Library users’ experience in focus

The Swedish National Library and Libris, together with Inuse (the usability consultant), the Stockholm City Library and Chalmers University Library, have produced a map of library users’ motives and need for digital library services. The map is inten-ded to provide a picture of what would be of most benefit to develop both nationally and locally, so that we can give users the right support through the right channels regardless of where they are locally, nationally, and internationally. The basic data will form the foundation in prioritizing and designing the library services of the future.

Currently, information on the titles of printed books that can be borrowed at all Swedish college and university libraries can be found in Libris, the Swedish joint catalogue. But how will future users of digital library services think and act? What context will they find themselves in? What will the research process look like, and what types of material will they need in different situations? These are a few of the things we wanted to find out.

A music analogy

To design attractive user experiences, you need to look at the user’s entire ecosystem. Traditionally, it started with developing a new technology – for example, the mp3 player – which made it possible to listen to music without a physical medium. In itself the product was revolutionary, but it wasn’t particularly useful since it had a small amount of memory. But the technology was refined over time, and it became possible to produce digital music players with significantly larger capacities than before; now it was a question of function – in this case, memory capacity. The producers copied each other and the players got more and more memory, but at some point in time it was no longer profitable to compete over the number of songs that could be loaded. To stay relevant, they needed to go past the technology and the functions and think about the user experience, which Apple did with its iPod. It developed a platform for music lovers that works in everyday life and meets their needs. In today’s climate, when changes occur quickly and it becomes more and more difficult to engage people, we need to look initially at the user experience in order to quickly launch meaningful products on the market.

Starting from the user’s context

It was against this background, more or less, that we started thinking about what services we would need to develop to create relevant services for the library’s users. Our strategy was, therefore, to make use of qualitative methods and meet users in their natural contexts. This way, we could gain deep insights into what strategies people use in different situations, and what problems and motives govern their daily lives, rather than dividing up the users into different segments such as age, gender, level of education, geographic location, and so on. We initiated the mapping by going through three existing target group analyses from Libris, the Stockholm City Libra-ry, and Chalmers University Library. We then supplemented it with a further twenty or so interviews.

The result was three types of behaviour or target groups:

  • Task-driven readers
  • Interest-driven readers
  • Pleasure readers

Here follows a short summary of the different target groups and how the library should act to meet the different needs and motives of these groups.

Good enough

Task-driven readers are characterized by having a task to complete, which perhaps they did not necessarily choose themselves. It could be, for example, a researcher who needs to write an ar-ticle on commission, or a student writing a paper. Task-driven readers are distinguished by wanting to quickly get hold of a book or source that is good enough to complete the task.

The lesson for the library is that task-driven people need overviews of the subject, lists of reference literature, and suggestions for similar hits. They want to orient themselves in an area and get help in starting up; they also want to know quickly whether the book or text can be downloaded or is available in physical form.

Interest-driven readers

Interest-driven readers are, as indicated by the heading, chiefly driven by their interests, or purely by passion for a subject or an issue. It could be a researcher who needs new fuel for research, or someone interested in music who wants to get hold of a unique album, so they are prepared to make great efforts to find the ‘right material’. They want to increase and deepen their knowledge in their discipline and are willing to spread it out through different networks.

The lessons for the libraries, if they want to meet the needs of interest-driven readers, are to make it easier to monitor and follow developments in

particular disciplines. They need good metadata in order to determine if they have found the right source or text. They are also willing to contribute to increasing the quality of the material for their interests by sharing their knowledge.

Pleasure readers – top ten list readers, niche readers, and sidetrack readers

Pleasure readers are people who want to have something good to read, and quickly. They often read things that are widely and easily available, and are willingly spontaneous. Pleasure readers can then be divided into subgroups, for example top ten list readers who want to follow the latest thing everyone’s talking about; niche readers who keep to certain genres or authors; and sidetrack readers who like to read different types of books, preferably shorter titles.

The lesson for the library regarding pleasure readers is that they want lists and links to reviews, as well as book circles and activities around popular books and authors. They also want to have inspiration and tips on similar titles.

How we can go further, and which target group(s) should be prioritized?

The question for decision-makers is which of these target groups should be prioritized when deciding the direction and design of the libraries – and library services – of the future. The needs of users must be reconciled against the tasks regulated in the Swedish Library Act and other local goals, as well as against other partners both commercial and non-commercial who can offer alternative services that meet these needs. Work is under way just now on prioritizing the target groups against a number of overarching efforts: joint entry into the collected resources of the library; access to open data or a cross-section in order to find out which effort will provide the greatest benefit. Is it just one of these, or a combination of several? This is an issue we’re investigating right now, and which will be ready by the beginning of next year.

The basic data are visualised in an effect map and an experience map. The experience map is intended to set these behaviours in a context and to get a general picture of what their research process looks like over time, from the first impulse to the consumption of the title or source. We also produced an effect map, where you can see the whole chain of reasoning from the general effect objective to the measures that fulfil the use objectives. The basic data are freely available and can be used to advantage as the foundation for local libraries’ development work. The report can be found in its entirety on the National Library Web site:

Libris department UX Director at National Library of Sweden