Abstract

This article describes how academic libraries structure and support user experience (UX) work, how different structures and supports affect the UX work that is done, and the impact of that work on users and UX workers. With the aim of identifying structures and supports that work well, I asked thirty people who do UX work in academic libraries to complete interviews and a short questionnaire. In this article, I define structural facets that shape the institutional contexts of UX work, and I draw from the research to describe where these contexts created striking patterns in the data. After examining the contextual differences, the article concludes with structures and supports that make a positive difference to UX workers and to users.

Introduction

Leah Buley wrote that user experience (UX) is “a famously messy thing to describe” (2013, p. 4). UX often describes the overall experience and emotions of a user as they engage in a service, product, or space. But UX can also be shorthand for UX research: the work done to understand the user and their experience. UX can also refer to UX design: the work done to create a good user experience, iterating improvements through UX research. In this paper, “UX work” may refer to UX research, UX design, or a combination of the two.

UX work in academic libraries has emerged and developed over the last decade or so. There are many different contexts in which UX work can happen. It may focus on digital spaces, focus on physical spaces, or take a more holistic approach. It may be the work of a single library worker or a group, and it may be situated in almost any department in the library. These contexts, taken together, represent formal and informal structures of UX work within the library.

Academic libraries support UX work in different ways. There may be formal supports, such as a budget for UX, managers allowing time for staff to do UX work, or a strategic plan that includes UX. There may be informal supports as well, such as an organizational culture that prioritizes users or colleagues who value UX research.

The literature on how libraries structure and support UX work consists primarily of case studies, which provide organizational context. But it can be difficult to see patterns across case studies that show a bigger picture. Where researchers have taken a wider view (e.g. MacDonald, 2015; MacDonald, 2017; Young et al., 2020), the data strips out context; one cannot see the differences between, for example, people in dedicated UX positions and those who do UX work with an informal group of colleagues. In this research, I aimed to examine various structures and supports for UX work in academic libraries and to begin to explore how or if the contexts of those structures and supports affect this UX work and the people who do it.

This article will discuss how thirty UX workers from five different countries describe their academic libraries’ structures and supports for UX work, the type of UX work they do, and how they perceive the impact of their work on their users and themselves. Their experiences show that, although UX work happens in many contexts, certain organizational structures and supports seem to facilitate a more positive working environment for UX workers and allow them to see bigger impacts.

Literature Review

Tracing the emergence of UX in libraries is a bit difficult, as the phrase “user experience” appears in the literature multiple times in the 1970s, well before the concept of UX developed. In addition, the concepts of doing user research and being user-centered appear before the concept of UX. Happily, the exact history is not of particular concern to this study.

The library literature began discussing UX as we understand it today after a number of articles appeared in library trade journals in 2010 (Bell, 2010; Bivens-Tatum, 2010; Walker, 2010; Zamboglou & Paterson, 2010). In 2011, the Association of Research Libraries reported findings from a member survey that identified both UX librarians and UX departments in academic libraries (Fox & Doshi, 2011). Libraries have clearly been doing UX work longer than the literature has been discussing it.

Regardless of how long libraries have been engaged in UX work, the body of literature on how that work is structured is small, though growing. Literature on the structure of usability work and web teams in libraries supplements it. In libraries, UX workers and web workers navigate similar internal structures, silos, and politics to do their work, all the time trying to balance the needs of the library with the needs of the user. Indeed, White’s 2014 presentation on UX in libraries pointed out that, at the time, the majority of UX work was situated within web teams or with the web librarian.

Structuring UX Work

Most of the literature on structuring UX work, usability work, and general web work comes from case studies. Four common models emerged. The most common is a committee or team (Blake & Potter, 2018; Dethloff & German, 2013; Godfrey, 2015; Kuglitsch & Couture, 2018; Nichols et al., 2009; Perrin & Daniel, 2017), but case studies also discussed a single library employee with responsibility for UX or related functions (Dethloff & German, 2013; Perrin & Daniel, 2017) and stand-alone UX departments (El mimouni et al., 2018). Finally, some libraries do UX with a more ad hoc approach (Blake & Potter, 2018; Fox & Keisling, 2016; Kavanaugh Webb et al., 2016).

Most committees or teams who work on UX or usability draw from various library departments and have ex officio members with job responsibilities related to the work of the team. (Godfrey, 2015; Nichols et al., 2009). Godfrey (2015) bridged the usability/UX gap by discussing the application of web usability principles to physical spaces in the library and described the plan to have her usability team consult on projects related to physical spaces and services.

A model more common in libraries than in the case study literature is a single library employee responsible for UX, usability, or the library website. Dethloff and German (2013) described how a person hired into a usability position eventually replaced their usability team. Similarly, Perrin and Daniel’s (2017) case study ended with a web librarian replacing their web team. Both detailed the challenges their respective committees faced before disbanding in favor of a dedicated position. In their recent article on UX methods and maturity in academic libraries, Young et al. (2020) recommended a hybrid approach of both committee and position: “a standing UX group and a dedicated UX lead that can help direct UX work and enhance UX maturity” (p. 23).

El mimouni et al. (2018) included two case studies of UX departments in academic libraries, both of which began as departments of one person. One grew into a department of four, while the other was still a department of one at the time of writing and was almost indistinguishable from the committee model.

UX work can also happen within a more ad hoc structure. Two case studies from mid-size universities detailed ad hoc structures that are also management-heavy (Fox & Keisling, 2016; Kavanaugh Webb et al., 2016;). The University of York began their UX work with an ad hoc approach, but as they gained experience they created a UX group and drew on senior management not to fill the group, but to support it (Blake & Potter, 2018). A member of their senior management team acted as a conduit between that team and the UX group.

There has been survey-based research on UX librarians (Fox & Doshi, 2011; Pshock, 2018; Young et al., 2020) but MacDonald (2015, 2017) provided the only examination of UX librarians in the literature that goes beyond case studies. His interviews with sixteen UX librarians—twelve from academic libraries—offered a snapshot of how UX librarianship in the United States was structured at the time. Twelve of his participants were the only people in their libraries with UX responsibilities, six worked in library departments (public services, technical services, member services), six reported directly to the dean or director, and four were in UX departments. Ten participants worked with digital and physical UX, three with digital UX only, and two focused on spaces and services. All participants had additional job responsibilities beyond UX, and their UX duties included consulting with colleagues on UX.

Supporting UX Work

The literature has asserted that UX and usability workers need certain supports from management (Church & Felker, 2005; MacDonald, 2017; Nichols et al., 2009; Perrin & Daniels, 2017; Young et al., 2020). Often mentioned is giving these workers the time and responsibility to do their work (Blake & Potter, 2018; Church & Felker, 2005; Dethloff & German, 2013; Nichols et al., 2009;). A few advocated for a dedicated UX position (Kavanaugh Webb et al., 2016; Kuglitsch & Couture, 2018; MacDonald, 2017). Other supports included authority and accountability (Church & Felker, 2005; Dethloff & German, 2013; Perrin & Daniels, 2017), resources (Church & Felker, 2005; MacDonald, 2017; Young et al., 2020), training (Church & Felker, 2005; Dethloff & German, 2013; MacDonald, 2017), and clear understanding of a UX group’s purpose and authority (Dethloff & German, 2013; Perrin & Daniels, 2017).

UX workers cannot necessarily control what supports management will provide. The literature in this area made two kinds of recommendations: actions for management to take in support of UX workers and actions for UX workers to take on their own. There were not many recommendations for UX workers influencing management through advocacy. Nichols et al. (2009) mentioned that a team may want a champion to advocate for them “at the administrative level” (p. 12). Others discussed aligning UX work with the library’s strategic plan as a path to advocacy (Blake & Potter, 2018; Kuglitsch & Couture, 2018).

Some UX workers take a strategic approach in seeking to expand the role of UX work in their libraries. Both Godfrey (2015) and Kuglitsch and Couture (2018) described plans to gradually increase the profile of UX in their library until it became fully formalized. Blake and Potter (2019) discussed how their library successfully moved from ad hoc UX to a formally structured UX program.

Plans to expand the role of UX often involved a formal group or committee leading UX training for colleagues (Blake & Potter, 2018; Godfrey, 2015; Kuglitsch & Couture, 2018; Nichols et al., 2009). MacDonald’s (2017) conclusions also included the importance of “training that empowers their colleagues to make informed UX decisions on their own.” (p. 211). Beyond training, formal UX groups also acted as UX consultants for their colleagues (Blake & Potter, 2018; Godfrey, 2015).

Although there was evidence that formal groups can play a strong role in UX work, there was no agreement in the literature that a team approach was appropriate. Some teams struggled with a consensus-based approach to making decisions (Dethloff & German, 2013; Perrin & Daniel, 2017) and lack of authority (Perrin & Daniel, 2017). Although consensus-based decision-making was a procedural choice, challenges like lack of authority could indicate the absence of certain supports within the organization.

MacDonald (2017) noted other challenges for UX workers. The biggest one for the UX librarians he interviewed was “navigating the library’s organizational culture” (p. 202), including feeling isolated as the only person doing UX. He also noted difficulties with getting support from colleagues and resource limitations of time, money, and people. Young et al. (2020) alluded to similar struggles.

Case studies provided context for the supports and challenges set out above. However, there was no broader view of which supports were helpful for particular structures of UX work. For example, are the supports committees need also useful for individuals in UX positions? Is what’s useful for people in dedicated positions also helpful for those who do UX work more informally? Although MacDonald (2015, 2017) gathered information about where in the library people worked, whether they focused on digital or physical spaces, and whether they were solo or had other UX colleagues, he did not—for the most part—look at the themes from the interviews in light of those varying contexts. This paper aims to examine supports for UX work in the context of how that work is structured and explore how, or if, that context affects UX work and UX workers.

Research Question

My exploratory study had two overarching research questions:

  • How do the structures and supports of academic libraries affect the UX work done in those libraries?
  • How do the same structures and supports affect the people doing the UX work?

This paper explores a more specific question: How does the context of the structure of UX work in academic libraries affect what UX workers do, how they are supported, and the impact of their work? In addition, the paper aims to provide guidance for UX workers by pulling together the structures and supports that appear to work well for UX workers in academic libraries.

Methodology

This was an exploratory research project. My objective was to examine how academic libraries structure and support UX work to find which supports work well for UX workers in the context of their work structure. I determined what works well by considering which supports UX workers said they found helpful and what impact they saw their work having.

Study Population

I limited the study population to people working in academic libraries. Academic libraries tend to share similar organizational structures, so limiting the study to this population gives multiple examples of similar structures of UX work. In addition, as MacDonald (2015) noted, it can be difficult to recruit people who do UX work outside of academic libraries.

Unlike MacDonald, I did not limit my participant population to UX librarians, as I examined a variety of structures in which UX work happens, including UX work done by non-librarians. Although I asked participants to share their job title, I did not ask them about their education, as any differences between librarians and non-librarians was not relevant. Similarly, I did not ask about age, gender, or other demographics.

Methods

Because this was exploratory research, I used semi-structured interviews with general questions, so I could follow up on points of interest (see appendix A). I did not want the interviews to take more than one hour, particularly since I did not offer any incentive or compensation. In order to maximize the interview time, I used an email questionnaire for topics that did not require probing for detail and that might surface contextual differences among the participants (see appendix B). There were thirty participants, and each completed both the interview and the questionnaire.

Procedures

I recruited participants at the UXLibs conference in June 2019, through Twitter and my own blog. When this did not elicit a large number of participants, I directly emailed people who had expressed interest and those I thought might be interested. In addition, when I noticed that many early participants worked in large libraries, I sought out and directly emailed people from smaller institutions.

Interviews took place between July and December 2019. Most interviews lasted about an hour but ranged between 40 and 80 minutes. All participants chose to communicate using Zoom or Skype, and I set up the sessions as audio-only. With participants’ consent, I recorded the interviews using an external digital recorder. I took extensive notes during each interview in case of recorder failure, which happened once. I did not make transcripts of the interviews, but I used the recordings to fill in my written notes, ensuring they captured the overall themes and any direct quotations.

Analysis

I assigned a random numeric code to participants in order to link interviews and questionnaires and stripped out all personal information, such as names and names of institutions. I did a thematic analysis, first coding my interview notes in NVivo for the basic themes of structure, types of UX work done, support, and impact. Then, I used an inductive approach to find themes within these basic areas. I analyzed these themes to look for patterns across structures of work and other data points or themes. Where I found patterns, I examined the underlying interview extracts to make sure they provided good support for the themes and patterns. For the purposes of this paper, I concentrated my analysis on the basic themes mentioned above, although the data is much richer than what I present here.

When analyzing the theme of impact, I saw that some participants openly said their work had not yet had any impact on users or that the impact had been small. I wanted to explore any differences in context between people who saw small impacts and those who described bigger impacts. I classified impacts as big when participants described the results of larger scale or ongoing iterative work, or when they described many small impacts that demonstrated persistent UX work. Examples of big impacts were a library website revamped through iterative testing to have a more intuitive structure and clearer language and the ongoing adjustment of physical space based on observing changes in user behavior. I classified impacts as small when people cited only one or two small projects or described their own impact as small. Examples of small impacts were fixing obvious mistakes or bad links on the library website and purchasing whiteboards after observing students using flipchart paper for their work.

Participants gave their own perceptions of the impact of their work. However, when participants spoke generally about impact, I followed up to ask them how they knew—or what made them think—there had been impact. Although they were still describing perceptions of impact, this generated evidence of those perceptions. In this way, the impacts I describe here are more concrete than MacDonald’s (2017) “perceived benefits” (p. 200).

Limitations

The participant population was not a random sample but a combination of convenience and purposive sampling. The findings are based on the thirty people I spoke with, at the time I spoke with them. Many participants were in the midst of changing structures—starting new committees, changing departments, experiencing library reorganizations—so may already find their new structures work better or worse than the ones they described to me. There are certainly structures that are not represented here. This study is not meant to be an exhaustive description of how UX work is structured in academic libraries, nor are the findings generalizable to all library workers doing UX in academic libraries. Part of the intention here is to uncover patterns that will help people who are struggling with their UX work to move toward structures that will work better for them, given their particular organizational context.

Study Participants

The thirty participants work in academic libraries in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Sweden. Their libraries serve student populations of between 800 and 50,000 and employ between 6 and 460 staff members. At the time of their interviews, participants’ experience doing UX work in their current libraries ranged from 6 months to 18 years. In most cases, the participants’ libraries have been engaged with UX longer than the participants had. Library experience in UX work ranged from 3 to 15 years. See Table 1 for more detail.

Table 1. Summary of key demographic data for participants.
Category Sub-Category Number of Participants
Country of Work US 11
Canada 9
UK 7
Sweden 2
Norway 1
Student Population 800–9,999 9
10,000–29,999 9
30,000–50,000 12
Total Library Staff 6–75 12
76–149 11
150–460 7
Participant’s Years of UX Work in Current Library 6 months–2 years 10
Between 2–5 years 12
More than 5 years 8
Library’s Years of UX Work Between 3–5 years 9
5–7 years 11
8 or more years 10

Outline of Findings

First, I define UX work structures that emerged from participant descriptions, organized into four broad categories: organizational structure, organizational location, UX responsibility, and focus on web UX. Then, I introduce four themes that I will explore within those structures: type of UX work, formal supports, informal supports, and impact. The remaining sections discuss these themes within the context of eight specific structures of UX work. The findings reported here do not correspond neatly to the questions I asked in the interviews and email questionnaire because this paper takes a narrower focus than the original study. Other than what appears in the Study Participants section above, I don’t report findings related to the demographic data, as they did not yield interesting insights. Table 2 shows a summary of the findings, with the broad category and specific structures matched with the number of participants who discussed the corresponding UX structure.

Table 2. Summary of structures of UX work.
Category Structure Participants
Organizational Structure* UX position 21
UX group 9
Non-UX group 5
Helpers 10
Organizational Location Digital department 8
Liaison department 4
User services department 6
Flat organization 5
Other department 7
UX Responsibility** Solo UXer 12
Lead 9
Informal UXer 6
Focus on Web UX Mostly web 10
*Organizational Structures may overlap, so that participants may be in two structures.
**Three participants are not represented in any of the UX Responsibility structures.

Findings: Facets of UX Work Structures

The library workers who spoke with me do UX work in a variety of structures. In this section, I examine the organizational structures of UX work, the organizational locations of the work, where responsibility for UX lies, and whether the work focuses on digital environments. These structures can combine in different ways, so you can think of these as facets of structure, rather than stand-alone structures.

Organizational Structure

Libraries and library workers create various structures to perform UX work. I’ve classified these organizational structures into four groupings:

  • UX positions: These are held by people whose job is formally dedicated to UX work, either wholly or in part.
  • UX groups: These are formally structured to do UX work and include committees, working groups, and departments.
  • Non-UX groups: These are formally structured committees or working groups that do some UX work but have another primary focus (e.g. website, signage, assessment).
  • Helpers: These are informal groups of colleagues who do UX work together, either on a regular basis, as time permits, or as projects arise. Although informal, helpers do UX work as a group and in this way differ from volunteers who assist with UX projects on an ad hoc basis.

These four groupings can combine in different ways, so that one participant may be in two different groupings. The most common combination is a UX position supported by one of the other groupings, but in one instance helpers supported a UX group. In this discussion, I focus on the four groupings but occasionally examine combined structures (e.g. people in UX positions supported by a UX group, people in unsupported UX positions) where there was sufficient data to show a strong pattern of response.

Organizational Location

UX can live in a number of departments in a library’s organizational chart. As one participant in MacDonald (2015) put it, “‘There’s no natural home [in the library] for UX’” (p. 5). Participants’ libraries used a variety of department names, but most fell into four areas:

  • Digital: e.g. Systems, Digital Initiatives
  • Liaison: supporting faculty and students in specific subject areas
  • User services: e.g. Public Services, Library Services, Customer Services
  • Flat: organizations with no departmental structure

The participants outside these four groups either reported directly to senior library leadership or were in a department focused on general library operations. There were no noteworthy patterns among the departmental groupings.

UX Responsibility

Where the responsibility for UX work lies defines another facet of structure.

  • Solo UXers have sole responsibility for UX work in their library. Solo UXers may have help from their colleagues with specific projects, but they are the primary drivers of UX in their libraries. Solo UXers are all in UX positions, but not everyone with a UX position is a solo UXer.
  • Leads lead a team of people who all have some responsibility for UX work, which may be formally assigned or informally taken on. Leads head up either UX groups or helpers.
  • Informal UXers have no formal responsibility for UX work in their job description. Said one, “What’s formally part of my duties is thinking about how to provide space and services in the best way possible, so I can easily incorporate it [UX] into my formal duties.” Most of these participants use UX work as a way to do their jobs, rather than an add-on to their jobs.

Focus on Web UX

As I listened to participants and worked through the data, it became clear that people whose work is mostly focused on the library website have a lot in common. Many of these participants also work in digital departments, but there were many more similarities among participants focused on web UX than among those in digital departments.

  • Web-focused are those whose job is structured for mostly web UX.

Understanding These Facets

As mentioned, these structures intersect as facets that define the context of the participants’ UX work. A web and UX librarian who is the only person doing UX work in their library, with occasional help from their web committee, would have the facets of UX position, non-UX group, digital department, solo UXer, and web-focused. A subject librarian who works with a group of colleagues to help improve UX in their library where possible would have the facets of helpers, liaison department, and informal UXer.

I discuss each facet on its own, rather than combining the facets in this way. Partly, there is not enough data to support such a narrow analysis; the article would essentially become thirty case studies. Also, these facets can combine in more ways than the thirty participants in this study. Examining the facets separately should allow people doing UX work in any combination of these structures to see themselves reflected here.

The structures of UX work in this section differ slightly from those described in the literature. I separated UX groups and non-UX groups because the experiences of participants in those groups were very different. I put UX departments with UX groups, as their experiences were quite similar. The helpers category is different from the ad hoc project teams described in the literature, although it may align with what Blake and Potter described before forming their UX group (2018). Participants in various department structures showed very few distinct patterns, so I found the departmental structure was less of an issue than the work itself; it may not, therefore, matter that UX has no “natural home” (MacDonald, 2015, p. 5).

MacDonald (2015, 2017) discussed solo UXers as I describe them here. The case studies of Kavanaugh Webb et al. (2016) and Fox and Keisling (2016) described leads, but only as project leaders, whereas the leads I describe here manage ongoing work. The literature has not explored informal UXers, as the focus has been on people in UX positions or groups undertaking a specific project. The distinction between using UX to do your job and having UX as an add-on to your job may be useful framing for people who want to do UX work but have no formal responsibility for it.

Findings: Themes Within Structures

The themes in this section emerged from the interview questions as well as analysis of the participants’ answers. The question about type of work elicited a variety of methods and project areas, and the findings I present here focus on where the work differed across facets. Participants spoke about both formal supports the library organization provided and informal supports of colleagues and organizational culture. The data showed supports that were broadly helpful (e.g. time, money), but the focus here is on those supports that showed striking patterns in the context of particular facets. Participants spoke about the impact of their work on their users, on their colleagues, and on themselves. When talking about impact on themselves, they described how their work, its structure, and the environment in which it happens personally affects them.

In the next sections, I discuss the themes above within each facet of UX work structures. Just as my focus within each theme is on noteworthy differences across facets, within the findings for each facet I only discuss patterns in the presence or absence of a theme. For example, the facet of non-UX groups in this section does not include the theme of informal supports because participants with non-UX groups showed no cohesive pattern in how they discussed—or ignored—informal supports.

Findings: UX Positions

These participants were in a job formally dedicated to UX work, either wholly or in part.

Type of Work

Many participants in UX positions talked about acting as UX consultants for their colleagues, including leading training sessions. One participant said they were trying to “make UX part of the everyday for more people” by making training and resources available to all staff. Another, who worked in a library with two partial UX positions, said:

We are not expected to do all of the UX work, but to be the two people who are experts that they can come to and ask questions, and we can help them, and we can give them feedback on their study design, or help them analyze a study, or facilitate something for them. That’s our role.

Several participants in UX positions said they did—or wanted to do—work concerned with longer-term or bigger-picture UX work. I’m calling this “UX strategy.” One example is the participant who talked about bringing the UX of discovery “back to basics: do we really know that much about how people discover resources at the library? And going from there.” Another participant wanted to work with the library leadership team “to jointly determine for the upcoming year: here are the areas of focus, here is the level of change we might be able to push, depending on what we get back [from user research].” Participants in UX positions were the only ones who mentioned that they were currently doing UX strategy work, and most of those who wanted to do UX strategy were also in UX positions.

I asked what they would need in order to do UX strategy work. One participant wanted people to help with regular UX work to create time for them to work on strategy. Another couldn’t see how they could get more people because “everyone is over their capacity, and asking people to take on more than what they’re currently doing seems impossible.” When I asked what they needed to be able to do more UX strategy work, someone else said, “Probably just a total culture shift” and laughed.

Formal Supports

Participants in UX positions talked about formal supports for their work, but not many and not often. Many of them wanted a kind of support they did not have: the authority to push their colleagues to implement recommendations and to make their colleagues accountable. One participant who did UX research for colleagues wanted to be able to say, “Hey, we recommended that you do these three things six months ago. How can we help you with that, how’s that going?” rather than let their reports go ignored.

Informal Supports

Although many participants described feeling support from their colleagues, those in UX positions did not feel that same level of collegial support. A manager told one participant “staff felt unfairly targeted” by their work on a particular UX project. The participant wasn’t sure if the staff actually felt this way or if it was just this manager, but the lack of support meant the project did not proceed. Another participant spoke of failing to have their colleagues implement their recommendations because “I’m not their boss, and they realize that.” Yet another noted, “Doing the work is not the hard part, it’s getting people on board to believe your results and trust your results.” They went on to say,

If we don’t have buy-in from the beginning from the person who is managing the project or the space or whatever the UX work is on, then it really feels like a waste of our time, and that’s when it gets really frustrating.

Participants in UX positions without the support of a group or helpers were particularly vocal about struggling with a lack of support from their colleagues.

Impact

Many participants in UX positions spoke about the personal impact of feeling isolated and wished they had an additional person to help with the work. As one participant put it:

Someone to hash ideas out with would be good, and I have some people, but those people all have other jobs, and their focus isn’t on UX 100 percent of the time. So it’s really me and up to me to figure out where to focus my attention by myself. So sometimes having someone to bounce ideas off of and talk things through with...would be nice.

The participant who spoke of keeping the feedback they get “for promotion purposes but also for not-being-sad purposes” also seemed to be indicating feelings of isolation.

Feelings of isolation were most pronounced in participants in UX positions unsupported by groups or helpers, but this was also common among people in UX positions who were supported by non-UX groups or helpers. None of the participants in UX positions with the support of UX groups spoke about feeling isolated.

Most participants in UX positions described concrete impacts of their work on users. About half discussed big impacts of their work and half talked about small impacts.

Findings: UX Groups

These participants were part of a committee, working group, or department that was formally structured to do UX work. Some had a UX position as well.

Type of Work

Even more than participants in UX positions, those in UX groups spoke of doing UX training or consultancy work with their colleagues. One discussed a template they’ve created for staff to determine “what is it you want to find out, and why do you want to find this out,” so someone from the UX group could “sit down with [them] and work through and come up with ideas, and then set up and support them.”

Like participants in UX positions, people with UX groups showed interest in moving into UX strategy work. One wanted to explore how students’ needs change throughout the term, so they can “ask the right things at the right time.” When I asked what they would need to be able to do UX strategy work, one participant said they needed more people to help with regular UX work, so they could dedicate time to strategy: “A lot of library employees are really interested in the idea of UX, but there’s never enough hours in the day.” Another fully intended to tackle UX strategy but was only six months into a new role and had other tasks and priorities.

Formal Supports

Participants who worked with UX groups cited concrete management support, including management allowing non-UX staff to take time to do UX work. One said that “a lot of senior managers will be quite generous in terms of the time they might offer up for their staff to take part in UX activities.”

Another formal support was the authority people had to get things done, and people with UX groups talked more than other participants about having the authority to do UX work. One participant explained, “If it’s a decree from the Dean that says this is an important thing that we’re doing, it really paves the way for us to do our work.”

Most of the participants who cited the support of committees and other formal institutional bodies were people with UX groups. These participants talked about being a member or chair of a formally structured group or being able to draw on one of these groups as a resource. They saw these formal bodies as a way to address specific people in the library, a way to hear from certain people, or a way to solicit help from “people who have self-identified as folks willing to think about and work on” things such as the website, signage, or space. One participant spoke of sitting on their library’s leadership team:

It really gives me insight into what’s happening at the library across the board, and I can be at the table when all those decisions are being made. And I think that has been the real change, is to have that voice and be able to either stop things or get involved or amplify things right from that ideation point instead of getting called in at the eleventh hour to “do the UX.” We all know how that feels.

Informal Supports

All participants with UX groups were quick to cite their colleagues as a support that helps them with their UX work. Said one, “The key [support] is the enthusiasm and drive of your fellow staff....We really couldn’t do it without all of the interest and drive that people have, and how much importance individuals place on challenging what staff’s assumptions are.”

Impact

All participants with UX groups cited concrete impacts on their users, and most described big impacts. These participants also saw an impact on their colleagues’ mindset. Everyone in a UX position supported by a UX group who talked about having an impact on their colleagues or the general library culture also saw big impacts. One participant noted that library employees are able to see that the UX group is “talking to real users, and then see what their answers are, and then how those have informed decision-making. Having an evidence-based decision-making process has really helped with change management internally in the library.” Another participant described how staff listened to what the UX group was doing and wanted to know more:

“This stuff you’re talking about, I want to know about that. I want to know how to think about that, I want to be able to think about how that affects my daily work, what difference does that make in terms of how I work with our students and faculty and staff. How could I make that better?”

Findings: Non-UX Groups

These participants were part of a committee or working group that did some UX work but had another primary focus, such as a web committee or an assessment committee. Some were also in a UX position.

Formal Supports

None of the participants with non-UX groups cited management interest in UX, nor mentioned any management support beyond funding.

Impact

Participants with non-UX groups described feelings of isolation and lack of direction. When discussing how their work personally affects them, the only positive impact they described was feeling joy in working with users. Very few of these participants talked about concrete impacts of their work on users.

Findings: Helpers

These participants had an informal group of colleagues who did UX work together. Some were in a UX position.

Formal Supports

Only one person in a UX position supported by helpers mentioned management interest in UX. In contrast, all participants in a helpers-only structure (i.e. no one has responsibility for UX in their job) cited management interest in UX as a helpful support to their work. “Management interest” may not sound particularly concrete, but participants explained what this support looked like:

  • “I think that helps when you have someone really enthusiastic who can help you get things rolling.” This participant also mentioned their boss will ask what tool they might use to investigate a particular question.
  • “My immediate manager is generally quite interested in what I’m doing and has got some ideas, and he’s quite keen to back the ideas when we come with suggestions.”

Despite this kind of support from management, helpers also talked about struggling with a lack of authority.

Informal Supports

Everyone in a helpers-only structure, as well as the majority of those in a UX position supported by helpers, spoke of their colleagues as a helpful support for their work:

  • “First of all, having other people be receptive towards it. Because I’ll always bring it [UX] up as an option, and I know there are others who will always bring it up as an option.”
  • “So, people. It’s absolutely people. Bottom line.”

Impact

All participants in a helpers-only structure talked about having an impact on their colleagues’ mindset towards UX. One participant spoke of how the success of a recent UX project “threw attention back to UX, and it got people thinking about how it can be good....That’s why people decided to take it back on board and use UX as a methodology when trialing other changes.”

Findings: Solo UXers

These participants were solely responsible for UX in their library. All had UX positions.

Informal Supports

Although they were not vocal about getting support from their coworkers, a number of solo UXers talked about the importance of a community of colleagues outside their libraries. They mentioned reading the literature—specific to UX in libraries or UX in general—and finding community on Twitter or at conferences. One participant said they found it helpful to hear other people reflect on difficulties because it “helps to reinforce that just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong or that you should stop doing it. It just means that it’s the hard part.” Another participant put it nicely:

It’s something everyone can do for themselves, even if their manager does not know anything or care that much about what they’re doing about UX work in academic libraries. They can find somebody who does and who will listen to them and talk it through with them and probably help them refine the ideas they’re having and help them just be a better practitioner. Find your buddy.

Impact

Many solo UXers described the positive personal impact of having a lot of freedom to take their work in whatever direction they wanted, but at the same time not having a clear understanding of what their priorities should be frustrated them. “It can feel a little bit aimless,” said one. One participant recalled, when they were newly hired, “I remember asking for, if there were any focuses they wanted to focus on...they said ‘no, there’s nothing, we don’t have any direction for you to go in.’”

Relatedly, solo UXers also expressed feelings of isolation. One said, “I would love to have one other person in the library whose job this is. I would love to have another practitioner who I could talk to about questions of methodology, or should we consider these aspects?” In both cases—frustration with a lack of direction, and feelings of isolation—there was a marked difference when comparing solo UXers to leads.

Findings: Leads

These participants led a team of people who had some responsibility for UX work.

Type of Work

Leads described a greater variety of UX work than solo UXers did, and they did more UX consulting and training with colleagues. One described some of this work:

When we do data gathering with library users, doing kind of a mirror exercise with library employees as well—library staff and librarians—to show them the kinds of work that we’re doing, and I think it also helps to build acceptance for this kind of work and also an understanding of the data that we’re using to make decisions.

Leads also expressed more interest in pursuing UX strategy than solo UXers did.

Formal Supports

Leads mentioned management supports more than solo UXers. Leads cited both management interest in UX and management allowing non-UX staff time to do UX work. One lead said their immediate boss, who is a senior manager, “really believes in user experience and understands that it can really help the rest of the library be very successful.”

Informal Supports

All leads talked about their colleagues as a helpful support for their UX work.

Impact

While leads and solo UXers were similar in citing concrete impacts of their work on users, many more leads talked about having an impact on their colleagues’ mindset on UX. Said one lead, “It’s helping them see things differently and help them to understand why something might be challenging for a user or might not be a good experience.”

Findings: Informal UXers

These participants did not have UX work in their formal job description.

Informal Supports

All informal UXers cited their colleagues as a helpful support for their UX work. Said one, “People who are happy to get involved, that really helps.”

Impact

Almost all informal UXers talked about the personal impact of the efforts they made to convince their management or colleagues of the value of UX. Most saw expending effort to convince colleagues or management positively, as in the participant who described the importance of “feeding back regularly to wider staff, so they’re kept in with exactly what’s happening, and why we’re doing it, and what we’ve found, and just kind of advocating it.” However, for some, these efforts caused frustration. One informal UXer described their ongoing work with management: “I’ve written it up, I’ve sent it to you, I’ve presented it to you, but you’ve not done anything with it. Or you’ve done the really simple things, the easy quick wins rather than the wows.”

Almost all informal UXers were able to cite concrete impacts of their work on users as well as impacts on their colleagues’ mindset around UX. One participant described the impact on library staff who read student comments on feedback boards: “Staff seeing that also helped humanize the students a little bit more. It made it so it was like, ‘Oh, they’re trying; they have a lot on their plate. How can we do things to improve the space?’”

Findings: Web-Focused UXers

The work of these participants was focused on web UX.

Type of Work

Although participants who mainly or exclusively focused on the UX of their library’s web services also did non-web UX work, they described less variety of UX work than those in positions without a web focus. In particular, only one web-focused participant mentioned doing UX training or acting as a UX consultant for their colleagues. When I asked what kind of UX work they’d like to do, web-focused participants expressed interest in moving beyond web UX. Said one, “I would like to do more general UX work that’s not aimed at solving an immediate, known problem. I’d like to do more open-ended observations or interviews.” Said another, “Why am I really here then, if I’m just moving things around the page? I’m trying to get deeper. I’m trying to get a better understanding.”

Formal Supports

Web-focused participants spoke about wanting the authority to implement changes:

  • “The UX work is actually informing something else to happen. Whether that’s a space being reorganized or a webpage being redesigned—the UX work is informing this other work, right? So it would be easier for me to do the UX work if I could actually do the work that it’s informing.”
  • “Every time I propose it, nobody disagrees per se, it’s just that nobody’s willing to lift a finger to move the idea forward, and I can’t move it forward all by myself. They also won’t give me the authority to move it forward by myself.”

None of the web-focused participants talked about management interest in UX when discussing supports that were helpful to their work.

Informal Supports

Web-focused participants discussed struggling with a lack of support from colleagues; only one cited supportive colleagues. Few web-focused participants mentioned support from the external community.

Impact

Some of the web-focused participants I spoke with were having a hard time with the personal impact of their work. One told me,

I bounce back and forth between, for my own sanity’s sake, needing to be apathetic about it, saying “I can’t change this therefore I can’t be stressed about it,” and also on the other hand, caring that we have crappy stuff out there and wanting to improve it.

When I asked how they stay motivated to keep doing UX work, one person answered, “Right now, I’m not at all,” and went on to say, “I’m definitely struggling right now with trying to make people understand why we’re relevant and why this is important.”

When these participants talked about the personal impact of their work, they spoke the least about how their work or work environment positively affected them and the most about how it negatively affected them. Most of the positive personal impacts were about the joy of making changes based on their work or the joy of working with users:

  • “Having that story to tell about how we fixed something is a big motivator.”
  • “I really do like interfacing with users the most....That’s when I feel like I’m doing the most impactful work.”

Web-focused participants found it difficult to provide examples of concrete impacts of their work on users. Although a few described redoing user tests and seeing improvements or observing changes in user behavior, others talked about fixing issues or making changes without further reflection. One said, “We made these changes...so we hope that that’s having an impact,” and another, “I sure hope it means that our patrons are better able to find what they need.” A participant who did both physical and digital UX work put it this way: “The physical one I can see, I can see the students using the space so I know...that square footage has more bodies in it than it did before. The other ones [e.g. digital], I don’t really know.”

Compared to participants in other structures, web-focused participants gave fewer examples of concrete impacts on users and more often mentioned making changes without further reflection. In contrast, almost all participants in positions that were not web-focused talked about concrete impacts of their work.

Discussion

The findings show distinct patterns in various faceted structures of UX work. Context does seem to make a difference in the types of UX work done, the supports UX workers have, and what they see as the impact of their work. This section will discuss those contextual differences, and the next section will pull out the specific structures and supports that seem to facilitate UX work in academic libraries.

Type of UX Work

Solo UXers and leads differ both in the types of UX work they do and the types they want to do. With a stronger feeling of support from both management and colleagues—plus a group they can readily draw on—leads feel able to use methods or engage in projects that require more people. Leads seem happier with the work they are already doing, mostly wanting to do more of it.

Many web-focused participants are interested in moving beyond web UX, but most did not see a clear path toward that. They talked about needing a different job description or organizational shift to be able to do more than web UX. It’s possible that this could be a self-imposed boundary, but given that web-focused participants don’t cite management interest in UX and also struggle with support from their colleagues and a lack of authority, it’s likely that the organization has explicitly or implicitly narrowed the scope of their UX work.

Although participants in UX positions and with UX groups are doing UX training and consulting for colleagues, web-focused people are not doing it at all. Web-focused participants described a lack of support from colleagues, so engaging them in UX training may be a way to bring their colleagues on board. However, as I mentioned above, these participants may have been given a narrow view of what their UX work can entail, and therefore may feel—or know—they are not allowed to take on a training or consulting role.

Participants who were doing UX strategy work cited support from colleagues and management. At first, it seemed strange that so few participants were doing—or wanted to do—UX strategy work. However, given that many participants in UX positions are still struggling to get support from their colleagues, they may be stuck in an advocacy stage and not yet able to spend time on strategic work. Many who expressed a desire to do UX strategy work said they would need more people to help with their regular UX work. It would be interesting to examine whether UX strategy work can only come once the organization has a certain level of underlying support for UX; perhaps successful UX advocacy is a necessary first step of UX strategy work.

I want to note that when I asked about the UX work they do, a few participants mentioned projects in which library workers take the user’s perspective. Those projects included journey mapping without users, auditing signage that library staff think would be problematic for users, and configuring third-party interfaces based on what staff think will help users. Some acknowledged this wasn’t ideal and talked about wanting to work directly with users. Others seemed to consider “thinking like a user” as valid UX work. While UX workers can definitely draw on previous user research to inform their work, UX work requires us to engage with the experiences of actual users. Friberg’s keynote at UXLibsV clearly made the distinction between having a “user perspective” and having a “user’s perspective” (2020, p.13); “thinking like a user” is not sufficient.

Support

Many participants across UX work structures mentioned supports in their institutional bodies, including committees the participant could draw on as a resource, be a member of, or chair. The people who talked about this saw it as a way to address specific people in the library or to hear from certain people. Although these participants all cited the specific bodies as a support, the common thread was the ability to have the right people hear their voice. The institutional body facilitates this communication by providing a formal platform for it.

Although some participants cited the formal structure of their position as a useful support for their work, libraries need to provide support beyond simply creating a UX position. Solo UXers’ libraries valued UX enough to staff their position, but not all included UX in their strategic thinking or planning. In these cases, it is up to the solo UXer what kind of UX work they do, and many struggle with this lack of direction. While quite a few participants spoke about enjoying the freedom in their jobs, that freedom can be a bit of a double-edged sword: if it doesn’t matter what you do, then it can feel like what you do doesn’t matter.

Leads also talked about having freedom in their work, but none of them mentioned this same struggle with strategic direction or priorities. Leads cited management interest in UX and support for non-UX staff doing UX work, so they may be better able to see that their work matters. This kind of support may explain why leads were generally more positive than solo UXers when talking about how their work affects them personally.

Participants with the support of a UX group or helpers cite their colleagues as a helpful support and generally feel that management is interested in UX. That sense of support might be part of why they feel positive about their work and their workplaces. It’s not simply that working with any group of colleagues leads to a feeling of collegial support, as participants who work with non-UX groups do not feel supported in or positive about their work. Participants in UX positions talked about a lack of support from their colleagues; this could be what has led to feelings of isolation that are common among these participants.

None of the participants who talked about struggling with lack of support from their colleagues cited management interest in UX. If management isn’t interested in UX, that could make it more difficult to convince colleagues to take an interest. When neither management nor colleagues are interested in UX, it’s not surprising that UX workers feel isolated.

Impact

Although it would seem that people in UX positions are well-placed to conduct impactful UX work, many participants working in these positions were not able to articulate impact. Participants in UX positions without the support of UX groups or helpers seemed to struggle most with describing the impact of their work. Even when looking at examples of impacts that are less concrete, we see that few people in unsupported UX positions talked about shifts in mindset or culture. Most people in supported positions did describe this kind of shift. There seems to an issue with unsupported UX positions not being able to create impact or not seeing the impact they are having.

Since participants were self-reporting, it’s possible that people in unsupported UX positions were downplaying their impact. Another possibility is that they have less need to reflect on and communicate the impact of their work, so they did not have examples at hand during the interview. In contrast, almost all informal UXers and leads pointed to concrete impacts and also spoke about the efforts they make to convince colleagues and management of the value of UX work. This kind of communication within their libraries may have helped prepare them to state examples of their work’s impact.

Participants with the support of UX groups were all able to give examples of concrete impacts on users, regardless of whether they were in a UX position or not. Additionally, almost all informal UXers cited concrete impacts. It’s possible for UX workers to see concrete impacts without having a UX position.

Overlapping Structures

Many web-focused participants are also solo UXers and, like them, spoke negatively about how their work affects them. However, unlike a lot of solo UXers, they did not mention seeking out external community. Given that they don’t find their colleagues to be supportive, reaching out to an external community for support might be beneficial.

Most participants with non-UX groups are both solo UXers and web-focused. Sadly, they seem to experience the worst of both worlds. They feel the same isolation and lack of direction as solo UXers, but, like web-focused participants, they don’t find support from the external library UX community. Like web-focused participants, they don’t cite management interest in UX as a helpful support, they struggle to describe concrete impacts of their work, and they are much more negative than positive when discussing how their work affects them. Most likely it is not the non-UX groups themselves that are causing the problem, but rather the participants chafing against a structure that does not allow them to focus on UX work.

The Context of Organizational Culture

I noted above that formal supports can facilitate UX work, but the informal organizational culture can play a big role in whether that work is accepted, supported, and acted upon. Interestingly, no patterns emerged when looking at the participants who cited support from their library’s existing culture. These participants work in a range of structures, for a range of departments, with a web focus and without, as solo UXers, as leads, and as neither. Some have seen a big impact from their work, some have seen small, and for some, impact is still to come. Their work personally affects them in both positive and negative ways. Their libraries range from very small to very large. It seems that a supportive culture for UX in libraries can, and does, exist anywhere. This would appear to be good news. However, no particular structure or context ensures a supportive culture for UX. As one participant noted, “There’s no one magical support that will make our work more accepted by our colleagues.”

What Works Well

The preceding sections discussed themes that emerged in interviews with thirty people who do UX work in academic libraries situated in various contexts. Although we cannot generalize from this population, there are strong patterns in the data. Based on these patterns, some structures and supports seem to make a positive difference to UX work and the people who do it.

Table 3. Summary: What works well.
Theme Description
UX groups Participants with a UX group cited big impacts, had authority, and felt supported by colleagues.
Helpers, if no UX group Participants with helpers cited some impacts, including shifting the library culture toward UX, as well as support from colleagues.
Many colleagues involved Involving colleagues helped shift the library toward a UX-friendly mindset and positively affected UX workers.
Authority to implement Participants who cited impacts were able to directly implement changes or ensure that others did so.
Move beyond web UX Participants without a web focus described more support, more authority, and were more able to cite impacts than those with a web focus.
Concrete management support Participants who cited impacts and support from colleagues also pointed to management interest in UX and staff being allowed time to do UX work.

UX groups: People who have a UX group seem to be able to create big impacts, have the authority to do their work, and feel supported by their colleagues. It is unclear whether this is the result of the UX groups themselves or the result of working in an environment that has supported the creation of a UX group. However, given that creation of UX positions has not led to similar outcomes, it seems likely that UX groups are a useful structure. Young et al. (2020) came to a similar conclusion in their recent work on UX maturity in academic libraries. People in UX positions—particularly solo UXers—who are feeling isolated, unsupported by their colleagues, or not seeing the impact of their work could try to improve their situation by forming a UX group.

Some may be wary of forming yet another team, committee, or working group. The literature described these groups slowing work down, particularly around making decisions by consensus (Dethloff & German, 2013; Perrin & Daniels, 2017), and found members fit the group’s work around other job responsibilities (Church & Felker, 2005; Dethloff & German, 2013). Groups can also suffer from a lack of authority (Church & Felker, 2005; Perrin & Daniels, 2017). However, participants in this study who don’t work with groups also mentioned all these problems. Consensus-driven groups in other areas of the library slowed down UX work. There were challenges fitting UX work around personal priorities, departmental priorities, and library-wide priorities. Many felt issues with authority. It is likely that the issues with committees referenced in the literature are general problems in libraries and not specifically related to teams, committees, and working groups. This could be an interesting area for further research.

If not a UX group, helpers: Some participants worked with groups that don’t have a specific focus on UX, such as web committees or assessment committees, but these kinds of groups were not as useful for the participants in this study. The data I present here indicates that after UX groups, working with a loose group of helpers is the next best thing; it positively affects UX workers and creates some impact, including helping to shift the culture within the library to be more open to UX. Helpers tend to see small concrete impacts and struggle with lack of authority but cite a lot of support from their colleagues. A group of helpers could be a great interim step before creating a formal UX group, or it could be a way for sustain smaller-impact UX over the long term.

Many colleagues involved in UX: Regardless of formal structure, working to spread UX throughout the library—whether simply understanding UX or actually doing UX work—seems to be an important step. Even outside of a UX group or a group of helpers, having colleagues on board positively affects UX workers and helps shift the library toward a UX-friendly mindset. The data here indicate that providing UX training or UX consulting could be beneficial when expanding UX work in this way. This reinforces recommendations from case studies (Blake & Potter, 2018; Godfrey, 2015; Kuglitsch & Couture, 2018; Nichols et al., 2009) and other in-depth research on UX workers (MacDonald, 2017).

One participant described how their colleagues are user-focused, have buy-in for UX, and are using UX to make improvements throughout the library. UX is part of their library’s strategic plan, which drives all library activity. This library has two people to support the UX work of the library, but neither has a dedicated UX position. Even though they are overwhelmed with their workload, this participant said, “Our dream scenario is that we would hire, not hire someone just to do UX work, but the next time we hire someone, my wish would be that that person would have UX experience” and help with the existing work. For this participant, spreading the work out among more people is more desirable than consolidating it into a single position. The data here supports that.

A few participants commented on challenges of having many people doing UX. Said one, “When something is part of everyone’s job, it’s also no one’s job.” Another echoed, “If the work is distributed so it’s no one person’s responsibility, it’s more challenging to move it forward.” Spreading out the UX work in the library is not a panacea. Designating responsibility is important, as is designating authority.

Authority to implement change: UX workers see big impacts when they can either directly implement changes or ensure that others in the library do so. As some participants noted, there are benefits to learning about our users, but if no one acts upon that learning, it can be demoralizing both to the UX workers and to the users we learned from: “If [students] spent time giving this feedback, and then we don’t act on it, especially if they’re first years, they’ve got another two years to think, ‘Well, what was the point of that?’” Authority was cited as a necessary support in the literature on web and usability workers (Church & Felker, 2005; Dethloff & German, 2013; Perrin & Daniels, 2017) but not for UX workers, although MacDonald (2015) mentions it in passing. Lack of authority is an issue for many UX workers, and not just those who focus on web UX.

Move beyond the website: Although web UX is important in academic libraries, there seem to be real issues with UX workers in web-focused positions. The web-focused participants in this study had a harder time pointing to the impact of their work. They spoke the most about their work’s negative effects. They didn’t find their colleagues supportive and didn’t find support in an external community either. They struggle with a lack of authority, and their management does not seem to be interested in UX. Expanding their UX focus—whether it’s formally in their job description or not—could help with getting more colleagues on board. Godfrey’s (2015) model of expanding the focus of a usability team could be a useful resource.

Concrete support from management: Most of the literature recommended support from management, and I found examples of that support. Management interest in UX seems to help with creating big impacts and getting colleagues on board. Management allowing staff time to work on UX is similarly useful. This is great if you have it, but what happens if management does not support you in these ways?

Advocating that management cultivate a genuine interest in UX work is extremely difficult if the interest isn’t already there. And advocacy can be exhausting. Two participants had changed jobs in the previous few years and mentioned the differences they saw relating to advocacy. Said one,

At my old job I had to stay motivated; I had to pump myself up to get it done and always be the one advocating for it [UX]. That took a lot of energy. Whereas here, my personal motivation doesn’t really matter. It’s what I do. I don’t think about it that way anymore. It’s not a Sisyphus kind of situation.

Said the other, “Now that I don’t have to advocate for UX, I can use that time and energy to do work and show some results. And I think that in itself is its own advocacy.”

Advocacy for UX is an important part of UX work. It may be a necessary step before work on UX strategy can begin. But when advocacy has not resulted in buy-in from colleagues, implementation of recommended changes, or concrete support from management, it may be time to step back and determine whether it’s worth it to continue pushing. When advocacy efforts are not working, some may be able to scale back to using a UX approach to do their own work. But for people in UX positions, this is likely not feasible. For them, the choice seems to be to leave or to continue on a path to burnout. One person cannot do all the UX work in academic libraries. Enthusiasm may be sufficient for a while, but at a certain point, UX work requires formally structured support within the library.

Conclusion

UX work in academic libraries happens within various combinations of faceted structures and with a variety of supports. These contexts make a difference in the type of UX work that is done, the impact of this work on users, and the personal impact on UX workers. UX work can be done in any context, but context may affect what kind of impact a UX worker can realistically expect their work to have on users and on themselves.

Moving UX forward in academic libraries requires strong support from management that makes it clear that UX is valued and expected work. We need to have authority to implement our own recommendations, or we need mechanisms to ensure that others implement them. We need UX work to be the work of more than one person and to have a wider focus than the web. UX work can definitely happen without those things; informal UX work carried out by enthusiastic library workers can lead to many positive changes, and this can be a great way to start UX work in a library. However, formal structures and supports are necessary to create the conditions for impactful work and worker well-being over the long term.

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Appendix A

Interview questions

  1. How is UX work structured at your library?
  2. What is your position in the library?
  3. Describe the kind of UX work you do in your library.
  4. What kinds of things help you do UX work in your library? What supports are useful to you?
  5. What would make it easier for you to do the UX work you do?
  6. Are you doing the kind of UX work you want to do? If not, what would you like to do?
    1. What would you need to be able to do that?
  7. What would you say is the impact of your UX work? How do you know that, or why do you think that?
  8. How do you stay motivated to keep doing UX work?

Appendix B

Email questionnaire

  1. Coral Sheldon-Hess created this scale of UX “consideration” for libraries. Where would you place your library on Coral’s scale of 1-5? (source: http://www.sheldon-hess.org/coral/2013/07/ux-consideration-cmmi/)
    • 5 – User experience is so ingrained that staff consider the usability of all of their work products, including internal communications. Staff are actively considerate, not only toward users but toward their coworkers.
    • 4 – User experience is a primary motivator; most staff are comfortable with UX principles. Users are consulted regularly, not just for major decisions, but in an ongoing attempt at improvement.
    • 3 – The organization cares about user experience; one or two UX champions bring up users’ needs regularly. Decisions are made based on established usability principles and studies from other organizations, with occasional usability testing.
    • 2 – Some effort is made toward improving the user experience. Decisions are based on staff’s gut feelings about patrons’ needs, perhaps combined with anecdotes from service points.
    • 1 – Decisions are made based on staff’s preferences, management’s pet projects. User experience [of patrons] is rarely discussed.
  2. Andy Priestner created a model of UX adoption for libraries. Where would you place your library on the various scales of Andy’s model? (source: https://libreaction.wordpress.com/2017/06/12/a-new-model-of-ux-adoption/)
    • Culture of Tradition 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Culture of Innovation
    • Infrastructure Immobility 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Infrastructure Agility
    • Fear of Failure 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Acceptance of Failure
    • Library Staff Focus 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Library User Focus
    • UX Adoption is Unsuccessful 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 UX Adoption is Successful
  3. How many students does your library (or library system) serve? How many library workers are in your library (or library system)? For these questions, please think of where you do your own UX work. For example, if you work in a single library that is part of a system of 10 libraries but your UX work is mainly focused on the students that use your one library, please count just that one library. If your UX work affects students across many libraries, please count all the libraries affected by your work. (Please get in touch if this question doesn’t make sense to you!)
  4. How many people do UX work in your library?
  5. What country is your library in?
  6. Approximately how long has UX work been happening at your library? (informally, formally, or a combination)
  7. How long have you been doing UX work at your library?
  8. If you left your library, how likely is it that UX work would continue? Definitely, Probably, Unlikely, Definitely not, I really don’t know, Other: