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Research Spotlight

Research Gives Robust Picture of User Behavior

Research interest: Identifying user behavior and expectations of Robarts Library to inform service and space design.

My initial intention was to gather information to help with a renovation of the ground floor of Robarts Library and see how our service points were working for users. I collected impressions from users using several methods:

• whiteboard feedback
• walkthrough interviews
• pen and paper surveys
• focus groups
• guerrilla surveys

A simple whiteboard helped Debbie Green gather user feedback at Robarts Library.
A simple whiteboard helped Debbie Green gather user feedback at Robarts Library.

To understand user behavior from the back end, I looked at existing statistics of workstation use, printing, gate counts and service point contacts for a 10-year period. I also gathered the content of user questions from six heavily used service points.

Re-visualizing the LibQUAL Affect of Service dimension to pinpoint specific issues and learning about our students from existing experience surveys and their academic achievement helped pinpoint student expectations of this specific library.

Historical documents and archived web sites, along with interviews of long term staff, helped me better understand the intense technological and institutional changes that coincided with the creation of our current service model and building configuration.

To ground my work in the research literature, I looked at some key studies of library value measurement by Susan McKnight and Serena Killick and of user expectations by Crump and Freund. Classic works of service quality research by authors such as Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry and their heirs led me to newer literature on service science, user experience research and service design.

When all of the above data were pulled together and supplemented by interviews with managers and front line library staff, I got a picture of how the building functions for our users from a variety of different vantage points. The result is tied to this unique building serving a particular group of users in a specific university.

Key references:

Crump, Michele J. 2012. Meeting the needs of student users in academic libraries : Reaching across the great divide, eds. LeiLani Freund, Steve Carrico. Oxford: Chandos Publishing.

Killick, Selena, Anne van Weerden, and Fransje van Weerden. 2014. Using LibQUAL+® to identify commonalities in customer satisfaction: The secret to success? Performance Measurement and Metrics 15 (1): 23-31.

McKnight, Susan. 2009. Bridging the gap between service provision and customer expectations. Performance Measurement and Metrics 10 (2): 79-93.

Parasuraman, A., Valarie A. Zeithaml, and Leonard L. Berry. 1985. A conceptual model of service quality and its implications for future research. Journal of Marketing 49 (4) (Autumn): 41-50.

Debbie Green is Head, Reference and Research Services, Robarts Library, University of Toronto Libraries. She can be reached at [at]

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