Another Example Submitted For Your Reaction

I have no intention of turning my DBL posts into some version of the user experience police, but I might on occasion point to what could be a bogus use of the UX concept. Whether it might be because the use in case is an example of pointless bandwagon jumping, total misuse of the concept or just some shameless effort to get attention with the concept, you could be reading about it here. But since I’m not always entirely certain myself as to what great library user experiences might be – that’s a practice still in evolution – perhaps critically analyzing some different ways in which UX is being applied in library settings can help to further define just what is a great library user experience – be it using the library facility, a library instructional product or some other library-related resource.

Seeing the spread of ideas about design thinking and user experience in the library profession is something I generally look forward to as a positive development. But I just had my first encounter with a library product vendor (in the role of an article author) applying the term “user experience” as a way to describe what the product delivers. I’m not so sure I’m feeling positive about this use of UX. It reminds me of the Ziggy cartoon where the diner menu says “chili – $2.50…”the chili experience – $4.00”.

 I would first question the title “User Experience in the Library: A Case Study” as potentially misleading. The discussion hardly deals with a library user experience at all, but instead focuses rather narrowly on OPAC overlay products, in particular the one produced by the author’s firm. The author, Tamar Sedeh works for Ex Libris, and the article is largely about Primo, Ex Libris’ OPAC overlay. For example, Sedeh writes: “The Primo system includes metasearching as an integral part of the user experience.” I haven’t asked them, but I wonder if most end-users’ idea of a user experience would match the author’s.

What concerns me about an article like this, though I suspect it won’t reach a large audience, is its potential to mislead library professionals about user experience and what it is. Again, I’m just learning about this myself, but I don’t think UX is what happens when library users search OPACs, even those with more user friendly designed overlays. However, searching library systems, if they are simple and give good results consistently, could be one part of the totality of a great library user experience. After all, what if the library OPAC does provide a great experience, and then the user goes to the stacks and can’t understand how to find the book by its call number, or the stacks are in terrible condition – and there’s no way to get on-the-spot help. At that point the user probably won’t be having such a great experience at the library.

 But I believe this author makes the error of confusing usability – which is largely discussed in this article - and user experience. They are not the same. Think of it like this. The iPod, most of us would agree, is a highly usable electronic device – intuitive, simple, reliable – and I don’t think most of us would confuse an iPod with a library OPAC.  The iPod is a good example of a device for the age of the user experience. But the iPod, by itself, is only a part of the overall user experience. The experience is all that Apple offers as part of being an iPod owner – iTunes, shopping at the iTunes store, the coolness of showing off your iPod, or more recently your iTouch. It is, in some ways, about the totality of the experience. Think back to what Dr. Gribbons had to say about this:

Usability is often isolated in development units, whereas companies who are getting UX right these days are talking about the user experience at the very top levels within the organization – not just in the tech and development shops. This leads to a more complete integration of the user experience with UX as a foundation as opposed to an afterthought. 

While the DBL blog team certainly is doing what it can to expand the library community’s knowledge about design thinking and great library user experiences, I have my apprehensions about those who will simply slap the phrase “user experience” on library-related job descriptions, services or products the same way that corporations will slap the word “organic” or “homemade” on products that are manufactured by mahines in assembly lines. Just putting the label on something doesn’t make it the real thing.

We certainly can’t eliminate innappropriate or misleading applications of user experience in librarianship, but we can continue to point them out as potentially bad examples that are worthy of our analysis. We might even use them to further our own understanding and appreciation of the meaning of a great library user experience. If you think I’m displaying some arrogance here, let me know. I may not know as much as I think about user experience, and perhaps I’m not qualified to be critical of other librarians or product vendors who co-opt the phrase for their own purposes. Read the article and see what you think – and then share your thoughts.

User Experience Librarian – The Next Bandwagon?

Over at Ubiquitous Librarian, Brian pointed to a few academic libraries, including his own, that have created new positions that are being described as “User Experience Librarian.” I’m not sure what to make of this, and I wonder if it is the start of a fad that will attract some bandwagon jumpers. It certainly does sound like a cool job that would likely attract some attention.

But based on the descriptions I’ve read it seems the tendency is to take a traditional public service job with traditional responsibilities, such as reference and instruction, add a dash of assessment or usability testing and then slap the title “User Experience” on it. For example, one of the position descriptions says “a User Experience Librarian to provide leadership for digital initiatives and services in the user, reference, and instructional programs of the library”. Hmm, nothing in there about taking leadership for understanding users, developing empathic-driven services or creating a library environment that provides memorable experiences.

I also detect a significant Web 2.0 and usability testing component to these positions. Web 2.0 does not equal creating good user experiences in libraries. An Emerging Technologies Librarian does not equal a UX Librarian. A Usability/Interface Design Librarian does not equal a UX Librarian. I wonder if the library administrators creating these positions really understand the concept of the user experience and if these positions will really be geared to developing great user experiences or designing better libraries. Or is this just a case of “they did it so we should do it too” thinking.

So what exactly should a position description for a UX Librarian read like. Well, I’m not entirely sure and I’ve been doing a good amount of reading and studying on this topic. I also examined some non-library UX job descriptions and the description for a Usability/User Experience Specialist that U.S. News & World Report profiled in their recent special report on “best careers for 2008”. But let me take a crack at developing a UX Librarian position description:

Library seeks an individual who understands and is able to articulate what a great library user experience should be, and who has the desire and ability to translate that knowledge into practice. Our ideal candidate will engage colleagues to develop innovative ideas that will turn our library into the campus destination where students WANT to be and create passionate library users who WANT to use our resources. As our user experience specialist this librarian makes sure our services and instructional products are both easy and pleasurable to use. The UX Librarian has demonstrated experience in observing and interviewing both current and potential library users to developing an inventory of user needs and preferences. Shifting library services and products from the mundane to the unexpected and memorable is a core responsibility of this position. The UX Librarian also brings to the library a perspective of totality in developing a user experience; the library experience must be consistent across all library services points, non-public operations and extend out into the user community. Past experience with a variety of survey and assessment methods, including user satisfaction surveys, focus groups, one-on-one interviewing and anthropological research techniques is highly desirable. Other desirable qualities include knowledge of design thinking methods, demonstrated knowledge of the user experience literature, and degrees or demonstrated experience in fields such as computer science, cognitive pyschology, anthropology, human factors research or marketing.

If this was the type of job description we were seeing for UX Librarians I think one problem becomes obvious. There probably aren’t too many librarians, maybe no one with an MLS degree, who has the right experience to do this job. Perhaps developing UX Librarians is going to be an “on-the-job” development exercise for this specialty. Just as we’ve been exploring what a great library user experience means here at DBL, we should also start thinking about what it means to be a UX Librarian. And it may be that the right individuals for these positions shouldn’t even be librarians, but professionals from other fields who have the necessary training and experience.

Perhaps the good thing about libraries developing UX Librarian positions is that their early experience will help to define the job. Though the tone of my post may at times sound skeptical or critical, I’m taking the appearance of these new positions as a positive sign that librarians are beginning to recognize the value of UX and intend to take it seriously as a path to designing a better library. It’s exciting to see libraries creating both Blended Librarian and UX Librarian positions; it’s truly encouraging that these ideas and practices are moving into the mainstream of librarianship. Now what we need to do is to further our knowledge and understanding of what makes a great library user experience – it’s more than just excellent customer service – so that we can begin to create positions that will have a serious shot at achieving UX success in the library.

Designing Better Skateboards – an example of user-centered design

I caught a commercial on CNN last night that visually summed up the design thinking process in under 30 seconds. Unfortunately it has not made it to YouTube yet, Cisco isn’t that cutting edge, but you can view it here. In case they change their website around, look for the Thundersk8 Skateboard Manufacturer clip.

Essentially the video shows how they took a basic design and gave it to users, who in turn improve the product functionally and aesthetically, arriving at an ideal board. It demonstrates the process of working out flaws based on a prototype, and striving toward the perfect skating experience.

I can relate…

We’re in the process of exploring a minor renovation to a high traffic area in the library. We’re approaching it with a completely open mind, really trying to keep our bias out of it and listening to users. There is an elaborate assessment backbone to this renovation– one component involves a series of focus groups. I spent two hours composing “ideal” focus groups, matching up students sure to have interesting opinions, ranging for accomplished artists, scholars, leaders, and other interesting personalities. I sent out my invites and got little response. In fact, at my first session I had no participants.

Time to regroup. I starting spending a lot of time in the proposed area and approached people within the space and invited them to attend focus groups and other means of contribution—this has been very successful. Like the skateboard case study, I had to take it to the streets. Take the problem/idea/concept to the people actually using the space, who had a greater chance of being passionate about the area and an invested interested in the renovation. We’re hoping to design several prototypes which we will again turn over to our users for additional feedback.