February 16, 2018


UX Specialist Iris Bierlein Has Real World Solutions for Librarians

As the User Experience Specialist at the New York University Division of Libraries, Iris Bierlein leads qualitative research for the UX Department. Bierlein has presented on UX-related topics for the Metropolitan New York Library Council and the Association of Information Technology, and she is currently co-leader of NYU’s UX community of practice. Here she shares insights and advice to help librarians simplify user journeys, enable usage of content and ultimately, promote the impact of research.

What’s your approach for content strategy and usability testing for websites and digital tools at NYU Libraries?

I promote a user-centered approach for the libraries’ digital products through user testing, content strategy, and workflow analysis in an agile development environment. I’m also a proponent of blending physical and digital wayfinding in libraries.

What advice do you have in terms of best practices when optimizing UX in a university library? 

The UX community in libraries needs to remain aware of trends in the wider UX world. Remind yourself who your users are, what you’re serving, and what your university goals are, and that it should be as inclusive as possible.

What are the most common obstacles you’ve had to overcome?

Staffing, money, and time are the biggest challenges. There are some universities with UX departments that have many people, but those are not the norm. It’s possible to do good UX and keep it relatively lightweight with guerrilla testing though. It can be challenging to conduct good research with limited time because research and analysis, especially analysis, takes time, but it helps to get UX into the conversation from the start as part of the project planning.

When resources are limited, how do you continue to make more with less?

The benefit of having partners is they’ve thought about user experience. This means your users benefit from that. Someone else has done the work and done the work well, so you don’t have to try to patch it. The burden used to be on the library. Companies like Emerald are thinking about the full process and focus on making their portion of it better.

What’s the best way to get buy-in for UX?

You need to get stakeholders involved. If they’re observers and commenting, get them engaged in the experience with the A-ha moment, which helps to sell it.

What are some actionable solutions that are most easily implemented?

Whenever you do a UX study, ideally you have a report at the end, and I really like to provide three tiers of recommendations. Always make sure you give people something they can act on. Level one solutions like changing fonts and color schemes are a start, and cutting down on text can help. Level two may take a bit of time or money. Level three is a deeper change where you may need a developer and it may be stage two of your project.


Iris Bierlein participated in a Library Journal webcast on September 27th along with University of Michigan’s Rachel Vacek and Emerald Publishing’s Kat Palmer on the subject, Smoothing the Path of the Research Journey: Designing for User Experience Excellence in Academic Libraries. The webcast can be viewed on demand at: 


 Emerald Publishing

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