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Cambridge University Library’s Futurelib Innovation Progamme has recently embarked on its “Tracker” project, which over Michaelmas Term 2016 will examine the user experience of physical library spaces at the University of Cambridge. The project hopes to provide insights into how students navigate libraries, with the intention of improving the design of library environments.

The research is already uncovering some fascinating detail in terms of user behaviour in libraries. A large amount of data has been gathered by equipping library users with special eyetracking glasses, while they attempt to find books and complete other tasks. The glasses record very precisely how people’s eyes move, for example when reading book labels, examining library catalogue screens, or looking around them for signage and assistance.

The University Library’s Acting University Librarian, Chris Young, and Head of Collections and Academic Liaison, David Lowe, (pictured above) were both keen to try out the eyetracking glasses and find out more about the project, which is taking place at the main University Library as well as the Chemistry, MML and Physics departmental libraries.

The next step in the research process will be to design physical interventions to implement in the libraries under study, in order to improve user experience. Eyetracking data will be gathered again to measure the success of these interventions.

Alongside this work students from across the University are completing digital diary studies with a smartphone app called dScout. The app requires students to upload photos and videos throughout their day, asking them questions about their study habits and behaviours. This will provide an enviable picture of student lives at Cambridge, both in and outside of libraries. The work epitomises the user-centred ethnographic approach of the Futurelib Programme; it is only by finding out exactly what our users do that we can improve the services we offer them.