Inside a library

DIY Guerrilla research for university librarians

12 April 2021 • Lauren Harding, senior marketing officer

I’m working with the OpenAthens team on a number of user research projects to gain an in-depth understanding of user behavior and needs. During the research, it became evident that university librarians in the UK aspire to be user-centric but are often overloaded by reactive troubleshooting to empathize with students.

So here it is. A quick and easy way for university librarians to engage with users, learn what really matters to them and how they could improve the library experience to meet the students’ needs.

What is Guerrilla research, anyways?

Guerrilla research is the fastest and most cost efficient way to learn about your users’ behavior, needs and pain points.

In its most basic form Guerrilla research means you going out in the real world and talking to users.

Universities are really excellent place to conduct user research. The university campus is big and buzzing with people to talk to. Check my previous write up on research in university for more tips on what works and what doesn’t.

The benefits of Guerrilla research

There are many reasons why this is my favorite way to validate creative ideas:

  • Guerrilla is cost effective — the cost is nominal to the value you get.
  • It is very quick to plan and do — because there is very little logistics associated with the research you can plan one day and be out there talking to users the next.
  • Helps your team build empathy about the users — Guerrilla is a shortcut to empathy because it is so easy to put together and your team can engage with users as often as needed.

So without further ado, this is my recipe for a Do It Yourself Guerrilla research for university librarians:

Choose a topic to research

There is an endless list of things you may want to ask your users so choosing a topic may be more difficult than you think. This are just a some ideas to get you started:

  • Do students use library resources off campus?
  • Was the library induction helpful?
  • Do students know where to find help?

The topic you choose will help you define the research location: is it on- or off-campus, is it the library or the café?

Script the research questions

Writing the questions down will help you stay focused during the interviews. It makes it easier to pick up trends if all participants answer the same set of questions. You could also ask your participants to make demonstrations, using their own devices and this is the point to plan for that.

Simply talk to your users

Sometimes the simplest of solutions is the hardest to do. But just try it and you will be amazed by the findings. It may be that your users love what you do, would that not be great to know?

And when I say “talk”, I really mean listen to your users. Give them time to talk. Try not to bias the interview by leading the participants too much. Approach the conversation as if you didn’t know anything about the topic.

And keep your mind open for the possibility that you don’t know what the problem is.

Look for opportunities to improve not problems to fix

What I mean here is try to identify opportunities for meaningful improvements for all your users, don’t get distracted by trying to immediately fix the problem of one individual.

Share your findings

Once you have analyzed your findings make sure you share the insight not only with the rest of your team but the wider organization too. This will help you build your business case for investment in an improved user experience.

This blog originally appeared on Medium.


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