Joe J. Marquez is the Web Services Librarian at Reed College in Portland, OR. He has presented and written on topics related to service design, website usability, IT implementation, and marketing of the library. His current research involves implementing a service design methodology in the library environment. He is teaching a class for Library Juice Academy in September, titled, Service Design: Towards a Holistic Assessment of Library Services. Joe kindly agreed to do an interview here, to give people a better idea of what they might learn in his course.
Hi Joe. Thanks for agreeing to this interview.
Hi Rory. Thanks for the opportunity.
I’d like to start by asking you to tell readers about the service design methodology. What is it?
Service design is a user-centered, holistic, and co-creative method for assessing services. In our case, we are looking at services offered and provided by libraries, but this methodology is used in the private sector as well. It is user-centered because we look at services from the user’s perspective. It is holistic because we focus on the context in which services occur, but also all the various elements that make up a service experience. It is co-creative because the research team works closely with actual users to understand and refine or create services. By working closely with actual users, we get a clearer insight into what works and what doesn’t work for users.
And while the title says “service” we don’t strictly look at person-to-person interactions or exchanges. We look at everything a library has to offer as a service. This could mean traditional services like reference or circulation, but also the library as place. The key to service design is to get a better understanding of user expectation and see where we can meet, exceed, or close the gap between current delivery of service and user expectation. By taking the user perspective, we really see the library as it is viewed and used by them.
So you’ve been implementing a service design methodology in your library. Can you tell people a bit about that experience?
Working with service design has been an eye-opening experience. If approached with an open mind, it allows us to get at student motivations and better understand user expectations and how they might refine or recreate services.
Our study has evolved over a two-year period. In our first year, we assembled and worked closely with a student working group (SWG). The SWG was comprised of seven students from different years and different majors. The reason behind this was to get a diverse group of user feedback. As students progress through Reed College, their demands on library resources changes, and we wanted to capture how different students use the library and its services. That first year was also a lot about planning as we, the Library User Experience Team (LUX), were still really learning and adapting the methodology to our environment. A strong point of service design is that it can be adapted to any environment.
That first year we held four meetings with the SWG. During those meetings, we had the students go through a few exercises that revealed how they use the library and its resources. We would also give them some “homework,” but the majority of that year’s meetings were focused on discussion around various topics. The discussion lead to deep insights into how students use the library, but also allowed the LUX team to better understand student motivations and got at the underlying culture of what it means to be a student at Reed College. Context plays an important role in the service design methodology because services don’t happen in a vacuum, but rather in tandem with other established resources and within service ecologies. As we understand the user in a specific context, we can then better understand how to refine or create new services that are suited for the user and a given environment or ecology.
During our second year we turned the tables a bit. Rather than going back to the SWG for additional feedback, we integrated them into the LUX team. We now wanted them to help us learn more about the insights we gathered that first year by having SWG members lead focus groups with other Reed students. The SWG members created an outline for focus groups as well as a list of questions and then ran focus groups. Due to time constraints, we were only able to hold two focus group meetings in year two. As we enter year three, we will hold additional focus group meetings and really begin the synthesis of feedback to formulate a recommendation for our College Librarian.
I was recently asked why the process takes so long. It is not that service design takes three years, but we have drawn it out since we are not working on this one project full time. I estimate that with the ability to focus more on the project, we would have been able to hold the various discussion meetings and focus groups in an 8-9 month time period or a single academic year. Again, service design is a very flexible methodology can be adapted for any environment and allow the research team to go as deep into gaining insights as they choose. To me, service design is more of a toolbox or framework and less about a step-by-step process.
So what will students come away with if they take your class? What does it cover?
We’ll cover foundational concepts (What is a service? How do users perceive services? What is systems thinking? What is service design?, etc) review service design activities, define the various phases of service design, learn tips for creating internal and external teams, and create a draft plan that could be used in the student’s own library.
There are hands-on activities to get students to be both a researcher and a participant. By performing the activities, students will be able to feel comfortable introducing them in their own library service design plan. The final project will be to create a draft plan for use in the student’s own library or work environment. One of the key parts to service design is asking the right question. By understanding what we want to learn more about, we can formulate a research question and work at getting feedback from users. As a group, we will help each other refine our research question and draft plan. I will also work with students to help them choose the right tool for a particular job. Students will come away with an understanding of service design and be more comfortable with using some of the tools (exercises) often used in service design. It may sound like a lot to cover in four weeks, but the content will get the students engaged and thinking differently about their own library.
So who would benefit from this course? Just library managers or others?
Library managers and others that hold decision making roles, definitely. But, it will also benefit those who are involved with any form of usability or user experience in their library, be they UX team members or chairing the usability team. I would even think that a traditional reference librarian or someone working in public or access services looking to improve their service point(s) might find very useful tips on how to improve their services and come away from the class with a different perspective on what a service is, how users perceive services, and how to improve to meet or exceed user expectation(s). The course does not require a background in understanding user experience or usability training. What I do ask is for students to have an open mind when approaching the material.
That sounds good. I want to thank you for sharing this info about your course. I hope it will be very successful, this first time and in future sessions.
Thank you. I am looking forward to this experience and sharing service design with others. I also look forward to learning as much from the students as I hope they learn from me.