Who is doing UX work in your library? How does it fit into existing partnerships, collaborations, workflows, and workloads?

Rebecca Blakiston:

Last summer, we formed a new User Experience Department, which includes our web development team, marketing and public relations, content strategy, instructional design, and IT support. It's a big group (about twenty of us)! The content strategist and I lead most of our UX efforts as far as user research goes, but our web development team also plays a significant role. We're also trying to instill UX thinking across our organization. Our department is still new and figuring out exactly how to manage and structure our work. Strategic planning should happen in the coming month, which will help with this.

This is a great question to start us off—especially as we've undergone a recent reorganization of this work, I'm curious to hear from others!

Georgina Cronin:

I am primarily responsible for UX in my library. I am a dedicated User Experience Librarian and I apply ethnographic approaches to my work. I carry out user-focused research using various techniques, and then feed these back to the rest of the team so that we can work together to alter our existing service or create new services as a direct result of the findings of my research. Many members of the team that I work within help with UX research and occasionally do projects themselves, so it really is a joint effort.

As far as partnerships go, by doing effective UX research with different groups and stakeholders around our institution, we raise the profile of ourselves and library professionals especially with our academic colleagues who are often amazed that librarians do research at all! Other library colleagues from around the rest of my university are often interested in what we're doing and this results in collaboration opportunities, training, and also being asked to be involved with UX-focused projects elsewhere.

Workloads and workflows can present a challenge. While I do UX as part of my role, it isn't all that I do, and so I have to balance it with looking after my dedicated student group, help the team run the library service, and all the other bits and pieces that I look after.

Heidi Steiner Burkhardt:

Our entire library staff is smaller than Rebecca’s UX department (!), so we definitely approach things a lot differently. As much as I loathe the phrase “build a culture,” I am also proud to say that we have made a lot of progress in that direction. I have always had an interest in thinking more deliberately about user experience stemming from my initial role working with our fully online students. When I took over our digital services, it was definitely something I wanted to focus on, though it is not in anyone’s job description here.

All of our librarians have their individual job duties plus reference, instruction, collection development, and whatever else our liaison roles throw at us. Unfortunately doing any sort of significant user research is not really in the cards. I have taken the lead on working with data and information we already collect by mining our various library statistics and institutional data, as well as looking at broader studies in librarianship and higher ed to paint an informed picture of our patrons and create our primary personas. This is all housed in a guide called Our Patrons for staff to refer back to and I remind everyone about it regularly. I am also a big proponent of controlling what we can, so a big focus in terms of our online presence has been promoting things like effective web writing through our web style guide and consistency of web presence in terms of header, colors, etc.

In terms of workflows and workload, at this point UX is a mindset and it fits right in for us because we all incorporate thinking about our users into our daily work. This bleeds into everything from digital collections and interlibrary loan services to signage. Our library historically is considered one of the most responsive and helpful on campus, so this attitude already jibes. It is really awesome to hear Georgina’s experience of their work translating into more collaboration across campus.

Stephen Francoeur:

A number of years ago, when I was an information services librarian doing an equal mix of reference and instruction, I was given the opportunity to create a new position of “user experience librarian.” Since our chief librarian is also head of campus IT (technically, he’s our CIO), our systems and web development support came from campus IT and not from an internal library unit. So one challenge was figuring out where a UX librarian position should live within the library’s organization. The Collection Management division turned out to be the best fit, as it would give me the chance to have admin access to the many databases and other library systems that were in great need of alignment with user expectations.

As we move to new platforms for subscription services (e.g., databases) or begin our access to new ones (e.g., our discovery service), I lend a hand in customizing them and getting them set up on the library website. For this work, I am frequently collaborating with the head of Collection Management (my direct supervisor), our catalogers and metadata librarians, and with the campus IT person who does web development for us. In some instances, I design usability tests to help with the launch of these new services and resources and can sometimes draw on the help of relevant colleagues to run the tests with me. In other instances, I draw on what I’ve learned from past usability tests and from other research efforts (such as query log analyses) to make informed design decisions.

Much of the UX work I do is instigated by our library starting something new and me being asked to be part of the team that launches it (as in the case of our institutional repository, which has a team just organizing now to plan a launch maybe by the end of this year). I do, though, look for research projects that can help me make the case for redesign work I’d like to see happen. For instance, this spring, I’m planning to use a variety of lenses to examine what our users expect from the multifunction search box on the library homepage. If I can gather enough evidence about how misaligned user expectations are with their actual experience of our search box, I can make the case to my colleagues that we need to invest the time in an overhaul of a very central piece of technology on the library site.

Although there is no end of research projects I can dream up for myself, finding the ones that will have the most impact, that are doable, and that are aligned with the library’s strategic goals is the tricky part. I’m still working on ways to balance the list of projects I’d like to pursue with those that get dropped into my lap as we start to plan new services (e.g., our institutional repository, our discovery service, etc.). It’s become the “new normal” now that when our library is planning a new service on the web, I get asked to be part of the team because of what I’ve learned from my UX work.

At the moment, I am the only person in the college doing any UX work. I’ve been asked once by a colleague in a center elsewhere on campus for advice about UX work for a project he was working on. I’d like to think that there will be more opportunities for collaboration like this on campus.

Eric Larson:

I would say UX work at the University of Minnesota Libraries is widespread, but not centrally coordinated, in the grand gesture that it's everyone's responsibility, but no single person or committee owns it.

In the last six months, I have led a team of librarians and web developers to begin monthly, formal usability testing of our online services. This work has improved our library homepage and engaged faculty, researchers, and deans as we launch a new library-managed data repository for campus. This effort has also given renewed awareness and appreciation of the UX process within our library. Each time we hold a testing session the number of staff in the observation room grows fuller.

The momentum behind our online services approach has boosted public service staff's interest in adopting UX principles and design thinking to streamline physical services. Discussions have begun to happily marry our efforts (online and physical), but it's unclear how that will really take shape. I imagine there will be much greater effort once some strategic hires and our new strategic plan is in place.

Amanda L. Goodman:

We are a four member department: assistant director, system admin (brand new!), UX ninja (real title—he takes care of hardware), and UX librarian (me). Our UX department thinks of itself as a group of consultants, so we help our colleagues realize their projects. This means that most of our direct work is done internally. Of course, everything we work on then appears in front of patrons in some format.

My job does not have a description, so it’s been up to me to decide what I want to do. I’ve decided that training everyone to be user-centric is my main task. Therefore I meet regularly with all departments (often informally or in small meetings of 1–3 people) to discuss their projects. I help them think about:

  • How the patron is going to learn about their program
  • How to manage the workflow of people moving through the space during the event
  • How to get contact details if needed
  • All the tiny details regarding patron interactions with the library

My fellow UX-ers are in charge of hardware/keeping the building running, so I have the primary job of working directly with people. Most of my UX testing is through the guerilla method. I also have a few go-to patrons that I bounce ideas off of to get their feedback. When I set up our touchscreen kiosk, I then busied myself nearby to see how people interacted with it. Then on the backend, I checked Google Analytics to see what people were doing when I wasn’t around.

I have been pushing since day one for my colleagues to keep their eyes and ears open to patron feedback and behaviors. While some of my colleagues will email me, I know that face-to-face is the best way to gather data from them. So a few times each week I make a trip around the library to check in with people. Then I keep a record in Trello of anything that I should look into. My coworkers have seen the board and know that I will follow up with everything.

Erin White:

Wow, so exciting to hear about everyone's UX lives at their libraries. It sounds like we have organizational cultures that would fall all over this UX thinking scale proposed by Coral Sheldon-Hess. Amanda, Darien Library sounds like a 5?

I walked into a lucky situation at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU)—my former boss Susan Teague-Rector had worked really hard to build a culture that supported UX thinking, so I have been able to build on her work instead of starting from the ground up. There's no formal UX charge at our organization, but I'd put us at about a 3 on the UX thinking scale.

We have a three-person web team here that does (web-only) UX work. I lead the web team and am the web UX go-to person for the library; our designer and developer both came from the private sector and bring some great perspective from outside the library bubble.

No surprise here, we don't do as much UX work as I want us to. We developed personas in 2013, which continue to guide our decisions, and we do occasional UX assessments for sites or apps. Given the wide interest in UX across the library and the web team's workload, my newest idea is to form a cross-departmental crew that helps with UX assessments.

Like Stephen, I spend time helping make informed design decisions for vendor apps, which I consider UX work as well. Courtney MacDonald talked about this in her Weave interview and I think it's something we often overlook when we talk about our work, though it's important.

Hats off to Georgina for raising the profile of the library across campus. I have also been meeting more and more with other web folks at VCU, in libraries around Richmond, and at web agencies to make connections and get fresh ideas and inspiration. It's been good to have sounding boards outside of my organization, and I like to think it's helpful for the library, too.

Eric Larson:

"...my newest idea is to form a cross-departmental crew that helps with UX assessments" –Erin White

I want this too! My campus has ten projects for every one that receives our official UX assistance.

Heidi Steiner Burkhardt:

Ditto...kinda. We are small enough that big decisions are all made as a team and I can prompt UX considerations if others do not bring things up. Still, I am hoping to create a team with colleagues from a few different areas on the digital/web and public services sides to help set a more strategic direction for how we approach UX and identify specific things we want to look at.