Personas, service delivery, strategic planning


Purpose. Ranganathan’s Laws of Library Science and continued refinements to his initial laws place identification of patron’s needs and connection of those needs to library services of primary importance in libraries (Ranganathan, 1931; Crawford & Gorman, 1995; Noruzi, 2004). Identifying and developing personas or user group descriptions helps to identify the unique nature of library patrons. Each persona helps librarians to identify or create services specific to the persona of library patrons. As each library persona is better understood, the library faculty and staff are able to prepare and plan for service delivery. Initially personas were developed for undergraduate students followed by the identification and development of personas for graduate students and faculty. This paper focuses on the identification and development of the undergraduate patron personas.

Design, methodology or approach. The identification and development of undergraduate patron personas engaged communications students, as part of their coursework, to use a review of previous studies to develop theories of library patron personas. Each of the three groups within the communications class verified their initial persona theories using surveys, focus groups, interviews, observations and ethnographic methods. All personas from each group was further developed and refined into a final list and description of 10 library personas. A principal components analysis helped to provide interconnections between the personas and estimate the percent of patrons each persona comprised.

Findings. The study identified 10 personas (user groups) who use a wide variety of library services. Descriptions of personas enabled library faculty and staff to identify personas accessing their services, to further develop and refine current services and to create new services to meet the needs of patrons.

A principle components analysis further facilitated the understanding of interrelations between the personas based on persona use of library services. Personas that had common needs or use patterns were grouped together to further understanding of patrons use patterns and needs. While an attempt was made to determine the percent of total patrons each persona was, evidence was found that indicated the fluid nature of personas in regards to library services. That is, as the patron needs shifted, so did their persona. Patrons moved from one persona to another to meet their shifting needs as the academic semester proceeded.

Research or practical limitations or implications. The identification and description of personas has several practical implications for librarians. First, when the personas enable librarians to reflect on the services they provide in terms of specific personas. This reflection enables the refinement and development of library services to meet patron needs. Second, understanding of the interconnection of persona needs enables librarians to market other services. For example, as a patron uses one service, librarians are able to point out related services that may be of interest or help to the patron. This becomes of particular importance for orientation tours of new students to the university. Finally, matching the personas with other library trends and patterns assists librarians with the development of the library as a space suited to meet the needs of its patrons.

Several limitations to this study exist. First, as mentioned earlier, patrons often identified with several types of patron descriptions over the course of a semester. This makes predicting what percent of the total patrons each persona is quite difficult. While initial efforts provided an estimate of the percent of total for each persona, there needs to be a method developed to determine how personas change throughout the semester and when. Second, the identification and description of undergraduate patron personas only examined the persona found within the physical library. One persona, the Outsider, in all likelihood consists of several sub-personas who use library services, but rarely, if ever, come to the physical library. Further work needs to be done to identify and describe the Outsider persona. Finally, as the personas are fluid within a semester among patrons, it is also believed that personas will change as the library services and facility changes. This may result in the increased importance of some personas, the decreased importance of other personas and the development of new personas to describe emerging patron needs. A time table needs to be identified whereby the undergraduate patron personas may be revisited to determine any changes.

Conclusions. The development of undergraduate patron personas provides insights into how patrons are accessing library services. These insights enable librarians to plan and to deliver services better. It provides the opportunity for patrons to be informed of the full range of library services that may assist them in their education and personal needs. As such personas become a powerful tool to better develop and deliver library services.

Originality and value of the proposal. While the use of personas is common in communications, marketing and business, their development and use in academic libraries is quite unique. They become quite useful in associating library services to the patrons that use them. Strategic planning also uses personas as services are upgraded and improved or new services are created to meet more persona needs.

Original Publication Citation

Zaugg, H., & Rackham, S. (2016). Identification and development of patron personas for an academic library, Performance Measurement and Metrics, 17(2), 124-133.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL




Harold B. Lee Library

University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor