Knowledge Consultancy Services in Libraries

What is it?
The service provides users with a single-point research support across a specific project. The librarian, working on a brief given by the user, creates an online document which serves as a collaborative workspace for knowledge, contacts and events related to the project. The workspace can also be shared with other users of the service.

Who is it for?
The service is aimed at knowledge workers such as professionals and consultants, working in teams or individually. It is meant to provide reliable and specialised research support for those who don’t have dedicated investment or the human resources for it.

Why is it valuable?

The service leverages the vast and specialised knowledge resources accessible via the Danish Library system for the benefit of target users. Such resources include the gamut of online knowledge, but more importantly the research skills and professional networks that the librarians have. The core of the service provides an online information-sharing platform that allows knowledge sharing concurrently among users, with the librarians acting as facilitators. This allows users to build customised knowledge spaces while they work on specific projects.

How does it work?
The user goes to the service website and requests assistance on their project. She can set a deadline to complete the request. A librarian with specialisation in the subject domain will then work with the user to help her build her project. To do this, the librarian sets up a wiki dedicated to the project.

The wiki has separate private and public information areas; these can be populated by the librarian and the user collaboratively. The wiki also provides opportunities for the user to network with others related to her project area. All information in the public area can be accessed by all users of the service, increasing the potential for knowledge sharing and use.

What were your key learnings?
A key goal of the service is to bring increasing numbers of young upwardly-mobile professionals into the library – we learned during user research that while this group regarded the library as a trustworthy source of knowledge, they did not perceive it is as a fast enough resource for their
professional needs. Further, such users were willing to pay for customised research consulting services delivered by the library.

Our Process

Week One – The Context
The initial brief from the library officials showed that the challenges faced by the library were very broad. We learned that the libraries are still actively used by the majority of the population, yet there was concern regarding declining use by many. The need to keep up and incorporate digital alternatives was also a high priority issue for the library.

After understanding the perspective of the library, we felt we needed to distance ourselves from the stated concerns and get some unbiased and concrete evidence from users. We were also interested in observing and learning about different user groups, rather than only one or two, in order to see if patterns in users and use would be evident.

Another key research goal was to speak with managers on the library floor, and with some of the regular staff who were customer-facing as well as manning the back-end. The idea behind this strategy was three-fold. Firstly, to see if there was a consistency of vision between top management and the employees executing such plans on a daily basis. Secondly, to observe how service-centered and ‘connected’ the customer-facing staff were with users. And lastly, to simply observe the day-to-day flow of activities and events in the library, the tasks performed by the back-end staff, and to notice all the touch-points of interaction among users and customer-facing staff.

Week Two – User Insight
The primary research method used for user research was card-sorting. We showed customers a bunch of cards with probable associations they might have regarding the libraries – words such as ‘knowledge’, ‘games’, ‘rest’ etc. We then asked users to sort these cards under three categories: Often; Would like to; and Never.

We had two main goals in using this method – to quickly understand how users associated spontaneously with the library, and use this task as a conversation starter. Insights from user research helped us identify three key design challenges we were interested in addressing: how to create visible evidence of users choices for the benefit of others; how to leverage the fact that the need to access content is a driver of content ownership, and how to increase the speed of value delivery provided by the library to users.

Week Three – First Concepts

All of our three focus areas stimulated a lot of wild ideas during brainstorming. We used a mix of techniques to initiate and sustain the flow of ideas. We started by asking participants to generate metaphors and random associations based on keywords, and then moved to focus the brainstorm on the specific design challenges. Since our design challenges – with issues such as visibility of user choices, access and ownership of content and speed of value delivery – were relatively macro level
concerns, we obtained a mix of abstract and concrete ideas.

As a result, the three concepts finalised for experience prototyping were not one or two of the specific ones generated during brainstorming, but something that drew on the common themes and patterns that became evident during the week.

The three ideas were:

  • Notes in books as user generated content
  • Content miles – a rating system that would indicate the value content based on its use
  • Role of the library as a sharing facilitator.

By exploring these ideas in depth with faculty members, we chose to build on the aspects exemplified by the concept of notes in books as user generated content. In trying to focus on a particular user group for whom this concept could have value, we chose professionals, the group with currently the least incentive to visit the library.

Our interest in this group was also due to their being very tech-savvy and the quickest adopters of digital solutions. Building on these elements we chose to go with testing how such users might receive a customised research support service provided by the library, tailor-made to individual projects.

Week Four – Experience Prototyping
In order to test how various stakeholders would use this service, we created a mock website and wiki.
The website gave an overview of the service and provided a form to send in a research request. Such a live system helped us observe several aspects that went into refi ning the concept. We were also able to discuss issues such as how they sought to manage private/private content, and how they viewed the potential for sharing knowledge in specialised domains.

The second part of experience prototyping consisted in showing the requests sent in by users to the librarians and asking them how they might respond to such requests, what resources they might use and how their contributions could add value to the user’s project. In this way, we were able to test and evaluate the nature of the interface between librarians and users, and refine its key elements.

Through experience prototyping, we learned that professionals and small companies have a marked need for a customised research consulting service which they can hand-hold and manage remotely across the tenure of specific projects. At the librarian’s end, we saw remarkable examples of initiative and resourcefulness, including the ability to leverage past experience and contacts to deliver the required solution.

Week Five – Solution/Concept
Building on the learnings from experience prototyping, we decided to develop the concept focussed on professionals in need of research support. Several potential users we tested the concept with were willing to pay for such a service, but we chose to make it free in keeping with the ethic of the existing library system. The concept builds on other dimensions of the existing system as well. For instance, it argues for the revival of a business support desk at the library, a service which was being provided until a few years ago.

More importantly, it proposes how many of the capabilities already existing within the Danish libraries may be integrated into an online, extendable, remote and collaborative knowledge

It underscores the need for libraries to adopt digital technology not simply as tools for the management of content collections, but as tools that citizens can use to build and share the stuff that makes personal and economic differences to them. In such a vision, professionals would simply be the early adopters, as they have the most well-defined and immediate need. But we envision that others will have use for the service as well. What about kids being able to develop summer projects, or the aged working on their own home garden? In all these and more contexts, customising, immediacy of access, relevance of content, and the human touch in the delivery will make the difference.