Killing It with Kindness: Incorporating Sustainable Assessment through Kindness Audits

Last month, Jessica Olin of Letters to a Young Librarian and I gave a presentation about kindness audits at the Association of College and Research Libraries virtual conference.

Brief Description:
Learn how to design and conduct a kindness audit, a low-cost and high-reward assessment method that helps librarians examine barriers to library services and spaces through a user experience lens. Varying methods for kindness audits, lessons learned, and suggestions for identifying and implementing low-cost improvements for library spaces and services, will all be discussed.

Presentation Slides:
Below are our slides from the presentation.

Presentation Notes:
This post is a lot longer than what is normally published on this blog, but both Jessica and I want to make as much of the virtual session presentation we gave for ACRL 2015 available as we can.

This post is identical to the one published on my presentation partner’s blog.

Slide 1:
Jessica: Hello everyone and welcome to Killing it with Kindness, Incorporating Sustainable Assessment through Kindness Audits. We will introduce ourselves in a minute, but first I wanted to give you an overview of how this session will go. After introductions, we’re going to give a brief explanation of kindness audits, then each of us will discuss one aspect of the overall process and how that aspect played out at our schools. We’re going to try to keep that part brief so that we can save time, hopefully 15-20 minutes, at the end for question and answer. You have our twitter handles and our session hashtag and also the email address we set up specifically for this session for people who aren’t on Twitter. Of course, we also have the chat function here in the Adobe Connect session. We’re going to do our best to keep track of questions as we go through the session and we’ll also have a good chunk for Q&A at the end.

Slide 2:
Jessica: Now to introduce ourselves…

Joe: Hi, I’m Joe Hardenbrook. I’m a reference and instruction librarian at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin. I coordinate research assistance and information literacy and am the library’s liaison to the university’s education, psychology, and diversity programs. I’ve been at Carroll since 2014, but I’ve been an academic librarian since 2003.

Jessica: Hi, I’m Jessica Olin. I’ve been a librarian since 2003 and the director of the library at Wesley College since the beginning of 2013. We want to do something a little goofy as a way to make this less formal, so we’re going to play a game called Two Truths and a Lie.

Slide 3:
Joe: OK, so here are three statements about me. Two of them are true, and one is a lie. To get you used to using the chat box, type in the letter of the statement that you think is a lie…So what’s the lie? My favorite movie is not Legally Blonde. It’s an OK movie, but my favorite movie is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I am actually a certified storm chaser through NOAA and I won an airport trivia code contest once – it came down to “LGW” which is London Gatwick and I won.

Slide 4:
Jessica: My turn. Which one of these is the lie? I’ll give you a moment to read through them and then just vote for your choice by typing the letter in the chat window. {wait until someone guesses B} Yes, [name] was the first to guess that I have not lived in 10 states. I’ve only lived in 7. And if you’re curious, William Whipple of Connecticut is the signer in my family tree and I played Pearl at age 5 in the 1979 PBS miniseries of The Scarlet Letter.

Slide 5:
Joe: What is a Kindness Audit? It’s all about taking a concerted effort to look at your library with fresh eyes and experience it as a new user. It’s taking a look at things such as wayfinding, signage, library spaces, and furniture. It’s also about asking things like: Are the service desks welcoming? What obstacles do your users encounter? I was first introduced to kindness audits through a MOOC I completed in Fall 2013: The Hyperlinked Library MOOC from San Jose State University taught by Michael Stevens and Kyle Jones. I completed a kindness audit at the library I was working at and I’ve now replicated it at my current workplace at Carroll University. Jessica and I each did things a little differently for our respective kindness audits, so we will walk you through how each of us approached it prior to discussing how you can recreate it at your own institutions.

Slide 6:
Joe: First, a little bit about Carroll University so you know my background. We’re located in Waukesha, Wisconsin–about 20 minutes from downtown Milwaukee. Our enrollment is just over 3,000 students. Starting in the mid-1990s the institution  transitioned from a traditional small liberal arts college to a university with a strong health sciences focus. Today, our most popular undergrad majors are: exercise science, nursing, psychology, business administration, and biology. We also have several graduate programs, including MBA, Master of Education, and Doctor of Physical Therapy.

Slide 7:
Joe: The Todd Wehr Memorial Library opened in 1942. It was expanded in the 1960s and remodeled in the late 1990s. A renovated Library Classroom in 2013 was our latest change. Our staff includes 6 librarians, 2.5 staff members, and 5 part-time evening/weekend staff.

Slide 8:
Joe: I conducted my kindness audit in May 2014. This was a librarian-led audit. I also did one with students, but Jessica will talk more about her experiences with that. For my audit, I really wanted to see it as a “new user” – so I started at our front entrance on the main floor and wound my way through the building. I used a library iPad to take photos and when I was finished, I divided the photos into 2 categories: 1) Commendable, or 2) Needs Improvement.

Slide 9:
Joe: So what did I find? Let’s start out with the “good stuff.” In terms of commendable, I think the library does a good job of providing information about the library. The photo on the left shows the large plasma screen when you walk in that rotates with library news and announcements. It also features photos of the librarians and their subject areas. I’m a big proponent of the idea that the library isn’t just a building – it’s about the people. This helps to promote that. The photo on the right are the librarians’ business cards. Again, they feature photos of the librarians to help students connect a face to name. This is vitally important since we have a very strong library liaison program. These cards are available at all of the service desks.

Slide 10:
Joe: Another commendable item is technology. There are plenty of computers for use in the Information Commons. It’s not the largest lab on campus, but it is definitely the busiest. There are also 60 iPads available for checkout at the Circulation Desk.

Slide 11:
Joe: The library’s coffee shop is another commendable space. It’s very inviting, has large windows with great views of campus, and lots of soft seating–something the rest of the library lacks. Also important: the coffee shop doors close so noise is not a disruption to the library proper.

Slide 12:
Joe: So what needs improvement? We could definitely do a better job with our signage. The photo on the left is food and drink signage. It’s negative, overly wordy, and in some cases looks cheap. We have a coffee shop in the library, so I think you need to expect food and drink to travel. What the library probably needs to do is to re-evaluate its policy and likely liberalize it. The photo on the right is missing call number signage. In my walk-through I noticed some end caps didn’t have call numbers and some were handwritten. I also noticed some that listed subject areas (like “US History” or “Psychology”) – that’s very helpful. Why wasn’t this applied to the entire collection? Again, we just need to be consistent with our signage.

Slide 13:
Joe: Also needing improvement: some of our services and how we market them. The photo on the left is our Information Desk – not that you would know that. There’s no branding. What is the desk for? What questions can you ask here? Why is no one there? How is it different than other service desks that are nearby? Well, there usually is a student worker seated here and it’s intended for patrons to ask simple questions about printing, technology, copying, and scanning. We just need to identify and market it better. The photo on the right is our disability workstation. Again, same problem: no signage and it’s not labeled. It looks like a scanning station if you happen to walk past it. So again, another branding and marketing opportunity.

Slide 14:
Joe: So here’s why I love kindness audits: Changes can often be implemented quickly and easily. Shown here is our Library Classroom. We made some changes immediately after the kindness audit. The photo on the left shows an open door. Prior to that the door was kept closed. We now leave it open to be more welcoming. Since the room had changed from a traditional computer lab with desktop PCs to a laptop classroom, students weren’t sure how they could utilize the space. If you looked through the closed door, all you would see is movable furniture. So to help, we also positioned our student worker (photo on the right) from the front of the classroom to the entrance to answer student questions about using the classroom and checking out laptops for students. Now the space has seen increased usage.

Slide 15:
Joe: We love the movable furniture, but the default set-up shown on the left was not conducive to group work. So we changed the set-up to pods of tables, shown on the right. This is more popular with students. Also prior to the kindness audit, students were not permitted to use the touchscreen technology and whiteboards. We changed that. Students are now encouraged to use the technology and they can also move the furniture around to suit their needs, too. These simple changes have made the space much more inviting and we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from students.

Slide 16:
Joe: One thing I questioned on the kindness audit was our single occupancy restrooms. They just don’t make any sense. However, it turned out that the kindness audit matched good timing: The university decided to switch all single occupancy restrooms to gender neutral. It’s more inclusive and it reduces wait times.

Slide 17:
Joe: Here’s another quick change we implemented. The librarian’s offices in the Information Commons are fishbowl style. Pictured here is my office. The photo on the left is before the kindness audit: I have my blinds down. The photo on the right is after: To be more noticeable, I now keep my blinds up. I also placed a research sign in my window encouraging people to interrupt me. As a result, I get more questions now. So again, another fix that was free, quick, and easy.

Slide 18:
Joe: Another change that didn’t happen to cost us any money involved our group study rooms. The photo on the left is the before pic: The rooms featured trapezoid shaped tables that made maneuvering in the room difficult. The photo on the right is the after pic: We swapped out the trapezoid tables for round tables that came from another campus department that was getting rid of furniture. Now the rooms are more inviting for groups.

Slide 19:
Joe: Like most libraries we suffer from a deficit of outlets. The photo on the left shows how one student has a strung a laptop cord across the floor which creates a trip hazard. Although we didn’t have the funds to put in more outlets, we’re utilizing the ones we do have more wisely. We placed additional plugs that also include USB ports in strategic locations where students typically study. The new plugs cost $15 each.

Slide 20:
Joe: So what surprised us about the kindness audit? I was impressed by how many of the things I noticed were easy fixes, quick changes, and low cost–or even no cost in most instances. There weren’t any major suggestions related to infrastructure. My findings mirrored the kindness audit that my students completed too. There was also more to like than not like–and that was good to see. We just need to do a better job of marketing and branding.

Slide 21:
Jessica: First I’m going to give you some context, background on the school and my library, and then I’m going to show you some of what we learned by having student workers conduct kindness audits as a balance for librarian audits. Wesley College was founded in 1873 as a prep school mostly because the Methodist mothers and fathers of Delaware were tired of sending their children out of state to attend college. We still have a covenant relationship with the Methodist church. We became a 4 year college in the 70s under the guidance of the library’s namesake. Right now we have approximately 1400 undergraduates in 24 majors. Business Administration and health related majors are our most popular programs, but we have the full range of what you’d expect from a small liberal arts college. We have a few masters programs, but they are still relatively small. We have plans to start a master’s of occupational therapy in the near future. One last thing: we’ve recently been designated an official minority serving institution which means that more than 50% of our enrolled students are African American, Hispanic, and/or Native American.

Slide 22:
Jessica: While the college has had a library all along, we’ve only been in this location since 1970. Our building originally housed classrooms and faculty offices and was renovated. We had another round of renovations that were exclusively cosmetic in 2001. We aren’t the only department in the building. We share the space with academic support, the tutoring center, disability services, the career center, IT, and the history department. We have a super small staff with 1.91 full time librarians (me and a reference librarian who is on a 10 month contract, although there is a frozen 12 month MLIS position), 6 part time non-degree holding staff, and 7 work study. We still manage to open 7 days a week for a total of 94 hours. We’re part of a 50 library consortium with almost every library in Delaware, which helps a lot.

Slide 23:
Jessica: The student audits were conducted towards the beginning of the spring semester of the 2013-2014 school year. Since these 7 students had worked for us for a semester by the time we did this, I felt comfortable giving them just a general direction. I had them read the blog post that Joe wrote about his own kindness audit, told them to take pictures and take notes on what they’d seen, and to look for both things they liked and things they didn’t like about the library.

Slide 24:
Jessica: These were student workers, so I’m assuming they were a bit biased, but they all commented on how helpful and friendly the staff were.

Slide 25:
Jessica: The majority of them also talked about how much they liked the different book displays we put out and the white board polls we conduct. They liked how it made the library more interactive. If anyone is interested in more information about our white board polls, I wrote about it for my own blog recently.

Slide 26:
Jessica: While this wasn’t strictly part of what they were supposed to capture since we were looking for their response to the physical environment, one student talked about how much they liked the consortium because it helped with school work and fun reading and saved them money.

Slide 27:
Jessica: Unlike what Joe experienced, our student workers found a lot more to dislike than they did to like. This is just one example. Our study areas looked, quite frankly, like a mishmash of leftover furniture that didn’t get sold at a yard sale. Though some of how things were arranged had more to do with students rearranging our spaces, it was still a big problem.

Slide 28:
Jessica: Another thing they didn’t like was the furniture itself. Most of what we have in the building is pretty old, a lot of it dating from the 1980s. We don’t have a single study carrel that is without graffiti, and the arrangement of furniture was off as well.

Slide 29:
Jessica: I don’t know if there is a library out there that doesn’t have at least a couple of problems with signage, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work on it. Students talked about how hard the signs are to read in some places, how there were lots of handmade signs, that they aren’t always up to date like that directory sign you see there, and there weren’t enough signs by far.

Slide 30:
Jessica: This is actually an after picture since it’s kind of hard to capture a picture of noise, but that was a major problem we were having. Some of it can’t be helped since we share our space with so many other departments, but we have made a lot of progress towards improvement by designating specific spaces for quiet and loud. We have also started walking through the library, being a seen presence, once or twice per hour.

Slide 31:
Jessica: We have a lot of technology problems at the college as a whole, it’s just that the library is a place where those problems are most noticeable.  In some ways this is out of the libraries control, other than we developed and/or asked for workarounds to help students. Those two sheets of paper you see there are detailed instructions for basic functions such as logging in and printing as well as how to enact the fixes we need. We have brought an outside company onto campus to fix our IT issues, but there is a lot more to fix than we realized.

Slide 32:
Jessica: Our print system is a bit of a throwback. Students don’t like having to pay for printing regardless, but the fact that they have to use a coin operated system that frequently breaks makes it even worse. While I haven’t been able to address this just yet, I have been soliciting quotes for print management software and have been working with our new IT to make sure it’s a scalable solution that can extend beyond the library in due time.

Slide 33:
Jessica: While the student workers think the staff and the librarians are great, there was some concern about us spending so much time in our offices. We didn’t have a reference desk of any sort at that time, and really the circulation desk is too small for more than one person to stay back there, so there wasn’t much room for us to be anywhere but our offices at that time.

Slide 34:
Jessica:  Most of the changes, other than designating areas of the library for quiet and for loud, took a bit longer than what Joe said about his library. This change couldn’t happen until the summer when we students wouldn’t be around as much. We spent a lot of time rearranging furniture to make the loud area more conducive to group study. You can also see a white board in the back. Students weren’t allowed to use it, but we’ve changed that and now have a kit with dry erase markers and an eraser and students now students use this space for practicing presentations and planning out group projects.

Slide 35:
Jessica: And we moved furniture to make the quiet study areas more conducive to individual work. We also spent a lot of time moving chairs from one level to another so that, even if they are a bit older, they at least match. One other thing that hasn’t happened yet but that is in the works is that our Student Government Association is talking about buying the library some new study carrels. They are also a bit part of the reason why we will be able to afford the print management software as they are going to sponsor that in part or maybe in whole.

Slide 36:
Jessica: While we haven’t been able to solve the print management problem just yet, we have gotten new printers for the library. Our old ones were incredibly old for the setting at 5 years, so these new printers have been a good thing even if it is only one small aspect of our overall technical issues.

Slide 37:
Jessica: And the change that we’re most proud of is that we now have a reference desk. This library hadn’t had one in recent memory, and we didn’t really have anyway to put a regular computer anywhere that would have made sense, not without spending a lot of money from a small budget. However, we did some research and found that a chromebook and a table with two chairs serves just as well. We just started providing this service last semester. We’re still getting students and faculty used to the fact that we provide this service now, but our numbers have been slowly climbing. More recently we’ve  started bribing students with candy to ask us reference questions and that is pretty popular.

Slide 38:
Jessica: One of the biggest surprises we had was how much the student audits overlapped with the librarian audits. These specific student workers had been with us for a few months so our perspective had rubbed off on them a bit, but it still made us feel that we had at least some understanding of the student perspective. We also were surprised that students had noticed the consortium and could articulate so specifically the kinds of benefits it brought to them. Finally, although our easy fixes weren’t as immediately put in place as Joe’s, it was a bit startling how much moving our old furniture around could change the atmosphere.

Slide 39:
Jessica: You are looking at pictures of the namesakes of our two libraries. We thought it would be a cute way to introduce our discussion of how the differences in our libraries may have impacted specifics, but each library benefited from the kindness audits.

Joe: For me, I was only about 6 months into my job when I conducted my kindness audit, so it was easier to see things with fresh eyes. However, I needed to rely on co-workers to get a historical overview about certain aspects of the library. In addition, although we operate in a very collaborative environment, I don’t have final decision-making or budgetary authority to make large-scale library changes. That would be handled by our library director.

Jessica: I’ve got a smaller budget and staff and library than Joe, but I was in a position as the director to make this a priority for us.

Slide 40:
Jessica: Okay, now we want to talk about how you can do your own kindness audit. For me, it worked to give the students just a general overview of what I expected and wanted then give them an opportunity to ask questions. I required that they take lots of pictures, but all of them had phones with cameras so I let them use their own rather than providing a camera. I also asked them to take detailed notes about what they were photographing so I could know what I was seeing. Finally, it was crucial to get the students involved above and beyond the librarian audits.

Joe: For the student kindness audit, I was a little more explicit in my instructions. I was using brand new freshmen student workers during their first week on the job. I got the feeling that they might be hesitant to provide critical feedback, so I gave them instructions to take photos of things in the library and place them into one of these categories: Things I like, Things I didn’t like, That that confused me, Things that surprised me, Things I had questions about. It worked. Students took over 200 photos.

Jessica: one final thing that I want to urge you to do is to share the results of your assessment, both with your immediate stakeholders and with the community. It was that kind of sharing that got the Wesley College SGA interested in helping us pay for new study carrels.

Slide 41:
Jessica: Here’s a list of a few of the barriers you want to keep in mind. If you don’t have a background on any of these, you’ll probably want to consult someone who does or teach yourself about them. For instance, I’m biased because of my first job in higher ed to be sensitive to ADA requirements, but there are a lot of regulations for public spaces. An example of this is that there are specific regulations for how much difference you need to have on signs between the background and the print. You also need to remember the needs of any international students you might have as well was taking into account campus culture. We’re both in shared spaces, so any major changes we want to institute need to keep those partnerships in mind – those shared spaces and also influence how students and other parts of your community perceive the library. Add bit about need states.

Joe: If you are recruiting students for your kindness audit, be aware of any approval you may need to seek from your university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) since your work involves human subjects. Both Jessica and I used student workers who were performing the kindness audit as a task related to their employment, so we did not have to go through the IRB process.

Jessica: Finally, this isn’t a one-off assessment. We’re planning to run it again this coming Fall and hopefully every other year from now on. Like any assessment, this needs to be part of a continuous cycle of improvement.

Slide 42:
Joe: We are more than happy to take your questions through the chat window. We can also keep the conversation going on Twitter by using the hashtag #acrlkindness. You can tweet directly to Jessica at @olinj or to me at @mrlibrarydude. You can also send us an email to

Slide 43:
Jessica: Thanks so much for attending this session. I think I’ve learned just as much from your questions a I was hoping to impart. We both really believe in the benefits of this process and want to help you put it in place at your libraries, so here are our emails so you can contact us in the future.

Post Script:
We got a lot of great questions both throughout the presentation and during the official question and answer period. The recording of our actual presentation is available via the ACRL 2015 Virtual Conferences website (for a fee), but we also hope to publish an article with more details sometime in the near-ish future. Let us know if you have any questions at any time. And thanks for your interest.


3 thoughts on “Killing It with Kindness: Incorporating Sustainable Assessment through Kindness Audits

  1. Reblogged this on melissialenox and commented:
    Imagine the potential increased level of employee engagement and morale that could be achieved by assessing a company’s kindness factor through Kindness Audits.

  2. Pingback: Latest Library Links 1st May 2015 | Latest Library Links

  3. This is a great presentation. We recently redid our library space with new furniture, but I wonder if there aren’t other things that are particularly confusing to students. We will have to try this in our library for the fall semester. I also wonder if having fairly new students do the survey is an advantage, since they *haven’t* been indoctrinated and had the opinions of the library staff rub off on them.

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