Completely Shelfless: reinventing a physical library for an online community

Stiles, Keren and Killick, Selena (2019). Completely Shelfless: reinventing a physical library for an online community. In: 5th annual international User Experience in Libraries conference (UXLibsV), 18-19 Jun 2019, Royal Holloway, University of London.


As the UK’s largest distance learning university, the Open University’s students are located all over the country, and further afield. The library’s user experience work has tended to focus on our students, who by necessity typically use our online library. Keen to ensure a more inclusive approach to our UX, in Spring 2018 we conducted a project exploring current and future needs and expectations of the Library service from the whole OU community. Using directive story telling the research team conducted a series of interviews with staff and students to gain rich insight into their needs. One key finding identified how our previous strategy of treating the building and physical resources as a lower priority led to a loss of relationship capital with faculty staff and postgraduate students on campus. Building on these findings we set out to examine how the library building is currently used, to gain a deeper understanding of the needs not being met, and to find out why people don’t use the library building. We used a mixture of methods including observation and touchstone tours in the library building, ‘tell us how you feel about the library’ postcards collected in catering spaces, and guerrilla mini-interviews around campus. Our methodology ensured we gathered feedback from outside of our own spaces, identifying the needs of the non-users as well as the current users. This insight was then used in a workshop with the Library staff to develop a new vision and strategy for the physical Library. In partnership with the Estates team and the intended users we are now implementing these finding into tangible improvements to the Library building.

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