April 23, 2018

Setting UX Priorities | The User Experience

Aaron SchmidtIn 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!

If you’re at all tuned in to the needs of your members, you probably can think of a lot of things you wish were easier, better, or generally more engaging. Since all aspects of the library can be viewed through the UX lens, it can be difficult to figure out where to start and on what to focus. Here are some ways to help your library prioritize its UX efforts.

Front lines wisdom

Folks on the front lines know a lot about what’s working for library members and what’s not. There are a number of effective ways to collect this information. Consider one-on-one or group interviews, or asking staff to record with what members ask for assistance. If you’re part of a library’s management team and it has been years since you’ve worked a barcode scanner, consider spending time observing how library operations happen, or rolling up your sleeves and getting in the mix. Learning about service delivery in this way will let you know about some touchpoints that could use a bit of optimization and might even illuminate how library policies are impacting the user experience. A bonus benefit of asking frontline staff to help identify problems and brainstorm solutions is that you’ll enjoy more buy-in when the library implements changes.

Plot it out

While UX improvements that could be considered low-hanging fruit for most libraries (e.g., improving signage, rewriting web pages), the particular dynamic of your institution can dictate what’s easy to fix and what’s not. Given certain circumstances, even something as simple and obviously beneficial as taking down unpleasant looking signs could be rife with political implications. Improving typography on a website—something that takes just a bit of studying and a bit of code—might be impossible to do if a library’s website is stuck using the town’s content management system (CMS).

So it is up to you to measure the potential return on investment of UX projects. Use a simple chart to categorize and prioritize projects. Quickly knockout any “low effort/high impact” projects and draw up plans for “high effort/high impact” projects. Deal with “low effort/low impact” things when the time seems right, and put off “high effort/low impact” things until everything else is in tip-top shape.

Establish some goals

Here’s an exercise that’s less tactical and more strategic. Set UX goals by thinking about the following questions:

  • What can we do to improve library UX this month?
  • What can we do to improve library UX this quarter (or term)?
  • What can we do to improve library UX this year?

Gather staff members and ask everyone to answer these questions individually or in small groups. Encourage staff to formulate their responses through two important elements: audience (e.g., readers, older citizens, job seekers) and need (e.g., item checkout process, library ­programming).

Responses should be user-centered, and to encourage exploration they can take the form of a question, such as, “How might we make the checkout process easier for busy parents?” or “How might we support older citizens’ use of the web?”

Urge people not to revert to library-centered statements when it comes to thinking about optimizing touchpoints. Take the time to articulate concepts from a user-centered perspective. Step back and consider root goals to open other possibilities. So, instead of something like “remove unnecessary/incorrect signage,” think “create a more pleasant and usable environment for all users.” In this case, thinking of a signage project in terms of shaping the physical environment could lead to brainstorming about library lighting, temperature, furniture, and more.


There’s so much to be curious about in libraries. Hopefully, these three ideas can help you focus and plan to make some improvements. But as useful as these techniques can be, in a perfect world you might never have to use them. Ultimately, aim to imbue all of your meetings, planning, strategizing, and decision-making with a user-centered perspective. When UX becomes integral to the process of running your library, you won’t have to devote resources to special UX activities. All of your resources will already be focused on creating a library that is useful, usable, and ­desirable.

This article was published in Library Journal's November 1, 2015 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

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  1. Thank you for sharing these three ideas.

    Some time ago I learned of a tool that might help organizations choose which (of probably several dozen) opportunities to pursue. It involves asking patrons to rate on a scale of one to ten how important a particular aspect is to them and how satisfied they are with it. The idea is to begin with a focus on issues of great importance and low satisfaction. This is nicely described in section 5. Prioritize the JTBD Opportunities section of http://innovatorstoolkit.com/content/technique-1-jobs-be-done.

  2. I’ve been meaning to dig in to JTBD for a while now so this is a great reminder. Thanks for the prompt!

    Taking a read now.