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In the last few weeks I’ve taken part in a couple of activities that involved the use of ‘personas’.  If you’ve not come across personas before, then they are a made up person, with a name and a personal history, that represent one of your key client groups.  [There’s some good information about personas here on the usability.gov website].  Personas image from InquiettudesPersonas are a really a useful service design and usability tool as they allow you to visualise your service through the eyes of one of your users.

Typically your persona would have a name, a photograph (because it makes them easier to relate to), and a back-story: educational background; employment status; personal circumstances; aspirations and motivations; for example.  It’s also good to have things such as whether they use social networking and what sorts of things they are interested in.  Generally you’d also want to try to categorise them with a short phrase that makes it easier to discuss them.  Often you’d create a set of sheets or cards with the details of each persona.

In the two exercises I’ve recently taken part in they have been used to look at two very different stages of the website design process.  Firstly as a demonstration of their value in website design and usability, looking quite specifically at a website to see what elements of a particular page were going to be of use to different personas (and also which elements were not going to be relevant).  To use the personas you have to put yourself in their place and look at your website through their eyes.  So what are they looking for, what is their level of experience or knowledge, for example.  It does throw up some really useful insights into how your website is viewed by users.

In the second exercise, the personas were being used at a much earlier stage of the design process, to help look at priorities for the future direction of the Virtual Learning Environment by thinking about what the attitudes of different personas would be to a set of statements about developments.  That was quite a useful exercise as it allows you to think about how your users and potential users will react to or view things you might develop.  Hopefully it would prevent you contemplating developing services or features that wouldn’t be wanted by users. 

Personas have been used for a while to look at both websites and the VLE at the University.  To an extent they have been created around market segments and with students/potential students as the primary focus, but there are plans to develop others and to make personas much more widely used as a design tool.  So although the ones that exist are of use when planning and developing a library website, there are a few missing for our purposes as we’ve also got staff and researchers to consider.

Although it’s now a bit late in our website design process to use personas for the design stages I’m certainly thinking about using them as a tool to check and review the site, and will see whether we can use them much more in future.  A useful tool for website design.

“Every day I wake up and ask, ‘how can I flow data better, manage data better, analyse data better?”

Rollin Ford, the CIO of Wal-Mart

Quoted in A special report on managing information: Data, data everywhere
Economist, The (London, England) – February 27, 2010 Page: 71

Libraries and their attitude to user activity data.
In the commercial world there are countless examples of how the private sector uses the data about their customers, from Wal-Mart’s CIO (quoted above) through to supermarkets use of loyalty cards and to the recommendations that are commonplace in websites such as Amazon.  But examples of libraries use of this type of data are still quite rare and libraries have been very slow to take advantage of the vast pool of data they have about the behaviour of their users.  Libraries have long been used to using systems to count how many item have been borrowed or bought, but have been strangely reluctant to look in detail about what people are borrowing and use that data to help users make better informed choices.

Some work has been done through the TILE and MOSAIC projects, and the latter included anonymised circulation data made available by Huddersfield University and used to run a competition to encourage ideas around the use of that data.  JISC also ran an event earlier in the year about this area ‘Gaining Business Intelligence from User Activity Data’ which has been written up here and in the ALT newsletter.     Dave Pattern at Huddersfield is probably furthest along in working with this area and his blog is a good source for ideas about what can be achieved with user activity data.

Following on from the event in the Summer JISC have clearly been thinking about how to increase the pool of examples of how user activity data can be used so have included it as one of the strands in their recently announced Funding Call 15/10.   With £500k available for 7/10 six month projects to take place in the early part of 2011, there’s the opportunity for libraries to get involved in developing new ideas about how to use user activity data.

User Activity Data is a particularly interesting area for me as a good deal of the work that has been done so far has been around the use of loan data.  Working in a library where students don’t borrow books from us, or even visit the library, we’ve got to look at other areas of data.  Most of our users engage with us through using our e-resources and that’s an area that we are looking to see how we can collect, analyse, and use that data to improve services and offer recommendations to help users get more out of their e-resource usage.

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