Emma Boettcher

Discovery Workflows Interviews

(conducting interviews to understand library users)

the challenge

Improving the library discovery experience can take many forms. It can mean improving browse interfaces, or more tightly honing search algorithms. It can mean enhancing data by using linked data, or by incorporating shared indexes from borrowing partners.

In order to prioritize the projects the web team would take on, we needed to understand the priorities of our users when discovering literature. What were they using the library for, and how could we improve that experience?


user interviews

Understanding library users' workflows for discovering literature wasn't a problem that simple usability testing could solve. Instead, I opted to interview nineteen of the library's users, mostly advanced researchers, about what they were working on.

I wrote a semi-structured interview guide, starting with questions prompting the participant to describe the specific project they were working on. Library budgets are limited, so absent a formal contextual inquiry or a long-term diary study, this was the best way to ensure I got information about what people actually did, instead of a generalized or idealized version.

I also made sure the guide had questions that could gauge users' interest in the changes the library was considering. Again, these questions were framed around what users were actually doing and the challenges they experienced - not proposing hypothetical changes to them directly.

the study team

With a project this large, it was necessary to involve other people. While I did most of the user interviews myself, I also trained colleagues so that they could assist, making sure they knew what the objectives of the study were and how to probe for more detail. After the interviews were transcribed, I brought together another group of colleagues to assist in coding.

Bringing in my colleagues to help also assured a library-wide familiarity with the study and its aims. I wanted my results to be taken seriously across all departments, so reaching out to those departments at the beginning of the project so they could weigh in was crucial.

Because the research was open-ended, I submitted it to the IRB, and made the required changes based on their notes.

reporting and impact

The data collected in the interviews was of interest to many groups, so I needed to tailor how I communicated my results for those audiences.

First, I needed to document for myself what the major themes and stories to emerge from the interviews were. I wrote a report for internal use, using the coded interview data, which doubled as an overview for my supervisors to read and a starting-off point whenever I need to refresh myself on what was found.

I used that report when I presented my data at the 2020 LD4 Conference for Linked Data in Libraries. Using quotations from the interviews, I described the challenges the library's users faced and where linked data could address those needs.

The data also serves its original purpose: guiding future development on the library's website. I divided the coded data into sections and distributed these colleagues who oversee decisions about the library's discovery tools. Working together, we transformed the data into user stories, which the library's developers will have in hand as the website continues to evolve.