Case Study: University of Leeds – Harnessing Data in Service of the User

One of the primary goals of the library staff at the University of Leeds is to provide an outstanding research experience for their user community. Critical to this goal, is that University users exploring their library website can find the great scholarly content it offers. At the same time, the staff continually seek opportunities for new services and offerings that will enhance the value of the Library to its community.

To do this, they practice a data-driven approach asking questions like: How many users are logging in to subscription resources? What are the most in-demand titles? What local books are of interest on a given topic? To answer these and many other questions, the Leeds University Library has come to rely on the Sierra Library Services Platform and the new Sierra RESTful APIs to provide data that allow staff to understand better how library users interact with their services.

Leveraging Community Knowledge

Staff at Leeds have leveraged user data in the Sierra system to provide suggestions of titles that are relevant to a user’s search. By inserting a JavaScript element that queries Sierra’s Reading History data, the online catalog displays titles of similar interest to the University community.

James Padgett, Systems Librarian at Leeds, explains, “It’s a different way of discovering resources and is quite serendipitous because you stumble upon valuable research you may not have known to look for otherwise.”

Although a simple concept, the “people-also-read” feature speaks to the underlying philosophy of getting the most out of the library’s data. James says, “Creating custom queries and APIs are all about mashing up data and having it presented effectively to the users. Mashing up data means leveraging the data sources in Sierra and connecting them to produce something that it is both interesting and easily consumed by users. For reading suggestions, you take what the system knows and simply feed it through a number of workflows. This unlocks its underlying value.”

To meet the need-it-now expectations of today’s web-savvy user, library staff created a query for speed ordering of in-demand titles. Sierra sends staff a daily report that lists books with long hold queues in a form that allows ordering decisions to be made quickly. The query looks for in-demand materials based on the number of outstanding holds in Sierra. Now library staff get a report with ten parameters, including a “calculated measure of urgency” to prioritize ordering even further.

It’s not just large companies and governments that face hacking threats. Library users too can be the victims of “phishing” – fake requests to reset log-in credentials – and find themselves locked out of their accounts. To help users who find themselves “locked out”, the Library staff are able to query the Sierra database for suspicious activity. While every librarian may dream that one student is looking at 400+ URLs in search of that perfect electronic article (!), this high activity level became one of the triggers for an intrusion alert.

In addition to the heavy URL access activity (formed around an HTTP GET request), the Leeds query also identifies users trying to authenticate from multiple IP addresses across multiple e-content providers in a 24-hour period. E-resource cataloguers are able to look at the resulting report to identify suspicious activity that can indicate a hacked account. Those same cataloguers are then able to place a block on the account, preventing any further e-content theft.

“People want to consume information in different ways these days,” says James, “and often, this is through a mobile device.” Flexibility to mash up data across systems means the library can deliver a high-value experience tailored to mobile users. For example, the Library‘s annual mobile survey revealed that campus users want to see the precise location of a book in the library before walking in the door. Similarly, users are interested in the ability to see how many laptops are available to be rented before making the trek to the library.

With an open system such as Sierra, James says there is the possibility for integrating item-level-availability information directly within other University services,  including the Reading List system and the Library’s new interactive floorplans.

Presenting such information within the University’s mobile app “UniLeeds” makes this information highly consumable by their users and complements the myriad of services currently offered through that platform. James and his team are also looking at ways to push item due date notifications in the form of iCal events from Sierra into UniLeeds, bypassing the need for an SMS gateway.

Data Driven Experience

By leveraging data from the Sierra ILS, staff have yet another way to ensure that they provide an experience to their users that is mobile-friendly, personalized to their community, and responsive to their stated needs. While seemingly technical in nature, James notes that “our library’s use of Sierra APIs and DNA queries are always in service of the user.”