Assessment Community of Practice: User Experience

Last week’s Community of Practice was my first opportunity to talk with colleagues from across the organization about user experience (or UX) in libraries. I presented an overview of some principles of UX and a brief update on two current UX projects (Blacklight/Library Search and service design for the new library).

Rather than rehashing highlights of my presentation, I want to return to two questions that I posed to the audience. I intended for these questions to be a “thinking together” exercise where attendees could reflect on how we, as an organization, might embrace UX and more fully integrate it into our every day work. We touched on these briefly toward the end of the COP meeting, but I want to delve into them more here and provide my own perspective.

How is UX different from what we’ve always done in libraries? (i.e. we’ve always been committed to user-centered design and great customer service). 

In the book Useful, usable, desirable : applying user experience design to your library, librarians Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches tell the story of a colleague who tentatively asked them, “How is [UX] different from what we’ve always done in libraries? We’ve always cared about our patrons. We’ve always been user-centered. We give great customer service!” As an erstwhile public services librarian who values good customer service, this question resonated with me. At the desk, we strive to provide the best service possible; we listen closely, we ask questions, and we do our best to make sure the person in front of us is satisfied. When planning an instruction session, we talk to instructors; we learn about the students we’ll be working with and their assignments, and we design instruction based on that information. Library staff have a long history of considering user needs when providing services.

For me, user experience is an evolution of that user-focused tradition. It gives us a framework to put the user’s needs at the center of all of our design and decision making.

My interest in assessment and user experience grew over the last few years in my previous position as the Emerging Technologies Librarian and Education Liaison. In that role, I was uniquely positioned to both contribute to the design of library technologies while also observing firsthand how students and faculty used, and sometimes struggled with, those technologies. Those interactions highlighted for me the need to know more about our users’ needs and expectations when making decisions about the design of our website and search tools. I began to approach all of my work, including technology projects and reference and instruction, from the question of “how can we make this better for our users?” I’m now lucky enough to have a job where it’s my responsibility to ask that question every day, not just of our online spaces, but also of our services and physical spaces.

To create services, websites, and spaces that work well for our users, we need to understand and empathize with our users. User experience asks us to build that empathy and understanding with intention. We might immerse ourselves in a user’s journey (i.e. put ourselves ‘in our users’ shoes’) using a particular service or tool to identify pain points or frustrations along the way. We might observe how users naturally utilize a space or service. Or, we might work directly with them through user research using methods like usability testing, interviews, or focus groups. When we see how users actually engage with the library — what they like or find challenging or what we, as well-meaning information experts designing services and websites for non-expert users, might have unwittingly missed — we start to empathize with our users and better understand them. And, hopefully we come up with solutions that enhance their experience with the library.

UX also requires that we approach design holistically, acknowledging that users do not experience our individual services in isolation. My interactions with students and faculty at the desk and in the classroom also afforded me the opportunity to see the connections between our services and physical and online spaces. A faculty member who wants a book uses our website or catalog to find or request the book, asks for help using our chat service, reads stacks or other wayfinding signs in the building, and finally uses self-checkout kiosks or interacts with a staff member at the service desk. A student who wants to reserve a study room uses our website, submits a request through our room scheduling system, approaches the service desk staff, and finally uses their study room. Good customer service might ensure the user has a pleasant, if not successful, interaction with staff at a service desk and in many cases even throughout the remainder of the experience. But, even the strongest customer service ethos does not acknowledge the robust interconnectedness of library services and spaces; nor does it ask us to work collaboratively, and sometimes uncomfortably, across library departments to holistically design services and tools for our users.

How can we prioritize user experience work in the organization? How do we integrate UX into our existing processes?

If great customer service doesn’t necessarily make for a great overall user experience, neither does the work of one, solo User Experience Librarian, even with her small, but enthusiastic group of colleagues who have signed on for UX work on the Library Search and Website Redesign projects. We need to work together as an organization to integrate user experience into our work. I look forward to expanding my own work beyond the user experience of our online tools to our services and physical spaces. I also hope to help my colleagues develop capacity in user research and design and foster an organizational culture that puts the user at the center of every decision we make.

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One Response to Assessment Community of Practice: User Experience

  1. stevenbell says:

    Great job putting the essence of your presentation into a blog post so that staff who were not there can better understand your perspectives on UX. The next to last paragraph is particularly good at explaining why we need a holistic approach or what I refer to as “totality”.

    Inevitably, in conversations about UX in libraries, those “we already have great customer service” or “how is this any different from customer service” questions come up. I wrote about this a couple of years ago in a blog post that may be of interest:

    I also like this short video on youtube from a session of “Soaring to Excellence” that focused on library UX – in this vignette two librarians talk about moving beyond customer service to user experience.

    As I did suggest to Jackie, another way to get library staff on the same page about UX could be to develop a shared “Service Principles” document.

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