User Experience & Behaviour

Almost all the published work, in terms of library systems, has been around the end user experience rather that the experience /behaviour of members of library staff. In 2007 the Council on Library and Information Resources undertook some case studies on library workflow. This was motivated by the “proliferation of electronic information and tools [that] has changed the way that readers and researchers do their work. It has also changed the way library staff members provide materials and services”.  The study noted that the issue of workflow redesign “appears to be on the minds not only of librarians in small institutions, but also of many librarians in research libraries”. Clearly it was on the mind of vendors too who have make improved workflows a key selling point for their systems.

Workflows: the library staff experience

Writing on library system workflow in CILIP Update in May 2010 Elspeth Hyams quoted Jo Rademakers of the Catholic University of Leuven: “If it eventually delivers what it promises, full implementation of Alma should deliver staggering cost savings; 50 per cent of the total cost of ownership.”

User behaviour and experience

Much of the end-user experience of library systems is in terms of search and discovery. The JISC-funded UK Discovery initiative was launched in May 2011 to create ‘a metadata ecology’ to support better access to vital collections data in libraries, archives and museums and facilitate new services for UK education and research. It has encouraged both open and linked data and promoted guideline and principles. Paul Walk from UKOLN proposed the following technical principles for the discovery ecosystem:

  1. Discovery is heterogeneous
  2. Discovery is resource-oriented
  3. Discovery is distributed
  4. Discovery relies on persistent global identifiers
  5. Discovery is built on aggregations of metadata
  6. Discovery works well with global search engines
  7. Discovery data is explicitly licensed for (re)use

Much end user research shows a clear preference by both students, academics and researchers for search engines like Google. Reporting on the findings, of the ‘Faculty Survey 2009: Key Strategic Insights for Libraries, Publishers, and Societies’, Jennifer Howard (in the Chronicle of Higher Education) noted the following in regard to academic (faculty) staff:-

  • Fewer trips to the library
  • Faculty members do not use the library as a gateway to information nearly as much as they used to.
  • Discovery is in tremendous flux: “The monograph-seeking humanist is no longer likely to think that the online library catalog is the place to start their search.” And later on: “One of the really thought-provoking questions that comes out of this study is whether libraries should continue to invest in locally customized discovery tools or whether those investments are not likely to yield value.”
  • If faculty members see the library less as a gateway to research, they still put faith in its value as a buyer and archiver of information.
  • The embrace of digital journals has become so widespread that print editions of current issues “are rapidly becoming a thing of the past” for many scholars, the survey found. Sixty percent of humanists and more than 80 percent of scientists said they would be fine with having their libraries provide only electronic copies of the latest issues of journals.

Looking specifically at researchers, a long term JISC and British Library study raised important questions about research development, training and support within research led organisations and the openness and sharing of research. It revealed:

  • Doctoral students are increasingly reliant on secondary research resources (e.g. journal articles, books), moving away from primary materials (e.g. primary archival material and large datasets).
  • Access to relevant resources is a major constraint for doctoral students’ progress. Authentication access and licence limitations to subscription-based resources, such as e-journals, are particularly problematic.
  • Open access and copyright appear to be a source of confusion for ‘Generation Y’ doctoral students, rather than encouraging innovation and collaborative research.
  • This generation of doctoral students operate in an environment where their research behaviour does not use the full potential of innovative technology.
  • Doctoral students are insufficiently trained or informed to be able to fully embrace the latest opportunities in the digital information environment.

Rather than list the many other end-user studies, a useful syntheses report, ‘The Digital Information Seeker’ summarises the findings from a number of OCLC, RIN, and JISC user behaviour projects. In terms of the implications for libraries of the research the report had this to say:

  • The library serves many constituencies, with different needs and behaviours.
  • Library systems must do better at providing seamless access to resources.
  • Librarians must increasingly consider a greater variety of digital formats and content.
  • More digital resources of all kinds are better.
  • Library systems and content must be prepared for changing user behaviours.
  • Library systems need to look and function more like search engines, i.e., Google and Yahoo, and Web services, i.e.,, since these are familiar to users who are comfortable and confident in using them.
  • High-quality metadata is becoming more important for discovery of appropriate resources.
  • The library must advertise its brand, its value, and its resources better within the community.

This type of research into the end-user experience has both justified and driven the pace of development and implementation of library vertical search/discovery services. Reviewing the library discovery scene in 2011, Judy Luther commented: “A casual Google search may well be good enough for a daily task. But if you are a college student conducting his or her first search for peer-reviewed content, or an established scholar taking up a new line of inquiry, then the stakes are a lot higher. The challenge for academic libraries, caught in the seismic shift from print to electronic resources, is to offer an experience that has the simplicity of Google—which users expect—while searching the library’s rich digital and print collections—which users need. Increasingly, they are turning to a new generation of search tools, called discovery, for help”.


‘Library Workflow Redesign: Six Case Studies’. By Marilyn Mitchell (editor). Council on Library and Information Resources.  January 2007

‘Streamlining workflow—cutting costs’. By Elspeth Hyams CILIP Update May 2010

UK Discovery initiative Website

‘Technical Principles for the Discovery Ecosystem’. By Paul Walk. UKOLN 22 July 2011

‘Scholars Increasingly Embrace Some, but Not All, Digital Media’. By Jennifer Howard. Chronicle of Higher Education April 7, 2010

‘Researchers of Tomorrow. The research behaviour of Generation Y doctoral students’. JISC & British Library. July 2012

‘The Digital Information Seeker: Report of the Findings from Selected OCLC, RIN, and JISC User Behaviour Projects’. By Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Ph.D. Timothy J. Dickey, Ph.D. OCLC Research. February 15, 2010

‘The Next Generation of Discovery. The stage is set for a simpler search for users, but choosing a product is much more complex.’ By Judy Luther & Maureen C. Kelly. Library Journal. 15th March 2011.