IL06: Delighting Public Library Users: Personas in Action

The second session on Monday in the public library track was given by Stephen Abram VP of innovation at SirsiDynix (for any family members still braving the library geekery, they're a major vendor of library computer systems), who talked about the idea of personas as a means of user-centered planning. Fun with Typos The presentation kicked off with mention of signage goof up outside the room, the session was listed as "Delighting PL Users: Personals in Action" instead of "Delighting PL Users: Personas in Action".

Abram joked that a talk about library personals would be more interesting - library dating! (but... on to the talk...)

Remember, people aren't coming into the library for books, no matter how much we want this to be the case. They're coming to use the computers or to hang out or some such.

Also remember, when you're adding a room to your house, you think about how you want the space to feel first, not how they're gonna build it. So why do we send out brochures talking about how to do stuff at the library rather than talking about the experience of visiting the library.

Context is king, not content! It's not about the library, it's about:

  • learning
  • research
  • community & neighborhoods (physical & virtual)
  • workplace (people want to be able to control their environment)
  • entertainment & culture

Remember, libraries were free before anybody knew about the internet, so it's not just about free services. How do you find their contexts?

  • Usability Tests (but this isn't the whole picture)
    • We do them, but do we follow them? (Or, why do we keep recommending bestsellers when the waiting lists are so long? How 'bout recommending similar.)
  • Personas are better (and more about these shortly)

Remember, kids today (the millennials) really *are* a different generation, are you planning for this?

  • Their brains are wired differently, and they're smarter than the boomers, on average (by 20 pts).
  • They have different behaviors.
  • They're format agnostic - they just want the info, they don't care how it's delivered.
  • They're very direct & confident (they actually expect service from folks in the service industry, like us, so they aren't deferential).
  • They demand higher info density (those differently wired brains can handle it).
  • They have different eye movement patterns than the boomers.

Lots of folks (esp. kids) don't read "below the fold" (that is, they don't scroll past the first screen) - so why are we putting content there?

Reading is only one way to engage with info (and for the milennials it's one of the lowest level of engagement).

Reading's only one component of learning - remember Bloom's taxonomy!

There's also been some recent research showing that personality influences searching (a recently published dissertation, which I should look up at some point).

  • Extroverts like informal and thought provoking material.
  • Introverts like other stuff.
  • And so on...

Can you tune your searches to accommodate this? How can you tune your searches to accommodate this?

So, SirsiDynix is starting to gather the sort of data needed to build a better model of how people are using the library (and the library's computer systems) by creating personas: hypothetical representations of different types of library users. They're hoping to learn more about user's expectations.

Interesting side note: the statistics we keep - they don't really tell us if we're helping the users acheive their goals. The approach for creating the personas:

  • Use narrative capture: get people to tell stories.
  • Capture characters, issues, themes, problems, behaviors.
  • Don't do the research yourself, the folks you have relationships with won't tell you the whole truth.
    • The first story they'll tell is what they think you want to hear.
    • By the third or fourth story, you're getting to what they really want and what they're really doing.
  • Don't make them write stuff, too much self-editing - just let them talk.
    • Have them describe a day they came to the library.
    • Have them describe a day when they wanted to come to the library but couldn't.
    • And so on...

What they've discovered about what users want: they want interaction.

What they've discovered about what users value:

  • Community
  • Learning
  • Quality

In the end, they created 7 personas that define the main public library user population.

  • Discovery Dan (main population)
    • Casual user, mostly interested in the entertaining stuff.
  • Rick Researcher
    • Folks engaged in more in-depth research, like the genealogists.
  • Tasha Learner (adult learner)
  • Senior Sally
    • They're no longer just the stereotypical seniors with poor computer skills looking for help, they're affluent, sophisticated, and increasingly computer savvy.
  • Mommy Marcie (parent of young kids)
    • Frequently these folks are interested in pursuing their own lifelong learning goals, in addition to helping out their kids.
  • Jennifer, parent of teens
  • High School Hillery

We ran out of time before all these personas could be covered, but the basic idea is that the personas are fairly detailed descriptions that can help the folks designing library services better understand the needs of their users. (Apparently, this idea is used fairly frequently in the software industry.) Still, it's an interesting idea, and it seems like personas would be helpful in making user expectations seem more concrete to those of us who are developing library services.