User Experience Key to Successful Patronage in STEM Libraries

Idun Knutsdatter Østerdal, Librarian | 7 min read
Idun Knutsdatter Østerdal, Librarian | 7 min read


This blog is the result of a collaboration by librarians at NTNU University Library in Norway: Idun Knutsdatter Østerdal, Senior Librarian; Una Ersdal, Adviser; Karen Johanne Buset, Head of Section; Astrid Kilvik, Research Librarian; Liv Inger Lamøy, Research Librarian. 

Part 1 of a 2 part blog (read part 2 here)

I’ll start this blog about the importance of user experience (UX) with a quote from a Norwegian university librarian: “In my experience, the patron is unable to use the self-service shelf on their own. We get many questions about it at the library desk. And what does the patron do when the desk is unstaffed – do they just table the book with them?”

This says something about how we can evaluate our library services from behind the library desk. We can see our users interact with our services – and make some assumptions about why they aren’t using them successfully. User experience is crucial.

What Is UX? 

Ideally, any design process improves a user experience and makes it great. The UX methods must tap into users' emotions, experiences and behavior when they are using products, systems and services. Mixing qualitative and quantitative techniques enables us to obtain deeper insights into user needs. More importantly, applying these methods enables us to discover needs even users themselves are unaware of.

Making guesses to improve UX can often lead to smaller, immediate changes – such as signage. And there may well be truth to our assumptions, but they might just as well be misperceived truths based on stereotypes or wrong conclusions. We might not know our users or ourselves well enough to make the right changes.

Assumptions should be tested, and UK methods are key to testing the success of our endeavors at The University Library of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), in Trondheim, Norway.

UX Design for STEM Libraries

The NTNU University Library’s main mission is to support research and teaching. As a part of that, we also work to develop our library into an inspiring learning environment for students and researchers, as well as offer an arena for science communication. ​For our development projects, we actively use UX methods.

Illustration: Sumit Pandey


At any given time, there are several ongoing UX projects at our library. There, we strive to make user perspectives an integrated part of library design thinking.

To keep up our UX work, we established a cross-branch UX forum in November 2016. It aims to increase awareness of user involvement in projects among the staff. The forum is a meeting place for discussions, for sharing activities and ideas, and initiating local and collective projects.​ It is open, so that different people can participate, depending on who is involved in a project at a given time. ​As of May 2018, this forum has achieved buy-in with the library's top level.

At NTNU, development projects differ in scope and aim: They also vary in how they are initiated and in their budgets. However, they all apply UX methods for developing physical spaces/services. Each one holds different pieces of the UX success puzzle. For each project, we ask: "W​hat did we learn about users and employees using UX methods in our development projects at our libraries?

Using UX Methods  

We’ve learned a great deal about our user groups. Focus groups, on-site interviews, observation, and user-journey mapping (to name a few methods) enable us to gather information and to get to know our users better. Using UK methods on large-scale development projects can also give us insights into the role and value of the library, from our stakeholders’ and users’ perspectives.

Photo: NTNU Library


Gathering UX data is challenging, as there are many methods to master, and different user groups to factor and prioritize. Our experience with qualitative and quantitative UX methods is that both approaches give large amounts of data, although they come in different forms. However, we can limit the amount of collected data by conducting quantitative research before holding qualitative interviews. For example: findings from traffic counts give us a baseline for mapping the library space, enabling us to pinpoint target areas for further research through interviews.

Read Part 2 of this blog: Don't forget the employee experience

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