Christmas trees and glittery chandeliers in the Grand Connaught Rooms provided a festive welcome to attendees of the UKSG Forum on Wednesday 18th November. I’d arrived early and managed to get a sneak peek of Covent Garden in before and while I managed to take a picture of the HUGE mistletoe balls and Christmas tree completely forgot to take any of the actual forum – oops! I’m blaming it on still being exhausted as my tiny person still sees sleep as an optional extra.
This was my first event since becoming a mum and my first time at a UKSG event. The former meaning that I could not hang around for the usual drinks and networking after the event, which was a real shame, but also meant I had to try to pack in as much as I could in the time I had.
The UKSG Forum is put on by a group of people who work within the scholarly and information community and is designed to be a networking event rather than a conference. All the sessions were very short, i.e. ten minutes or so long which, while it didn’t leave much time for detail, did cut out a lot of the unnecessary waffling which can happen in conference lectures. This also meant I was able to take some key messages away from the majority of the presenters:
Don’t make things harder than they need to be.
One theme which linked the talks was to focus on making things easier for our users. I don’t think any of us go out of our way to make things difficult for them but sometimes we forget that we are used to how things work. We might have forgotten that it’s actually quite complicated, especially for a beginner. A few ways to do this included getting rid of captcha authentication (there was an audible hiss from the audience at the mention of this!), reducing the amount of choices open to users and making the language user friendly by using first person language e.g. ‘I want to see’ ‘show me’ etc. Additionally, stop using the word ‘submit’ due to its aggressive overtones! The audience were asked to consider how we can ensure students feel comfortable using our resources with no risk to themselves through either wasting time or by embarrassment when it doesn’t work out for them. I’m not sure many of have cracked this one yet.
Don’t just listen, observe.
A second theme that emerged from the sessions I attended was that, in addition to asking students or customers what they wanted, it would be wise to observe the students. David Sommer’s presentation on user interfaces, Andy Priestner’s talk on ethnography in libraries and Ken Chad’s lecture all raised this as something any organisation who wishes to understand their users should do. Examples of how this could be done ranged from analysing statistics and using user behaviour software, such as Crazy Egg, or actually getting out and about to observe and record students going about their daily business. Doing this will reduce the risk of librarians relying on assumptions and help them to piece together the bigger picture.
Watch out for the culture clash.
The third thread running through the talks was a reminder to acknowledge that times have changed since we were entering university for the first time. This may seem obvious; however. it can be easy to forget just how quickly time and technology move on - even the youngest attendee at UKSG will have left college several years ago. Students, we were told, are now are used to information being in bite-size chunks at school and get a sudden sharp shock when they arrive at university and are faced with huge reading lists and several simultaneous deadlines. We sometimes don't truly understand what our students want and need even if we think we know what is best for them and the best way to do this is to start trying to get to know them and understand their day-to-day life. A small scale example of doing this is through the use of empathy maps. On a much larger scale is the absolutely amazing SpaceFinder project at Cambridge.
Ultimately, it was lovely to get out and about again, learn something new, and meet up with some familiar faces. Thanks UKSG for organising it.
Slides from the day are all on the UGSG website