Design concept to improve community building between public libraries and their users by providing a digital platform that utilizes BiblioCommons software to let users explore, interact with, and curate recommendations across libraries.
Timeline: September-October 2022 (8 weeks)
Role: UX Designer, UX Researcher
Skills: Desk Research, User Observations & Interviews, Heuristic Evaluations, Prototyping (low-fi & high-fi)
What is BiblioCommons?
BiblioCommons is an online public access catalog (OPAC) that has been integrated within about 270 public library systems across the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as of 2022. Providing a product suite of library management software services, the foundational core of their software, BiblioCore, seamlessly integrates with a library’s integrated library system (ILS) to enhance the possibilities to discover new books or media through not just searching the catalog, but through other recommendations from users across libraries.
Exploration of Community & Subcommunities
As more public library systems add BiblioCommons and its suite of software products, it is important to explore what type of experiences users can have when searching for and discovering new recommendations. When wanting to make the “perfect” decision from thousands – if not millions – of options within a library, users can become quickly overwhelmed and potentially spiral into the pitfall of “analysis paralysis” : the inability to make a decision.
Doubting one’s own judgment when finding new content is demoralizing, which is detrimental to having an overall positive or entertaining experience when looking for new recommendations.
To help combat this analysis paralysis, my suggestion is to use the online public access catalog to curate what content is being recommended within specific communities, ranging from one’s local public library branch all the way to other library systems across the country. Establishing these communities that connect these physical library networks to a digital counterpart can help with the following:
- Maintaining a connection between the physical branches and the digital catalog such that both spaces can be utilized effectively.
- Retaining new library users who are trying to find a reading, literary, or just a general community.
- Allowing an easy, visible, and approachable way to find recommendations based on a user’s library community.
Why This Solution?
Not all library users share the same content preferences, and curating a selection of tailored recommendations is time-consuming for both staff and users alike. As libraries continue to scale to service their communities, from the more urban-centric public library system in a city to the county public library system spanning across several towns, provided resources can start to feel stretched, scarce, and not as approachable for current or new users.
Considering how to give more power and control of libraries to new and current users, I conducted research into younger adults in their twenties or thirties that are new to an area, have some familiarity with how a library system works, and are actively look for new physical book recommendations. In conducting 4 user interviews within the target audience and understanding their underlying goals to find new reads, one of the primary takeaways that I discovered is that trust and accessibility are essential factors when taking certain recommendations into consideration.
The ideal design outcome, in this case, would be to make a public library seem more familiar and accessible to new users but not overwhelming. As digital approaches for finding recommendations become more ubiquitous throughout daily life, strengthening the presence between physical and digital library communities is essential to quickly gain and retain the trust of new users.
Structuring the Information & Content
Exploring the experience of using and borrowing from physical library branches, I had to determine which touchpoints of the user’s journey that the digital space can leverage to its advantage for a strong community-building system.
Based on user observations conducted at eight library branches in the Seattle Public Library, an evaluation of its online library catalog, and a competitive analysis of book recommendation platform Goodreads, some critical pain points that I found to intersect both the digital and physical library spaces included:
- Finding specific recommendations from staff members and users in one’s library, as well as one’s specific library branch;
- Getting personalized recommendations based on audience type (child, teenager, or adult) and previous borrowing history;
- Remembering which days and/or hours that a library branch is open;
- Needing a physical library card or having the barcode number memorized when checking out items; and
- Trying to recall what items have been borrowed or of interest previously.
With these finding, a mobile solution made the most sense for alleviating these pain points due to how commonplace mobile devices have become. This solution would help foster a stronger and more personal relationship between users and their current library. Long term, what the design should achieve is to establish a stronger sense of community and connection for all public libraries both in-person and digitally.
Prototyping the Information & Content
In crafting the information and interactions as needed, I leveraged the current minimalistic feel used within BiblioCommon’s design styles to visualize and bring this prototype to life. I also used design patterns used in platforms Airbnb and Spotify for the UI of cards and interactions due to similar interactive activity for the Biblio platform.
Various pictures and graphics were retrieved across multiple public library websites (The Seattle Public Library, Multnomah County Library, San Francisco Public Library, Vancouver Public Library, Bellingham Public Library, and San Diego Public Library to name a few), public library catalogs, and the BiblioCommons site.
The prototyped experience represents a small sample size of onboarding across any integrated library systems using BiblioCommons software. Once the user’s library account is connected, they are then prompted to adjust their settings to better tailor their digital browsing experience.
To make sure that users are aware of how long the onboarding process is, I used a breadcrumb design pattern that highlights how many tasks remain to be completed.
Highlighted areas where the user can explore titles at their library system, which includes popular, new, and available titles at the primary preferred branch. The user can also further explore titles that library staff select, and titles that are popular and borrowed at other library branches within the library – as well as libraries outside their local library system. This organizational method helps localize recommendations within their community, providing the user with a personalized and approachable way to find new recommendations.
Within specific items, users can also view review details within a specific library system. These details include:
- Overall rating of the item in their library.
- Which specific locations that users are borrowing the items from.
- Specific reviews that users can provide.
Based on whether the item is available or not, the user is then prompted to view other titles or provide the option of locating the item at its current location.
A quick way for users to make a specified query across their library catalog. To prompt better discovery habits, users can quickly tab on certain categories for their search, as well as lookup what is being borrowed and recommended at other public libraries.
Lists all the library’s physical branches through a list and on a map.
From selecting the branch, the user can discover items that are available and popular at that branch, as well as be able to follow to receive notifications about the location’s happenings.
Showcases what items the user currently is borrowing, is waiting to borrow, has borrowed in the past, and whether they owe any late fees or not. The demonstration also allows the user to use their device to scan their library barcode to check out items to help alleviate the pain point of having to memorize the library card number. To give public libraries more visibility with their branding, the library card design of their library is featured, and the library’s logo is showcased as the icon on the navigation menu.
The user is also notified whenever an item changes status in their account, such as when an item becomes due for return very soon, or if an item on hold is ready for pickup to name a couple.
Exit Survey & Borrowing History
Once a user’s items are confirmed to be returned to their library, they are prompted to fill out an exit survey to rate the item they borrowed, and give a review if they so wished. Completing this survey at this particular point in the user journey allows for both reassurance that the item has been returned, as well as providing an easier opportunity for the user to recall and reflect on if they enjoyed the recently borrowed item.
The rest of the user’s borrowing history is private to the user alone, and should not be publicly available to other users. The only exception to this is if the user reviews a specific item, which then their review will appear with the specified item.
Showcases the user’s shelves of items they have borrowed, want to borrow, as well as weekly recommendations for items that they could be interested in borrowing.
These shelves also feature libraries and library locations that the user is currently following, as well as recommendation lists they are following.
Transferring Libraries or Managing Multiple Accounts
If a user moves to another library system or have other accounts with other libraries, they can easily switch between catalogs if the new library has a compatible BiblioCommons catalog.
All the user’s activity on the app (ratings, borrowing history, favorited libraries, etc.) is saved – which means that the user does not have to start over from scratch in finding recommendations at other libraries.
Future Features & Next Steps
Since my research and observations were limited to just one public library system (The Seattle Public Library), I would want to conduct some user testing and observations at different library systems. Doing so would help guarantee if my findings are similar across other city and county library communities, as well as libraries that reside outside the United States (e.g. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand).
To also ensure that this design is heading in the right direction, I would like to conduct user interviews and testing with librarians to understand how they use both the physical and digital spaces to craft recommendations for their users, and whether this can provide higher visibility for libraries to help expand upon their communities. This information is essential to the application’s internal functionality since the other target user of this application would be the librarians/library staff users that provide said recommendations.
Ideas for features that were considered during initial ideation and would be interesting to explore in the future include:
- Translating prototyped feature ideas into the current web catalog to better define library systems across BiblioCommons catalogs.
- Determining physical location branch amenities, as well as plotting out a library’s bookmobile location on the map using GPS.
- Spotlighting libraries to feature their recommendations on the Explore page.
- Extending on Locations functionality by visually plotting the geographic areas that other public libraries service to further encourage exploratory and serendipitious experiences with finding new recommendations from other libraries.
What I Learned
Be thoughtful in finding a design solution.
When conducting my research for design ideas that would leverage BiblioCommons software, one of the biggest challenges that I encountered was determining how personalized this solution should get. Since public libraries work with the public domain and want to ensure the privacy of their users, being respectful about what types of personalized information should be available for other users was crucial when iterating on design ideas across prototypes.
Make the familiar unfamiliar.
Coming into this project I was hyper-aware of my own personal bias. Already being highly familiar with the library that I observed (The Seattle Public Library) as a regular user, I had to make sure that during my observations and prototype iterations that I was not taking certain experiences for granted. Forcing myself out of my comfort zone to relearn tasks that were already habit to me was an eye-opening experience, like recognizing I knew my library card number by heart when I checked out items I wanted to borrow. After all, the end-product design is not for me; it is for the users.
Not all problems can be solved overnight.
The entire experience of using a library is massive, which was initially overwhelming at first since there were so many different directions that could have been explored with a design solution. So focusing on tools provided by BiblioCommons and a core experience of finding a community within a library for new users not just helped me avoid scope creep, but it also kept me organized in prioritizing which features were important and relevant to prototype through each of my prototype iterations.