Although every library would benefit from running usability studies, not every library has a dedicated staff available to conduct those studies. Anecdotally, librarians seem to feel incapable of undertaking usability studies for reasons including time, budget, and expertise.
Spend five minutes brainstorming—or looking around your library—and I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with a list of ten things that aren’t as easy as they could be. Common library pain points include the OPAC, computer access, printing, self-check interfaces, locating items, and wayfinding quirks. Ironing out these wrinkles is important because making our libraries easier for people to use improves their experiences.
The Inter-Faith Council (IFC) in Chapel Hill, NC, in fall 2015 opened the doors to its new residential men’s shelter, the Community House. Included in the new building was a room designated as the shelter’s library. Seemingly within minutes of its existence, generous book donations had filled the small space, but the residents didn’t use it. When Stephani Kilpatrick, residential director of IFC, asked if the Chapel Hill Public Library (CHPL) would help turn this space into something more useful, we jumped at the chance.
It only takes about four seconds of talking to Rebecca Blakiston to get a glimpse of the passion that drives her and has made her so successful as user experience (UX) librarian at the University of Arizona (UA), Tucson. She has revolutionized how usability testing is carried out, created a role for a content strategist on her team, and still finds time to teach classes on usability testing, content strategy, and writing for the web. In addition to the many tasks she tackles daily, Blakiston develops goals and strategies for UA’s main website, which sees nearly three million visits per year.
If you were put in charge of the digital signage at your library, would you know where to start? Laurel Eby, web wervices librarian at San José State University’s (SJSU) King Library, was tasked with implementing three digital signs. “In the beginning I had no idea what I was doing,” Eby said in her “Whizz! Bang! Pow! Making an Impact with Digital Signage” presentation for Library Journal and School Library Journal’s online conference The Digital Shift: Libraries Connecting Communities, held October 14. “What should I put on the signs? How big were they, anyway? And how long could I reasonably expect students to stand there staring at them, reading content on them?”
UX designer Judy Siegel likes a good challenge. For the past six years, she has been helping a wide range of tech companies, startups, and nonprofits find design thinking solutions to their user experience problems. Currently director of user experience at MSNBC, Siegel has brought her design skills to CNN.com, the Information Architecture Institute, and recently the Data Privacy Project, a Knight Foundation–funded prototype project for an online technical support network that will help librarians set up secure digital services and educate their communities about privacy issues.
What is happiness? What makes us happy? Do libraries have the capacity to deliver a happy experience to those who use them? All good questions. The answers are elusive, but thanks to a body of research on happiness accumulated over the past quarter century we are better able to answer those questions. Librarians are increasingly expressing an interest in the design of experiences that improve how community members interact with the full range of service, resources, and staff. Think of it as the “totality” of all that the library has to offer as an experience, not just the usability of the catalog, the cleanliness of the restrooms, or the smiles on staff faces at service points. Each, no doubt, is important to the overall experience. Great library experiences are delivered at every touch point where community members connect with the library.
By now the concept of user experience (UX) has shown up on most librarians’ radar at some point. Whether you’ve found yourself curious about how better digital design could help your library’s traffic, you wish had a UX specialist on staff, you’re engaged by Aaron Schmidt’s The User Experience column, or you’ve considered learning more about user-centered design yourself, the chance to improve the library’s user experience is within everyone’s reach.
I’m so happy I could be twins. We now have an honest-to-goodness Library User Experience (UX) Specialist: Amy Deschenes, who came to us from Simmons College, where she was the Systems and Web Applications Librarian. Amy has only been here for a couple of months, but the buzz has already gotten around about how much she can help us gain a user’s point of view; she did some work with undergraduate and graduate students right away upon getting to campus. I’d heard a lot of good things about her, and this summer our library is transitioning to LibGuides 2.0, which means it’s time for an overhaul of my LibGuides…so I wrote and asked if I could meet with her for pointers.