Space Assessment for User Navigation and Wayfinding

Hatcher call number listing developed from the results of this study

Project goals: 

Assess navigation in two UM libraries to create a user-centered wayfinding system

Skills applied: 

User testing, surveys, qualitative data analysis, graphic design, template creation, scheduling

Tools used:

Google Apps, Qualtrics, Adobe Creative Suite, Excel

Duration + type:

6 months, November 2015-April 2016
Part-time internship


The problem:

The libraries seem to be confusing to users, and staff often observe users having a difficult time finding their way on their own.

The results:

We collected a substantial amount of user data in the form of survey responses, usability test results, and hand-drawn maps of the library.

The team:

Our team was an official task force within MLibrary and consisted of faculty and staff from different library departments. The full team was Denise Foley, Ariel Ojibway, Emily Puckett Rodgers, Stephanie Rosen, Chelsea Trull, Collin Wassell, and myself.

The inspiration:

Staff often receive directional queries at various MLibrary service desks in Hatcher/Shapiro, and based on these we assume that there are more questions that go unasked. Our libraries seem to appear confusing to users and as staff we have often observed users having a difficult time finding their way on their own. Through our efforts we hoped to:

  • Assess the overall ease of wayfinding for different types of users performing basic, common tasks.
  • Identify obstacles and user workarounds to completing common tasks.
  • Identify popular locations/tasks within the libraries.
  • Identify language that users use that could be integrated into wayfinding reference points.
An emergency map photo taken in the Hatcher Graduate Library during our assessment

Sign inventory:

We began by creating a sign inventory of every sign located in the Hatcher and Shapiro buildings. We marked them either to keep, change, or remove. The inventory set us up with examples of how the libraries currently dealt with building navigation.


Cognitive mapping:

By asking users to draw maps of the library from memory we get a snapshot of how they perceive the library.

We set up tables at multiple library locations at a variety of hours in order to get the largest population sample. From our tables, we asked the users to draw a map of the library. In front of us, we had stacks of 11x17 paper for map drawing with instructions pre-printed on them, and a set of multicolor markers for the users to choose from. They could choose to do either or both of the central campus libraries and draw the places they knew best. We then asked the students to describe what they drew, to star their favorite locations, and to mark the path of how they got there.

Hand drawn map of the graduate library that illustrates key markers in the user's trip to the stacks (including fellow researchers crying in the stacks). 


From our results, we were able to collect information direction from our users on most memorable (highly-visited) locations, alternative names for library spaces, and a list of favorite places to go in the library. These results allowed us to confirm some of our assumptions, while also getting glimpses into the personalities of our visitors.

Handdrawn cross-section of the Hatcher Graduate Library with personalized annotations including "one of my favorite floors", "kinda creepy", and "lots of orange books".


Next, we created a survey meant to capture similar information as the cognitive maps but with the ability to reach more people than we could in person. 461 people completed the survey between February 18th - March 9th, 2016.

Our questions asked:

  • where users go
  • why they go there
  • how they would direct a friend to the same location
  • if they have ever been unable to locate a person, location, object, or service and what happened when that was the case


We pulled users’ answers to create word clouds of why they go to the libraries; if you know why someone is going somewhere, it is easier to get them there. We also learned about the navigation barriers these users encounter, which allowed us to create more realistic tasks for various user groups to carry out during the tests.

Handwritten notes from the usability test of the user's path through the tasks

Usability tests:

Finally, we followed seven users as they completed common library tasks. This allowed us to see what 3 graduate students, 3 undergraduate students, and 1 non-library university staff member would do when faced with navigating the central campus libraries. These participants ranged from daily users of the library to people who had not visited the libraries within the past year.

Tasks varied across all user groups except for a task to find a book in the North stacks of Hatcher:

  • For your project you need a specific book: Sign Systems for Libraries: solving the wayfinding problem. The website lists its location as “Hatcher Graduate - 2a North Z679.57 .S531”. Locate the book.
  • Take the book to check it out.
  • When you arrived to check the book out, you realized you only need page 42 of the book. Find a scanner to scan this page.


We compiled the results from these and the other tests for a final report to be disseminated across the library and its departments. In addition to the report, we created accurate, data-driven personas to be used in future navigation and wayfinding projects.