Start Up a U/X Café at Your Library

This is a guest post by Kati Polodna, Web Systems Assistant at Arapahoe Libraries.

Feel unsure of what your patrons want when they visit your library website? Is traditional patron feedback not enough to give you what you need to make your library’s website both amazing and accessible? It’s time to think outside the box and start a U/X Café!

What is a U/X Café?

Arapahoe Libraries web team visited library branches with a laptop, a series of questions or a short task, and an incentive, to speak to patrons for no more than ten minutes, to gather website feedback. Why a café? It’s friendly—and we offered free coffee!

Know Thyself

Ask yourself:

  • What website problems do we need to solve?
  • What do I want to improve on the website?
  • Why do I want to improve the website?
  • Would [that change] benefit the patron?
  • How many changes should I make at once?
  • How much of the website is customizable?

Know Thy Audience

Ask yourself:

  • What kind of users use your website? We broke down our users into two categories.
    • User1: Browsers/Discoverers
      • Browsers/Discoverers like to visit the website, aren’t limited by time, like to browse and discover
    • User2: Direct Users
      • These users know exactly what they want and expect it to be where they think it should be and they know how to get what they want, may also be short on time
  • How can you meet the needs of both Browsers and Direct Users?
    • Can you place information in multiple places, like side menus, top menus, footers and headers?
    • Look at other popular websites for inspiration to see how other libraries and companies solved your issue
      • Where do you log in?
      • Where is the search bar?
      • Where do you look for help, hours, locations and more?
  • What are peak times at my library? (That’s so you can interview the most patrons!)
    • What we learned: two peak times, after story times and late afternoon/after school but before dinner
    • Consider having a U/X café after a popular program, but not too late in the day because patrons want to go home

Homework Time

First, it’s important to remember that you are not your user. You know too much about the website. You are too involved. This is not “designer” experience. This is “user” experience. So think about your audience.These questions can help you get a baseline for your users.

  • Do your users primarily use a desktop or mobile?
  • How often do patrons use your website?
  • What do patrons primarily use the website for?
  • What do patrons wish they could find easily?
  • And, something to ask yourself, who do you not see using the website, and why?

Which of these two processes sounds like you?

  • Are you adding a new webpage, library service or something else to the website? Are you renaming a service or something similar?
  • Is it just time for a refresh?
    • Not sure where to start? Review your analytics and determine if you can make website improvements based off analytics.
      • Do you have a lot of bounces? Can you figure out why and what you can do to improve that?
      • What are your popular pages? Do you want to revamp those pages first?
      • What are your least popular pages? Do you want those pages to be more popular?
      • Are there pages you expected to be popular that aren’t? Why is that? And what can you do to drive traffic?

Mini Case Study

Arapahoe Libraries wanted to update our online resources;it was time to both clean up and simplify patrons’ access to nearly 100 databases. First, we needed identify the problem or what you would like to improve: too many databases could overwhelm patrons. Next, we reviewed how our online resources currently look, what issues we saw, and what we thought we could change to improve our patrons’ online resources experience. During our hard look, we brainstormed ideas and we also worked to avoid jargon. For example, what does “online resource” mean versus a “database”? What does the term “research” imply if you’re in a public library versus an academic library?

Start small. We thought about where one database could go, like the popular Consumer Reports database. Could it live under a business category, a consumer category or something else? What are common themes between online resources? What are broad categories multiple databases can fit under? Create a few mock ups either on paper or in your sandbox.

Show your mock ups to involved parties, and who are those involved parties? Are there super user librarians who can give you honest feedback? What about floor staff who spend time working with patrons and may have insights you hadn’t considered? Take a step back for a few days and comeback to it with fresh eyes. Which mock ups were the most popular and/or intuitive? After that, it’s almost time to show your mock ups to patrons.

Build the Right Questions

Now that you have mock ups, create a specific task or tasks for patrons to complete that reflect the end goal of your project. Build that task into a scenario and keep it short, ten minutes or less. Here are two examples.  

  1. If you wanted to find an eBook to download from an app called OverDrive, under what online resource category would you browse?
  2. Let’s say you want to purchase a new vacuum cleaner. You’ve heard the library has product reviews. Where you would find that information?

Which scenario will give you unbiased information from your patron? Example 2. When writing a scenario, don’t want to give away any information that could sway the patron. In the first example, which uses words like “app” and “online resource,” you’ve directed the patron how to navigate. That doesn’t help you learn how a patron thinks through a question. The second example avoids words like Consumer Reports, database or online resource. While the second example is more vague, it forces the patron to think through where they might start looking for information even if they don’t have all the information. That helps you understand how patrons browse your website.

However, if you are trying to improve a specific task, like asking patrons how they would find hoopla, you may want to use a direct question. That question would appeal to your users who are direct when going to your website, but think about how that question would affect users who tend to browse. You could phrase the question two ways: Where would you find hoopla? and A friend told you that the library has movies you can download. How do you find them?

It’s two ways of asking the same question. You may find that patrons don’t know what hoopla is. A patron may go about the task in a completely unexpected way that you hadn’t considered. Or you may find that patrons consistently answer the same. That’s all helpful information for you to take back and digest and then use to improve your user’s experience.

Talking Time

How do you get patrons to participate? Ask! It’s going to be weird. It’s going to be hard. And you’re going to get rejected. That’s okay. Eventually, someone will participate. Try to offer an incentive, like free coffee or a stylus pen, something that’s useful and doesn’t feel or look cheap.Keep asking. Be upbeat and friendly, but not too insistent. Wear your name tag. Don’t take any negative feedback personally. Patrons don’t know you and they don’t know how much of the website you created.

Set Up

  • Write down your questions in a script format.
  • Bring a colleague with you: one to ask the questions and one to take notes.
  • Bring a laptop with a mouse. Not all patrons are comfortable using a trackpad.
  • Notice what patrons spend the most time doing,like hovering over menus or what links they click as they go along.
  • Once the patron is done, take time to discuss your observations and write down those observations before moving on to the next patron.

Ask patrons to talk aloud as they go. Tell them that you aren’t judging them. You are testing the site, not the patron and not their abilities. If a patron has trouble with the tasks, that means there’s a problem with the website, not them, and it’s going to help you fix problems and build abetter website. If patrons ask questions while completing tasks, do not answer them. Let the patron work through the process or task themselves. And if they don’t complete the task, tell that it’s okay and move on.

At the end of the task, ask the patrons the following:

  • What did you expect to do/find?
  • What did you find confusing?

Then you can ask specific questions about their answers,such as “What about [X] makes you associate with [X] words?” An example: We asked patrons where they would register for a storytime. Some patrons navigated to the Services tab and some navigated to the Events tab. Have them explain their reasoning behind their choices. And, don’t forget to tell patrons the answer at the end if they were stumped or confused—it’s nice!

Mini Case Study

We wanted to refresh our Makerspace page from a page to a“hub” of information. Something we hadn’t considered until user testing was how patrons hear the word “Makerspace.” Patrons, who were unfamiliar with the Makerspace, heard it as “Makers Space” or “Maker Space.” Since some patrons were unfamiliar with the term, they searched for it, and because they didn’t know how to spell it, they had an even more difficult time finding the page. Patrons also didn’t notice that the search bar defaults to a catalog search,not a website search. Pay attention to repetitive behaviors too—if a patron doesn’t know where to start looking, do they spend time browsing the header/footer/menus or do they default to searching for their answer? What can you learn from those repetitive behaviors? What can you do to improve your patrons’ experience?

Next Steps

Make small changes based off your user testing. Share it again with your stakeholders and super users. Take out what you learned into the branches. Make your changes based off user testing, but keep the “old” method in place for a set time period. Share those changes with staff.

Final Thoughts

Be flexible. Be patient. Be open to hearing feedback. Keep trying. And have fun!