When a Marker is More than a Marker 

Picture Credit: Zombeiete from Flickr Creative Commons

User experience is all around us. In libraries, we often think the assessment of user experience relates to web interfaces, or building way finding and navigation. We might, ask, “Is the language that we use on the website clear to non-librarians?”  “When visitors come into the library, are they provided sufficient affordances  for orientation to the services and spaces available? “

Of course these are questions we already have on our plate for exploration, particularly now as we deal with issues of user experience in a very new library building, the Charles. 

But dry erase board markers? That seems like a pretty small operational decision. We either make them available for check out, or we don’t. But when the option of providing markers to students arose, it got a bit more complicated, and everyone had an opinion.  

Charles Library has 36 study rooms each equipped with whiteboards. These are quite popular, as evidenced by the sprawling, specialized, and creative work we see in the rooms. It is gratifying to see how this simple tool sparks collaboration among students.  Exactly the behaviors we hoped to see in these new library spaces. 

In providing study rooms, there are operational decisions to be made, from how we manage room reservations to policies on use of the rooms.   When the rooms opened, the issue of markers was raised. Should we provide them? And how? Multiple options were discussed, and each might be evaluated on a kind of user experience. 


Make markers always available in study rooms

Make markers freely available at the service desk, but don’t check them out

Check out markers at service desk

Make markers available for purchase in vending machine

Make students responsible for bringing markers for use in study rooms


There may be other solutions, of course. It’s clear that there is a range of options, and each has implications for the user experience. Each option needs to be balanced against library operational concerns, including staff time and effort (creating records in catalog for checkout, preparing the material for checkout, time for transaction at checkout, collecting fines for lost markers) and of course, the outright cost of the markers.  

We may decide that while students might love to have each each study room supplied with an array of colored markers, all full of ink, each time they visit – that may not be the experience we can afford to provide, given other organizational priorities and expectations.

Fortunately, students seem happy to bring their own markers,  as we see many wonderful expressions of collaborative work in the study rooms. While there is no right or wrong answer as to providing markers,  it’s always useful to remind ourselves that 1) there is a range of solutions available to us and 2) the solution we choose may impact user experience.  

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