They love the library (and Google too) – Findings from the “Research Confession Booth”

Last week my colleague Odile Harter and I presented at Designing For Digital, a library UX conference.  We shared preliminary findings from our ongoing user study we call the “Research Confession Booth.”

Slides from the conference are available here.

The study:

Our “Research Confession Booth” is modeled on the “confession cams” from reality TV shows – those cameras set up in closets where contestants emote about their experiences.  We set up our “booth” at busy spots on campus and recruited passers-by to sit at a laptop computer and talk freely about their research experiences.  We sat out of earshot, but captured voice and screen movements using Quicktime.

The "Research Confession Booth"

The “Research Confession Booth”

What we’ve asked:

We start the participants off with a question that gives them some context to talk about a research experience.  These questions can change with each session.  So far we’ve asked participants to “show us a feature you really like in a resource you use to do researchas well as to “walk us through a research snag.”

What we’re learning:

Much of what we are learning is already well-attested in other user studies (see: How Students Really Do Research) but it was valuable for us to witness these behaviors in our own systems and with our own user population.  Here are some preliminary findings:

Lots of love for the library

Our users love us!  Participants talked about what they’d learned from reference librarians, how useful they found fulfillment services, and how much they loved the catalog and library databases. Here are some things we heard:

“I go straight [to library homepage] whenever I have to look up something.”

“[The library catalog] has been super super helpful.”

“I really appreciate the library tool.”

“[Interlibrary Loan] was easy to use … really helpful.”

“Just awesome….super useful.”  [library database]

…But lots of love for Google, too

The open web (Google, Google Scholar, Wikipedia) was used by participants as often as library sites, and some students confessed that they preferred Google, or always started there.  They seemed to perceive the library as a place that required special training, whereas Google needed little effort.  As one student said: “I never really learned how to do “proper research” using portals and such, so Google is easy to use.”  Another said: “I think Google is the best place, [it’s] very user-friendly.”

Too many silos

Discovery tool, link resolver, A-Z list, LibGuides, library website, publisher sites….our participants demonstrated their frustration with this maze of resources.   Often when users found themselves in silos they didn’t realize they were no longer in the library site: “I got really confused through all this because it kept opening up a bunch of different tabs.”

It’s too hard to “Get It”

It was no surprise that quick fulfillment was a priority for our users.  They want to “get it” and get it now.  Some expressed frustration (“It can be frustrating if you find a great article and you can’t access it full-text”) or impatience (“I really don’t like getting it on interlibrary loan, I feel like that’s really annoying, so I usually just try to find it on my own.”)

This frustration with ‘getting it’ did not track with facility in navigating library resources but did track with perceived importance of the research project.  When a project was not important, users would likely change their topic rather than request full-text: “I just changed my topic slightly … because it wasn’t really that important and I didn’t have time to request the journal.”  But when the research really mattered to them, they were willing to take the extra effort – one student even sent for an ILL during the study after she’d just expressed her preference for immediate full-text availability!

Future research

This is an ongoing study, still in the early stages of both data gathering and analysis.  We will continue to set up the “Research Confession Booth” around campus in order to learn more about how our users do research.  Ultimately our hope is that researchers will begin to recognize the RCB as the place where they can share their user experiences with us.

We gave out candy as compensation

We gave out candy as compensation

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