UX Means You

At the end of our 2014 book, Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library, Amanda Etches and I left readers with what we consider to be an important and inspiring ­message:

“Every decision we make affects how people experience the library. Let’s make sure we’re creating improvements.”

When we wrote this, it resonated with me. But over time, I’ve come to understand just how crucial it is for us to dwell on it.
Selecting materials for purchase? It impacts UX. Choosing replacement carpet for the YA department? It impacts UX. Taping up a sign? Changing the hours of operation? Cleaning the restroom? Waiving or collecting a fine? Creating the structure on your website? Yes, all of these things impact the experience you’re giving library members. And I could go on.

As important as the “decisions” message is, I realized that it could be communicated in a more straightforward, simplified, and effective manner:

All librarians are UX librarians. This means you. I hope you’ll take the role seriously.

Where to begin? Taking into account the wants, needs, and preferences of library members is a good start. If you’re on board with the above, chances are that you’re already doing this. But a lone-wolf UX-minded ­librarian can make only so much progress in a vacuum. Since everyone impacts the library’s UX, everyone has to be on board.

It is no small task to create an organization that thinks critically about UX and effectively crafts experiences.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Conduct a library UX assessment, highlighting both what the library is doing well and areas for improvement. This can help open people’s eyes to UX issues, and it will also help you identify some potential initial projects.
Studying and assessing the entire library is a great way to engage the whole organization, but if that seems daunting, consider conducting some usability tests. They are quick and easy to administer and can help you demonstrate that library members often have wants, needs, and preferences that are different from those of ­librarians.

A third idea to get started: go on some Service Safaris. This technique will give everyone practice in analyzing and describing experiences. Having the skills vocabulary to describe experiences is essential For more on Service Safaris see “Stepping out of the Library” (LJ 3/1/12).

Libraries are complex beasts. There’s no magic wand that you can wave for instant UX greatness. It is worth acknowledging that big changes may take time to happen. Staff need to be trained; issues must be studied. There might even be a talent management component. Hiring the right folks or reassigning roles could potentially be valuable.

However, long-term goals are no excuse for studying things to death, or to delaying changes via endless committee meetings. You’ll need to make changes—even if they’re small at first—to engage staff and let them know that their efforts are being rewarded with actual impact.

In order to maintain momentum and have a long-term focus, you’ll need a plan. Consider answering this question: “What do we want to do in the next year to improve library UX?” Work together to set goals, and ensure they’re well known throughout the organization. Break down those goals into actionable items, determine who is responsible for doing what, and get to it.

As you carry out your plan throughout the year, be sure to acknowledge milestones and celebrate small victories. This will keep everyone’s UX morale high and encourage people to stick with the long-term plan. Consider having a monthly UX meeting and a weekly “What have we done for UX?” all-staff email.

If your organization is lucky enough to have someone on staff with the title UX Librarian, that’s great. The UX ­Librarians I know are invaluable guides for their organizations. Having a ringleader to think about the big UX picture and mentor the organization is most definitely a good thing. Still, just because your library doesn’t have a titled UX Librarian doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Take up the mantle, find some allies, create a cross-departmental UX team, and go for it.

This first appeared in Library Journal’s “The User Experience.”

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