“Let’s ask people what they want from the library.” I’ve heard this said in a few meetings, and I’ve seen related questions in surveys from libraries. I’m not so sure that this is the most productive way to think about creating a user-centered library.
The User Experience
In my last column, I shared some background about a librarywide user experience (UX) project at the Chapel Hill Public Library (CHPL), NC. I focused there on communication, which, while not directly a UX topic, is essential to any ongoing, meaningful library UX work. Now I’d like to dig into some of the changes being explored.
I’m working with the Chapel Hill Public Library (CHPL), NC, on a unique user experience (UX) project, and I’d like to share a bit about it over the next few columns. The project, quite expansive in scope, started in September 2015 and runs though April 2016. During this time, we’re working to improve many different aspects of the library. All touch points are on the table for discussion. Some of our first efforts have included high-level strategic planning: developing a new mission statement, organizational values, and a service philosophy. A small sampling of things we’re studying and improving includes holds shelf location, printing and computers, service delivery methods, collection size, bathrooms, furniture placement, teen services, the website, library lobbies, and telephone service.
In my last column (LJ 10/1/15), I did my best to convince you that improving library UX must be a librarywide endeavor—all parts of the library impact the user experience, so everyone needs to be on board. Here, I want to look at the topic from a slightly different angle: Where do you begin with library UX? There’s so much to think about when it comes to improving libraries!
At the end of our 2014 book, Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library, Amanda Etches and I left readers with what we consider to be an important and inspiring message: “Every decision we make affects how people experience the library. Let’s make sure we’re creating improvements.”
Criticism is necessary when a library aims to evaluate and improve the experience it is providing its members. Before you can start making improvements, you have to know what needs to be improved. This, of course, is no excuse to be negative, mean, accusatory, or defeatist. Criticism can and should be done positively and with good intention. After all, more flies get caught with honey, right?
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.