In my last posting, I introduced the new Learning Commons areas at the Georgia Tech Library & Information Center, and how these new renovations assisted with user tasks. In this post, I will provide my thoughts and reflections on this space…
One of the most effective methods for determining how users utilize the space is simply taking a step back and observing how they interact. In our hyped-up, fast-paced, “git-r-done” culture, we sometimes miss out on important details when we rush to implement things before questioning…is this what users really want, or is this what vendors and articles tell us users want? Because each library has its own user community, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
In the fall of 2008, Charlie Bennett, Commons Coordinator at the GA Tech Library, utilized observation methods to take objective measurements such as how many students were using the commons, what kind of computers they were using, how they tended to group together, etc. For example, he noticed that many students brought their own laptops; this indicates a different grouping dynamic than having students huddle around a library desktop computer.
Charlie also engaged in more common data collection methods, such as distributing surveys and hosting a forum where users could post their comments. However, one of the most interesting data collection methods Charlie utilized was placing a whiteboards next to a group of sample chairs that students could sit in and evaluate. Each chair had its own whiteboard and marker where users could write comments about each chair such as: “This chair is very comfortable” or “This chair color reminds me of puke.” I found this method innovative because it brought the data collection right into the user’s environment, rather than asking a student or faculty member to take time out of their busy schedule and go to a survey link or web forum. It reminded me a lot of the whiteboards that undergrads would post on their dormitory doors for people to leave them messages and comments; this has also extended into the digital realm with tools such as Facebook and Twitter.
Overall, the use of multi-modal data collection methods are very beneficial to ensuring a positive user experience in a STEM library commons. Charlie has taken great care and consideration with making sure the Commons is a peaceful, user-centered space. The GA Tech Library is a very busy place where students will often spend hours studying, or simply taking a snooze break in one of the library’s comfortable chairs. Students and faculty in a science and engineering institution work on many long-term and collaborative projects, and the library is a beneficial tool in helping these users with their research and education.
For more information on the GA Tech Library and Information Center commons:
Library Commons Project Documents