February 16, 2018

Low-Cost, No-Cost UX | The User Experience

Aaron SchmidtWhen 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.

Wrangling signage

If your library is like most, you have a lot of signs. Some are directional, some are informational, and some rudely bark instructions at patrons. Ideally, a library would have no more signs than absolutely necessary, and all of these signs should be beautifully executed.

A good first step toward achieving this ideal state is to take stock of your current situation. Conduct a signage audit. Create a spreadsheet, shared among your UX team, and catalog all of the signs in your library—yes, all of them. Even the one taped to the photocopier. Assess each sign’s necessity, its helpfulness, its tone, and its graphic design. Your spreadsheet might also include a column for redesign ideas. Once completed, you’ll easily be able to create a plan for ensuring your signage is aligned and sending the right messages.

  • UX benefit: A friendlier, more cohesive signage system that creates a calmer environment.

Rethink service points

When a patron is trying to accomplish a task, being bounced around to multiple people—whether on the phone or in a building—is never fun. In our libraries, authorizing as many workers as possible to help library members with as many tasks as possible will create an organization that feels like it cares. I’ll hasten to add that just because you have to pass a patron to another staff member doesn’t mean you don’t care about that person’s experience. Certainly, helping patrons find someone better suited to assist them with a specific situation can be done in a friendly, caring manner. But, optimally, library members would have their own personal guide to the library when they are in need.

Short of this, you can improve the service model at your library by enabling more people to accomplish more things at any given desk. Don’t just blindly cross-train library workers. Instead, examine what members try to accomplish at different service points throughout the library and how often they’re being re­directed. After keeping a redirect log for a few weeks, some patterns will emerge. Then you’ll be able effectively to cross staff desks or cross-train staff.

  • UX benefit: Empowered staff who will help people accomplish tasks in a faster, more convenient way.

Be visionary

Can everyone at your library articulate the library’s goals? Do you and your coworkers share the same goals for the library? If the answer to either of these questions is “No,” consider creating a shared UX vision. This document can take whatever form is best for your institution: a written narrative, cartoon, poem, video, or anything else you come up with that works. Yet whatever form it takes, it should be a clear expression of what sort of UX the library is striving to provide. It should be an aspirational document that can guide the library’s decision-making process. There is tremendous power in aligning all staff so that the library as a whole is working toward the same UX goals.

Start with a survey asking staff what the ideal library UX is like in order to assess what’s on everyone’s minds. An effective way to get staff thinking creatively is a “Design the Box” game in which everyone must pretend the library is something that is sold in a box. What would it say on the box? What would the box look like? Compile results from these discussions and go from there. See Jared Spool’s “The 3 Steps for Creating an Experience Vision” and Joel Spolsky’s “Product Vision” for more details.

  • UX benefit: The possibility of librarywide alignment and a virtuous cycle of UX improvements will benefit every part of the library.

It’s made of people

While a healthy budget never hurts, all of the above projects depend much more on having an organization that is user-centered and capable of facilitating changes. Shaping an organization in this way can take time, effort, and, yes, money. Ultimately, UX success boils down to making smart hiring decisions. Even so, libraries are filled with people who want to help. Carving out time to do new projects isn’t always easy, but it is essential. One successful UX-focused project that demonstrates the value of user-centered thinking can serve as an example throughout an organization and have a big, positive impact. Start today!

Aaron Schmidt (librarian@gmail.com) is a principal at the library user experience consultancy Influx (influx.us). He is a 2005 LJ Mover & Shaker. He writes at walkingpaper.org

This article was published in Library Journal's September 1, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Aaron Schmidt About Aaron Schmidt

Aaron Schmidt (librarian@gmail.com) is a principal at the library user experience consultancy Influx (influx.us). He is a 2005 LJ Mover & Shaker. He writes at walkingpaper.org



  1. I’m always surprised how many libraries I walk into which greet me with a crude print out on regular paper – bold, capital letters basically shouting at me. Needless to say, not a good first impression.
    Thanks for the concise, practicle article.

  2. Rebecca Jones says:

    Hi Aaron, I attended your presentation for the User Experience Seflin Virtual Conference last week. Any tips on where to find procedural ideas for teaming up with another library and doing a user experience audit?