Thursday, January 21, 2010

UX in the library

User Experience (UX - which, if you ask me, is a pretty user-unfriendly term, seeing as how I had no idea what it meant when I first came across it) is cropping up a lot lately. Library Journal has launched a new column called The User Experience (which kicks off with an excellent article by Aaron Schmidt), David Lee King talks about it a lot, as does Brian Herzog (although he often uses the word "service" - which is of course an essential part of the UX in libraries). David Lee King will be presenting at the UGame ULearn symposium in the Netherlands this April, which just sounds so incredibly cool.

Anyone who has walked into a library or department store and been unable to figure out where the bathroom is or even who to ask understands how important UX is. Websites that not only fail to deliver the basic piece of information you require but also don't give you a quick and easy way of requesting that information by phone or email are delivering a terrible UX. Frustration shouldn't be a given part of the user experience.

It's easy to get so accustomed to our daily surroundings that they become virtually invisible to us. I know that I don't notice all the cobwebs in the corners of my ceiling until the hour before guests are expected for dinner. To get an inkling of how others experience your library (or business or home), try walking through the front door as if entering for the first time - or better yet, ask a person who has never visited your library to go with you.

I used to do this on an occasional basis at a library where I used to work, and it was always illuminating. Some things were wonderful and made me sigh with pleasure (a clerk who smiled at every patron who came up to the check-out desk; bright light streaming through the skylights, new books displayed tantalizingly face-out right next to the check-out desk; and much more), but others were more problematic. After mentally discarding the issues I couldn't improve on my own (tiny, cramped parking lot; the confusing physical layout of the library; unfriendly or inflexible library policies), I was left with problems I could actually solve or at least alleviate.

Some were easy (like Aaron Schmidt's stapler story), involving simple changes in signage to find the bathroom more easily or a bit of furniture re-arranging so patrons had a clear path to the information desk or perhaps working with staff to come up with better to greet and help patrons. Some were more arduous, such as shifting parts of the collection to create a better flow. All of them made improvements, mostly small, to our patrons' and/or staff's user experience as they navigate through our physical branch.

Frustratingly, I (and indeed most librarians) have much less control over the digital experiences our patrons have. Our library website's design is well out of my hands - and although it has improved quite a bit recently (reviews! jacket covers!), it still can be frustrating, plus it lacks interactivity. I'm hoping we will soon have a more consistent and well thought out presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other sites, especially since there are many patrons who experience us mostly through our website. We also want to not only attract but keep new patrons through our fabulous digital UX.

Every single branch can be improved by its staff being mindful of UX and being willing to make necessary changes. Every library system can be improved by making UX a part of every decision that is made.

1 comment:

  1. Did you read my admissions essays to schools before you write this post? ;)

    I love that UX is becoming a much more mainstream term. I keep pushing Steve Krug's "Don't Make Me Think" onto all of my fellow co-workers at Expo. So far Larry is the only one actually read it... but hey! I've got one convert.

    I agree - looking at the way systems work with fresh eyes can reveal the importance of those small details. Thanks for reminding us of the changes within our power as branch librarians.