Nailed it! Or, how my study turned into a #pinterestfail

UX update

We’ve all seen them- examples of perfectly good intentions of recreating something amazing on Pinterest that went oh-so terribly wrong…well, when I was asked to update other Cambridge librarians on my dissertation project looking at student study spaces, #pinterestfails were there first thing that popped into my head.  However, as you’ll (hopefully) see, a fail doesn’t necessarily transfer into a failURE, and when it comes to incorporating UX into librarianship, flexibility becomes the name of the game.

If you remember (of course you do), back in October, I waffled on about wanting to use FDA to analyse photographs of study spaces posted to social media by university students in order to talk about the power of higher education institutions being exerted onto students, influencing the ways they study- or at least PRESENT themselves as studying.  It’s all coming back to you now, yes?  Well, I ran into a couple of challenges.

UX update (1)

First of all, I finally realised that the collection of student photographs was already a ‘thing.’  They are referred to as #studyblrs (especially when using Tumblr) and are supposedly meant to be a source of inspiration and motivation for students.  By posting images of study spaces and captioning them describing what exam or paper the space is being used to read/write/analyse, the person posting feels validated as a learner and – now this is theoretical- serves as source for subjecting others into replicating the performative, thus proving to everyone how ‘good’ of a student they are.  Here are some examples…

UX update (2)Oh yes, what a good student you are!

UX update (3)

And look at you!  You appear to be studying multiple subjects and understand the importance of having dozens of pens in case there’s an emergency!

I joke, but I do see some underlying importance in the way these students have arranged their study tools, took time to photograph them AND post the images to social media.  Not to get technical, but I feel like, especially for females, as they tend to be the majority of people posting these types of images, these images are being posted in order to demonstrate normative feminine learning identities related to ‘compliance’ and ‘diligence’ that have been subjectivated onto them by educational power.  If you’re lost, this might help:

UX update (4)

Better?  Let’s move on though, as this is supposed to be about where my study went wrong. So I saw all of these beautiful examples of #studyblrs and couldn’t wait for the students here to start posting theirs.  I made flyers and offered a prize for the best image submitted then sat back and waited for the library’s Twitter feed to become flooded with entries…

Oh how wrong I was.  The students at my college were not interested (and to be fair, I didn’t heavily promote the contest other than hanging posters) because they were far too busy studying for supervision or revising papers.  After two weeks of zero participation, I realised I needed to change my strategy.

UX update (5)

So, strike one- but was it?  After observing their behaviour and reluctance to participate in the study the way I wanted them to, I decided to go back to the drawing board and start looking at what would work best with them.  So now, instead of trying to force them to use a platform they aren’t interested in, I’m going to conduct semi-structured interviews with them and then ask that they either send me a photo of their study space or allow me to take one myself.

You may be asking- well, don’t you need, like, proper permission for that?

Yes.  Yes, I do.

But that isn’t always the case- which brings me to my next point- er-challenge.  Trying to decide whether to go it ‘proper’ or ‘practical.’


In my case, I don’t have a choice.  I have to go through an ethics approval process.  In fact, I have to go through two since I’m trying to incorporate students from another university into my study.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some serious advantages to going through this process, including having experienced researchers help you sort out sticking issues or encourage you to be more clear about your objectives, but man oh man is it BRUTAL.  The thing is, it should be.  Also, when you do all of the time-consuming legwork beforehand, you’ll end up with plenty of documented work that you can refer to or use in the future if you decide to attempt to do anything like, oh, I don’t know, publish your research in a journal.

The thing is- not everyone has time to go through the ethics approval process, and not all studies are necessarily appropriate for it.  For most of the projects implemented within libraries, ethics approval just wouldn’t make sense.  It doesn’t mean that what you’re doing isn’t of as high of quality as research that was done ‘properly,’ either.  Oftentimes, going the practical route involves just as much preparation and forethought- and it’s more flexible!  In addition, throwing off more informal vibes might result in the students you involve in the study feeling more comfortable telling you what they think – which has deeper ethnographic implications with regard to methodology.

Speaking of students, they are the last challenge I’m going to talk about with regard to my study.

A few weeks ago, a colleague and myself held some ad-hoc, pop-up, in-your-face, impromptu interviews with students using the Moore Library basement.


UX update (6)

Mathematicians are some of the most interesting students to watch study.  Unlike most students utilising laptops, textbooks, or literature, maths students seem to get by just fine with a stack of paper and pens (you remember those things, right?  You use them to write things down to communicate thoughts, ideas, etc.).  They also appear to be highly susceptible to intense study.  I can honestly say I’ve never been more afraid to approach people in my whole life.

But I was completely wrong.

After the initial fear of interrupting someone from unlocking the secret to time travel or deciphering an equation to solve where the dress is blue and black or white and gold (it’s blue and black, by the way), asking students to participate in answering a few questions became a lot easier.  Of course, I’ve got to give credit to working within a team, as I’ve come to realise everyone needs their own data collection wing man (or woman).  Talking to students in this fast and furious kind of way was also important, as it all owed me to practice talking to students for when I (finally) start to talk to them for my own study.  Even though the students at the Moore weren’t my students, although many were because our college is right across the road, I was so happy to hear what they had to say about the space they were using.  It’s incredible the kind of information, as insignificant as it may seem, people will offer you when you give them an opportunity to be amplified.

So even though I’ve yet to actually interview students for my study (technically I can’t because I don’t have the ethical approval to do so!), I feel like I’m more prepared than I would be- even with my consent forms, interview schedule and information sheet.

So what’s next?

UX update (7)

Whilst I know my study is very specialised and may not particularly resonate with other UX library work that is more, shall we say, practical, there are definitely generalised implications that easily transfer and can be appreciated.

So join me again soon when I’ll (hopefully) be waxing on about all of the wonderful data I’ve collected from students.  Until then, remember that for every study ‘fail’ you encounter, you’re afforded an opportunity to reflect on your process and study objectives- which, by the way, are allowed to evolve.  Studies aren’t meant to come out perfectly formed, and for every #pinterestfail moment you have, you can at least revel in the fact that you’re not afraid to explore!

All images in this presentation are available CC-BY-2.0
Brooks, J. (2008) Indecision. Available at: (Accessed 10 March 2016).
First world problems (2016) Available at: (Accessed 08 March 2016).
Haghighi, N. (2012) Red leaf. Available at: (Accessed 08 March 2016).
Haven’t the slightest (2009) DO NOT DISTURB. Available at: (Accessed 9 March 2016).
Ragusa, D. (no date) Leaves. Available at: (Accessed 08 March 2016).
Study and Starbucks (2016) Available at: (Accessed 9 March 2016).
Study paradise. (2016) Available at: (Accessed 9 March 2016).
Youdell, D. (2006) ‘Subjectivation and performative politics: Butler thinking Althusser and Foucault: intelligibility, agency and the raced-nationed-religioned subjects of education’, British Journal of Sociology, 27(4), pp.511-528.

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