I blew it! I designed terrible questions to ask in my interviews with my online graduate student contacts. Why do I say this? I wrote the questions (and truth be told interviewed one person) before I learned about the theories we are studying this week when clearly one of the questions we need to answer is “How do your community’s perceptions of information services correspond with the user experience theories covered in the lecture and readings?” Since theory is the heart of this course I really should have had them in mind when designing my questions. This came to me after listening to Nancy Howe and Wendy Wilsher (2013) present. Design is integral to what we do as librarians, yet I neglected it as I wrote my questions for the interview and then precede to interview a person. The second person I interviewed after I had tweaked my questions to fit better with the theories and what we are learning this week. This helped me get a better idea about his user experience (UX) with the library at this university. That does not mean that my first interview was completely a dud, but it could have provided more useful information, if only, I had designed the questions better.
So, with no further ado I would like to present you with my findings about online graduate students’ perceptions of information services which they receive (or don’t receive) from their institutions’ libraries and the information they create themselves. Unfortunately, according the two former online graduate students I interviewed academic libraries are doing a poor job of providing information services to students who are studying online away from campus.
According to Aaron Schmidt, libraries need to move away from “superficial user-centeredness [… and] go deeper, meet real community needs, and deliver amazing experiences” (Schmidt, March 1, 2010). But, my two interviewees I found their universities’ libraries didn’t provide them with even basic library services and if the services were available, these two students were not aware of them. Not once did they use the services of a reference librarian. One stated that “using the services of a reference librarian is something that never came to mind” (J. Richardson, personal communication, September 25, 2014). The other wished that there would have been document delivery or inter-library loan for him to receive articles that we not available via full-text databases; if his library had this service he didn’t know about it (K. Yaiko, personal communication, October 6, 2014). He has a vague remembrance of watching a video or reading about doing a more effective search, but it does not really stand out in his mind. In terms of his university’s website he said “hated the library website [… and that] I had to retrain myself [to use it] every time until I bookmarked it” (K. Yaiko, personal communication, October 6, 2014). The feeling I got from these two library users is that their library UX was not “amazing.” They were lacking a digital map on how to use the services of the library or someone guiding them to the right place.
Although, these two students didn’t use their libraries’ services they did use their online resources, particularly their online databases. Both stated that they were able to find enough of the resources they needed, although the one did say as stated above that he would have liked access to articles which were not available via full-text (J. Richardson, personal communication, September 25, 2014, K. Yaiko, personal communication, October 6, 2014). We discussed how difficult the online databases are to use! The one student and I discussed how he could have used training on how to use the databases, because they are not intuitive. We both agreed this is one place where academic libraries could improve, but the databases lack of usability are not just the libraries’ fault (K. Yaiko, personal communication, October 6, 2014). The designers at the companies who create them need to move away from the back end of the system and view the front end through the eyes of the user to make them more accessible .
Both of these students participated in producing their own information content. Naturally, as students they wrote papers and as online students they wrote on discussion boards. One of the students used wikis to compile resources to share with other students in her classes (J. Richardson, personal communication, September 25, 2014).
In his comments about discussion boards the one student said “because they were to be so academic that there was not much discussion actually going on” (K. Yaiko, personal communication, October 6, 2014). This was another bad UX incident for him, along with the library website experience I noted above.
Through listening to these two students it appears that there universities’ libraries are not following the models of UX that Aaron Schmidt and others are encouraging libraries to engage in. Yes, these libraries use technology, but their website and databases are not “useful, usable, and desirable,” (Schmidt, June 3, 2013) because they are so hard to navigate. Maybe it is time for academic libraries to put pressure on the database companies to produce something that students can actually use easily? Also, they are not taking the time to listen to their users (Schmidt, March 1 2010). It appears I’m the first person to ask these two students about their library experiences while in graduate school even though they have already graduated.
On a positive note, personally as an online graduate student at SJSU iSchool I have found the librarians at the King Library more than helpful by reaching out to us through emails and videos. The librarians have provided excellent email reference services and wonderful video tutorials, yet as a trained library technician and a LIS student perhaps I’m too much of an “insider” to give a fair evaluation and need to view things through the lens of the average ‘everyday’ patron.
Schmidt, A. (2010, March 1). Learn by asking [Web log post]. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2010/03/opinion/aaron-schmidt/learn-by-asking-the-user-experience/