Access Services in the 21st Century: The Assessment Chapter

Back in November of 2020, Michael Krasulski (Philadelphia Community College) approached Justin Hill and me about contributing to a new edition of ACRL’s Twenty-First Century Access Services. The 2013 edition was in desperate need of a refresh – so much has changed in the ways that we manage our collections and provide services to users.

Justin and I worked furiously to get our chapter submitted on time, and two years later, we were thrilled to see this announcement: 

We can’t wait to read the entire volume, but in the meantime, we share some key points from our own chapter on assessment. We structured our section as a series of questions: 

How do we get started with assessment? 

  • Start your assessment journey by identifying and getting to know the data you currently collect and have easy access to: Circulation statistics, interlibrary loan data, user feedback, space use statistics. Make sure you have a systematic, centralized approach to data collection and retention. 

How do we compare to our peer institutions? 

  • Learn about the external surveys your library is contributing to: ARL, ACRL, PLA, IPEDS, and use these datasets of comparative data for peer analysis. Consider comparing ratios, like circulation rate per student FTE, study carrel use by school and college. These will be more useful to you than just counting transactions.  Consider your purpose. Are your peers institutions like your own in terms of size or budget, or are they aspirational peers – libraries you’d like to emulate?

 How do we best manage our local collections? 

  • Analyze data on circulation, in-house and reserve material use to establish patterns of usage. 
  • For instance, understanding peak times for circulation of physical materials can inform staffing models at the service desk.
  • Usage patterns by specific user populations may suggest unidentified needs and potential for new services.

How can we expand access to content for our community? 

  • Interlibrary loan data can shed light on gaps in the local collection and guidance for the selection of e-journal backfiles for purchase.
  • Solicit feedback from users through suggestion forms, conversations with faculty, and regular collaboration with liaison libraries to share insights about disciplinary trends.

How can we be more efficient in our workflow? 

  • Get together staff around a whiteboard and diagram a complicated access services process. Figure out the pain points. Temple Libraries explored its Rush Reserves process using this approach; that project is profiled here: Rush Reserves: A Collaborative Workflow Analysis – a simple model that yields good results.  

How can we improve the user experience? 

  • How is the library experienced by a first-year student? Imagine navigating the Library of Congress shelving system for the first time. To learn more about how services can be improved for users, consider usability testing, focus groups, observation, or applied ethnography. An excellent model is the work done at the University of Rochester: Studying Students: The Undergraduate Research Project.

What is the story we want to tell? 

  • Find captivating ways of telling your libraries’ story. Many libraries, both public and academic, use data dashboards to show the public what they are doing. Data awareness can also be a staff training issue – Kennesaw State University applied a scaffolded approach to training staff, with beginners using Excel to apply replacement costs to lost items, to advanced, preparing analysis for sharing with administration.  

How do we develop an organization where assessment thrives? 

  • Assessment thrives in organizations that encourage continuous improvement and are willing to change based on evidence. A culture of assessment is supported by sharing data and assessment findings openly, using those findings to generate new questions, and taking a collaborative, team-based approach that helps to break down silos in the organization.  

While getting from draft to final publication seemed like an eternity, Justin and I think our chapter on assessment in access services will be a valuable contribution to our colleagues in the field – it’s meant to start library staff thinking about the many ways they can improve services to our communities, as well as empower staff at all levels to engage with these questions. 

Our chapter provides extensive examples, references and links.  While we can only hope that those links still work, we’re confident that the general guidance we provide remains sound and relevant until it’s time for ACRLL to publish the third edition.

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The Numbers are Falling, the Numbers are Falling!

In the assessment world, we generally like to see numbers that trend upwards. Increases in gate count, use of study rooms, the number of programs and participants – all positive. But the reality is that numbers don’t always rise, and that trend may be harder to understand. Physical circulation in academic libraries is a good example of typical decline – replaced by rising use of e-books. Numbers for reference questions may be decreasing, but we’re spending more time with research consultations.  

A recent post at the Scholarly Kitchen blog by David Crotty was frank about the declining number of page views on that important site. He refers to a “significant drop in readership” – in spite of an impressive 232 posts over the year. While daily posts remain as popular, the significant content that makes up the archive is getting less use. He theorizes, “Some of this may stem from changes in search engine algorithms, and some from our older material becoming increasingly obsolete.” 

Assessment on the Ground is not nearly as widely read as the Scholarly Kitchen, but Crotty’s transparency and thoughts about numbers prompted me to explore our statistics more deeply.  

We published just 10 posts over 2022 but are seeing an increase in author voices – thanks to Jackie Sipes, Caitlin Shanley and Nicole DeSarno. We also profiled work from across the libraries, including that of Becca Fulup, Emily Schiller and the OSAD Process Improvement Team, Stefan DelCotto, and Alicia Pucci’s work with TUScholarShare. This last was the most popular read in 2022, with 116 visits.  

Google Analytics provides us with some interesting information about “reach”. Our core audience is here at Temple, and the Philadelphia area, but we had viewers last year from Texas, Wyoming and London, a total of 804 unique visitors.

Has readership of Assessment on the Ground dropped due to stale content? We have steadily turned out posts since 2014 – and I’d like to think most of those have not aged too badly. Certainly not “obsolete” as Crotty so bluntly describes older posts at Scholarly Kitchen. The first substantial story was an interview with Katy Rawdon on processing special collections.  Still relevant and important.  

Newer posts do get the most attention, with a bump each time a new post is published.

Out of 1188 sessions in 2022, over 87% viewed just the one page, but others explored a little more deeply and viewed 2 pages or more.

Big or little numbers don’t immediately translate to impact, although trends need to be paid attention to understand the meaning behind those trends. And a willingness to be humble. Why the declining numbers?

  • Is there more “competition” for good information on library assessment?
  • Have viewers learned that the quality of these posts is not worth their time?

Over the years, our readership has remained pretty steady. Comparing this year with last, the number of visitors has gone down by 12%, but the number of pageviews has increased by 14%. And we continue to abide by our core purpose, “Profiling assessment activities at Temple University Libraries and beyond” – to celebrate the work of our staff in the work of assessment and continuous improvement.  So there, Chicken Little.


Chicken Little at the Library
Chicken Little at the library, as imagined by Dalle 2
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Metadata display in Library Search


Library Search, Temple University Libraries’ discovery layer, recently underwent a significant updates to the user interface. In Fall 2023, the Discovery Oversight Group, a group responsible for providing guidance and setting priorities for the development of Library Search, began closely examining our approach to the display of MARC record data in Library Search. Traditionally in the physical card catalog format, International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD) punctuation has been used as a way of recognizing and displaying distinct data elements in catalog records and acting as a visual delimiter between MARC subfields. 

Screenshot of record for Hidden Figures (film) with title statement and statement of responsibility is treated as one string of text with punctuation “/” preceding statement of responsibility

With this configuration, item records with long title statements or multiple subfields (like the one above) can become lengthy and hard to decipher, making search results hard to scan and distinguish from one another. It’s not ideal for how users read online, scanning quickly for the information most relevant to them. We know from our own past user research that users tend to scan through results in Library Search quickly, in search of key bibliographic information like author, title, or date, that serve as sign posts to help them find what they need and discard what they don’t. We’re also aware of how challenging it can be to distinguish one item from another when looking through dozens of results.  

With Library of Congress moving towards omitting ISBD punctuation from MARC records, we needed to rethink how we are indexing and delimiting between different MARC subfields for relevant Library Search displays, such as title statement, imprint, etc. With the physical space of a 3×5 card catalog record no longer a limiting factor in how we display information about works, we can explore alternative approaches that do not rely on prescribed punctuation, such as using the infrastructure of our discovery systems to create a human-readable display. 

Design sprint

The Discovery Oversight Group formed a working group to investigate these opportunities and challenges. Led by Emily Toner (Library Technology Development), the group included Leanne Finnegan (Metadata and Digitization Services), Jackie Sipes, (user experience) Holly Tomren (Metadata and Digitization Services), and Joi Waller (graphic design). Ahead of the fall Library Search development sprint, the working group held a week-long design sprint to explore how we might display MARC data without the use of ISBD punctuation. The design sprint was held ahead of the development sprint to allow ample time for collecting user feedback before moving forward with significant design changes.  

We completed the design sprint across 5 days with group members spending anywhere from a 1-3hrs per day on meetings or other sprint activities. Focusing on highly visible data, such as title, author, and publication information that provides essential information to our users when they are reviewing search results and record pages, we proposed three “How might we” questions to guide us as we brainstormed solutions: 

  • How might we convey the different levels of information for record details (ex. hierarchy of title/subtitle, author/creator/contributor, etc.)? 
  • How might we help users to disambiguate records? 
  • How might we make finding and identifying items quick and intuitive for users? 

A few of our ideas included: 

  • Separate title, subtitle, statement of responsibility  
  • Highlight fields with background color 
  • Make different levels of information visually distinct — different font sizes, line breaks, etc.  
  • Strip out unnecessary punctuation and use other visual indicators  
  • Create separate field for secondary creator/contributors (rather than displaying that info alongside primary author) 
  • Prominently display information that helps users distinguish between records (resource type, location 
  • Simplify brief record displays  

Based on these ideas, Joi created 6 different prototypes, each with different configurations of the title, subtitle, and statement of responsibility. 

For the prototypes, we used the search Hidden Figures which provides more than one example of the problems we wanted to solve – helping users disambiguate between different items by the same title in multiple formats as well as containing items with longer title statements where ISBD punctuation is used to separate MARC data.   

User feedback

To gather feedback, Joi and I (with lots of help from John Pyle) set up a table and rolling whiteboard in the Charles atrium. Noticing that traffic in the building felt unusually low that day, we hauled our setup outside and positioned ourselves under the overhang near the 13th street entrance on a perfect, sunny, fall day. 

Exterior of Charles Library showing where we set up

We had 8 participants in total, including 3 undergraduates, 3 graduate students, 1 faculty, and 1 staff. All but two had used Library Search previously, and those who hadn’t had experience using library catalogs at their previous institutions. Participants came from a range of TU schools and colleges including Biology, English, French, Music, and Public Health. 

To get feedback we used a combination of visual preference testing, informal in interviews, and a brief survey. 

For the preference testing, we showed participants the 6 prototypes printed on large 11×17 paper and taped to the white board for easy comparison. Participants were given the following prompt: 

Here’s a scenario. You’ve just searched for the book Hidden Figures, and these are the first three results you see. Spend a minute or so examining the prototypes. There are subtle differences; don’t get too caught up trying to look for those. Just think about would be most helpful to you if you were looking at these results and trying to evaluate these results.

Title statements

Of our prototypes, most participants preferred E, with F a close second. Though design differences were subtle throughout the prototypes, participants agreed that the blue background in E and F helped draw them to the item title right away. The response to the updated displays was generally very positive, confirming our decision to separate the statement of responsibility, which contains author information, as well we any other persons, corporate bodies, etc. that contributed to the content of the source, out from the title section.

Original Hidden Figures, film 
Prototype E/F Hidden Figures, film, title and statement of responsibility displayed hierarchically on two separate lines 

To implement a separated the title and statement of responsibility in Library Search, we created separate fields for indexing the title and the statement of responsibility and configured the display of those fields through design elements and page structure. Shifting the statement of responsibility below the title suggests a hierarchy to the information presented, while additional styling elements, such as the high-contrast font and royal-blue background color and reconfigured (larger!) font sizes in the title area, help users hone-in on the details needed to identify and disambiguate sources as they browse search results. 

There was less consensus from users around the display of subtitles. Some participants found prototype E (with the subtitle on a separate line) to be less cluttered and easier to read. A participant who preferred F, commented that she liked seeing title and subtitle together on a single line as it provided context for how the item was different than the titles above and below.

Prototype E, Hidden Figures, book, title and subtitle displayed hierarchically on two separate lines 
Prototype F, Hidden Figures, book, title and subtitle displayed on one line  

We initially planned to implement the separated subtitle (prototype E), but once the development sprint started, we realized the need for a careful and more thorough investigation before proceeding with additional metadata mapping updates. So, that change is on hold for now. 

Summary previews and other improvements 

The near consensus from users on the visual design was interesting, but not unsurprising. Breaking the statement of responsibility out of the title statement was a clear improvement for readability. Talking with users also helped us clarify what item information they find most useful in the search results display. We asked participants to review a list of 10 items and indicate which 5 they rely on most when scanning search results.  

Summary (brief overview)8/8
Resource type8/8
Author(s) / Creator(s)7/8
Physical description1/8
Information about the publisher1/8
Table of contents0/8
Contributor(s) (e.g., editor, illustrator, etc.)0/8
Information that users rely on most when selecting items from search results

All participants selected summary and resource type, neither of which were displayed very prominently in Library Search before this update. In response, we added a summary preview to the brief record display in the search results (this wasn’t the first time we’d heard users express a desire for making this information more prominent) with a toggle to expand to the full summary. We also moved resource type to the title section to make it more noticeable.  

Final design

Before the update, item records mostly lacked any significant visual indicators that might signal hierarchical or other relationships between data. Scrolling through results that share similar or exact titles or exist in multiple formats (see: Hidden Figures, MacBeth, Jaws) it was easy to overlook important details such as resource type, statement of responsibility, or date. Moving towards omitting ISBD punctuation from MARC records offers the opportunity to build a display more readable, usable display. 

Sharing our designs with users and talking with them about their search habits was immensely helpful as we grappled with the complexities on both the cataloging end and user end. As we moved through the end of our design sprint and later into a full development sprint with the Blacklight team, the user feedback helped to ground various technical and design decisions that arose along the way. 

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Considering the Conference Experience 

This last week I had the opportunity to experience two very special conferences in two ways – the Library Assessment Conference was held virtually from November 1 to November 3. As co-chair, I was deeply involved in the planning for a positive experience – for presenters and attendees. A few days later, Temple Libraries hosted the Designing Libraries IX conference here in Philadelphia. Again, I also shared in planning the conference experience, as a member of the local committee and a moderator of two panels. After a very, very busy two weeks, I have a much richer understanding of the benefits and challenges of these conference formats for learning, sharing and networking.  

As we started to plan the 2022 Library Assessment Conference, there was uncertainty about COVID, travel, and the risk of planning for an in-person conference many months into the future. Our Steering Committee believed that a virtual experience would be more inclusive and accessible to our targeted audience. Virtual conferences allow for lower registration fees, and of course, no expenses are incurred for travel. Participants are not taken away from regular work and home responsibilities and can elect a level of participation that suits their needs: turning video on or off, chatting and engaging in questions and answer sessions or not. These many benefits resulted in a high participation rate:  102 papers, posters, “challenge talks” and mini-workshops we called Assessment Accelerators, presented in both plenary and concurrent sessions, attracting over 550 attendees.  

What was the user experience? For the Steering Committee, it was hectic, with a constant stream of messages over WhatsApp while managing the live conference. The Zoom events platform was clunky, and throughout the conference moderators battled frozen computer screens and Zoom crashes. Chat provided the primary vehicle for exchange among attendees, and this more ephemeral content is more difficult to capture, much less synthesize. The formal feedback has not yet been analyzed, but our expectation is that participants will report positive experiences with all the rich content, the lively interactions through chat – but definitely – an experience requiring the user’s attention and focus to take full advantage. And patience with technology.

The Designing Libraries conference was in person. Place DOES make a difference, and Philadelphia always delivers, in spite of no ticker-tape parade for the Phillies. The program was filled with experiences that took full advantage of being in person, from a welcome reception with live music, food and drinks, to tours of the Charles Library that wowed our attendees.  

The in-person conference is not without its own constraints, however. Space limited us to 270 attendees, leaving many would-be participants disappointed. As a self-sustaining conference, most costs were supported by registration fees. In real life, people need food and transportation.  Travel to the conference was impacted by flight cancellations, traffic jams held up bus tours, and myriad details, from lanyards to luggage kept us awake at night.  But based on the level of interaction and engagement, it seemed our attendees were hungry for the type of connection facilitated by in-person experiences.

Whatever the format, a successful conference requires top-notch content, a program structure that flows, excellent technology support, and robust channels for participant interchange. Ideally, our conferences will capture the best of both formats – a seamless user experience that is accessible and inclusive to all.

If only those apple cider doughnuts could be transported through the web! 

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Ramping Up Library Tutorials

Temple Libraries has a long history of providing high quality information literacy instruction for courses at Temple. As we continue to learn more and adapt our teaching methods, our Learning and Student Success unit recognized a need to grow our inventory of asynchronous tutorials to support increasing demand for online learning content.

Back in Fall 2019, we started a pilot of a new model for library support for the First Year Writing (FYW) Program, one of our largest and highest-impact instructional programs. While we had seen success in the past holding two in-person workshops for each section, we were curious to experiment with new modes of delivery that could increase learning while maximizing staff time. In Spring 2020 we started making plans for the second phase of the pilot when…well, you know what happened in Spring 2020. Our quick ramp-up to fully online support was stressful, but resulted in a wealth of new online learning content that we knew could be reused and repurposed.

Building on earlier work

After receiving positive feedback regarding the elearning modules created for ENG 802/FYW, we decided to utilize aspects of the existing content to create short tutorials that promote information literacy education and support students on topics related to research. These tutorials offer students support on information literacy topics in real time and can be revisited as needed.

Improving findability

Over the past few years, we’ve been steadily growing the library of self-paced and interactive tutorials, hosted on the Tutorials page. Launched in early 2020, the page itself has also gone through updates as the number of tutorials has grown and adjustments were necessary to make the page more user-friendly. Each tutorial is now accessible from its own tab on the Tutorials page, which allows us to include additional information, such as learning objectives and estimated duration. Over the summer, we worked with LTD to implement another key change, which allows each tutorial to be embedded directly on the page, keeping users on the website.

screenshot of library website, with annotations pointing out individual page links and embedded tutorials

In addition to improving the user experience of our tutorials, these changes will also allow us to track usage at a more granular level, informing us about which tutorials are being discovered, and where users are coming from.

Making changes based on user feedback

While tracking website analytics may contribute to informing future development, our richest assessment data come from the feedback surveys found at the end of each of our tutorials. While these forms are completely optional, we receive a fair amount of feedback there, both critical and positive.

To share one example of user-directed updates, we noticed a trend in our feedback that seemed worthy of addressing. Student feedback surveys include a place to list outstanding questions, and citations is one of the most commonly entered responses. For instance, in spring 2022, we received 488 responses to our FYW Module 1, and 25 of those responses included a question about citing.

While it can be tricky to figure out exactly what students mean when they say they want to know more about “citing,” our current response involves adding additional tutorials on citations, both created in house and adapted from colleagues at other institutions (like these great examples from librarians at Marquette University). Check our Tutorials page again soon to see these in action!

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Continuously Improving User Experience at the One Stop

Staff at the Charles Library One Stop Assistance Desk serve as an essential gateway to library resources, services and spaces – for users entering the building, as well as connecting patrons to library services by telephone. While many users visit the space without ever interacting with desk staff, those that do expect a positive and seamless experience. As the service conduit, any referral, or “handoff”, must be efficient, effective and appropriate to the needs of the user, whether that is payment for a 3-D print, help with a laptop kiosk, or a complex reference question.  

In March 2022 we convened a team to look at this service “eco-system”, from the perspectives of both users and staff. The team included members from three core departments providing service through the desk: Access Services, Library Research Services, and Technology Support. This group gathered and reviewed data on transaction activity as well as user and desk staff experiences, identified core service values and barriers to implementing those values.

The project plan included a transaction data review and collection component to:  

Develop better understanding of what is going on at the One Stop desk using currently available data as well as data collected to complete a picture of the service environment more holistically. These data may also provide examples of what is working well and what is troublesome, serving as the basis for discussion and collaborative problem-solving.

While this was useful, it only took us so far. For instance, much of the “referral” activity is not reflected systematically in the LibInsight tool. The tool designed for student transaction tracking focuses on their training needs more than user experience specifically. To supplement this data, Emily and Jackie designed user comment cards. Although gratifying to hear nice feedback, users seemed more likely to comment on positive experiences than unhappy ones.

Lively meeting discussions among the team and with managers were more fruitful in identifying areas for improvement. Simple tweaks will contribute to better information flow between departments, like consolidation and re-naming of SLACK channels, and regular check-in of student supervisors at the OSAD. Cross-training of ITS and Access Services students who work the desk is recommended, as well as more regular meetings for information sharing between the Scholars Studio, OSAD, Student Success, ITS, LRS, Facilities and SCRC.  An attractive flyer to describe the many modes of reference service available will be helpful to get patrons where they need to go with least resistance.

An important goal for this project was to build trust and strengthen relationships between the departments in the service of users. Collaborative brainstorming and problem-solving together to resolve barriers – these are essential to accomplish that goal. And while not explicit as a planned outcome, the process also provided an opportunity for staff to develop and practice leadership and project management in new ways. The resulting changes and approach to continuous improvement contributes to the positioning of the One Stop Assistance Desk as THE hub for information flow across the spaces and services at the Charles.  

Thanks to the two teams contributing to this effort:

Service Improvement Working Group Membership: Emily Schiller (Lead), Joel Cammarota, Fred Rowland, Jackie Sipes, Cody Smallwood, Nancy Turner

Management Consultive Group Membership: Justin Hill (Lead), Steven Bell, Olivia Given Castello, Cynthia Schwarz,  Nancy Turner 

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Working with Faculty to Meet Their Library Collection Needs  

Scholarship and teaching about the performing arts is continually changing. Temple Libraries’ new librarian for Music Performance, Becca Fulop, has worked hard to get to know her faculty – in particular their needs in library collections. She wanted to learn more about the formats they found most useful for their research and teaching, asking: 

  • Are there gaps in the collection?  
  • Would digital sheet music be of use for your teaching?  
  • If the library doesn’t have what you need for your research (or teaching), where would you go? 

This spring Becca came to me to help her craft a survey for faculty in her liaison areas of dance, theatre and music. We determined together that a survey made sense, given the questions she had.  After multiple drafts, Becca developed survey questions that were clear and she was good to go – launching the survey to about 147 faculty members in music and dance, and 40 in theatre.  

We sat down recently to debrief about the process of conducting this survey, as well as the findings. 

NBT: Tell me about how the survey came about?  

BF:  I was getting frustrated with not having a clear idea of what kinds of materials and formats my faculty preferred, especially in theater and dance, which are two subject areas I’m still learning about. I thought if I could get them to talk to me about what they wanted, my job would be so much simpler! But that’s easier said than done. I had also recently attended the virtual Music Library Association (MLA) conference and seen a presentation about a music library that did a big initiative to acquire and integrate digital scores into their collection. I realized that it was possible that my music faculty wanted more access to digital scores, or that they would become more interested once they learned about the benefits to their teaching that digital scores could offer. But I didn’t know if that was even something they wanted. So I got the idea to just ask them all these questions and hope to get some useful feedback. 

NBT: What did you find most interesting?  

BF: I included several open-ended questions allowing the faculty to describe to me their teaching and research areas, and I was most interested to see what kinds of topics they would mention. Obviously these responses indicated personal interests and teaching areas rather than trends that I could build from, but I enjoyed learning a little about the kind of work our faculty do and it gave me ideas for topics and areas I should watch out for in my selecting. 

NBT: Anything that surprised you? 

BF: Even though the response numbers were fairly low, there was a surprising amount of variation in feelings about ebooks. Some people preferred ebooks for research, some for teaching, some for both, but it was kind of all over the place. I’d be interested to learn more about these views, but for now I’m taking away the idea that the faculty will use whatever is available. 

Another thing that I shouldn’t find surprising is that I am still getting faculty asking me to buy CDs. I didn’t even include them as an option on my list of preferred formats, since we don’t buy them for the collection anymore except in special circumstances, but someone still managed to write it in! 

NBT: Any future plans for assessment of faculty needs? 

BF: Soon after the survey was concluded, I got an email from a representative of nkoda, a digital score library and e-reader, offering us a free trial. I liked the look of it and the survey convinced me that digital scores are something my faculty are interested in, so we will be doing the free trial in the fall. I am currently recruiting faculty members (and I hope to include some students as well) to take part in a focus group to assess their usage of and satisfaction with nkoda, in the hopes that we might be able to continue our subscription in the future. I always encourage anyone who uses a service we’re trying out to send me their feedback, so I hope that between the faculty and students at large and the focus group, I’ll get some useful data on nkoda. 

I do intend to survey the faculty again in the future, using what I learned the first time to improve. For one thing, I think the timing of the survey wasn’t ideal, as the faculty were busy and distracted during the end of the term. They might have been more receptive had I produced the survey at the beginning of the semester. 

NBT: Interesting. While you may have been disappointed a bit with the response rate, you’ve got some good information to work with, like knowing that needs vary across the departments. Building on your findings with a focus group is a great idea. And you’ve made a valuable connection with the faculty.  That’s an important outcome of this work.  

Thanks, Becca, for sharing your experience with us. And thanks for doing this assessment work. 

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Assessing Library Services with a DEI Lens

The annual American Library Association conference returned (at last!) to an in-person format this year. It was great to meet up with colleagues, and miraculously, the heat and humidity of Washington DC were bearable, even at the end of June.

Transformation was THE theme of the conference, from collections and access to library physical and virtual spaces. Many sessions related to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. It’s always interesting to hear from a variety of library types – it expands my own thinking about opportunities and challenges.


In the panel Everyone is Welcome: Designing for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility in Library Buildings, we heard from Richard Kong, director of the Skokie Public Library outside of Chicago. A recent renovation required them to seriously rethink how best to provide a welcoming library space to a public that is 40% foreign born. Kong spoke to the concept of architecture as having potential for healing, a space to reduce personal and social anxiety. But in practice, there is a need to balance aspects of inclusiveness with other building qualities.

  • Kong spoke to an example of converting a court yard from a green space to a hardscape. While the green space was lovely to look at, and contributed to a sense of wellness and calm, it limited use by patrons in wheelchairs, with walkers or strollers. The hard surface isn’t as attractive, but allows for more kinds of programming.
  • Big staircases encourage flow through a building space, and support exercise – but elevators provide access to users with mobility issues. It’s important to make those elevators visible too.
  • Variety and flexibility came up again and again – in practice this means seating that supports all kinds of bodies, and tables that support multiple uses.


Conducting a Large-scale Diversity Audit for Urban Public Library Systems described a project to evaluate the St. Louis Public Library system’s fiction collection to insure its diverse community is reflected. Staff at 17 locations went into the stacks and manually assessed a sampling (213,207) of the fiction titles with an eye towards diversity in its many aspects, including: race, religion, LGBTQIA+, neuro and body diversity, mental health, and author identity. Hugely time-consuming and admittedly imperfect an approach, the exercise provided staff with a deeper appreciation of collection development and assessment practice.  Presenters Tiffany Davis and Anna Strackeljahn felt this was an important strength, in spite of tht time commitment. For a collection of 11 million titles, more feasible approaches include analysis of collection diversity using Library of Congress subject headings, or Baker & Taylor’s DEI Collection HQ tool.


While not explicitly about DEIA, the session Save, Edit, Delete – Pushing Virtual Services Forward while Returning Onsite Post-Pandemic also raised important issues about making our services as accessible as possible based on lessons learned during the pandemic.

  • For instance, patrons loved the outdoor pick up services offered by libraries during the pandemic, and being able to check out internet access “hot spots”.
  • While Zoom-enabled reference consultation is now popular across the board, and will definitely continue, the “drop-in Zoom” received mixed reviews. Most libraries have returned to past practice of staffing a desk for in-person reference assistance.
  • Some libraries have dispensed with fines entirely, and provide for online card registration.
  • A new kind of programming that works well in the virtual space is conversation groups for language learning.

To wrap up the session, facilitators asked each table to consider this question:

What services put into place during the pandemic would you most like to discard, and get rid of entirely?

A crowded room of 150 attendees all laughed in recognition as a librarian provides this idea:  “Let’s discard our resistance to change.”

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The Continuous Process of Keeping Our Student Workers “Up to Speed”    

The One Stop Assistance Desk could not function without our student workers. Making sure they are supported in the highly visible and essential work they do, managing desk duties when we’re at home asleep, is critical. Stefan Del Cotto, the student supervisor, is continually finding new ways to connect with them and keep track with what they’re doing — during business hours and late into the night. 

The Student Interaction Tracker helps with this.  It’s a Google sheet that students use to quickly document any type of interaction, from a book check out, to printing issues, to reference and referral. 

The Tracker is important for understanding trends using real numbers rather than anecdote as we make decisions about scheduling needs. But Stefan goes beyond the number crunching and employs the Tracker as a tool for improving the training of students. 

I spoke last week with Stefan about the Student Interaction Tracker. Here are some excerpts from our conversation. 

Tell me a little bit about the Student Transaction Tracker that you use at the desk. When did it start? What is its purpose? 

The Student Interaction Tracker originated as a tool to see how busy the students were during the night shift – what kinds of questions they were getting. We wanted to know if it was worthwhile keeping the desk staffed during those late-night hours. It provided useful insight into what was going on.  

We opened up the Tracker to all students in the Fall of 2021. We used to have 10-15 students, now we’re down to 6. We have always had to look at data to plan optimal times for scheduling those students.  

The ultimate purpose of the Tracker is to gauge what questions are being asked, and this information translates into our training. We ask the students about the questions that were troublesome to identify areas for improvement. It’s important for students to know that their performance isn’t evaluated with this data — we have other processes for that.  

What were your design considerations to make sure that the students used the form? 

The categories of interaction type are color-coded. Purple for tech questions; green for informational. We want students to easily get their check marks in the right place. Designing a good form is a fine balance of having enough categories that data is captured accurately but use of the form isn’t overwhelming. We’ve added some data entry short-cuts to get the day/time stamp into the form, and  we try to make it as seamless as possible.  

How has it been received by the student workers? 

The biggest surprise was actually the high compliance in use of the Tracker! I thought I’d have to remind them, but students are using it faithfully.  We ask for feedback from students at the end of each semester, and they say the tracker is easy to use. And they provide suggestions, like noting when they help a patron with self-checkout.  

Students know that we look at the form regularly, because we follow up with them on their questions, and we meet with them weekly to review.   

As the student supervisor, how have you used this data? 

I use the data to make sure students are getting accurate information when they need it. I’m also continually refining our training program for students. For instance, course reserves may get less attention than in the past, and technical questions related to printing and computers gets much more.  

Tell me about a specific improvement that you’ve made, based on something you’ve learned 

We’ve refined the form over time. In the beginning, we were getting a big percentage of transactions in the “other” category. So things are more split out. In terms of our practice at the desk, we’re re-considering our seating positions at the One Stop – so that students are approached first. We’d like them to be the first to address questions, with staff serving as back up when necessary.  

They do well with patrons who are learning to use the Self-Check. But they can pretty much handle most everything that comes their way. 

Thanks, Stefan. This is a great example of something we do that supports students in a way that really enhances the user experience too. It’s a win win.  

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Envisioning our Future: The Constant is Change

Last week I shared some highlights of the Envisioning our Future interview project with TULUP staff. In this post I begin to pull together themes that emerged over the course of the project’s three phases: organizational communication, change and connection.  

We began this research journey in early 2019 as library staff at Paley Library were planning the move to Charles. In proposing this assessment project to the Association of Research Libraries, I referenced the Atheneum21 report on successful implementation of digital strategies in libraries. Success, they said, is about the people and the culture, not the technologies themselves.  This new space, Charles Library, would be full of exciting technologies for collaboration and research, for staff and for users. We wanted to explore how our people, the TULUP staff, imagined the spaces changing their work. What are the opportunities, and what are the envisioned challenges?

The research design was qualitative; semi-structured interviews. We asked about the spaces that staff used for work as individuals, with colleagues and users, and how they felt supported in making those changes.

In reflecting on the new space, one interviewee says,   

In order to survive and thrive in the new building, we’re going to have to work together more closely. I expect that some people will be resistant to that sort of change, but I thing by and large people, especially in the beginning, will be receptive, because we’ll be in the new, really unique space. (p. 9) 

I think it will be a nice opportunity for me to chat with some people that I don’t normally interact with” (p. 9)  

From: Envisioning our Future, Report on Findings and Staff Conversations, August 12, 2019

In Phase II we conducted a second round of interviews about six months after the move to Charles, but just before the pandemic hit. Findings were reported in July 2020 as The Future in Now: How We’re Working at Charles. Not surprisingly, change and communication were central themes emerging from this round of interviews. We noted that clear and regular communication about operations during the change was key – staff needed ready access to information about known problem areas in the building and technology. Staff working on the front lines, using instruction and consultation spaces, and helping users at the service desks, felt particularly frustrated by unexpected disruptions. Noise! Technology glitches! Help!

But staff recognized these early days as transitional and once again, there was a sense of optimism about the future:  

Change is hard. I feel like in a couple of years it’s going to be fine. I think sometimes it’s a little demoralizing that people aren’t seeing the potential of the building. They’re expecting everything to be perfect right away. 

After three, four months I’m starting to feel like this is where we are. This is our future. (p23) 

We reported on perceived changes in organizational culture. Many interviewees spoke to the new physical spaces necessitating a shift in how staff work together, “from shared workspaces to increased need for inter-departmental cooperation in providing positive service experiences for our users.”  

I think that we need to be talking a lot more about how to create a workplace culture that is going to work, where we have respect for each other’s boundaries and space in a way that we’ve never had to talk about before.

From: The Future is Now: How We’re Working at Charles, July 23, 2020

We were getting used to the new spaces, and finding out how it worked for us most effectively.

But of course the story does not end there. Just as we were wrapping up our interviews for Phase II of research in spring of 2020, the library buildings closed due to COVID. As an organization, we faced a new kind of hardship that brought us together to solve challenges, but divided us in other ways. Envisioning our Future: The Pandemic Changed Everything (completed in March 2022) provides a third “installment” to this exploration into how space supports out work. Again we asked staff, from across the library/press system, about physical and virtual spaces, onsite and remote. This hybrid work environment adds an additional dimension to our use of space, particularly in how we communicate and collaborate with colleagues.

Key findings relate to these “cultural” implications. For instance, several staff described a perceived loosening of collegial ties, particularly with those outside their immediate department or project teams. 

I worry what Covid has done to our cohesion as a staff and as an organization. I worry that it has taken an organization that was already pretty siloed and made it even more siloed because you’re not having those chance encounters. (p.15) 

There’s a lot of flexibility in our schedule and it’s very nice for life. But it’s weird for any kind of collegiality. (p.15) 

From: Envisioning our Future Phase III: The Pandemic Changed Everything, March 29, 2022

We’ve now been envisioning our future for three years. What a privilege it has been to work with three great research teams, to conduct, read and reflect on 86 interviews, and to get at this deep level of organizational self-study over three years. As we look to the future now, we need to look closely at how the hybrid work environment impacts our organization – from basics of technology and communication practices to how we collaborate effectively in our work. How do we move forward together, in unison and in service to the University? How do we create a sense of community and organizational cohesion, particularly as we onboard new staff members? And importantly, how do we best support one another during these periods of stress and disruption – as we learn that this change is not temporary, but a constant.

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