Spring is HERE! Let’s celebrate this season of rebirth and renewal by thinking about making some changes in the library. Every library is burdened with a sacred cow or two. Some have an entire farm full! Laws of entropy dictate that once a library program or service starts, there’s a fair chance it will continue, even if it becomes clear at some point that it is no longer serving the purpose it once did. Sacred cows and other ineffective programs use up the valuable resource of staff time. The cost of feeding and maintaining sacred cows oftentimes doesn’t return much benefit to the library.
A big part of improving library user experience is designing libraries based on user preferences and behavior. There’s no way to optimize touchpoints or create meaningful services if you don’t know anything about who you’re trying to serve, right? Many libraries collect and analyze user opinions, but fewer dive deeper into examining actual user behavior.
It takes hard work to create a library that provides good user experience. As convenient as it would be, building an exemplary organization doesn’t happen by waving a wand. Instead, libraries must optimize all of their touch points, develop sane policies, design relevant services, and empower staff to provide members with top-notch function.
I’ve heard it a lot: “We want to make OUR website better, but we’re stuck using our city’s system!” It breaks my heart every time, not only because of the underperforming library website but also because it means that a stakeholder in the local government isn’t recognizing that librarians are information professionals who might know a thing or two about websites. If you or someone you know is in this position, read on. Below is a letter, from me—a library website specialist—that you can send to your city manager or other stakeholder. With any luck, adding another voice to your cause will help you prevail.
When budgets are tight, it is easy to feel frustrated and disempowered. After all, having access to a deep pool of funds makes it easy to get things done. But when times are tough, it doesn’t mean librarians should toss their hands in the air and give up on making user experience (UX) improvements. Here are a few things you can do to improve your library’s UX that won’t require finding much of a budget.
It was a hot, dusty day in Moab, UT. I drove into town from my beautiful campsite overlooking the La Sal Mountains, where I’d been cycling and exploring the beautiful country. I was taking a few days off from work, and even though I was relaxing, I had a phone call I didn’t want to reschedule. So back to town I went, straight to—naturally—the public library. I had fond memories of the library from a previous visit a few years back: a beautiful building with reliable Wi-Fi. Aside from not being allowed to bring coffee inside, it would be a great place to check email and take a call on the bench outside.
What would happen if your library’s website disappeared? You’d probably get a lot of phone calls. f I had to guess, most would be about: Finding library items, renewing library items, and library hours and locations. This thought experiment gives us some perspective about the things library websites should be focusing on—the critical tasks users are trying to accomplish. It also offers perspective on the aspects of our websites that are comparatively unimportant—everything else.
Finding examples of bad user experience (UX) is like shooting fish in a barrel. And while there can be value in pointing out flawed designs—“Hey, look at this example, and don’t do this!”—posting examples of good UX might be more valuable. Regardless, I was so struck with what I saw at the post office recently that I feel compelled to write about it.