Jobs-to-be-done workshops -York University 22nd July 2011 (10.00 to 15.00)
(project team meets additionally on 21st July)

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Ken Chad Tel: +44 (0)7788 727 845 Twitter: @kenchad

The 'stakeholder' workshop was held at York University on Friday 22nd July. We assembled a group of librarians. publishers and vendors to take part

Summary of the workshops


A key tool for gaining insights is the widely proven ‘jobs-to-be-done’ (JTBD) methodology. This methodology is encapsulated by a well known quote from Theodore Levitt of the Harvard Business School. ‘People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.’ The underlying assumption is that users (customers) ‘hire’ products and services to get jobs done. The workshops and brainstorming produced looked at ‘jobs-to-be-done’ (JTBD) from three perspectives:

(1) What is the problem that needs to be solved? (E.g. assignment needs to be completed by tomorrow). Questioning will work towards the discovery of the fundamental problem which can often involve a chain of subsidiary ‘problems’ along the way
(2) Who needs to solve the problem (first year undergrad, post grad etc)
(3) What is the particular circumstance of the problem (i.e. I’m on the train with a smart phone)?

There were three two stages in the approach to using the JTBD methodology. In essence each stage reworked the same issues but from the different perspectives of each group:-
  • The project team
  • The workshop participants

The workshop outputs will be tested and validated through student interviews, focus groups and an online survey. The project was extended to allow for these end user activities which were not achievable during student vacation time.

The focus of the project is metadata so this (and not other approaches) are treated as potential ‘solutions’ and analysed by asking questions such as
  • What are the solution’s capabilities?
  • What barriers does it overcome?
  • What objectives can it address?
  • In what circumstance will it be most effective?
  • For what jobs is the solution applicable?


The workshops identified the jobs-to-be-done as essentially:
  • Completion of a particular assignment
For example an essay
  • Preparation for an upcoming exam.
This may include some reading around the subject.
  • Acquiring fundamental knowledge as part of the research process
The Elsevier study noted above cites this as a key job-to-be-done by researchers when they are outside their own functional areas

Fundamental jobs

The above are clearly linked to the user overall academic motivation. For example does the student simply want (or to put it another way is the student prepared to devote the time and effort) to achieve a pass or do they want to attain the best possible result leading to a degree? The jobs above can therefore be subsumed into two the ‘fundamental’ job of academic and research success. Students want to succeed (though they may have differing views about what success is) in their course and to do this they need to succeed in a number of different tasks assignments/exams. Of course the university too wants to ensure the success of their students if they are to maintain retention rates which is linked to the funding they receive. Equally research funding received by an institution is linked to past research success.


The workshop attendees were of the view that the main audience for library provided ebooks is undergraduates. Although a wide range of etextbooks is still not widely available, most library ebook content is very closely aligned to courses and is consequently targeted at undergraduates. As noted above the Elsevier study also identified researchers as users the workshop attendees felt they were very much a minority audience at present


The workshop attendees emphasised that users want relevant material ‘here and now’ with as few barriers placed in their way as possible. They want access 24/7 without being constrained by their location (e.g. off campus) or device.

Important factors for users

  • Timely information – it must be delivered at time and place when it’s needed
  • Appropriate information, timely, delivered to the right place (not necessarily the library –they might be on train, at home, or in a hospital ward…)
  • Authority – There is not always someone on hand to help you so:-
    • is this is the right information? the appropriate resource (as might be guided by academic)
    • How well does it meet the information need? (e.g. analogous to knowing if an ejournal article has been through the peer review process)
    • How is the information about ‘authority presented to help user know if the data is appropriate for them
  • How to describe content (metadata) in terms of how it can be used. For example:
    • Help user to make the best choice when resources are restrictive
    • DRM will limit how the resource can be used. Can it be downloaded, printed used on a particular device etc?.
  • Use of terminology will determine to some degree how ell the user is
  • The ‘container’ for the content is not important to the user (is the container really there to help the librarian)


It was pointed out that metadata includes not only what was displayed to the user about a resource but also machine generated metadata (eg from clickstreams) that will be hidden to the users. It was also noted that metadata about the user can make for more effective solutions

General issues around metadata

  • There are still quality issues (but generally situation is improving?). It probably good enough for search/discovery
  • librarians expect MARC records to be provided with their ebooks
  • Who creates, enhances to MARC records? Library suppliers. Many libraries have a declining number of cataloguing staff (metadata teams) – unable to do as much local work
  • Purchase decisions (between aggregators) may take into account the quality of the records. The catalogue enhancement capabilities of different ebook offerings can be very important to purchasing decisions (libraries want free records, but may have to pay for an enhanced record)
  • Libraries want the ability to share records (or lack of) esp. where records have been enhanced
  • Unique identifiers are vital- by edition, rendition - each ‘tradable product’ (platforms may have different access capabilities). This ID situation is not solved yet.
  • Abstracts are important especially to create more searchable keywords and improve precision/relevance of searching
  • Is metadata so ‘desirable’ by the ‘Google generation’ who are characterised as instead going directly to resource, and looking at it (evaluating it) rather than looking at a (metadata) description
  • Metadata enables precision (i.e. it’s more precise than full-text indexing) in terms of search/discovery.
  • The key capability of metadata is the filtering down of what is available
  • usage and activity metadata could be used to drive additional services such as recommendations/suggestions
  • What metadata is useful to the user?
    • Subject details (what’s it about),.Is controlled vocabulary like LCSH needed to find resources? Student don’t really know about LCSH. LCSH can be useful in enabling links to other resources (e.g. to find alternatives). Ebook platforms could make use of this ‘behind the scenes’ without displaying terms to users
    • Tagging – would students do this?
    • Titles may be helpful. However abstracts & subject heading might be better in determining what the book is about to see if its relevant to the job in hand
    • Unique identifier for ebook could help to discriminate different ebook versions that have different ‘rights’. There might be an alternative version without or with laxer DRM for example
    • Metadata about whether ebook have images (or rather if it doesn’t)
    • Metadata about the user could be important so that the service knows who student is and the course they are studying and can therefore deliver more relevant results
    • Metadata has a key role in scoping the collection that is available to the end user-- librarians set preferences behind the scenes

Metadata ‘capabilities’

What barriers does metadata overcome?

  • Precision can address issue of scarcity by directing users to the best resources
  • Allow users to find other resources (only metadata can do this in the virtual world)
  • Got to have the metadata at the right point in the search (clicked out of specific record)
  • Spoon-feeding versus information literature searching skills (enabling)
  • Once leave university how do they access information, deal with different formats
  • Precision – meeting the appropriateness objective
  • Linking to related items (follow recommendations/suggestions) items linked through subject headings etc.
  • Help control the budget --spending limited resources wisely (library objective!) by scoping the available collection to the teaching needs of the university.

What objectives can metadata address?

In what circumstance will metadata be most effective?

  • When the user is short of time. For example it can help shorten the search time – deliver more effective search in less time.

For what jobs is metadata applicable?

  • where the job is to find a reading list item
  • Where the user wants a known item – they know that you are getting the right thing e.g. making sure it is the most up-to-date edition. Where date for example is very relevant to finding the right ebooks.
  • where there is a need for alternatives or extended discovery - good subject heading/linkage would help the searcher.

Who would use this (metadata) solution?

Libraries with a need to guide users to the right (best/most appropriate) resources in order to control expenditure—ie PDA resources are not ‘wasted’. User might trigger a ‘wrong’ PDA if they don’t have sufficient metadata made available
Users who value search precision
Need correct metadata to signpost users to resources then may find that you are not getting the uses and wont buy the resource. Usage drops because users are not instructed on how to use the resource – SL vacancy /use drops.

Is there a role for evaluative metadata?

  • Academic level ?– can be red-herring (children’s book may be useful for specific ‘higher) level task)
  • Social metadata?
    • Amazons type recommender systems have value
    • Google book ratings
    • Some aggregators are already starting to do this do this already

The role of PDA

PDA has a clear role in overcoming the barriers to access. It enables libraries to offers a range of material wider than the ‘conventional’ (purchased or licensed) collection.
In a conventional situation a title may be ‘in stock’ but demand may exceed the supply of copies. Workshop attendees noted that there may be in excess of 300 students on a module and at certain peak times competition for a specific resource is high, PDA helps meets such demand either through features such a free browsing or short terms loan before the library has to purchase outright additional copies.
Browsing may still be a valued function for ebooks –hence the PDA free browse and short term loan option are useful