in this regard.

The website redesign and the move to Charles Library will significantly impact library users and library staff, and now is the time to plan for how we will design and assess the user experience of both. I hope to see us engage in the critical approaches, because those are the ones that will allow us to work towards the best user experience across our student populations.

Finally, I encourage everyone to have a look at Magnus, Belanger, and Faber’s beautifully written post, Towards a Critical Assessment Practice,” in In the Library with The Lead Pipe which provides more detail about critical assessment practices.

Posted in uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Avoiding New Year’s Resolutions, or Not

Image from en.wikipedia.org

I may be turning cynical, but I’ve stopped making personal New Year’s resolutions. The U.S. News & World Report says that 80% of resolutions fail by February. That’s depressing!

While there may be a rational, statistically valid reason for not making resolutions, that is probably not the whole reason. I think we resist making resolutions for emotional reasons as well.  We fear we won’t keep them, and that will feel like a failure. If we don’t succeed in those goals, we just don’t “measure up.”

How does this relate to library assessment? Good assessment, or continuous improvement, is grounded in setting a goal or benchmark of some sort. Goals help us to imagine a vision of the future that is better.  And if we set that goal, with a measure, then we may not make it.  So why articulate what success looks like when we may not measure up?

Sometimes I  fear that when I talk enthusiastically about creating a culture of assessment here at the libraries/press, about setting departmental goals and developing assessment plans, I don’t feel much love. We hear assessment and that equates to evaluation – to good and bad. 

No one wants to be judged. Or to set a goal that isn’t attainable. Perhaps we set those goals low, somewhat timidly, and we certainly don’t shout about them in a public space.

So this year I will do what I ask others to do – I set, and publicized (on Confluence), goals for Organizational Research & Strategy Alignment for the upcoming year.  They look like this right now:

  • Assess the effectiveness of strategic steering team model for enhancing innovative, collaborative, cross-functional team-based  work across the libraries system and its communities.
  • Establish structure for Data Task Force and develop scope/groups to look at:
    • Data Collection
    • Data Privacy
    • Data Identification
    • Access and Communication
    • Learning Analytics/Integration with central ITS
    • Analysis / Platforms
    • Storage
  • Develop plan for assessment of space use in Charles Library, making sure that data gathering systems are in place to demonstrate use and value of new types of spaces for learning and engagement.
  • Work with team leads/department heads to develop assessment approach for key goals established for FY18-19.
  • Embed user experience research methods into development of services at libraries, to include website and discovery systems.

These are not too ambitious, but I think fit well within the library’s strategic directions and align with my own vision for the libraries as a learning organization.  And yes, I’m exposing myself to “not measuring up.”

But here’s the thing. I can only achieve the goals by sharing them with my colleagues. Getting feedback. Getting support. Learning from others’ expertise. Like the runner who has a partner to help get going in the morning, or the smoking quitter who relies on a friend when longing for a cigarette – we all feel more motivated when we share goals and get some support towards achieving them.  Working collaboratively to meet our aspirations gives us a MUCH better chance of success.

So my real resolution is to work with you all this year to bring assessment more to the forefront of our work. Not as a way of setting ourselves up for failure, but by better articulating, together, our vision for what matters to the organization and what “better” might look like.


Posted in organization culture and assessment | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Library Space and Pot Plants: An Unexpected Connection

“Fall in love with your users” – Paul-Jervis Heath

When Paul-Jervis Heath told the story of how pot plants improved occupancy rates at the Cambridge University libraries, the non-Brits at last week’s Library Assessment Conference were a bit confused. We would describe these as “potted plants.” We all laughed, then Heath went on with his story:  In testing various seating arrangements in the library’s reading room, the design team learned that plants placed in the center of each table provided a psychological sense of privacy, and students were more likely to sit across from one another while studying when plants were used as dividers. The designers learned that occupancy was less dependent on the number of seats in the space than how those  seats were configured in relation to one another.

Small round tables created personal “bubbles” and resulted in one person sitting alone at a four-top, leaving 3 seats empty. Low-backed couches arranged like train cars left patrons feeling as if someone might be watching them from behind, or reading over their shoulder. This seating type also reduced occupancy.   These  findings were discovered as part of the prototyping process. The designers experimented with “cheap” Ikea furniture that allowed for iteration and experimentation – prior to investments in permanent furnishings.

Heath is the founding principal of Modern Human , a UK design and innovation consultancy. His work with all kinds of clients provided a refreshing perspective on service and space strategy for the 600 librarians attending the conference last week in Houston. His presentation related to the use of ethnographic methods in design towards prototyping services and spaces in libraries.  

Design ethnography is a tool that many of us use in our assessment practice. Its roots are in anthropology and Nancy Fried Foster, then at the University of Rochester, popularized its approach in the now classic Studying Students. Observation, diaries, journey maps, design charrettes – the methods strive to understand users not by asking them what they want, or studying historical data – but by watching, and observing the kinds of barriers and frustrations users experience as they do their work. The approach can be used to understand how users search for an item in the library catalog, schedule a study room, or interact with a service professional. The idea is that by watching people, by observing in unobtrusive ways, we learn what motivates people, what’s important to them and what they value. 

Heath emphasizes the power of iterative design and prototyping. It’s important to “Keep everything you design as an experiment.” – not getting too attached to a single solution before you’ve tested it with users. As much research in assessment shows, librarians and other information professionals may have quite different mental models of the information universe than our users.  Heath provided us with powerful examples of resolving this challenge.   

Next post, Jackie Sipes (User Experience Librarian) will share her takeaways from the conference!




Posted in conference reports, library spaces, qualitative research | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mapping Library Goals to Institutional Priorities: An Assessment Workshop

Last week two dozen library staff members took time out of busy schedules to participate in the Assessment Community of Practice. The session was structured a little differently (always experimenting here!) with small round tables, mixed department seating, and facilitators at each table (thanks, Steven Bell, Olivia Castello, Lauri Fennell, Cynthia Schwarz, and Jackie Sipes). The facilitators did a great job of encouraging participation from everyone, bring together the rich kind discussion that cross-functional groups can bring to bear on a challenge. 

While we started with a discussion of the article Demonstrating Library Value through Outreach Goals and Assessment from Educause, the purpose was to find connections between our library/press goals and strategic actions with Temple’s Institutional Priorities. And considering the kinds of assessment that would demonstrate progress towards those goals. This outcome will keep us on track as the University prepares for the upcoming Middle States accreditation, a process that  compels us to articulate how the library supports institutional values, assesses that work, and puts into place changes based on findings.

Temple Institutional Priorities

Each table was tasked with addressing these questions:

Of the ideas presented in this article, what resonated with you the most, particularly in thinking about how you present your own work or the work of your department?

Table Brainstorm: How does the work that you or your department does have an impact on users (student success, faculty productivity, community services). What does success look like?

Select a goal from the Strategic Directions document. How might you assess that goal in terms of impact? Consider both the library’s interests, and those of external stakeholders.

Discuss your ideas with table mates.

These discussions  yielded good ideas on a wide range of services provided by the library, from our affordable laptop borrowing program to the assessment of a program to promote diverse materials in our collections.

  • Table 1 looked at the departmental goal of “Providing fast easy access to laptops and scale up to meet demand” and suggested a learning outcome for this goal: Students can identify library as a laptop source and can obtain a laptop in a totally self-service mode. To access this, we might look at the statistics or deploy point-of-survey surveys (on IPads?) and conduct observations as students interact with the service.  
  • Table 2 discussed how outreach efforts, for instance events like Beyond the Page, map to the curriculum. How can we best engage with faculty as these events are planned, and assessed? From their perspective, does attendance at a program make a difference in the quality of their work?
  • Table 3 discussed how the library might demonstrate its commitment to diversity through displays of heritage content. We might look at who we buy from (minority/women owned businesses)
  • Table 4 recognized that the article did not provide an adequate definition of outreach, and the much of the library’s efforts, like open textbooks, relies on services provided throughout the library.

This last is important — outreach, demonstrating value, connecting to Institutional Priorities – these might be considerations for all of us. To that end, I’d like to put this challenge out to library staff from all levels of the organization:  Select one of your articulated goals for FY18-19. Considering how you will demonstrate value and impact. How will you assess the success of this initiative? 

Posted in organization culture and assessment, process improvement | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Assessment Community of Practice: User Experience

Last week’s Community of Practice was my first opportunity to talk with colleagues from across the organization about user experience (or UX) in libraries. I presented an overview of some principles of UX and a brief update on two current UX projects (Blacklight/Library Search and service design for the new library).

Rather than rehashing highlights of my presentation, I want to return to two questions that I posed to the audience. I intended for these questions to be a “thinking together” exercise where attendees could reflect on how we, as an organization, might embrace UX and more fully integrate it into our every day work. We touched on these briefly toward the end of the COP meeting, but I want to delve into them more here and provide my own perspective.

How is UX different from what we’ve always done in libraries? (i.e. we’ve always been committed to user-centered design and great customer service). 

In the book Useful, usable, desirable : applying user experience design to your library, librarians Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches tell the story of a colleague who tentatively asked them, “How is [UX] different from what we’ve always done in libraries? We’ve always cared about our patrons. We’ve always been user-centered. We give great customer service!” As an erstwhile public services librarian who values good customer service, this question resonated with me. At the desk, we strive to provide the best service possible; we listen closely, we ask questions, and we do our best to make sure the person in front of us is satisfied. When planning an instruction session, we talk to instructors; we learn about the students we’ll be working with and their assignments, and we design instruction based on that information. Library staff have a long history of considering user needs when providing services.

For me, user experience is an evolution of that user-focused tradition. It gives us a framework to put the user’s needs at the center of all of our design and decision making.

My interest in assessment and user experience grew over the last few years in my previous position as the Emerging Technologies Librarian and Education Liaison. In that role, I was uniquely positioned to both contribute to the design of library technologies while also observing firsthand how students and faculty used, and sometimes struggled with, those technologies. Those interactions highlighted for me the need to know more about our users’ needs and expectations when making decisions about the design of our website and search tools. I began to approach all of my work, including technology projects and reference and instruction, from the question of “how can we make this better for our users?” I’m now lucky enough to have a job where it’s my responsibility to ask that question every day, not just of our online spaces, but also of our services and physical spaces.

To create services, websites, and spaces that work well for our users, we need to understand and empathize with our users. User experience asks us to build that empathy and understanding with intention. We might immerse ourselves in a user’s journey (i.e. put ourselves ‘in our users’ shoes’) using a particular service or tool to identify pain points or frustrations along the way. We might observe how users naturally utilize a space or service. Or, we might work directly with them through user research using methods like usability testing, interviews, or focus groups. When we see how users actually engage with the library — what they like or find challenging or what we, as well-meaning information experts designing services and websites for non-expert users, might have unwittingly missed — we start to empathize with our users and better understand them. And, hopefully we come up with solutions that enhance their experience with the library.

UX also requires that we approach design holistically, acknowledging that users do not experience our individual services in isolation. My interactions with students and faculty at the desk and in the classroom also afforded me the opportunity to see the connections between our services and physical and online spaces. A faculty member who wants a book uses our website or catalog to find or request the book, asks for help using our chat service, reads stacks or other wayfinding signs in the building, and finally uses self-checkout kiosks or interacts with a staff member at the service desk. A student who wants to reserve a study room uses our website, submits a request through our room scheduling system, approaches the service desk staff, and finally uses their study room. Good customer service might ensure the user has a pleasant, if not successful, interaction with staff at a service desk and in many cases even throughout the remainder of the experience. But, even the strongest customer service ethos does not acknowledge the robust interconnectedness of library services and spaces; nor does it ask us to work collaboratively, and sometimes uncomfortably, across library departments to holistically design services and tools for our users.

How can we prioritize user experience work in the organization? How do we integrate UX into our existing processes?

If great customer service doesn’t necessarily make for a great overall user experience, neither does the work of one, solo User Experience Librarian, even with her small, but enthusiastic group of colleagues who have signed on for UX work on the Library Search and Website Redesign projects. We need to work together as an organization to integrate user experience into our work. I look forward to expanding my own work beyond the user experience of our online tools to our services and physical spaces. I also hope to help my colleagues develop capacity in user research and design and foster an organizational culture that puts the user at the center of every decision we make.

Posted in Usability | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Setting the Path towards a New Library

The “Link” at the Calgary Airport

Last week I had an unexpected 12 hours to spend at the Calgary International Airport, providing me plenty of time to consider all that I learned at the Designing Libraries conference.  While the airport provided fun rides between terminals and the wi-fi was robust, the distractions (like food, bookstores, cozy chairs), unfortunately,  were minimal.

Designing Libraries brings librarians, researchers, designers, planners and architects together to discuss the future of libraries, particularly how new technologies support new ways of doing research and supporting students in their learning. The conference is currently sponsored by the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), North Carolina State University Libraries, and the University of Calgary Libraries. 

Joan Lippincott (CNI) summed up the key discussion threads in this way:

We are:

  • Integrating our thinking about what we want users to be able to do in relation to space
  • Articulating more clearly the relationship of programs to institutional priorities
  • And we have a growing “appetite” for digging deeper into post-occupancy assessment.

Joan was persistent in asking those hard questions of assessment:

  • How do you demonstrate how the new space relates to the creation on new knowledge?”
  • How are spaces contributing to learning?
  • How do you determine impact, either quantitatively or qualitatively?

Assessment is a topic I’d like to see addressed again at future conferences, and something we need to plan for at Temple as we near the opening of the Charles Library.  Assessment is important because it requires us to consider, before any project is initiated, what it is we want to accomplish with the new space, the new service, the new resources? 

As we plan for the opening of the Charles Library, let’s ask:

  • What are our new expectations for the building, and the kind of research, learning, and partnerships it will support?
  • What does that kind of engagement on the part of faculty, students and staff look like?
  • While we’re focusing on the digital scholarship and instruction aspects of the space,  what are the other opportunities for assessment? What are the different ways the collection is being used?  More use of electronic?  Less use of the physical collection, or different parts of the physical collection? Is this due to the different access, or is it due to different discovery opportunities?
  • Certainly, we anticipate opportunities for collaboration and communication within the space. How else might the building facilitate a different kind of organizational culture?

Greg Raschke said of the Hunt Library at NCSU (a Snohetta project, like the Charles Library)  “Hunt was a meteorite opportunity. If you miss it, it will set you back. If you overdo it, you can always scale back, but if you miss that opportunity for change, you’ll never get there. Use failures and successes as a way of evolving your organization.” 

Architect Craig Dykers, of Snohetta, also spoke of the transformative value of the library – it can be a place for both safe dialog AND disagreement; both a welcoming space AND a challenging one. The library is something always transforming, but should serve as a transformational space as well.  Sort of like the path along Calgary’s Bow River.


Path along the Bow River, Calgary.


Posted in uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Moving Forward: Lessons Learned from the Last 10 Years of Risk Modeling

Last week the Libraries’ Assessment Community of Practice kicked off the year by hosting Alexandra Yanovski-Bowers (Assistant Director for Undergraduate Strategic Initiatives) and Michele Lynn O’Conner (Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies). The discussion was Undergraduate Studies’ work to build a predictive statistical model for identifying “at risk” students at Temple and provide positive interventions to support these students.

While the idea of collecting, mining and analyzing personal data on students is concerning to some, Temple’s research program utilizes data already collected by the University as part of doing business, and uses very selected data points to target students who are at greater statistical risk of not returning to school at the beginning of the subsequent year. This is how “at risk” students are defined.

Alexandra described the various ways in which data can be used – we can collect it, we can watch the trends and report out on what’s happening. But we can also take a more “pro-active” approach to using the data that we are already collecting and use that data for supporting student success. This is predictive analytics. 


In the course of its business, the University collects data related to admissions, enrollment, orientation registration, gpa, housing, financial aid, as well as its New Student Questionnaire, completed by all incoming students. The modeling process uses historical data to make a determination of the key variables within these data sets that correlate with a students not returning. That “model” is applied to the current student population to identify students potentially at risk. This means that the model is constantly changing as the student population and policies for administration and registration change.

Undergraduate Studies wanted to be more pro-active in helping students – not stepping back and waiting for students to seek assistance on their own. So prior to any data work, the University beefed up its advising program.  Each school as a risk adviser, and those advisers all undergo Risk Liaison Intervention Training. There are a variety of interventions to meet a student’s particular need.   The intervention may be extra academic advising, but it is as likely to result in a job closer to campus, or a specialized financial aid workshop.

From the floor there were questions about how confidentiality of students was protected. For the Library, a core value is protecting confidentiality of the individual in terms of what they read or the information they access. We talked of the responsible ways of using predictive analytics. The fact that Temple has created its own model means less risk of external parties getting access to student data.

What might the Library’s role be?  Students don’t always know how the librarian fits into their educational experience.  To that,  Alexandra says, “We want the library to be an intervention, not a factor. “ In other words, we serve a greater purpose by connecting with students, providing space for their work, advising on their research, and being a friendly face as they face the stresses of being a college student on this big campus.

Posted in statistics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Attending the American Library Association’s Annual Conference can be overwhelming – the crowds, the number of programs, the sheer size of the convention center and all the walking that comes along with that. This year I asked three colleagues to reflect on their experience, as first timers.  I heard from everyone that it was hot and steamy. And the food… 

Thanks, Kaitlyn Semborski (Library External Affairs & Advancement), Beckie Dashiell (Editor)  and Urooj Nizami (Resident Librarian) for their  thoughtful responses, and tempting, interesting pictures.   


What was the most useful session you went to, in terms of how you might apply what you learned to your work here?

Kaitlyn:     My favorite session that I went to was “Bringing Life to Your Library Services with 360˚ Virtual Tours.”  I felt the session gave me a learning takeaway that I might not have learned about without attending a conference where people share their ideas. It inspired me to want to work on a similar 360 project when we move into the new library to help connect our users with resources. It’s also an idea for how we can get students and community members familiar with the new layout in the new building. Hopefully we can make it happen.

Beckie: I went to a session titled “Marketing Strategy, Marketing Plan, and Marketing Tactics: Why You Need All 3!” which I found to be very useful. It served as an important reminder that there are multiple steps in strategic marketing, and all of them should be in service of your organization’s mission/vision. Starting at the high level (who, what, why) to the how to the specific actions you take to support a marketing plan will help you develop the most successful campaign. I think this kind of planning will inform the work we do as we prepare for Charles Library.

Urooj: I attended a really cool, very well attended, session entitled Open Education Resources (OER): Where Libraries Are and Where We are Going that aligned with my own interests. As an early career librarian with an interest and passion for the openness movement, I found this panel particularly helpful as it eased my imposter syndrome. Sometimes the very act of being in a room with folks who are interested in the same domain allows you to feel like your ideas and plans are aligned with other professionals’ and institutions’ strategies and are not completely out of left field. This session sparked ideas that I hope to integrate into my own capstone project plans here at the Temple University Libraries.  

What was the most surprising thing that you discovered/learned at ALA?

Kaitlyn: Since this was my first time at ALA, a lot surprised me. I was just amazed at the amount of other library workers in the city and to learn how big of a conference this really is. It was fun to meet other people doing similar work across the country. Something that I learned (but wasn’t too surprised about) was that it seems like we are certainly doing a lot right! Especially with our programming, we seem to be doing a great job.

Beckie: How huge the exhibition hall was! I hadn’t really thought about all the different kinds of vendors I would encounter. The library world is vast! And people told me about the free books, but I had no idea just how many there would be for the taking.

Urooj: I never quite realized the size and breadth of our profession until I was in NOLA at ALA among tens of thousands of fellow librarians trying to nab a seat at the same lunch spots! I was exposed to librarianship of public and special libraries in a way I haven’t been unable to engage with before. I found it really interesting to think about the overlap within the particularities of our fields while also considering the realms each distinct library type excels and how we can share and learn from our colleagues’ strengths. At the same time, I also realized that while ALA is a really helpful foundation conference, it would best serve a professional if it were complimented by a discipline specific, more focused conference.

What was the best food you ate, or the most interesting experience that was non-ALA related?

Kaitlyn: I went to Café Du Monde and tried my first Beignet. I love donuts or anything fried, so it was really amazing! I also did a bicycle tour of the city that took us through the French Quarter, Garden District, and Business District where I got to learn a lot about the city’s history.

Beckie:  Turkey and the Wolf–this tiny, kitschy sandwich shop that I dragged Kaitlyn and Urooj to in the 100+ weather! But I had a good reason–in 2017, Bon Appetit named it the best new restaurant in America, so I’ve been wanting to try it ever since.

Urooj concurs with Beckie’s assessment of the food. She says, The food was great, but it was even cooler to spend time with and to get to know colleagues outside the office!

Thanks everyone.

Nancy: Just curious, is that chocolate pudding and marshmallows with french fries?

Beckie: Actually, soft serve with magic shell and potato sticks!

Posted on by Nancy Turner | Leave a comment

Strategic or Operational? That is the Question

Photo courtesy Geof Wilson


Or is it? This last year we’ve had many lively conversations at the Libraries/Press about distinguishing the strategic work from the operational work we do. Those conversations, coupled with this morning’s early yoga class, have me reflecting on how strategy and operations need to work side by side.  

How do we balance these two ways of describing our work? The conversation often goes, “Well, there is just so much time for strategic (perhaps code for “new”) initiatives when we have our operational work to do.” That makes sense.

But what is that operational work? And if we describe it as operational, does that provide it some immunity from scrutiny or assessment? Will we continue to purchase books using the same procedures, just because it’s “operational” or “what we do”? The reality is that we are continually changing up our methods, procedures and operations in acquisitions and collection development – to save money, to meet new needs, to save staff time, to explore new access models. It’s continuous improvement, and it can be labeled strategic as readily as the purchase of a 3 -D printer for the Digital Scholarship Center.

Another great example is the mapping collections project in the Special Collections Research Center. With use data, the staff is making strategic decisions about where collections should reside, at what level they need description, and what collections might be digitized for wider accessibility. How we optimize our space, staff skills, and staff time while providing for improved access / or preservation  – those are strategic moves.

Perhaps it’s my own rosy lens on the Libraries/Press but I’d like to call all of our work strategic, in that it has intention and direction – the work is continually changing  (some aspects more quickly than others) to meet new needs of the organization, institution and community.

Rather than separate,  strategic and operational are balancing forces that are dependent on one another. To grow and meet changing needs, we need to strategize our operational work. Likewise, we must consider how our strategic work can be operationalized, with goals, objectives and measures of success.  The yin and yang that keeps us both grounded and moving forward.

Photo courtesy Geof Wilson

Posted in organization culture and assessment, uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Springtime Refresh at Ambler

Continuous improvement is a kind of assessment that we don’t usually think of as assessment per se – there are no statistics, there isn’t a formal plan for data collection, and our efforts may not result in a report to stakeholders. But the work that Jasmine Clark, our resident librarian, has done with staff at Ambler definitely falls into the category of assessment towards workflow improvement. In this blog post I’ll use the assessment components of identifying needs analysis and measuring success – to frame Jasmine’s work with staff that has created efficiencies, standardized workflows, and fostered change at the Library. I sat with Jasmine and Sandi Thompson, Head of the Ambler Campus Library, this week to talk about the project.

Photo credit: Darryl Sanford








NT: Tell me about the details of to your stint at Ambler?

JC: I needed to pick a rotation and I was interested in higher-level decision making, how organizations are run. Sandi & Andrea [Goldstein] expressed a desire to take a more comprehensive approach to the existing documentation at Ambler.

ST: For many years much of the information on policies and procedures was kept in a physical notebook at the public service desk. We were having trouble keeping it up to date, particularly with the migration to Alma. 

JC: I was able to bring my past experience with creating documentation to bear on this project, which involved collecting policies and procedures, moving documents to an online environment, standardizing workflow, and training users in using the system.

I looked at various technologies – Google drive, Slack, JIRA, and Confluence. We didn’t want to get too fancy, and needed to take into account the current skills of staff, their interest in technology, as well as the amount and nature of the data we’d be working with. So I decided to use Confluence, linking out to Google documents when necessary. As it turned out, Confluence is a perfect solution for our current needs. 

At Ambler, the “print” was the primary location for documentation. This made it hard to access, and hard to maintain. Now, Confluence: Ambler Campus Library is primary and if we need a printed copy, it’s exported as PDF, printed, and placed in the reference binder.

NT: How do you know if you’ve been successful in accomplishing this change – which is about both technology, but also the organization and how it shares information?

ST: Moving to the Confluence environment has had a multitude of benefits. When a student has a request, we’re not dependent on a particular individual to provide that service. Having everything in a centralized location online allows for other staff to comfortably fill in when someone is absent.

We’ve drastically improved the accessibility and the sharing of our knowledge and awareness – from notifying everyone that a student will be late for work  to how to process an interlibrary loan.  We are less silo’ed in our work, and this has led to a lot of “cross-training”.

JC: Yes, and I’ve seen staff who have taken real ownership of the site. They go beyond using it in a passive way, but also contribute to its accuracy – making corrections, interacting with the documents, updating on their own.

Training is an important part of the process, of course. Our workflow is realistic and based on everyone’s level of comfort and pace. I provide support as they are learning. I let staff know, you will not be “looked over” even when you are not familiar with technology.

NT: Are there other success indicators?

ST: There is a social media function, so we see an uptick in commenting on the blog post. Just the fact that people are using it for everything – having a place to go where everything is current and everything has made it the“go to” place for information. 

Reviewing the documentation has forced us to look at procedures in a different way, with “fresh eyes” looking at the work we do and how it might be changed. This was an unexpected result.

JC:  Something like this changes workplace culture. It’s become the norm to share information. It’s started discussions about new problems to solve.

NT: If you could describe the benefit of the project in one word, what would it be?

JC: Efficiency!

ST: Collaboration!

NT: Taken together, those two things really do speak to using process improvement work as an approach to building a team; working together to create a shared knowledge base. And really improve our service to users. Thanks for sharing this with us.  

Posted in process improvement, uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments