Huiqin Gao | UX Designer
I design to make information more accessible.
Library@2x (2).png

Leading library service team of 30

Increasing library usership and students’ information literacy through design.

Wuhan University Learning Commons

Increasing library usership and students’ information literacy

Photo taken by Wenping Zou


Background

For: Wuhan University Library reader service

Challenge: Increasing library usage

Length: 17 months

Skills: Leadership, online knowledge warehouse, surveying, recruiting, ideation, IT technical support

My role: Student leader

Motivation

The rise of the internet saw a corresponding drop in library usage. With the goal of reversing this trend, the Wuhan University Library hired me, a known literacy advocate on campus, to modify the B1 space in encouragement of student use and digital proficiency.

 

 
 

Process

Problem

As a student and library user myself, I identified three  challenges the library faced:

  • Students no longer need to go to the library to find information and knowledge.

  • Millenials and Gen Xers have less survival stress than previous generations, so research and studying habits are aimed at self-improvement over cramming.

  • The library has an image problem: it is considered a place for “geeks”.    

 
 
 

Process

Solution

All three challenges could be met by turning the library space one all students find value in. To improve perceived value, I established two goals: to improve usability for digital users, and to increase engagement through library activities.  

 
 
 

Process

Implementation

I recruited and trained a team of 30 student employees to run the B1 area during all hours of operation. Their purpose was to assist library users by helping them navigate in the learning commons, assisting them using the computers and printers, and managing the booking and usage of discussion rooms.

Once established, we worked together to identify and solve small usability problems. For example, we put up user-friendly notices to help students better navigate the space, and established a social media presence to respond to users’ comments and requests.

We also put together a comprehensive FAQ list, which I developed into a searchable database, to improve library efficiency and usability.

To increase library engagement, we implemented a variety of events, such as: library navigation competitions and various meetups, the most popular of which was the monthly Living Library. My idea, the Living Library addressed students’ decreased interest in books by inviting “human books” (people with interesting experiences) to share their stories with others. The goal was get students excited about systemic knowledge rather than the fragmented knowledge they’re accustomed to through digital and social media.

 
IMG_2553.jpg
 

I recruited and trained a team of 30 student employees to run the B1 area during all hours of operation. Their purpose was to assist library users by helping them navigate in the learning commons, assisting them using the computers and printers, and managing the booking and usage of discussion rooms.

Once established, we worked together to identify and solve small usability problems. For example, we put up user-friendly notices to help students better navigate the space, and established a social media presence to respond to users’ comments and requests.

We also put together a comprehensive FAQ list, which I developed into a searchable database, to improve library efficiency and usability.

To increase library engagement, we implemented a variety of events, such as: library navigation competitions and various meetups, the most popular of which was the monthly Living Library. My idea, the Living Library addressed students’ decreased interest in books by inviting “human books” (people with interesting experiences) to share their stories with others. The goal was get students excited about systemic knowledge rather than the fragmented knowledge they’re accustomed to through digital and social media.

 
 

 
 

Living Library

The idea of "Living Library" is to borrow "human books". Different from traditional "paper books", not only the information goes from the "human book" to the "readers", but also the book could listen to and respond to readers' questions.

Our team hosted a "Living Library" even every month. Each time we invited four "books”, and 50-60 readers joined on RSVP. The "human books" brought their life stories of cycling from Wuhan to Tibet, inventing a Red Dot Design Award water faucet, bringing cardio-cerebrovascular medical technology back to Africa and many more.

 
Living Library, photo taken by Xueyao Jiang

Living Library, photo taken by Xueyao Jiang

 

 
 

My supportive leadership

We had a team of 30 students from different departments of Wuhan University. During the open hours of the library (8:00-22:00), two of our team members will be around the service desk or anywhere B1 readers need them. Arranged with purpose to be more creative when tackling user problems.

As the team leader, I support the team through recruiting, training, team-building, motivating and using my information science expertise to provide an online knowledge base built searchable database for employee FAQs. I also manage the team members’ salaries through recording and assessing their performance.

 
 

 
 

Our Efforts

User-friendly notices

The Learning Commons aims at helping students' e-learning, and the physical books there are mainly reference books in case readers want to look up something. Therefore those books are not for circulation, but many students are unaware of that and accidentally took them to the checkout desk, which is ten minutes walk away.

Not only does this cause a time lag when readers need to look up a specific book, but also reduce the time our service team provides more meaningful help to readers because they had to spend at least 20 minutes retrieving the books.

 
User-friendly notice, photo taken by Wenping Zou

User-friendly notice, photo taken by Wenping Zou

 

We need to inform the readers the usage nature of B1's books in a friendly way. I invited the team members to sit together and brainstorm. We've ideated, voted and let go, and finally, we were all happy with "书归原处,智归学儒". It literally means "the book goes back to where it is, and the wisdom goes to the erudite" and it's easy to remember because it sounds like beautiful traditional verse.

We chose a playful font and added a cartoon figure on the notice board so that it fits in with the reader-friendly environment.

 
 

Our efforts

Official Weibo

 

I started the B1's official Sina Weibo account (link) for the service team to spread the word of our service, and respond to readers' comments and requests etc.. They also use it to post lost-and-found information. The Weibo is still being used now.

learning commons weibo.png
 
 
 

Our efforts

Online knowledge warehouse (database)

The online knowledge base I built was also something. Before me, they used a local Word document to log the problems and solutions they had in work. The content was unorganized, and local. I built an online database to organize the Q&As, easy for the team to add/edit stuff, and everyone includes me, the librarian director and other team members could access it anytime.

 
 

 
 

Outcome

In a campus survey in late 2013, the Learning Commons has become students’ favorite place in the library.

Our team won the “Outstanding Service Award” from the Wuhan University Library.

I was asked to manage both the A1 and B1 library spaces, which I continued to lead for another year.