In order for a product or service to provide an excellent user experience it has to be useful, usable, and desirable. Libraries are no exception to this rule. In fact, these three characteristics provide a great way for us to analyze the user experience we’re providing.
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.
Our insistence on competing with (or even just complementing) Amazon and Apple—not to mention all of the free content available online—is an insistence that we define ourselves by something we are not good at anymore.
Though there are folks who are dismissive of semantics, the words we employ to describe the people who use our libraries are important. Not only do different terms have certain implications, but these words persistently shape our understanding of who these individuals are and how we should be serving them. These words also impact what people think of our libraries and how people feel while in them. It’s not semantics—it’s a user experience issue.
It takes practice to get the hang of thinking and talking about user experience. Here are some tools that will help you develop these skills and offer some insights about your library at the same time.