Library as Living Lab environment – further developments after winning the IFLA conference poster in Puerto Rico 2011


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A year ago a poster presented by Kaisa Puttonen (Information Specialist) and Satu Hyökki (Project Manager) from Laurea University of Applied Sciences, Finland, was the best IFLA 2011 poster session winner. There were 165 posters from all around the world on display, with nine from Finland. I asked my colleague Kaisa Puttonen about the past year and developing the library as an open living lab environment.

Could you briefly talk about the idea in the winning poster?

The poster described a pilot study in Laurea Library. In the study, an eye-tracking method was used to reveal the user’s first impression of the library space, how people notice signs and find material from our collection. Eye-tracking is a research method that observes eye movements.

In our case, the participants, who had never visited our premises, wore a helmet equipped with a camera and a microphone. In the experiment we got gaze-replays, in other words videos showing where the eyes are looking, and simultaneously recorded speech about the participant’s thoughts.  It was very interesting to look at the video, and see what caught and didn’t catch the eye, and also to hear what they were thinking! We found out the best places for notices and got ideas on how to improve the placement of material.

The participants were interviewed about their first impression and the task’s implementation right after the eye-tracking experiment. And in the final phase, the eye tracking videos were reflected in a dialogic manner as part of a future workshop on developing the physical and virtual library space. The key aspect of the pilot study was that users, information specialists and researchers interacted and co-created together during the process.

Even though the content was considered new and interesting, without the visual appearance by Markus Teittinen we would not have won. Based on a preliminary sketch, he was able to convey our idea through colourful pictures and create a poster that enabled interaction during the poster sessions.   

How did you get the idea to experiment with eye-tracking as a method for developing the library? As far as I know, this has not been done before.

The idea was born just like many other good ideas. I was having coffee with Satu and talking about her Master’s studies on user-centred design. She was interested in the eye-tracking method, and had already used the eye-tracking helmet. Her interests were in methodological development and test eye-tracking to see if it could be used as a service design tool.  She wanted to combine think-aloud and co-creation to eye-tracking, which traditionally produces statistical calculations of eye-movements.
One of Laurea Library’s focuses is to develop the physical space. We had noticed how students found it difficult to locate material, and we wanted to know why. So Satu and I got the idea that working together is a win-win situation. Satu found an environment and a case that suited her needs well, and we got study results for developing the library space.

Has anything happened during the past year?

We have carried out concrete improvements based on the study, and continued asking our customers’ opinions and ideas during our everyday work. We write down the ideas in a Word document saved on the info desk’s desktop. Observations on what we find interesting are also documented.

Guideposts were given a consistent appearance and they were relocated to better catch the customers’ attention. Now the shelf classification signs are more numerous and colour-coded according to our customers’ needs. For example, signs for business, ICT, tourism, languages have a different colour. We also built thematic entities in some subjects, for example research methods and guides for writing are now in a Helpshelf. It is easy to guide the students writing their theses to one location, instead of saying quantitative methods are there, qualitative methods are here etc.
This spring, cooperation with an ICT lecturer resulted in us offering a repetition of our study as part of a course on user-centred research. The students were given the choice between different cases, and two student groups chose to test eye-tracking in the library.  It was great to have our users do a follow-up study. Since the study was conducted exactly as the first one, we got survey information on our improvements. It was nice to notice that the colour-coding was a success and now our magazines can be found easily! Of course things came up which needed improvement. Satu and I attended the seminar with student presentations, and I must say they were excellent. So now the circle is complete: a pilot study, results, developing the space, follow-up study and results on development. Also the proposition that eye-tracking can be used in service design is confirmed.

A project we are running at the moment is creating a so-called International Home Base for the library. The aim is to have a space dedicated to the Erasmus exchange programme, degree students from other countries and international activities at home. This development project involves tourism students and an international coordinator. We have already implemented different user-centred methods in the project.

You are an active member in the Learning Libraries network. What do you want to promote through the network?

I realised that involving our users right from the beginning when developing services is of the utmost importance. They give us great ideas for providing what is expected from a library of today and the future.  Through the Learning Library, I would like to emphasise three points. The first is working together with partners from other libraries as well as outside the library field. The second is interacting with our users during our everyday work. Small steps at the grass-roots level grow into great results. And the third point is sharing. At the moment many libraries are interacting with customers and gaining experiences. We should share our experiences, both good and bad, so that we can learn from each other as a wide community of libraries.


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