The ScholarSphere Users Group (SUG) – Then and Now

In 2012, in the weeks before the Penn State Libraries and Information Technology Services went live with the beta release of the ScholarSphere repository service, we met frequently to draft a fairly detailed FAQ page (see the web-archived version). In doing so, one of us – Nan Butkovich, head, Physical and Mathematical Sciences Library – had the brilliant idea of forming a user group for ScholarSphere that could serve as a resource for people just starting to use the service. Then we released ScholarSphere 1.0, and the rest is history, as they say. But the idea for the user group lingered on the back burner of our minds.

Fast forward almost two years later. In early 2014, as the ScholarSphere Service Team was gearing up to dedicate the next several months to revamping the user interface (UI) and improving the user experience (UX) of the service, we knew we would need a core set of users familiar with ScholarSphere to provide regular feedback on the evolving design. The notion of a user group for ScholarSphere began to percolate again. So, Michael Tribone, UI/UX Developer in ITS Services and Solutions, and I decided to launch the ScholarSphere Users Group (SUG) solely for user response and user assessment purposes. And we decided the group would be based in . . . wait for it . . . Yammer!

Why Yammer? Responsible UX means frequent interactions with users. Because of time constraints, we knew it wasn’t realistic to expect our users to commit to several meetings a month, in person, to show them wireframes and solicit their responses, contribute user stories, participate in user interviews, etc. Yammer was becoming – has become – a key communication channel for user groups at Penn State that typically have face-to-face meetings (typically begin and continue to operate that way, too). What if we tried forming a small user group that would be completely virtual and thus would meet only in Yammer?

The SUG kicked off in February 2014 with an in-person meeting that allowed members to see each other IRL before we went completely virtual. We kept the group under fifteen members, and we made it a private group in Yammer – largely because we’d never done this before and weren’t quite sure what to expect, and because we definitely wanted current users of ScholarSphere in the group. The SUG was instrumental in providing feedback on the emerging re-design of the UI, informing decisions on information architecture, look and feel of the site, and improvements on existing features and functionalities. It was also (and continues to be) a valuable resource for user interviews. In time, Sarah Irwin, Data Services Manager in SaS, came on board to assist with user assessment activities. We hoped the SUG could play a lightweight role in implementing some basic UX, participatory design practices. And it worked!

The original members of this private Yammer group were the following blend of librarians, teaching faculty, staff, and students:

We also added various staff from ITS Services and Solutions to the group, as a way for them to track user needs: Dan Coughlin, Mike Giarlo, Beth Hayes, Jeff Minelli, Jennifer Montminy, Rose Pruyne, and Adam Wead.

So, it’s time to acknowledge the good work of the virtual SUG. MANY thanks to the original “SUG 14” for their participation in the UI re-design process for ScholarSphere 2.0!

A month following the September 24th release of ScholarSphere 2.0, I wanted to let folks know that the SUG is now a public group in Yammer: is.gd/sug_yammer.

The public presence of this user group in Yammer enables all of the Penn State community to learn more about ScholarSphere; post questions about the service; and contribute insight into, and ideas for, new features and functionalities. It’s also a chance to revive Nan’s original idea for the group, in which community members develop as expert users of the service – and, we hope, act as a knowledge base for the group. We invite everyone to join.

In going public, we also plan to hold in-person, bi-monthly sessions in the Libraries, where users across Penn State can get support depositing files, ask questions about the service, and be apprised of various “tricks of the trade” when it comes to using ScholarSphere. In addition, so that we’re not always learning in a vacuum, so to speak, we plan to use these sessions as opportunities for gaining knowledge in data management planning, data publishing, open-access publishing, and in building one’s online scholarly/professional presence, as well as for eliciting input on emerging new features and functionalities.

So, we hope you will join the public SUG in Yammer and soon be on your way to playing a key role in improving and enriching ScholarSphere!

An early wireframe that the SUG made decisions on in March 2014.

An early wireframe for the UI re-design that the SUG made decisions on in March 2014.

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