A New UXLib Community

If you’ve been following me on twitter, you’ll know that I can’t stop talking about my experience at the recent User Experience in Libraries conference workshop that was held in Cambridge, UK. There are multiple blog posts worth of content/ideas/reflections and I’m still synthesizing the whole conference but this will be my start.

While I’m still mulling all the things I’ve learned over, I thought I’d start with lists.

A few things I’ve learned from the conference:

1. Ethnography requires an open mind – observation comes first and questions come from the observations. This was a bit of a struggle for me, as most of my work has been around usability, which requires a question first, then the observations (and likely more questions).

2. Post-it notes are essential. They are my new best friend. Libraries should be stocks in post-it notes. There are so many ways to use them to help identify issues, ideas and more. I learned awesome new techniques and will be putting them to use in the near future. (More on this in another post on skills from the conference)

3. Mapping is awesome. I went to a workshop on mapping and now I can’t wait to apply the methods we learned. (More on this in another post on skills from the conference)

A short list of the awesome things from this conference:

1. A new community of library folk who are excited by UX and intend to go improve their libraries with the users’ needs in mind. This is really great to see. Before the conference, there were definitely library folk who were interested in UX and were doing awesome things but I think this has been the first time that we’ve had a focused community come together. I feel like this is a group that will continue working together, from the small groups we worked in, to partnering with others who attended the conference.

What surprised me was how diverse it the group was – both in location and in job description. I expected a lot of web and techy folk but there were so many public services people. It’s great to see UX being applied to the whole library. I’d love to see more senior administrators attend this type of conference, to help remove barriers when doing this type of work.

2. Location, location, location. I fell in love with Cambridge. Most of the spaces we dined and networked in were simply gorgeous.


Update: I forgot to add number 3, so here it is.

3. Keynotes are people too. It was great to see keynotes acting as mentors, workshop leaders and judges. They weren’t just a sage on the stage. We got time to work with and talk with them, which is an invaluable experience.

A short list of things for other conferences to consider:

1. Small can be awesome. The conference only had somewhere between 100 – 120 attendees. This meant that it was easy to meet lots of folks and have real conversations.

2. We’re not afraid to work. UXLibs was intense. I’ve never been so exhausted after a conference, nor worked so hard. I didn’t even get a chance to look at my work email (unheard of!). Yet, even with all the work, we were all invested, focused and excited.

3. A mix of keynote and practical is awesome. The keynotes were amazing at the conference. They didn’t just know what they were talking about but they did it and the presented it well. The workshops left me with skills I feel ready to apply in my library. I left with both big ideas and new skills.

4. Community is key. One of the great things about the conference was that all of the teams had a space in Basecamp to work and were encouraged to participate in this space before the conference started. This helped groups do the introductions and group building part before arriving at the conference. I felt like I knew folks before I got there and it made it easier to chat and get right to work.

More on the workshops will be coming soon, when I find the time to go back through all my notes.

The conference committee deserves huge props for putting on an innovative and practical conference. They all deserve rest, but I can’t wait for round 2 so I can build on these skills!


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we don’t need no stinking website

I’ve been doing a lot of usability testing as we redesign the library website. It has been both enlightening and unsurprising at the same time. It’s confirming many of my beliefs and biases when it comes to the library website.

Most recently, we did a little guerrilla testing, nabbing folks to take a look at our prototype and see what they thought and how they might use it. Generally, we got some good feedback. Most liked the way we were going with the designing, using terms like user friendly, easier to use, organized, and modern. Yay!

There’s been lots of interesting feedback from this testing that I’m still sifting through. But what surprised me was how often, when asked what they would do on the library website and presented it to them, they simply said they wouldn’t use the library website. They would ask friends, google, ask at the circulation desk. Now, this isn’t terribly surprising – we know that our users often come to the library website as a last resort. There are lots of other ways for our users to find what they need. What surprised me was that they wouldn’t even look at what we were showing them to see what they could do. It simply wasn’t their behaviour, so they didn’t want to bother looking.

So, what does this mean? I’m still working that out. Do we need our users to come to the library website? Certainly not for everything. When they do, it should be user friendly. But I’m still trying to figure out what to do with the answer I wouldn’t use the library website. Definitely more testing in store!

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The website is everything

I recently conducted a survey about my library’s website. We’re doing a redesign and wanted feedback on how our website it used, and more importantly (to me anyway) what our users felt was working and what needed improvement. We sent it out to the entire university community and were thrilled to get about 2000 responses (about a 10% response rate). I’m excited that our users have some strong feelings about library resources and want to share them.

We’re still going through the survey results and conducting analysis. It’s probably a good sign that, so far, there has been nothing terribly surprising. Things we thought were pain points are in fact causing problems for our users. What’s become even more apparent to me is that everything that is online/linked to from the library website is considered the website. I’d guess that about 1/3 to 1/2 of the comments so far have actually been about problems that are not the website but the OPAC, the discovery layer, our databases or the link resolver.

As librarians, we know the myriad of systems that our libraries use. Our users do not. And ideally it shouldn’t matter to them – they just want to easily find their resources, regardless of what it is. A large problem is that our systems don’t always play well with each other. The navigation changes between them. The look and feel may change between them. It alters, and usually reduces, the overall user experience as our users move between systems that we have varying degrees of control over.

So when we ask about the library website, we get feedback about all of our online resources. Is this bad? Of course not! In one fell swoop, we’ve gotten feedback on all sorts of resources we absolutely need more user feedback on. I expect this one survey will keep me busy for quite some time.

For me, the bigger question is how to get all of these online resources to work better, integrate better, and create a better user experience?   I also wonder if our goal of consistent branding across resources causes confusion and reinforces the idea that it is all the library website or helps provide a seamless experience. In the end, we need to make the experience easy for our users – and the survey has certainly shown me that we can do lots to improve it at my institution.

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Around the Web

I’m quite excited – I’ve been invited to contribute to the blog Binary Chalk, a blog about technology and higher education. I hope to write on a number of topics over there including libraryland technology, instructional technologies, tech in higher ed, mobile tech and more. My first post is about open access in higher ed. While 500 words isn’t enough to talk about open access, I’m hoping it’s a topic I can come back to again.

I’ll continue to blog here as well and will link when I have a post up at Binary Chalk – be sure to check it out!

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Do Something

There’s been a lot of discussion about Aaron Swartz’s suicide and the case against him, especially in the library world. Aaron worked towards opening information – from his work on RSS 1.0 to his work on the Open Library. There have been some great posts about Aaron and his work – be sure to check them out.

I remember first hearing about the case against Aaron and it left my mind as I focused on my own work. I didn’t think about it much, but I’ve been thinking a lot more about it since his death.

The one that has me thinking is a post by Jonathan Rochkind over at Bibliographic Wilderness. He makes some great points but the line that many seems to resonate with many is

But I know that a few other libraries or librarians were standing with Swartz, and we all should have been, and we largely did not, and it’s a shame.

Aaron was doing what we, as librarians, say we want to do. We didn’t support him while he was alive, and it is a shame. So, let’s do something about it. Let’s support the work he was doing by taking it up ourselves. No, I’m not saying we should all go and download thousands of journals. His death does have many of us talking about open access and scholarly communication. #pdftribute has started taking off – let’s keep it up. If you have an IR, now’s a great time to remind faculty about it. The Internet Archive has also started the Aaron Swartz Collection, for those without their own institutional repository.

Let’s not let the momentum go, let’s actually start doing something. We’re great at the talking, but not great at the doing. Aaron was a doer – let’s try to be more like him.


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Blank Slate

Welcome 2013! A new year, a blank slate. I’m not a fan of new year’s resolutions (they have a bad reputation and far too frequently tied to failure) and yet the beginning of a new year is a good time to think about goals, changes, and challenges for the year ahead.

I’ve read somewhere (bad librarian, I can’t recall where) that the mere act of sharing your goals makes you less likely to accomplish them. That there is a sense of accomplishment in the mere act of sharing that means you are less likely to follow through with your goals. I’m going to throw caution to the wind and share a few of my work goals with you. I’m not going to call the following resolutions, but I would like to try to accomplish the following in the new year:

  • Actually use the time I set aside for research, for *gasp* research. I’m great at penciling in time to pursue research interests but I’m terrible at keeping it, sacrificing it for the greater good (usually meetings).
  • Pursue more partnerships: in the library, on campus, in the library field, in unexpected places. I love talking with others about what they’re doing, finding out new ideas and having a sounding board for my own ideas. Partnerships can make ideas, projects, and presentations stronger.
  • Share more. Share my projects with my library and my users. Share my process with others in the field. Document and communicate will be key words this year.

I’m sure I’ll be adding and readjusting goals throughout the year. It’s easy to make goals, lofty ones and little ones, but the follow through is always the hard part. Good luck with yours!

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Bursting the bubble

I had the pleasure of being invited to speak at the Ontario Library Services North (OLSN) conference in Sudbury. One of the reasons I was excited to accept the invitation is that it took me out of my normal presentation audience. I love working in academia, but it often feels like a bubble. We’re so busy looking at our own issues that we don’t get to think about our colleagues in public libraries and the issues they face. This conference offered me a chance to try to think a little differently and, because it isn’t my area of expertise, I’ve been able to learn a lot so far, like working with First Nations clients and engaging your community. The latter is something I think academic libraries should be working towards: both our own university community but also partnering with public libraries to reach out to our greater community. Universities are very insular, but partnerships between the university, academic and public libraries can help open up the institution and engage their community in new and exciting ways.

I’ve really enjoyed breaking out of my norm and learning so much from my public library colleagues. It’s been a refreshing to look at librarianship through a new lens and I highly recommend taking the chance to learn something outside of your own field.



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Money Money Money

We all know it’s budget crunch time. It has been for years. Libraries are constantly evaluating budgets in order to find enough funds to keep resources that we have, buy new ones and support both existing and new services. We keep hearing the adage: “Do more with less”. We just can’t do this anymore. By doing more with less, we set up expectations we just can not continue to provide. We burn out our staff and impact our users.

In the face of budget cuts, libraries need to start saying “Do less with less”. This, of course, needs to be done strategically. We need to find areas we can cut reasonably and yes, this may be felt by all.

What are libraries doing? There have been some interesting cases of libraries taking a stand against the publishers and vendors and the crazy fees libraries are often forced into paying. The library system that I grew up with, a very small library system, took a stand against outrageous ebook prices and stopped buying Random House ebooks. SUNY Potsdam examined the outrageous fees that the American Chemical Society charges and decided to walk away and move to a more sustainable solution.

These examples show libraries looking at their budget and realizing they just can’t do it all. They examined options and went with what they felt was best, both for their budget and their users. There are other ways libraries can make the budget work: evaluate services, discover the actual needs of the community and focus on those. Open access is slowly becoming a better option for resources. But in the end, we just can’t do it all. Understanding your community, talking with them, as SUNY Potsdam did with their faculty, and making informed decisions is key. Tough decisions will have to be made, but less money can not mean the same level of resources or services any longer.

Update: Seems another vendor has dramatically increased their prices. Hatchette is increasing their ebook prices over 220%. I hope libraries make noise!

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Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3

We’ve started doing some usability testing. I’m quite excited about doing usability testing. As the first go, it’s been quite enlightening. First, I’m terribly surprised by the number of people who are willing to stop to help out with testing. Sadly, I am usually one of those who looks away when survey takers look my way in the mall. Perhaps my new role will change this outlook – perhaps I’ll be more sympathetic and participating in more surveys.

The other thing I’m interested in more than I expected is designing better surveys and questions. Again, I suppose this isn’t terribly surprising given my position – I need to know how to do this better. As we go through our first testing, I’m finding issues with wording. I’m seeing the advantages and disadvantages of open questions and other testing methods. I find I’m interested in reading more about creating proper surveys, better forms and figuring out the best testing for given situations. Now, I just need the time to get all of this reading done.

I have a feeling that another thing I will need to learn is not to over test – it is possible to ask about the same element using two or three different methods. In some cases, follow up will be required but it is important not to fall down the rabbit hole of continuous questioning. Like all projects, it’s important to know when to stop. I’m looking forward to more testing so I can hone these skills. Bring on the testing!

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Code4Lib Great Eastern

I’ve been posting this on Facebook and Twitter – it’s time I said something here too. I’m really excited to be working with colleagues to bring the first Code4Lib Great Eastern conference together! I’ve attended Code4Lib North and thought it’s time to bring together the techy folk on the east coast for a similar experience.

Code4Lib Great Eastern will run May 26-27 at the Killam Library at Dalhousie University in Halifax. It is rather unconferencey in feel and definitely in price. You should come – it’s free – just sign up here! The first day will be a mix of short presentations (20 minutes) and lightening talks (5 minutes) and the second day is Hackfest. You can find details here. Tell us about neat projects you’re working on or want to work on – simply put your topic on the wiki. The day really relies on participation, so be sure to sign up.

As the first get-together, I’m hoping we can get people interested in keeping this moving forward. Come with ideas on how you’d like to see Code4Lib Great Eastern grow into a thriving community!

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