May I Help You? How Ekstrom Responds, Analyzes and Acts on Your Questions

By Matt Goldberg, Head, Access and User Services

Have you ever stopped at a desk in Ekstrom Library to ask a question, such as: Do you have any copies of Dan Brown’s new book? Where’s the bathroom? What time does the library close? If you have, our desk staff have carefully recorded the question and answer so that we can determine trends in patron needs and service requests in an effort to improve how our library operates.

Using a program called Gimlet, the Access and User Services Department (AUS) records every question and answer asked at the west, east, and technology desks, and this data is reviewed weekly by departmental staff. Beyond looking to make sure our staff is giving correct information, we do significant work to refine, manipulate, and extrapolate the hundreds of questions asked per week.

Gimlet word cloud

The collection of these questions is quite labor-intensive, thanks to the frequency of questions asked by patrons. From June 2015 to May 2016, there were nearly 32,000 questions asked at the desks, an average of more than 2,600 per month, or about 90 per day. Each question is tagged by the desk staff to group them into easily sortable categories (internal directions, policy, technology, research, etc.) so that we can go back and look for data trends.

You might wonder how we use these trends to make decisions. For instance, in early 2015, we noticed that there were an abnormally high number of printing and copying questions being handled by desk staff at the east and west desks. To alleviate this we opened the technology desk in the computer commons to give students more direct technology help. In another instance, high levels of directional questions have led to improved signage across the building to help patrons find what they are looking for with more visual cues.

We routinely examine trends in the data to examine our own processes and policies. Last semester we opened the east side of the building until 2 a.m., a move that was fueled by a combination of student suggestions, gate count data, and Gimlet numbers that showed students in the building later in the evening than usual. We periodically run visualization reports of the data to see how users are asking their questions, producing word clouds like the one above.

So the next time you ask a question in Ekstrom, just know, we are listening and always looking to be of better assistance!

Easy Ways to Make a Difference

At some time in your life at UofL, you may have received a survey from one of the departments in the library.  [It’s even more likely that you’ve participated in a survey from another department.]  When they’re done right, surveys can provide a low cost opportunity to sample a population’s behaviors and attitudes. Currently, we’re analyzing the text responses from the last major survey in 2012. With almost 3700 free-form responses, it’s been quite a task!  But, we’ve finished analyzing the faculty responses, are about 2/3 of the way through the graduate responses, and eager to start on the undergraduate responses.


While surveys provide valuable feedback, often times, they don’t explain why a behavior happens, or clarify/contextualize a response.  For this purpose, the University Libraries utilizes focus groups, observation studies, and advisory boards.  Many times, these qualitative studies require no more than an hour of your time. And, most times we give an incentive for participation!

Currently we have:

  • Completed focus groups with 2nd year medical school students
  • Conducted observation studies in the Archives and Special Collections Reading Room
  • An active Libraries Student Advisory Board

Upcoming studies include:

  • Library website usability study
  • Archives and Special Collections focus groups

Why does it matter?
For the Libraries
Collectively, the findings from of each type of study give us a more holistic understanding of user needs & expectations. This, in turn, informs changes that we make to the libraries and their resources.

For you
This is an opportunity for you to not only share where you’ve had successes (or failures) with the libraries and its systems, but share insight as to how you think it can be done differently. I know you’re bursting with ideas! You’ve used other libraries, other sites, and had lots other experiences that have developed your creative muscle.

Additionally, by sharing through these formal channels, your voice will be heard by those empowered to make changes. In fact, we already have implemented changes that came from your suggestions – we’ve increased the number of electrical outlets, increased hours during finals, and most recently created more quiet study space with our 4th floor renovation.

How do I get involved?

  • If you haven’t already done so, connect with us on our social media pages
  • Keep an eye out for our calls for participation – we’ll post them on social media and via other avenues on campus
  • Respond to that call – time involvement can be anywhere from 15 minutes up to an hour

We want to learn from you; we want to listen; and, we want to make your experience better.