Welcome to this new blog where we will be recording the activities of the FutureLib open innovation programme exploring the future role of academic libraries within the University of Cambridge. The programme employs ethnographic research methods and human-centred design techniques to examine current user experience (UX) of libraries and draws on the skills of librarians from around the institution to test new service concepts. It is funded by the University Library and supported by design practice and innovation consultancy Modern Human. In this first post Modern Human’s Principal Paul-Jervis Heath details the work that was carried out between 2013/14 and the next phase of the project…

Over the course of the 2013/14 Academic year the design team within the University Library completed a number of ethnographic studies into the needs of key library users.

A diary study with undergraduate students revealed their key motivations for studying at Cambridge and their studying behaviour. It highlighted key behavioural trends, such as studying individually with their friends and the ‘student triangle’. It identified their technology usage patterns and expectations of digital resources. The study illustrated student needs for library services and will help us to predict their future needs.

A shadowing study with academics revealed their key motivations and the pressures of being a leading academic. The study identified their mental models of all of the different roles that make up academic life. Most importantly, the study identified new opportunities for libraries to support academics in their work and the communication of their research.

Taken together these studies form a strong foundation for thinking about library services and developing new services for the future based on the real needs of users. We will be building on this work in this phase.

Moving Forwards

In this phase we’ll be interviewing 31 opinion leaders about their view of the future. These will be a mixture of members of the Cambridge Library Community, senior academics from Cambridge and opinions leaders from outside the University.

We want to gather a wide set of opinions and ideas about the future direction of academic libraries. We’ll be looking for recurring themes, ideas and directions of thought.

We also want to take another look at the previous ethnographic studies to combine and contrast results from the different ethnographic studies, to identify shared needs, sources of agreement and other interesting patterns that occur in the needs of students, post docs and academics. This meta-analysis, and the original research findings and the models that already exist will all feed into a concept.

This phase will culminate in us creating a concept for future library services illustrated from the point-of-view of future users. Later phases will include service experiments and prototyping.

As we continue with the project we’ll be blogging and tweeting to let everyone know what we’re doing and the outcomes of the work. We’ll also be adding information about the project team and insights and outcomes as they are delivered.

Paul-Jervis Heath
Modern Human