Coming on board as the new Web Experience Developer in the Assessment and User Experience Services (AUXS) Department in early 2022, one of my first priorities was to get up to speed on Web Accessibility guidelines and testing. I wanted to learn how these standards had been applied to Library websites to date and establish my own processes and habits for ongoing evaluation and improvement. Flash-forward one year, and I’m looking back at the steps that I took and reflecting on lessons learned and projects completed. I thought it might be helpful to myself and others in a similar situation (e.g. new web developers, designers, or content creators) to organize these experiences and reflections into a sort of manual or “Quick Start Guide”. I hope that these 5 steps will be useful to others who need a crash course in this potentially confusing or intimidating–but ultimately crucial and rewarding–territory.
Learn from your colleagues
Fortunately, I quickly discovered that Duke Libraries already had a well-established culture and practice around web accessibility, including a number of resources I could consult.
Two Bitstreams posts from our longtime web developer/designer Sean Aery gave me a quick snapshot of the current state of things, recent initiatives, and ongoing efforts:
Repositories of the Library’s open source software projects proved valuable in connecting broader concepts with specific examples and seeing how other developers had solved problems. For instance, I was able to look at the code for DUL’s “theme” (basically visual styling, color, typography, and other design elements) to better understand how it builds on the ubiquitous Bootstrap CSS framework and implements specific accessibility standards around semantic markup, color contrast, and ARIA roles/attributes:
The site also offers guides geared towards the needs of different stakeholders (content creators, designers, developers) as well as a step-by-step overview of how to do an accessibility assessment.
Know your standards
Duke University has specified the Worldwide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.0, Level AA Conformance (WCAG 2.0 Level AA) as its preferred accessibility standard for websites. While it was initially daunting to digest and parse these technical documents, at least I had a known, widely-adopted target that I was aiming for–in other words, an achievable goal. Feeling bolstered by that knowledge, I was able to use the other resources mentioned here to fill in the gaps and get hands-on experience and practice solving web accessibility issues.
Find a playground
As I settled into the workflow within our Scrum team (based on Agile software development principles), I found a number of projects that gave me opportunities to test and experiment with how different markup and design decisions affect accessibility. I particularly enjoyed working with updating the Style Guide for our Catalog as part of a Bootstrap 3–>4 migration, updating our DUL Theme across various applications — Library Catalog, Quicksearch, Staff Directory — built on the Ruby on Rails framework, and getting scrappy and creative trying to improve branding and accessibility of some of our vendor-hosted web apps with the limited tools available (essentially jQuery scripts and applying CSS to existing markup).
Build your toolkit
A few well-chosen tools can get you far in assessing and correcting web accessibility issues on your websites.
The built-in developer tools in your browser are essential for viewing and testing changes to markup and understanding how CSS rules are applied to the Document Object Model. The Deque Systems aXe Chrome Extension (also available for Firefox) adds additional tools for accessibility testing with a slick interface that performs a scan, gives a breakdown of accessibility violations ranked by severity, and tells you how to fix them.
Color Contrast Checkers
I frequently turned to these two web-based tools for quick tests of different color combinations. It was educational to see what did and didn’t work in various situations and think more about how aesthetic and design concerns interact with accessibility concerns.
These style guides provided a handy reference for default and variant typography, color, and page design elements. I found the color palettes particular helpful as I tried to find creative solutions to color contrast problems while maintaining Duke branding and consistency across various Library pages.
Attempting to navigate our websites using only the TAB, ENTER, SPACE, UP, and DOWN keys on a standard computer keyboard gave me a better understanding of the significance of semantic markup, skip links, and landmarks. This test is essential for getting another “view” of your pages that isn’t as dependent on visual cues to convey meaning and structure and can help surface issues that automated accessibility scanners might miss.
Back in the summer of 2018, calls for applications for the National Web Privacy Forum started circulating around the library community. I’ll be honest — at that point I knew almost nothing about how libraries protect patron privacy. That summer I’d been conducting a library data inventory, interviewing stakeholders of various data systems across the library, and I had just gotten my first hints of some of the processes we use to protect the data we collect from patrons.
Long story short, Duke Libraries submitted an application to the Forum, we were selected, and I attended. The experience was really meaningful, and it gave me a nice overview of the various issues that affect a library’s ability to protect patron privacy. The following spring (2019), the leaders of the National Forum released an action handbook that recommended conducting a data privacy audit, and DUL undertook such an audit during the Fall of 2019. The results of that audit suggested that we still have a bit of work to do to make sure all of our systems are working together to protect our patrons.
The task force included staff members from across the various divisions of the library. Pretty quickly, we determined that we all come with different experiences around patron privacy. We decided to begin with a sort of book club, identifying and reviewing introductory materials related to different components of patron privacy, from web analytics to the GDPR to privacy in archives and special collections. Once we all felt a bit more knowledgeable, we turned our attention to creating a statement of our priorities and principles.
Defining our values
There are a lot of existing statements of library values, and many make mention of patron privacy. Other documents that cover privacy values include regulatory documents and organizational privacy statements. Some of the statements we reviewed include:
While these statements are all relevant, the task force found some of them far too general to truly guide action for an organization. We were looking to create a document that outlined more specifics, helped us make decisions about how to organize our work. At Duke Libraries, we already have one document we use to organize our work and make decisions — our strategic plan.
When we reviewed the strategic plan, we noticed that for each section of the plan, a focus on patron privacy resulted in a set of implications for our work. To express these implications, we devised a rough hierarchy of directed action, indicating our ability and obligation to undertake certain actions. We use the following terms in our final report:
For actions within our sphere of influence:
obligation: DUL should devote significant time and resources toward this work
responsibility: DUL should make a concerted effort toward this work, but the work may not receive the same attention and resources as that devoted to our obligations
For actions outside our sphere of influence:
commitment: DUL will need to partner with other groups to perform this work and thus cannot promise to accomplish all tasks
An example of our principles and priorities
One section from our strategic plan is Strategic Priority #2: Our Libraries Teach and Support Emerging Literacies. Within this priority, the strategic plan identifies the following goals:
Expand the presence of library staff in the student experience in order to understand and support emerging scholarship, information, data, and literacy needs
Mentor first-year students in scholarly research and learning practices, embracing and building upon their diverse backgrounds, prior knowledge, literacies, and expectations as they begin their Duke experience.
Partner with faculty to develop research methods, curricula, and collaborative projects connecting their courses to our collections.
Enhance the library instruction curriculum, focusing on standards and best practices for pedagogy that will prepare users for lifelong learning in a global and ever-changing research environment.
We have an obligation to communicate in plain language what data we and our partners collect while providing our services.
We have a responsibility to provide education, tools, and collection materials to shed light on the general processes of information exchange behind technology systems.
We commit to partnering with researchers seeking to understand the effects of information exchange processes and related policy interventions.
We now have the strategic plan, which outlines types of activities we might undertake, and the new report on protecting patron privacy, which adds to that list new activities and methods to achieve patron privacy protections in each area.
The final work of the task force was to propose new project work based on our identified priorities and principles. The task force will share a list of recommended projects with library administration, who will start the hard work of evaluating these projects and identifying staff to undertake them. In the meantime, we hope the report will offer immediate guidance to staff for considerations they should be taking in different areas of their work, as well as serving as a model for future documents that guide our efforts.
In the Assessment & User Experience department, one of our ongoing tasks is to gather and review patron feedback in order to identify problems and suggest improvements. While the libraries offer a wide variety of services to our patrons, one of the biggest and trickiest areas to get right is the design of our physical spaces. Typically inhabited by students, our library study spaces come in a variety of sizes and shapes and are distributed somewhat haphazardly throughout our buildings. How can we design our study spaces to meet the needs of our patrons? When we have study spaces with different features, how can we let our patrons know about them?
These questions and the need for a deeper assessment of library study space design inspired the formation of a small team – the Spaces With Intentional Furniture Team (or SWIFT). This team was charged with identifying best practices in study space furniture arrangement, as well as making recommendations on opportunities for improvements to existing spaces and outreach efforts. The team reviewed and summarized relevant literature on library study space design in report (public version now available). In this post, we will share a few of the most surprising and valuable suggestions from our literature review.
Increase privacy in large, open spaces
Some of the floors in our library buildings have large, open study spaces that can accommodate a large number of patrons. Because study space is limited, we are highly motivated to make the most of the space we have. The way a space is designed, however, influences how comfortable patrons feel spending a lot of time in the space.
With large open spaces, the topic of privacy came up across several different studies. In this context, privacy relates to both to visibility in a space and to the ability to make noise without being overheard. Even when policies allow for noise in a space, a lack of privacy can make students nervous to go ahead and be noisy. For spaces where silence is the norm, a lack of privacy can make patrons feel on display and especially nervous about any movements or sound they might make.
The literature suggests that there are ways to improve privacy in open spaces. For group spaces, placing dividers or partitions between group table arrangements may both offer privacy and provide useful amenities, like writeable surfaces. For quiet spaces, privacy can be improved by varying the type and height of furniture and by turning furniture in different directions so individuals are not facing each other. Seating density should also be restricted in quiet spaces.
Isolate noisy zones from quiet zones
Controlling noise is a common topic in the literature. Libraries are some of the only spaces on campus that offer a quiet study environment, but the need for quiet spaces needs to be balanced with the need to engage in the increasingly collaborative work required by modern classes. Libraries are often in central locations on campus and offer prime real estate for groups to meet in between or after classes. How to provide enough quiet space for people who need to work without distractions while still accommodating group work and socializing?
Once strategy is to make sure that people feel comfortable with making noise in spaces where it is encouraged. Libraries can position noisy spaces to take advantage of other sources of noise to provide some noise “cover” – for example, a staff service desk, copy machines, elevators, and meeting rooms. Quiet spaces should be isolated from these sources of noise, perhaps by placing them on separate floors. Stacks can also help separate spaces, as books provide some sound absorption, and the visual obstruction reduces visual distractions for students studying quietly.
Reservable private study rooms meet several needs
Sometimes, enforcing noise policies to keep spaces quiet only solves part of the problem. Quiet study spaces reduce distractions caused by noise, but students can be sensitive to other kinds of distractions – visual distractions, strong or chemical smells, etc. For students needing spaces completely free of distractions, libraries might consider creating reservable rooms available for individual study.
This kind of service is useful for more than low-distraction study needs. Making exceptions for pandemics, libraries often employ a first-come, first-served approach to seats in study spaces. Patrons with mobility issues or limited time to study would benefit greatly from being able to reserve a study space in advance. Identifying reservable study spaces for individuals, either within a larger study space or as part of a set of reservable private rooms, might meet a variety of currently unmet needs.
Physical spaces need web presences
As SWIFT begins to think about recommendations, we know we have to address our outreach around spaces. Patrons currently have few options for learning about our spaces. We have some signage in our buildings to identify different noise policies, and we have a few websites that give a basic overview of the spaces, but patrons are often reduced to simply performing exhaustive circuits around the buildings to discover all that we have available. More likely, students find a few of our spaces either by chance or by word of mouth, and if those spaces don’t meet their needs, they may not return.
One detailed review (Brunskill, 2020) offers very explicit guidance on the design of websites to support patrons with disabilities. As is commonly true, improvements that support one group of patrons often improve services for all patrons. Prominently sharing the following information about physical spaces will better support all patrons looking to find their space in the libraries:
details about navigating physical spaces (maps, floorplans, photos)
sensory information for spaces (noise, privacy, lighting, chemical sensitivity)
Throughout our literature review, we saw the same advice over and over again: patrons need variety. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to patron needs. Luckily, at Duke we have several library buildings and many many study spaces. With some careful planning, we should be able to take an intentional approach to our space design in order to better accommodate the needs of our patrons. The libraries have new groups tasked with acting on these and related recommendations, and while it may take some time, our goal is to create a shared understanding of the best practices for library study space design.
Libraries staff spent significant time over the summer of 2020 developing these new services. Once they were put in operation in the fall of 2020, Assessment & User Experience staff knew we needed to gather feedback from users and analyze data to better understand how the services were working and what could be improved. We developed brief, anonymous feedback surveys to be sent during two-week periods to each person who reserved equipment or a study seat or made an appointment to pick up books.
What did we learn?
The vast majority of the 111 patrons who responded to the Library Takeout survey were extremely satisfied with both wait time and safety precautions, as shown in the figure below.
Patrons were also asked what worked well about the process, what did not work well, and whether they had any additional comments or suggestions. There were 69 comments about things that worked well. The most prevalent themes in these compliments were clear instructions, very short wait times, friendly security and staff, access to parking, and adequate safety precautions.
The directions were clear, the parking pass for the Upper Allen lot made arriving on campus for pick up easy, the security staff were helpful and efficient, and the library staff was cheerful and helpful as I’ve come to expect.
Very rigorous about precautions. Keep it that way.
There were 34 comments about things that did not work well, many of which also make suggestions for improvements. For example:
There was interest in the Libraries offering weekend hours for materials pick-up
Several students found the check-in requirements at the library entrance confusing
There were complaints about having to make appointments at all to pick up materials
Several students reported issues with their parking passes not opening the gates
Interest in having the confirmation email for a scheduled pick-up be sent earlier
Several felt that the security presence at the doors was uncomfortable
The survey for seat and equipment reservations received 114 responses in the two-week period in which this survey was distributed at the beginning of the fall semester. Users were asked how easy five activities were: using the online system to book, checking in, finding the seat/equipment, using it, and cleaning up/checking out. An overwhelming percent of users found it “extremely easy” to use their seat/equipment (89%). In general, close to two-thirds of users found each of the other activities “extremely easy.” When “Somewhat easy” and “extremely easy” responses are combined, between 85-97% of respondents found each activity easy. The activity with the lowest “easy” score (85%) was “cleaning up and checking out after your reservation.”
When asked what worked well about reserving and using a seat or equipment, many praised the booking website for its clarity, simplicity, and ease of use, and also praised the entire process. Students were happy to be assured of a seat when they came to the library, and many commented on how clean, quiet, and nicely socially distanced the library was. Compliments were offered for the signage as well as for the security staff’s assistance in finding seats.
It was easy from start to finish. The security guard at the front was very helpful in explaining how to find my seat.
Was happy to see cleaning supplies to wipe down the desk area. felt safe. good social distancing precautions!
When asked what did not work well about reserving and using a study seat or equipment, reported issues included the following:
Some respondents hadn’t realized they were supposed to check out online or clean their seating area when they were finished. The Libraries should add visuals next to the seats instructing on these procedures.
When reserving, patrons can’t tell which seats are close to electrical outlets or windows. They requested a floorplan, map, or photos of the spaces so they can see where the seats are in relation to other things.
Multiple people asked for the ability to easily extend one’s study time in the same seat if no one had booked it after them by the time their session was up.
For the website, several people complained about the inability to edit reservation times without canceling and rebooking the whole thing, and a few other clunky visual things about the tool used for reservations.
Several people requested weekend hours for the service.
Changes we were able to make based on feedback
By gathering student feedback when we first began offering these services, we were able to quickly make changes so that the services better met our users’ needs. Below is a list of some of the key changes we made in response to survey feedback.
Revised and expanded opening hours in both Lilly and Perkins & Bostock Libraries in response to student requests and an analysis of usage patterns based on reservation system data.
Removed the “check in” requirement for study seat users early in the fall semester, once we realized this was posing problems
Increased outreach and marketing about reservable Study Seats through email blasts, social media, and blog posts. Library Takeout got plenty of buzz through this catchy video that went viral this past fall (870,000 views and counting)!
How can the Duke Libraries better support the needs of Black students at Duke? A team of library staff conducted qualitative research with Black students over the past two years in order to answer this question. This research was part of a multi-year effort at the Libraries to better understand the experiences and needs of various populations at Duke, beginning with first generation college students and continuing this year with a focus on international students.
Our final report discusses the full research process and our findings in more detail than that provided below, including a full list of recommendations resulting from the study.
We began by reading existing research on university and academic libraries’ support of Black students and speaking with key stakeholders on campus, such as Chandra Guinn, the director of the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture. We researched past studies at Duke that had information on the Black student experience, and learned about the history of faculty diversity initiatives and racist incidents that had taken place on campus. We then held two discussion groups and three PhotoVoice sessions with Black graduate and undergraduate students, in addition to analyzing thousands of responses from the Libraries’ 2020 student satisfaction survey broken out by race. Photovoice is a community-based, participatory research method that originated in global health research. Participants take photos in response to prompts and submit them along with captions. This is followed by a group discussion led by participants as they discuss each set of images and captions.
We sought to understand students’ experiences in the Libraries and on campus to improve how all students interact with library services, facilities, and materials. We did not limit our discussions to library services and spaces, as it was important to explore Black students’ experience and use of the Libraries holistically. The research team pursued eight research questions:
To what extent are the Libraries viewed as an inclusive space by Black students?
To what extent is the University viewed as an inclusive space by Black students?
To what extent do students experience microaggressions or bias because of their race in the Libraries, on campus, in Durham, or in North Carolina?
What changes can the Libraries make to ensure Black students feel supported and included? How can the Libraries improve spaces, services, and programs to ensure Black students feel supported and included?
What changes can the University make to ensure Black students feel supported and included? How can the University improve spaces, services, and programs to ensure Black students feel supported and included?
What campus and community services, spaces, and programs do Black students use and find helpful?
What library services, spaces, instruction sessions, and programs do Black students use and find helpful?
What campus and library services, spaces, and programs help Black students feel welcome or supported?
To what extent is Duke University viewed as an inclusive space?
Participants praised many services, programs, and spaces at Duke that contribute to a welcoming environment. At the same time, participants agreed that Duke provides a less inclusive space for Black students than White students. Black students contend with campus culture, curricula, and physical spaces that still largely reflect and center White experiences, history, and values. Academia is a space where Black students do not see themselves valued or accurately represented. From the arts and sciences to statistics and economics, participants reported systemic bias in instructors’ behavior and the scholarship assigned and discussed in class. They experience microaggressions in almost every area of life at Duke. These instances of bias reinforce the idea that their belonging at Duke is qualified.
We found that many Black graduate students have a level of support via their academic programs, beyond what is available to Duke undergraduate students. Participants praised many of their graduate programs for creating inclusive and supportive environments. Elements contributing to such environments include peer and faculty mentors, programs and events, policies, committees, opportunities to be part of decision-making, communication from faculty and administrators, and efforts to increase diversity. Black undergraduate students may be further removed from decision-makers than graduate students, functioning in an anonymous sea of students receiving the same general services. Thus, compared to graduate students, undergraduates may feel less self-efficacy to effect change in campus-wide inclusion efforts.
To what extent are the Libraries viewed as an inclusive space?
Black students largely view the Libraries as inclusive spaces in the sense that they meet their diverse learning needs as underrepresented students at a predominantly White institution (PWI). When asked whether they see the Libraries as inclusive spaces and whether they feel safe, welcome, and supported at the Libraries, both undergraduate and graduate students listed numerous services and resources offered by the Libraries that they value. These include online journals, the variety of study spaces, the textbook lending program, technology support and resources, events and training opportunities, and research support. Respondents reported positive experiences with the Libraries overall.
However, students also reported some negative interactions with staff and with peers in the Libraries. They also perceive aspects of library spaces to be unwelcoming, specifically to Black students because they center White history. Responses to the 2020 student satisfaction survey showed that while around 88% of both Black and White students agreed that the Libraries are a welcoming place for them, only 60% of Black respondents and 66% of White respondents strongly agreed with the statement. Other aspects of the library experience were perceived as unwelcoming for reasons unrelated to race. Though students reported negative experiences in the Libraries, none reported experiencing bias or microaggressions because of their race in DUL.
Students reported a general feeling that both Duke and Duke Libraries, while not actively hostile or racist, are complicit in their silence. Students do not see enough visible actions and signs supporting diversity and inclusion, efforts to limit White western European cultural dominance, or attempts to educate White students about minority experiences. Participants are not convinced that Duke cares about racist incidents, and believe that Duke and Duke Libraries will not take meaningful action if they complain about or report instances of prejudice or microaggression.
What does it mean to be Black at Duke?
“It’s like I have to prove something to somebody: I’m here for the same reason that you are.”
To walk invisible, to speak for all
Students described the contradiction and contrast of seeing oneself almost universally absent – from the scholarship assigned in class and portraits on the walls, to the faces of faculty reflected from the front of class rooms – while simultaneously representing the entire race to others. This is the reality that many experience at Duke, an elite PWI.
Participants discussed being treated as invisible. One undergraduate male shared that even on campus “people usually avoid me with eye contact, crossing to the other side of the street.” It also takes a toll on Black students not to see their backgrounds and experiences represented in the Duke faculty. Currently, Duke’s faculty is significantly less diverse than the study body. Many Black students know the exact number of Black faculty and administrators in their academic programs, and the numbers matter. At the same time, Black students are often unable to fade into a crowd and are forced to be perennially conscious of their race identity in a way that White students at Duke, at PWIs, and in the United States in general, are not. White students and instructors sometimes treat Black students as monoliths, expecting their views and actions to exemplify those of all Black people. Students discussed pressure “to uphold a good image and to go the extra mile…to actively disprove stereotypes.”
One graduate student said:
I feel like I have to speak for everyone…Black people in America don’t have the privilege of individuality.
The validity of Black students’ presence at Duke is challenged both by fellow students and by Durham community members. Black students are hyper-aware that most Black people on campus are staff, not students, and some discussed unease wondering if people mistake them for staff as well. A student explains the need to prove that they belong, not just academically or intellectually, but even physically on campus:
Every time I walk around campus, I’m like, ‘I need to have my book bag on so people know I’m a student, so people don’t think I’m an employee.’… It’s a focus: I have to look like I’m a student. It’s like I have to prove something to somebody: I’m here for the same reason that you are.
A Black undergraduate recounted a story of how she and her friends were aggressively confronted by a group of White male students one night on their way to an event in a campus building who asked, “Do you even go here?” Many participants discussed how demoralizing it is when White people make the frequent assumption that they were admitted to Duke as part of an athletic program, or tell them that they were accepted to Duke as part of a racial quota instead of on the same academic merits as other students.
Graduate students discussed how Duke seems best able to accommodate two specific kinds of Black student, with room for improvement in how it accommodates others:
Duke makes it accommodating for Black students, but only a specific kind of Black student: Black athletes from America, or very rich African kids. I’m African American but not an athlete, or rich. I’m academically curious, and I just feel like I’m alone.
Participants acknowledge and appreciate the diversity of the Black student experience and wish others would do the same. Black students at Duke are rich and poor. They come from countries spanning the globe and from different religions and cultural backgrounds. While some are athletes, most are not.
Being Black at a predominantly White institution
PWIs such as Duke were not originally intended for Black students. Despite the time that has passed and the number of students of color who have been admitted, Duke remains a historically White space, and this history continues to permeate and shape the culture of the campus. The students in our study were fiercely aware of this history.
Undergraduates expressed concerns that many White students have little comprehension of or interest in understanding the experiences of “the Other” and are surrounded by White peers who are often ignorant of and oblivious to American racial dynamics and the realities of racism. Undergraduate participants perceive that Duke’s curriculum does not prioritize ensuring that all students will be exposed to diverse points of view and experiences through required courses or activities, and interdisciplinary courses tend to be racially segregated.
Duke Libraries and Duke as complacent and complicit
There was a general feeling that Duke Libraries and Duke, while not actively hostile or racist, are complicit in their silence. Students do not see enough explicit signals supporting diversity and inclusion, efforts to limit White western European cultural dominance, or to educate elite White students about minority experiences.
The 2020 Libraries student survey asked students whether they feel safe from discrimination, harassment, and emotional and physical harm at Duke Libraries and at Duke University. There are stark differences by race among the 2,600 students who responded. Black students do not feel as safe from discrimination, harassment, and emotional and physical harm as White students either on campus or in the Libraries.
Fewer (34%) of Black students “strongly agree” that they feel safe at Duke University, versus 71% of White students. A quarter of all Black students do not feel safe to some extent, versus only 7% of White students. More Black and White students feel safe in the Libraries than on campus in general, but fewer Black students “strongly agree” with the statement than White students – 71% versus 89%.
Discussion group participants believe that if campus spaces want to make minorities feel welcome, they need more visible signs or statements about inclusion and diversity, particularly because the default in Duke spaces is overwhelming visible representations of White people and Western art and architecture. In reference to the Perkins & Bostock Libraries, one graduate student said:
I don’t see an active attempt to make it welcoming per se. Depending on…what your experience has been like as a Black student on campus, I think there would need to be a purposeful and very explicit attempt to make it welcoming. Not to say there’s a malicious attempt to make it unwelcoming.
Systemic injustice perpetuated through the curriculum
“We were absent in the scholarship. Not just black people – any people of color. And when it was there, it was highly problematized…Every time people of color are mentioned, it’s in some kind of negative context. We’re deficient in some sort of way.”
Academics at Duke are often a space where Black students do not see themselves highly represented or valued. From the arts and sciences to statistics and economics, participants report systemic bias in a variety of areas ranging from instructors’ behavior to the scholarship assigned in class. A student in a business class reported the glaring lack of a single case study involving a Black-owned business or a business run by Black people. Another graduate student in the sciences explained:
All of the people you study are dead White men. And if you never did any outside scholarship yourself, you might be convinced that those are the only people who have ever done [redacted] science in the world.
In addition to racial biases in scholarship assigned, participants discussed the behavior of faculty and instructors as it contributed to systemic injustice in the classroom:
Particularly in statistics classes, almost all data that were racialized normalized Whites and problematized Blacks and other minorities, relatively. There was one assignment where we were supposed to look at and interpret the data, and White people were clearly worse off. The professor did gymnastics to interpret it in such a way where Black people would still be worse off. Come on! They couldn’t even see a way for White people to ever be worse off. And this happens all the time. Whether it’s a guest lecture or whatever…They just focus on the disparities, they interpret it very narrowly, and then there’s no discussion of the origins of those disparities or any solutions to them.
Black students often expect to face racial bias in their daily lives outside academia or from other students on campus. But faculty are both mentors and authority figures who represent the face of Duke to their students. Their silence can speak as loudly as their words in molding students’ perceptions of the extent to which Duke, as well as academic fields more broadly, value them.
On White and Western dominance of physical spaces
Physical spaces communicate priorities, expectations, and cultural values both implicitly and explicitly. They do this via architecture, materials in the spaces such as art, signs, and decorations, and social groupings within spaces. There are parts of Duke that Black students find welcoming and inclusive, but overall, participants do not consider the physical spaces of campus to be as inclusive for Black students as they are for White students.
Students across discussion groups listed example after example of spaces at Duke – including a number of libraries – where art and architecture caused physical spaces to feel exclusionary. Duke’s campus and libraries are filled with photography, statues, and portraits depicting mostly White males. This theme was raised by both undergraduates and graduates as a way that campus spaces make Black students (and likely other groups) feel unwelcome and excluded:
In the library at the [professional] school, there’s this room…A bunch of huge paintings of old White guys…It means something, right? Because there’s no other part of that library where you’ll see a big portrait painting of someone who isn’t a White male. It’s more White supremacy in itself: the absence of other people being represented in this school says a lot. If they wanted to do something about it they could. They could put in more paintings. There have been people of color who’ve been through Duke and have gone on to do great things.
A number of the discussion groups touched on a related topic, which is the lack of a library or a room within the main campus library dedicated to Black studies. Many students came from undergraduate schools that did have such spaces and were surprised to find them lacking at Duke, especially given the presence of the Nicholas Family Reading Room for International Studies (referred to by students as the “Asian reading room”), which houses reference collections for many non-English languages – though not all Asian. One of the more common recommendations across discussion groups was to create such a space within Perkins & Bostock Libraries, similar to the Nicholas Family Reading Room. Such a space would display books and journals related to Black studies or Black history and feature art, photographs, or exhibits related to Black culture or the history of Black people at Duke or in Durham.
Study spaces as social territories
Another aspect of Perkins & Bostock Libraries that feels exclusionary to participants is the territorial dominance of in different parts of the Libraries. This issue was also raised by students in numerous free-text comments of the 2020 student satisfaction survey, focused on Greek Life members laying an unofficial claim to library study spaces. Participants explained that these groups’ behavior often causes students unaffiliated with those fraternities to feel unwelcome in these public, highly-valued study spaces. Both discussion group participants and survey respondents also complained about the groups disturbing other students by not following posted noise norms for quiet study zones and even using library study rooms for fraternity business. One survey respondent said:
The library is divided (perhaps unofficially) into study areas based on Greek and SLG membership. I consider this to be a disgusting practice and it also leaves me (a graduate student) unsure where I can comfortably sit. I just wish the library was not yet another place where the caste system that is the Duke social scene gets reinforced.
Several students discussed how fraternities sometimes reserve bookable library study rooms and use these spaces for business purposes, to bestow access to social resources (in this case, access to parties) that are highly exclusive and closed to the majority of the campus, which further perpetuates exclusivity on campus. The language the students use to describe these interactions (“ostracized,” “uncomfortable,” “not welcomed”) shows the extent to which the presence of these groups in library spaces that are supposed to be inclusive actually makes students feel excluded, as if they cannot use those spaces due to their lack of membership in those groups.
Features of a space matter
The Libraries’ 2020 student survey asked whether respondents enjoy working in a campus library more than other campus spaces. A third of White students “strongly agree” with this statement, versus one-fourth of Black students. Participants in our discussion groups highlighted three features that greatly contribute to study spaces feeling welcoming and supportive, which are likely true for students from all backgrounds: natural light, green spaces and greenery, and vibrant colors.
Library staff have long been aware that students can study and de-stress better in library spaces with natural light. Increasing natural light is only possible when planning and constructing new facilities, but we can review the current spaces to ensure that all areas with natural light have seating options around them. Participants discussed how greenery, even fake plants, contribute to mental well-being and create study spaces that are less stressful. This also includes views of nature out of windows. Vibrant colors and artwork were mentioned time and again as factors that create positive energy and support well-being. Both the Link on the first floor of Bostock Library and the Bryan Center were held up as examples of well-designed spaces at Duke with brightly colored walls and furniture, or artwork.
In comparison, the Perkins & Bostock Libraries were seen as having much room to improve, with the exception of the following spaces: the Link, The Edge, the large reading rooms, light-filled breezeways, and the newly renovated Rubenstein Library. Participants requested that the Perkins & Bostock Libraries modernize its decor and add vibrant colors via paint, carpets, furniture and art. The students feel that the drab colors in study rooms and general open study areas exacerbate the sense of stress that already pervades the library. Students had unapologetically negative views of the atmosphere produced by color and decor choices:
I think Perkins is so uninviting…At a basic level, it’s just not a comfortable, inviting space to me. I hate the lighting. Part of it is that there is very little natural light throughout the library but then I just don’t like the colors that are chosen… It’s depressing. It just seems very outdated.
Campus and library wayfinding came up in multiple discussion groups as an area that needs improvement and contributes to students feeling unwelcome and stressed. Duke’s policy to not have visible external building signage and to use the same architecture for most buildings on West Campus leads newcomers to feel excluded and lost. Participants were critical of the fact that the main campus library has no identifying external feature or sign. Participants also discussed the need for better internal directional and informational signage within the Libraries. Improved signage is necessary both to assist with finding materials, and for guidance on use of study rooms and computer look-up stations. Students like the noise norms and zones designated by signage within the Libraries and want this signage to be larger and more prominent.
Affinity spaces are critical and signal what Duke values
Spaces noted by participants as welcoming and supportive included the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, the Wellness Center, the West Campus Oasis, the Duke Chapel, the Women’s Center, the Bryan Center, gardens and green spaces, and the Center for Multicultural Affairs. Students also spoke enthusiastically about a number of campus services, including the on-campus dentist; Wellness Center activities like a weekly group therapy session for Black women and free physical assessments; movie nights at the Bryan Center; campus buses; the entrepreneurship program; CAPS; the Writing Studio; and state-of-the-art gym facilities.
Many Photovoice participants submitted photographs and captions about the Mary Lou Williams Center, its programming, and its staff. For participants, the fact that Duke University funds and supports programming for such a large, beautiful space highlights Duke’s commitment to Black students and Black culture. However, not everyone feels welcome on the campus as a whole. One student said they go to the Mary Lou to “escape the white gaze” of the broader campus. These spaces should not be seen as spaces one has to go to escape the general campus experience, but rather as spaces that contribute to their campus experience.
Graduate students talked about the robust support networks in their academic programs. Students reported feeling supported in many ways, from professors who learn students’ names and Deans attending welcome lunches with new students, to orientation activities, peer and professor mentor programs, support for healthy work-life balances, and committees on diversity and inclusion.
Participants felt welcomed by events hosted solely for Black students, such as Black Convocation and parties held by Black Greek organizations, as well as outreach from the Mary Lou Williams Center to all incoming Black students.
Library services support students
Library services that were praised included library materials and online resources; the library website; textbook lending; device lending; technology such as scanners, 3D printers, and DVD players in Lilly; events such as snacks and coffee in the library and Puppies in Perkins during finals week; orientation sessions; reservable study rooms; designated noise norms and zones; ePrint; personal assistance from librarians; and Oasis Perkins. Students are surprised by how many services the Libraries offer and want more marketing and information about these services. Library staff should continue to develop outreach strategies for marketing services to students at various points in their programs and majors, both online and within library spaces.
The Libraries textbook lending program came up in every undergraduate discussion group. Students were enthusiastic about the program and the financial burden that it alleviates.
I think [library] rental textbooks are really nice…Knowing that if I change a class I don’t need to buy this book the first week and resell it for only 30%. If you’re paying for your own books, that’s not feasible. It’s…another stress coming into your freshman year of college. Thinking, ‘oh no I have to buy this $200 math book online – no, you can rent it from the library until you know whether you’re even supposed to be in that math class.’ Knowing that I can get through the first part of the semester without having to worry about textbooks is big.
According to results from the Libraries’ 2020 student survey, about one-fourth of all undergraduate students (regardless of race) said that textbook lending is important to them. At the same time, only 48.5% of both Black and White students said that the current program completely meets their needs, and 8% of those who said textbook lending is important to them reported being unaware of the Libraries textbook lending program. The survey also provided the following open-ended prompt to students: “In a perfect world, with unlimited time and resources, the Libraries would…” Eight percent of responses (127 out of 1,535) included a request for the Libraries to provide free textbooks.
Person-to-person interactions make a difference
Interactions with other people can be critical contributors to whether students at Duke feel welcome and supported. Participants discussed many positive interactions on campus and in the Libraries, with library service desk staff, librarians assisting with research, friendly security guards, housekeeping staff, academic program office staff, Mary Lou Williams Center staff, and financial aid officers. Black staff at Duke also provide important social support for students, whether assigned as mentors or simply lending a sympathetic ear. One student immediately thought of a staff member when asked about the most helpful programs and services on campus:
It’s not a program, it’s [an office administrator]. Since she’s a sister, we can just talk about anything. She looks out for me in a way that I know only a Black person would look out.
Library security guards stand out as a group that can help students feel safe and supported with just a friendly word or wave (though as previously noted, security guards can also easily make Black students feel unwelcome):
First semester sophomore year when I was [at the library] really late, there was this one security guard who I saw just going around and around, and each time he would wave. Then I was studying there just two nights ago, I just saw him again and he waved, and it just felt really good.
Affinity groups are important to all students, and especially important to minorities at PWIs. Students mentioned feeling welcomed by the existence of campus student groups such as the Black Student Alliance and Black Graduate & Professional Student Association, Black Greek Life, and spaces for affinity groups to gather (such as the Mary Lou and Black Student Alliance office).
Participants discussed many positive interactions with library staff. Participants value friendliness and good customer service, as well as subject expertise. However, discussions highlighted the fact that initial impressions and experiences are critical, and if students’ initial interaction is negative, they are likely not to come back. In particular, library staff must be mindful of the delicate balance between their roles as teachers and as service providers. While many library staff are trained to teach research skills, students often approach the service desk expecting staff to help them complete their task as quickly and efficiently as possible. Efforts to teach them how to complete the action by themselves instead of just assisting them can be interpreted as patronizing, a rebuke for having “bothered” staff, or poor customer service.
Overall, participants have a positive view of the Libraries. They recommended improvements, especially for physical spaces, and underscored the importance of marketing services such as textbook lending and relaxation events. Participants shared valuable insights that can help library staff understand what it means to be Black at Duke and in Durham, and ways that library staff can make spaces more welcoming and help ease the burden that Black students feel on a daily basis.
These findings became the basis of 34 recommendations outlined in the research team’s full report. One of the top recommendations from participants is that the Libraries dedicate a study space to Black scholarship. Such a space was envisioned to include art, photographs, or exhibits related to Black culture and history and highlight library resources from Black scholars.
The research team has presented and discussed this study at all staff meetings at the Libraries, as well as to various groups and units on Duke’s campus over the summer of 2020. The report was shared widely within the library community to encourage other libraries to consider these questions and undertake similar work.
In August 2020, the Libraries formed a Black Student Study Next Steps Coordinating Team charged with prioritizing and coordinating the implementation of recommendations from the study, as well as additional recommendations that came out of a staff workshop delving into the Libraries’ 2020 student satisfaction survey. For more information on this study or the Coordinating Team, contact Joyce Chapman firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every other year, the Duke University Libraries survey our patrons to learn more about their opinions about library spaces, services, and materials. Our biennial satisfaction survey for 2020 targeted our student patrons (both undergraduate and graduate) and covered topics from navigation of our buildings to website features to access to electronic materials.
Earlier this year, the survey was sent to a sample of 4,000 of our undergraduate and graduate students and was also linked from the library homepage for other students to complete. Almost 2,800 students participated in the survey, about half of whom were undergraduates (spread fairly evenly across all four years of study, except for an overrepresentation of first-year students).
While we will spend several more months reviewing the results and identifying opportunities to improve our services, we have completed our initial analysis of both the fixed choice and free text questions. The following high-level takeaways represent the major themes that emerged across the survey responses.
1. Students feel safe and welcome in our libraries.
This year, we asked students how much they agree with the following statement: “I feel safe from discrimination, harassment, and emotional and physical harm at… Duke University/Duke Libraries.”
The results show that for Duke University, 90% of students at least somewhat agree. For Duke Libraries, 95% of students at least somewhat agree with the statement, and 83% strongly agree. (Note: we asked a similar question in 2018 and saw a similar pattern, but the results aren’t directly comparable because we changed question and the response options.)
Another way we measure how students feel about the library is to ask about their agreement with an additional statement: “For me, the library is a welcoming place.”
Student agreement with this statement was quite high, especially among international and graduate students.
A quote from a response to one of our free-text questions nicely captures some of these reflections from students:
“I generally feel safe and included at the Duke libraries – I particularly like the diverse/inclusive the art installations in the front entrance and at the back of the first floor. These make me feel more included and I wish there were more of them!”
Duke Libraries’ response to this finding:
Formed the internal DivE-In (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) Council in 2017 and an Inclusive Spaces group in 2018
2. Students cherish the support from library and security staff.
Our survey didn’t specifically ask students if they are satisfied with library staff. This message, however, came through loud and clear in our qualitative comments.
After asking students about whether they feel safe at Duke and at Duke Libraries, we offered them the opportunity to explain with a free-text question (“Please describe your response and your experience with the Duke University Libraries in this context.”). Of the 260 responses to this question that mentioned library staff, 246 responses (or 95%) were compliments of the staff.
“I appreciate that the Duke Librarians, more than anyone else, go out of their way to make visible their commitment to allyship and inclusivity.”
“Duke libraries staff are extremely kind and caring. They have not judged me for who I am or what I need help with.”
“Everyone I’ve interacted with at the Library has been absolutely wonderful – from folks at the reference desk to the Center for Data and Visualization Sciences staff.”
Other questions were phrased to encourage critiques or requests, but even those questions included staff compliments.
“Keep hiring helpful and kind staff.”
“Great staff! I’ve always found everyone at Duke Libraries very friendly and helpful whenever I run into a library problem I can’t figure out.”
Our Libraries have several groups of staff that interact directly and regularly with our students. We were delighted to see that an important part of our staff family, the security guards, were complimented very explicitly by survey participants.
“The ample lighting and security presence makes me feel that I can be at Duke even when it is late.”
“I feel very safe at the Library knowing that there is always a guard making his/her way around the library and looking out for students. It has been one of my favorite places to work in the University.”
Duke Libraries’ response to this finding:
Began work on improvements to security guard training to emphasize the impact of smiling and greetings on student feelings of safety and welcome
Provided optional buttons to all staff: pronouns, the trans flag and the LGBTQ flag with the DUL reading devil overlay
Encouraged staff to attend Ally/PRIDE trainings and then display their certifications on their staff directory pages
3. Our Top Textbook initiative has had a huge impact on students.
The Libraries currently make textbooks available for short-term loan for the top 100 courses each semester (by enrollment). When asked about services that are important to them, 39% of undergraduates* list this “Top Textbooks” program as important, which means the service ranks right below core library services like ePrint, reservable rooms, and drop-in assistance at a service desk.
“I often take out textbooks for classes on reserve, have taken out a few books, and often study there.”
Furthermore, perhaps thanks to increased marketing efforts following our 2018 survey, only 7% of undergraduates report that they are unaware of the service. About 52% of undergraduates have given some response about how well it meets their needs, suggesting they have some experience using the service.
While this program seems to have had success for outreach and use, students still have some unmet needs in this area. When we ask about the services we should be expanding, just over 50% of undergraduates report that expansions to the textbook program would improve their experience a lot.
“Have more copies of textbooks (I really do enjoy the ones they do have – thanks!!).”
“In a perfect world, the Library [would have] multiple copies of most of the textbooks used by professors. While the inventory of books is huge, the library is missing the ones we actually use in the Econ department.”
* – Note: this question was only shown to students who selected our main West and East Campus libraries as their primary libraries, which comprises only about 92% of undergraduates who identified a primary library.
Duke Libraries’ response to this finding:
Increased outreach around this program by targeting faculty teaching supported courses and asking them to advertise program in syllabi
Increased physical signage about program around library buildings
Note: result of marketing efforts was 150% increase in use of program between spring 2019 and fall 2019
4. We need better communication of our norms and enforcement of our policies.
Unfortunately, students do also experience frustrations in our spaces. One example is the navigation of our spaces, especially the three connected West Campus libraries: Rubenstein, Perkins, and Bostock. On this survey, we asked if students feel confident locating a print book in the library. This question received the second lowest average agreement score of the options presented, for both undergraduates and graduates. Overall, about 23% of students lack confidence in their ability to locate a print book.
As you might expect when a large group of people shares a limited resource, students often struggle to negotiate the use of our study spaces. One area of great importance for effective studying is noise level. Some prefer absolute quiet, some prefer a low-level murmur, and others need to be able to converse freely with friends and project teammates. The Libraries have established noise norms for the various study zones in our libraries, but survey comments suggest that these norms are unclear or not always followed.
“[The Libraries should] separate talking zone and quiet zone more precisely. Someone may chat in considerate quiet zone for a long time, which is annoying.”
Furthermore, over the course of the last few years, we have seen a growth in reports of social groups that “take over” spaces and violate, especially, the noise norms of those spaces. While this stresses already taxed resources by using up seats in study spaces for social activities, it is also regularly mentioned as behavior that harms the welcoming and inclusive atmosphere of the library.
“Do away with the ‘assigned’ seating based on group membership!”
“I feel like groups of people frequent the library and there is no space for inclusion or initiatives to get people going to the library that look like me.”
“I don’t know how this would be done, but I would feel more comfortable in the libraries if undergraduate students didn’t claim and allocate spaces for themselves according to their social groups. As a graduate student of color, I don’t feel comfortable in those spaces.
“I think having the library as ‘satellite sections’ for some Greek organizations can make the library feel daunting. If there is a way to do away with this that would be great.”
Duke Libraries’ response to this finding:
Along with the previously mentioned diversity and inclusion activities, the Libraries are exploring ways of improving the communication of norms and enforcing policies.
Began working with Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek and other Student Affairs administrators to address the issues students experience in the Libraries
Developed and distributed new signage around finding books in the library, including instructions about how to read a Library of Congress call number
Initiated a redesign of our noise norm signage
Proposed new furniture arrangements for large, quiet study spaces that discourage conversation and group congregation
Began work on improvements to security guard training to empower them to identify and address policy violations and promote a more inclusive environment
5. Individuals and small groups have trouble locating private places to work.
Identifying the best furniture for different study spaces is a constant challenge. On this survey, we asked students about expanded services that improve their experience of the library. Out of 18 options covering furniture, spaces, and other services, the top request for both undergraduate and graduate students was individual desks, with 64% of students responding that they would improve the library experience “a lot.”
“I think some more individual study spaces would be very welcome. I prefer to work on the fourth floor because the desks with dividers are very useful in separating you from others so that you can concentrate on your work and not be bothered by anyone. There are few spaces like this, except for study rooms. Perhaps some more desks with dividers or separate spaces for individual work can help people to have a safe space where they will be free from others attempting to make them feel unsafe.”
Some students report frustration that resources like individual desks aren’t always being used as efficiently as possible. While the Libraries have a policy that belongings should not be used to “reserve” a study space for longer than 15 minutes, this policy is difficult to enforce, leading to spaces that are unusable for long periods of time.
“More individual study rooms and carrels. More seating in general. Somehow stop people from reserving carrels and tables by leaving their belongings there while being away for long periods of time. (Sometimes I am looking for an individual place to sit and it seems like half of the carrels have just belongings left there.) The reservable study rooms seem to all get booked quickly during the finals period, which is disappointing because they are very good to use for working on group final projects.”
Private spaces like group study rooms and interview rooms are extremely popular among students, consistently ranking in the top 5 for important services and the bottom 5 for how well services are meeting students’ needs, as well as being highly ranked among services that should be expanded. As with desk space, these resources can be informally reserved by leaving belongings in an empty room, leading to frustration when a group needing study space cannot find an empty room. Policies like limits on the amount of time a group can reserve a room and a requirement that rooms be used for group work (or interviews) attempt to make sure these rooms serve their intended purpose, but it is very difficult to enforce those policies.
6. Students want better lighting and access to greenery and outdoor spaces.
A final growing trend among students is the request for spaces that take better advantage of nature. In additional to several free-text comments that mentioned outdoor spaces, outdoor library spaces ranked second in the list of requests for expanded services.
“Incorporate more outdoor study spaces around the library and adding more areas to study with lots of windows and natural light.”
“be a space for a spectrum of socialization and quiet studying, with outdoor space and natural lighting (design for wellness)”
“More plants and green space. This is something I would love to help organize and coordinate.”
This single comment seems to capture all major trends we found in our initial analysis:
“Improve signage to reduce the chaotic feel of navigating the library, create a clearer, less confusing, and more welcoming library layout, increase rooms available for reservation for study or meetings, provide more and more comfortable quiet section seating, improve natural lighting, generally improve the library interiors to match the attractiveness of their facades, provide more printers.”
Duke Libraries’ response to this finding:
Refreshed paint, lighting, and carpet in key areas of the library
Installed new LED lights throughout the building
Advocated for more live plants in the building
Proposed outdoor spaces for future renovations
Enhanced WIFI access on the patio outside Bostock Library
Our biennial satisfaction surveys offer a high-level view of patron satisfaction and give us a lot of actionable information. The surveys can’t answer every question, however, and often don’t provide enough detail to make specific recommendations. Our complete assessment program elaborates on these results with in-depth user studies, feedback from our student advisory boards, focus groups, and other smaller studies. Over the next two years, we will blend these results with additional data, identify and prioritize projects, and make improvements to our spaces and services.
One topic that comes up regularly among our patrons is the navigation of our physical spaces. Like many libraries, our buildings have evolved over time, and that can make navigating our spaces a bit complicated. On Duke’s West Campus, we have three library buildings that are interconnected – Rubenstein Library, Perkins Library, and Bostock Library. Responses and comments on our biennial survey confirm what we hear anecdotally – patrons have trouble navigating these three buildings.
Deep Dive into Navigation Concerns
But how can we follow up on these reports to improve navigation in our spaces? Ideally, we would gather data from a large number of people over a long period of time to find very common and problematic navigation issues. Our biennial survey offers data from a large number of people over time, but it isn’t a great format for gathering detailed data about narrow subjects like navigation. Conducting an observational study of our spaces would explore navigation directly, but it would only include a small number of people, and the likelihood that we would catch individuals having trouble with navigation is low. We could try conducting ad hoc surveys of patrons in our spaces, but it would be difficult to ensure we are including people who have had navigation trouble, and it may be difficult for patrons to recall their navigation trouble on the spot.
What we needed was a way of capturing common examples of patrons having trouble with navigation. We decided that, instead of asking patrons themselves, our best resource would be library staff. We know that when patrons are lost in our buildings, they may reach out to staff members they see nearby. By surveying staff instead of patrons, we take advantage of staff who know the buildings well and who are commonly in particular areas of the buildings, noticing and offering help to our struggling patrons.
We decided to send a very simple survey to all staff in these library buildings. Staff could fill it out multiple times, and the only two questions were:
What is a common question you have helped patrons with?
Where are the patrons when they have this question, typically?
We had a great response from staff (72 responses from 36 individuals), and analyzing the responses showed several sources of confusion.
Focusing on questions where patrons are in library spaces and not near a help desk, two concerns account for over 60% of reported patron navigation issues:
Trouble Between Buildings
Our three connected library buildings, unfortunately, connect in ways that are not obvious to new visitors. Because buildings only connect on certain levels, it is easy for patrons to be looking for a location on the right floor but the wrong building. By asking staff for specific locations of both patrons and their desired destination, we could compile the most frequent problems that involve being in the wrong building. Unsurprisingly, the locations that cause the most difficulty are our large meeting rooms and classroom spaces, especially those that are not on the ground floor of the buildings.
The most common problems seem to happen when patrons leave the first floor while in the wrong building, expecting the buildings to connect on the other floors (or not realizing which building they are in). As you can see from the side-view of our buildings below, the Perkins and Bostock library building have easy connections on all floors, but the Rubenstein Library only connects to Perkins on the first floor. Our survey confirmed that this causes many issues for patrons looking for 2nd floor or Lower Level meeting rooms in Perkins and upper level meeting rooms in Rubenstein.
While we are still in the process of developing and testing possible solutions, we hope to redesign signage in a way that better signposts when patrons should proceed onward on the current floor and when they should transition up or down.
Trouble on the Same Floor
Our survey suggests, unfortunately, that it is not enough to get patrons to the correct floor. Depending on the route the patron takes, there are still common destinations that are difficult to see from stairwells, elevators, and main hallways. Again, this difficulty tends to arise when patrons are looking for meeting rooms. This makes sense, as events held in our meeting rooms can attract patrons who have not yet been to our buildings.
Staff reports for same-floor confusion focus largely on floors where room entrances are hidden in recesses or around corners and where rooms are spaced apart such that it is hard to simply follow room number signage. As a notable example, the 2nd floor of Perkins Library seems especially confusing to patrons, with many different types of destinations, few of which are visible from main entrances and hallways. In the diagram below, you can see some of the main places patrons get lost, indicating a need for better signage visible from these locations. (Pink question marks indicate the lost patrons. Red arrowheads indicate the desired destinations.)
As we develop solutions to highlight locations of hidden rooms, we are considering options like large vinyl lettering or perpendicular corridor signs that alert people to rooms around corners.
This technique worked really well for this informal study – it gave us a great place to start exploring new design solutions, and we can be more proactive about testing new navigation signage before we make permanent changes. Thanks for your great information, DUL staff!
The ongoing tensions between academic institutions and publishers have been escalating the last few months, but those tensions have existed for many years. The term “Big Deal” has been coined to describe a long-standing, industry-wide practice of journal bundling that forces libraries to subscribe to unwanted and unneeded publications rather than paying more for a limited number of individual subscriptions. This is a practice you see in other industries – for example, cable packages that provide hundreds of channels, even if you only want one or two specific channels.
What is especially problematic in higher education is that academics produce and review the content that gets published in the journals (for free), and then the universities have to pay the publishers a subscription fee to access the content. Imagine if YouTube required a subscription fee to watch any videos, including the ones you had posted. It’s a system that makes research harder to access and inhibits global scientific progress, all so publishers can earn an enormous profit margin.
Right now, academic publishing is controlled by five publishers (the “Big Five”) – a monopoly that makes it very difficult for libraries to negotiate better deals. Only very large organizations or consortia, like the University of California, have been able to start pushing back against the system. It will likely take large shake-ups like this for any large changes to take hold, but it in the meantime there may be ways to situate ourselves for making better purchasing decisions.
At Duke, we often review our usage of specific journal titles as we prepare to make purchasing decisions. Usage data comes in a variety of forms, but the most popular are counts of Duke views and downloads that come directly from the publishers and the number of times Duke authors publish in or cite a particular journal. There are many other kinds of data that might be of interest, however, including Duke participation on editorial boards, usage differences across disciplines, and even whether or not the journal is fully open access. Blending various data sources and optimizing the search decisions for a given budget cycle can be overwhelming.
Last fall, Duke University Libraries decided to propose a project for Duke’s Data+ summer program – a summer research experience in data science for undergraduate students. Our project, “Breaking the Bundle: Analyzing Duke’s Journal Subscriptions“, focuses on Duke’s subscriptions to journals published by Elsevier. The program is in its third week, and our team of two incredibly-sharp undergraduates has been hard at work building and blending our datasets. Our goal by the end of summer is to have a proof-of-concept dashboard that lets collection managers adjust the weights of various usage measures to generate an ideal collection of journals for a particular budget.
It is still very early in the process, but the students have been hard at work and have made great progress. We decided it would be best to develop the analysis software and dashboard using R, a statistical computing project with a rich history and many helpful development tools. In addition to publisher-provided views and downloads, the students have been able to use websites and APIs to collect data on journal open access status, editorial boards, numbers of publications, and numbers of citations. All Data+ teams present publicly on the projects twice during the summer, and we hope to schedule a third talk for a library audience before the end of the program on August 2.
We look forward to seeing what the summer will bring! While this project is just one small step, automating the collection and analysis of journal usage will position us well, both for responsible purchases and for a hopefully-changing publishing landscape.
Duke University Libraries (DUL) is always searching for new ways to increase access and make discovery easier for users. One area users frequently have trouble with is accessing online articles. Too often we hear from students that they cannot find an article PDF they are looking for, or even worse, that they end up paying to get through a journal paywall. To address this problem, DUL’s Assessment and User Experience (AUX) Department explored three possible tools: LibKey Discovery, Kopernio, and Lean Library. After user testing and internal review, LibKey Discovery emerged as the best available tool for the job.
LibKey Discovery is a suite of user-friendly application programming interfaces (APIs) used to enhance the library’s existing discovery system. The APIs enable one-click access to PDFs for subscribed and open-source content, one-click access to full journal browsing via the BrowZine application, and access to cover art for thousands of journals. The tool integrates fully with the existing discovery interface and does not require the use of additional plug-ins.
According to their website, LibKey Discovery has the potential to save users thousands of clicks per day by providing one-click access to millions of articles. The ability to streamline processes enabling the efficient and effective discovery and retrieval of academic journal content prompted the AUX department to investigate the tool and its capabilities further. An internal review of the system was preceded by an introduction of the tool to Duke’s subject librarians and followed with a preliminary round of student-based user testing.
One-Click Article and Full Journal Access
Both the AUX staff and the subject librarians who performed an initial review of the LibKey Discovery tools were impressed with the ease of article access and full journal browsing. Three members of the AUX department independently reviewed LibKey’s features and concluded the system does provide substantial utility in its ability to reduce the number of clicks necessary to access articles and journals.
The tool streamlines the appearance and formatting of all journals, thus removing ambiguity in how to access information from different sources within the catalog. This is beneficial in helping to direct users to the features they want without having to search for points of access. The AUX department review team all found this helpful.
LibKey Discovery’s APIs integrate fully into the existing DUL discovery interface without the need for users to download an additional plug-in. This provides users the benefit of the new system without asking them to go through extra steps or make any changes to their current search processes. Aside from the new one-click options available within the catalog’s search results page, the LibKey interface is indistinguishable from the current DUL interface helping users to benefit from the added functionality without feeling like they need to learn a new system.
LibKey Discovery carries a relatively hefty price tag, so its utility to the end-user must be weighed against its cost. While internal review and testing has indicated LibKey Discovery has the ability to streamline and optimize the discovery process, it must be determined if those benefits are universal enough to warrant the added annual expenditure.
Inconsistency in Options
A potential downside to LibKey Discovery is lack of consistency in one-click options between articles. While many articles provide the option for easy, one-click access to a PDF, the full text online, and full journal access, these options are not available for all content. As a result, this may cause confusion around the options that are available for users and may diminish the overall utility of the tool depending on what percentage of the catalog’s content is exempt from the one-click features.
LibKey Discovery User Testing Findings
An initial round of user testing was completed with ten student volunteers in the lobby of Perkins Library in early April. Half of the users were asked to access an article and browse a full journal in the existing DUL system; the other half were asked to perform the same tasks using the LibKey Discovery interface.
Initial testing indicated that student users had a high level of satisfaction with the LibKey interface; however, they were equally satisfied with the existing access points in the DUL catalog. The final recommendations from the user testing report suggest the need for additional testing to be completed. Specifically, it was recommended that more targeted testing be completed with graduate-level students and faculty as a majority of the original test’s participants were undergraduate students with limited experience searching for and accessing academic journal issues and articles. It was concluded that testing with a more experienced user group would likely produce better feedback as to the true value of LibKey Discovery.
LibKey Discovery is a promising addition to Duke’s existing discovery system. It allows for streamlined, one-click article and full journal access without disrupting the look and feel of the current interface or requiring the use of a plug-in. Initial reviews of the system by library staff have been glowing; however, preliminary user testing with student participants indicated the need for additional testing to determine if LibKey’s cost is sufficiently offset by its utility to the user.
Kopernio is a free browser plug-in which enables one-click access to academic journal articles. It searches the web for OA copies, institutional repository copies, and copies available through library subscriptions. The tool is designed to connect users to articles on and off campus by managing their subscription credentials and automatically finding the best version of an article no matter where a user is searching.
Given the potential of this tool to help increase access and make discovery easier for students, the AUX department initiated an internal review process. Four members of the department independently downloaded the Kopernio plug-in, thoroughly tested it in a variety of situations, and shared their general and specific notes about the tool.
OA Content + Library Subscription
By its design, Kopernio has an advantage over other plug-in tools that serve a similar function (i.e. Unpaywall). When users first download Kopernio they are asked to register their subscription credentials. This information is saved in the plug-in so users can automatically discover articles available from OA sources, as well as library subscriptions. This is an advantage over other plug-ins that only harvest from freely available sources.
Kopernio has highly visible and consistent branding. With bright green coloring, the plug-in stands out on a screen and attracts users to click on it to download articles.
Kopernio is advertised as a “one-click” service, and it pays off in this respect. Using Kopernio to access articles definitely cuts down on the number of clicks required to get to an article’s PDF. The process to download articles to a computer was instantaneous, and most of the time, downloading to the Kopernio storage cloud was just as fast.
Creates New Pain Points
Kopernio’s most advertised strength is its ability to manage subscription credentials. Unfortunately, this strength is also a major data privacy weakness. Security concerns ultimately led to the decision to disable the feature which allowed users to access DUL subscriptions via Kopernio when off-campus. Without this feature, Kopernio only pulls from OA sources and therefore performs the same function that many other tools currently do.
Similar to data privacy concerns, Kopernio also raises copyright concerns. One of Kopernio’s features is its sharing function. You can email articles to anyone, regardless of their university affiliation or if they have downloaded Kopernio already. We tested sending DUL subscription PDFs to users without Duke email addresses and they were able to view the full-text without logging in. It is unclear if they were viewing an OA copy of the article, or if they were seeing an article only meant for DUL authenticated users.
Running the Kopernio plug-in noticeably slowed down browser speed. We tested the browser on several different computers, both on campus and off, and we all noticed slower browser speeds. This slow speed led Kopernio to be occasionally buggy (freezing, error messages etc.).
Many Features Don’t Seem Useful
When articles are saved to Kopernio’s cloud storage, users can add descriptive tags. We found this feature awkward to use. Instead of adding tags as you go along, users have to add a tag globally before they can tag an article. Overall, it seemed like more hassle than it was worth.
Kopernio automatically imports article metadata to generate citations. There were too many problems with this feature to make it useful to users. It did not import metadata for all articles that we tested, and there was no way to manually add metadata yourself. Additionally, the citations were automatically formatted in Elsevier Harvard format and we had to go to our settings to change it to a more common citation style.
Lastly, the cloud storage which at first seemed like an asset, was actually a problem. All articles automatically download to cloud storage (called the “Kopernio Locker”) as soon as you click on the Kopernio button. This wouldn’t be a problem except for the limited storage size of the locker. With only 100MB of storage in the free version of Kopernio, we found that after downloading only 2 articles the locker was already 3% full. To make this limited storage work, we would have to go back to our locker and manually delete articles that we did not need, effectively negating the steps saved by having an automatic process.
Lean Library is a similar tool to Kopernio. It offers users one-click access to subscription and open access content through a browser extension. In Fall 2018, DUL staff were days away from purchasing this tool when Lean Library was acquired by SAGE Publishing. DUL staff had been excited to license a tool that was independent and vendor-neutral and so were disappointed to learn about its acquisition. We have found that industry consolidation in the publishing and library information systems environment has lowered competition and resulted in negative experiences for researchers and staff. Further, we take the privacy of our users very seriously and were concerned that Lean Library’s alignment with SAGE Publishing will compromise user security. Whenever possible, DUL aims to support products and services that are offered independently from those with already dominant market positions. For these reasons, we opted not to pursue Lean Library further.
Of the three tools the AUX Department explored, we believe LibKey Discovery to be the most user-friendly and effective option. If purchased, it should streamline journal browsing and article PDF downloads without adversely affecting the existing functionality of DUL’s discovery interfaces.
These activities can generate a lot of unstructured data! For example, in a typical meeting of our undergraduate advisory board, we might collect feedback from a dozen or more students, generating seven or more pages of notes and covering a range of topics. We review and act upon some of these comments immediately, but others may influence longer-term planning. As library staff, we know how important it is to store information in a way that promotes future access. This year we decided to pilot a new system for storing and describing our unstructured data.
Enter Airtable. If you’re not familiar, Airtable is a cloud-based database solution. Similar to Google Sheets, Airtable lets you enter and share data in your web browser, but it also offers more powerful features for projects that have messy data or interconnected components. There are many Airtable templates to show off the different features, including project trackers, event planners, and even product catalogs.
For our messy data, we built a simple spreadsheet that was general enough to collect data from a variety of sources. We included columns like basic demographics, the feedback provided, the original question or prompt, the date when feedback was provided, and how we collected the feedback. Then we took advantage of Airtable’s special features to create a column for topical tags. One of the column types in Airtable is called “multiple select“, which means you can add multiple tags to a single comment. Other spreadsheets can’t understand a list of tags in a single cell, but Airtable treats each tag separately and allows us to group and filter comments by each individual tag.
The ability to look at comments across different feedback channels in one central location has enormous potential. Instead of having to hunt through old Word documents or emails, we have a single database that can be searched, sorted, or filtered to explore trends in comments over time. When a question comes up about how patrons feels about a particular service or space, we can compile data much more easily, and we no longer have to rely on our memory of what feedback we’ve received and when.
Airtable’s free accounts have a limited number of rows allowed in each database, but they do offer a discount on paid plans to educational institutions. We’re only just starting to explore the potential of Airtable, but so far we’ve been happy with the ability to collect our messy data in one place and organize comments with tags.