Right now, the biggest trend in website design is responsive web design (RWD). In a responsive design, a website elegantly displays on any size device. The popularity of RWD is, in part, a response to the proliferation of mobile devices. In hopes of increasing usability, organizations want to ensure that people can use their sites no matter how they’re accessing the web. But RWD isn’t itself a solution to library website woes. As I see it, there are two problems: RWD can only accomplish so much, and it doesn’t address the root issue of providing library services in a mobile context.
The User Experience
Every patron’s overall experience will be formed by each touchpoint used at the library–each interaction enhances or detracts from the experience. Each time users are confused, a bit of goodwill is depleted and the user’s experience sours. Conversely, each time they find what they need or easily accomplish a task, the reservoir is filled.
Aside from paying very little attention to visual design and not caring about the impact of horrible typography, the big problem with library catalogs is that they are not designed to help people accomplish library tasks. Instead, they’re designed to expose catalog records.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is totally backward—prioritizing the collection, not people, results in a user-hostile interaction design and a poor user experience.
Imagine the reverse: a tool that prioritizes helping people accomplish their tasks, whereby bibliographic data exists quietly in the background and is exposed only when useful.
With the monthly report due, a budget to balance, or a program to book, thinking about your library’s logo might not be high on your to-do list. After all, logos can seem like pieces of visual fluff that marketing folks just tack on to an organization. It’s unfortunate that logos often get this sort of treatment, because we should take them more seriously.
Keeping libraries free from clutter shouldn’t be solely the purview of the fastidious. It’s something we all can and should be able to achieve. With less clutter, people will have an easier time of finding what they want, and they’ll have a more peaceful experience. Conversely, clutter in and around the library is a user experience issue we all must address.
Site visit assignments ask students to visit a library and spend time recording and analyzing something that interests them. Sometimes they require students to pose as library users and ask reference or RA questions. They can examine things such as how items are displayed, the building’s layout, a reference transaction, or the setup of the youth services department. Reports from these visits usually include a narrative description and some critical thinking about what worked well and what could be improved. In this way, they are effectively user experience reports, though they’re not often thought of in this way.