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Designing Better Libraries by steven j bell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Librarians Still Matter In a Self-Serve World

Let’s face it. Community members can manage their research and a host of other library chores pretty well in the library web environment without the need of intervention from library personnel.

I’m a fan of promoting self-service in libraries. Many, not all, community members prefer self-service options. In a world of ATM machines, airport check-in kiosks and supermarket self-checkout stations, a library that offers no self-service would seem outdated and out of touch with consumer trends.

While we should be looking for any and all opportunities where self-service could replace basic transactional interactions, we also need to be mindful about which of our services should continue to be conducted through human intervention and interaction. By all means, we should offer self-checkout, self-renewal, self-hold shelf pick-up, self-study room reservation and similar types of self-transacted tasks.

Then there are the services librarians offer that could potentially be transacted via self-service but probably would be better delivered through an intermediary. Database selection is one example that comes to mind. Database lists and recommender software could be a good start in the absence of human guidance, but it rarely works as well as we’d like.

And as much as we might think that there’s a widespread consumer preference for self-service, many people still appreciate and seek out human-mediated services. According to a New York Times article, there is a start-up segment fueled by such service, despite the growth of Expedia, Angie’s List, Priceline and other DIY websites, there is still a desire for personal attention:

“A lot of companies pushed hard on the idea that technology will solve every problem, and that we shouldn’t use humans,” said Paul English, the co-founder of a new online company called Lola Travel. “We think humans add value, so we’re trying to design technology to facilitate the human-to-human connection.”

Self-service is the right option for certain kinds of routine transactions, but there are several reasons, all applicable to libraries, why human-mediated service is still prized:

* saving time – you could figure out how to navigate the library website, identify
the appropriate resource, learn to use it, etc,. but having a personal guide to
lead the way, help avoid mistakes and leverage the features is worth any minor
inconvenience in arranging for an appointment.

* navigating complexity – self-service often fails for a particularly challenging
problem, so this is when you need help from an expert who can figure out what
went wrong, how to fix it or how to avoid frustrating problems in the first place.

* personal relationships – there was a commercial a few years ago for Priceline that
suggested they got the best deals because they “know a guy” (or gal) that helped
them get the best price – and that’s all about having a special relationship
where you can get help when you need it; so who doesn’t like having a special
librarian – that’s their guy/gal – who provides personalized, attentive help
when and where it’s needed

None of this is to suggest that human-mediated services are incompatible with technology. Rather it’s about using technology managed by humans to deliver a unique experience for the community member. There are times when self-service is the right user experience. We much prefer community members to use their online account to renew their books from home – and not bring them back in bags for us to process. That saves both of us time so we can take care of more important matters.

Personalized research services delivered by knowledgeable experts is what librarians can use to promote how what they do is different from self-serve web search. One of the keys to our successful future is giving community members a reason to believe the library is better – and not just better – but a powerful combination of people and resources that demonstrates we have designed a user experience the community can’t get anywhere else.

Is Anyone Emotionally Connected to a Library?

Why should librarians care about designing a unique, memorable and differentiated user experience for their library?

I can think of a few reasons. We want the experience to go well. We want people to connect with something, be it a resource, space or person, that resolves their need with the least amount of friction. We want the experience to be high fidelity.

Those are all good reasons. It could do more than just leave a community member feeling good about their visit to or interaction with the library. It could lead to more intensive engagement with the library or some positive word-of-mouth buzz in the community. Is it possible to have the experience create an attachment with the library that goes even deeper than good feelings? Can community members establish an emotional connection with their library?

Possibly. The answer may lie in better understanding how people get emotionally connected to brands.

Consumer research demonstrates that building an emotional connection is a level of experience that transcends awareness, satisfaction or even loyalty. Some experience researchers refer to that as a Level Three experience. While this level of engagement is desirable, it’s unlikely that all of those who know the brand and engage with it will reach a state of emotional connection.

In their article “What Separates the Best Customers from the Merely Satisfied” Scott Magids, Alan Zorfas and Daniel Leemon discuss how consumers who are emotionally connected with brands are far more engaged and of greater value to the success of a product or service than those who merely express satisfaction with the brand. How do they know the difference between someone who is satisfied versus emotionally connected. Here are some signs of emotional connection with a brand:

* that brand resonates with an individual’s deepest emotions
* that brand makes the individual feel differentiated from the crowd
* that brand contributes to the individual feeling like the person they want to be

To arrive at these findings the authors developed something called the “Emotional Connection Score” (ECS). It measures the share of a brand’s customers who are fully emotionally connected to that brand. The authors measured the ECS of 39 different brands across a number of different industries. This involved analyzing the buying behaviors of thousands of consumers of the brand. For a more complete explanation take a look at the authors’ long-read article.

Taking a look at the study results, displayed in a chart, raises some questions. I can see why consumers may be more emotionally connected to the BMW brand than the Toyota brand, given the much higher investment and quality difference with the BMW. The difference between Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts is more puzzling. Starbucks is well known for the design of their user experience yet Dunkin Donuts has a slightly higher ECS. You would think that the Starbucks experience would generate deeper emotional connection. What does Virgin Airlines do to make it a standout in the airline industry? Southwest, I would think, has the most emotionally connected customers. Perhaps free bag checks creates satisfaction but not emotional connection.

The authors do make the point that the study and science of customer emotions is relatively new, so there is much more to learn. One takeaway of more immediate interest for user experience librarians is that customer satisfaction is not necessarily telling the whole story. It may be good to know that community members express satisfaction – as they often do in standard surveys – but we may want to move beyond mere satisfaction to emotional connection. To do that we need to learn more about the ECS score and the strategies for building emotional connection.

Perhaps we need to learn more about our community members who show all the signs of being emotionally connected. Their appreciation of personal assistance, access to technology or just the books the love to read can easily transcend satisfaction. They may actually talk about how much they love their library. When the library budget is endangered and services may be lost, those are the members who will fight for preserving the library’s resources. In the past I referred to these members as “library superusers“. Perhaps that’s another way of identifying an emotional connected library user.

The challenge for librarians is creating the systemic experience for community members that leads to the state of emotional connection. In the search for meaning user experience metrics, perhaps an Emotional Connection Score is what we need.

UX Librarians – More Than a Trend

Here is another profile of a User Experience Librarian. I first became acquainted with Debra Kolah, User Experience Librarian at Rice University, several years ago when she invited me to visit with her and colleagues at Rice University – just ahead of my visit to Texas to speak at the Texas Library Association Conference about library user experience design. At the time I was incredibly impressed by the progress Debra had made implementing UX into the library culture at Rice in a short time as the UX Librarian – a new position for the library. In this guest post Debra tells us more about her evolution as the UX Librarian and the impact it has had on the Fondren Library at Rice University.

When I graduated from University of Texas in December of 1995, with my MLIS, I had no idea that 20 years later, the focus of my librarianship would be “user experience.” I had written a paper in library school that required I go out and interview physicists and physics graduate students about how they were using the internet, but that information was never tied back to what services might be developed for them, or how to scaffold what they were doing into the architecture of library tools. The experience of the user was not a consideration for librarianship in terms of how to improve interfaces, or how to decrease frustration, or how to deliver better services.

Fast forward to December 2009. I was one of three science librarians when my job title changed to the new position of UX librarian and a sign saying UX Office was put on my door. I have worked over the past few years to develop a UX practice in our library that permeates the building. My goal is that we don’t do a project without thinking about how we can incorporate user research or usability testing into it.

The library profession has a clear understanding of what work a subject librarian should be doing, but the work of UX is still being developed. Maybe one UX Librarian does only work around the digital—testing users and improving the website or LibGuides. Maybe work is done at a higher framework level-user research to guide creating new workflows for services.

Focus groups, surveys, usability studies, embedded librarianship and ethnographic studies are some of the tools used to gather data and anecdotal information about the user experience.

Last summer a big project at our library was renovating new study rooms–focus groups of students determined furniture and artwork decisions, and the internally-programmed room reservation system was tested, retested, and improved. So, from every aspect of the study room experience, the User Experience office helped get student input to improve the experience, and deliver one that met user needs.

Inspired by hearing about the use of GIS to understand space utilization in a library at a CLIR workshop, our GIS department undertook a similar study that helped inform furniture renovation decisions for a renovation that is underway to create an expanded information commons on the first floor of our library.

The UX Office at Fondren strives to create a holistic, user-centered, innovative approach to service design for virtual and physical spaces, as well as, digital and physical collections. I have done smaller projects outside the library along the way as well, especially a great project with the American Mathematical Society (Robert Harington), and another one with Ebsco (Kate Lawrence).

This summer’s big project expanded the thinking of the UX Office. My university is thinking about a new learning management system, and my office is getting to do the usability testing for the project. A university project. Outside the library.

UX in libraries continues to grow past being a trend, and is truly becoming part of what many libraries do on a daily basis. But, there are still many challenges. Do libraries need a UX Librarian or a UX department? Just two weeks ago the UX Office at Fondren expanded with the addition of an amazing new professional, Amanda Thomas. Now, after so long, I am envisioning that our work documentation will improve, and we will be able to do more projects! Much of our approach will be entrepreneurial, seeking to be included and utilized on projects. Our new team, including a wonderful HCI graduate student, gets to work together to brainstorm, analyze data, and imagine the future. I managed UX alone as a department of one, but it is much more fun and effective with a team!

Envisioning the future from the user perspective helps us to create the most amazing experiences possible; I feel the electricity of possibility. It has been exciting to see Weave: Journal of Library User Experience http://weaveux.org/ come into the UX librarianship world, the first peer-reviewed journal for us.
And I just reviewed an article for another library journal that was on user experience, so we see the threads continuing to develop.

Study Room Reservation System (Spring 2014) Kolah, Debra, and Mitchell Massey. “Get a Room: The Birth of a New Room Reservation System at Fondren.” News From Fondren. Fondren Library. Vol. 24, No. 1, Fall 2014.
Study Room Renovations (Summer 2014) Kolah, Debra. “New Wave of Study Room Renovations.” News from Fondren. Fondren Library.

Debra Kolah is User Experience (UX) Librarian in the UX Office at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She is a member of multiple divisions and currently serves as Chair-Elect of the Physics-Astronomy-Mathematics Division. Many thanks to Debra for sharing a profile of her work as a UX librarian and the value she brings to her institution as a designer of better libraries. If you are a UX librarian and you’d like to share your profile and let others know about your UX work, feel free to get in touch with me.

Studying Users To Rethink the Product

Over the years I’ve heard many stories that convince me you need to go beyond surveys and focus groups – which may be good starting points – to really learn what the users think of our services and products, but more importantly how they actually use them. These observations have often led to new insights that produce all types of library service innovations.

That’s basically the story of ethnography as it applies to designing a better user experience, from Xerox to IDEO to the library studies by Maya Design at Carnegie Public, at University of Rochester and the ERIAL Project.

As David Kelley said in the Deep Dive episode of Nightline, explaining IDEO’s research methods “What you’re seeing here is the kind of social science research like anthropologists, like you go and study tribes. What is it that they do that we can learn from them that will help us design better.”

Finding an example from the real world that supports the value in getting out among tribes, and going beyond standard survey methods, is always enlightening. So in this post I’m pointing readers to a good story about backpacks and why their makers are looking to update them for a new generation of customers – and how they are going about figuring out what design modifications will result in a more relevant and useful product that truly reflects the needs of the contemporary backpack user.

For those of us who work in the field of education and regularly observe students, we know that backpacks are everywhere our students go. I come close to tripping over one a few times a week. Did you ever think much about what students are carrying in their backpacks these days? From our library perspective we would think it’s mostly books and learning materials. However, when I did some closer observation whenever I saw a student dig into their backpack to retrieve items, books were less frequently being pulled out of those packs than devices like laptops and tablets.

Notebooks still seem to be in heavy use along with paper syllabi, but if there were books in those packs I saw fewer of them than I would have expected. To be sure, I also saw some textbooks, but that tended to be more the case in the early weeks of the semester. It would have been of interest to ask students some questions about what they put in their backpacks, although I imagine they would have thought those questions a bit odd coming from me (note – I’m no stranger to asking such questions when I observe certain kinds of behavior or different looking e-devices in use; students are usually glad to share).

My informal observations are supported by the field research conducted by backpack manufacturers such as JanSport. As the world continues its transformation from print to digital, backpack makers are rightfully concerned that their sales will decline. To stay competitive, JanSport needed to learn firsthand from backpack users what they were carrying around and how their “packing” behaviors were changing. They visited college campuses to observe students in their natural habitat to see how they were using their backpacks and what they were hauling around. But they didn’t stop there. They also studied groups as diverse as extreme mountaineers and homeless people, subgroups that carry their lives in their backpacks. What did they learn?

The team then looked at their findings through the lens of average users like college students, for whom smartphones, not beacons, are survival tools. Many of their needs were similar. Water-resistance, it turned out, was as important to heavy users of smartphones as it was to mountaineers. They also wanted flexibility, but they needed a little help with organization.

Not only were backpack users carry lots of things other than books, there were findings about the way people put their possessions into bags, the need for access to cords and chargers and even some insights about the possibilities for backpacks to be a mobile energy source for keeping devices charged.

These stories are always good reminders about the importance of observing our community members in their natural habitat (or our own) and asking them questions about what they are doing and why they do it that way. When we come at users with a more traditional set of questions (e.g., “Tell us how you use the library study rooms) we may obtain some useful information. There is also the tendency that community members will only tell us what they think we want to hear or may withhold information for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. The more we can learn about how community members are really using the library and its resources, why they are here and what’s really not working for them, the more we can do to design a better library experience for them.

My Life as a UX Librarian: What, Why and How

Any librarian interested in user experience -and even those who may not be – has noticed the recent jump in library positions that relate to user experience. If you look at the Library Journal placement reports for new library graduates, between 2013 and 2014 the number of graduates who reported having UX related positions nearly doubled. I expect these positions will continue to grow. But what exactly are these UX librarians doing? When I look at the job advertisements it seems that the role of UX librarian is any number of things, from assessment to usability to service enhancement. One way we can learn more about UX librarians and what they do is to ask them to tell us about their work and the things they are doing to design better libraries for their user communities. So I asked a fellow academic librarian I have known for while, Ameet Doshi, to tell us about his work as the head of the UX department at Georgia Tech. As Georgia Tech conducts a major library renovation project they have appointed Ameet to lead the process to implement a new service design model, which explains his new job title, Director, Service Experience & Program Design.

I was hired by Georgia Tech Library in 2009 as the head of the user experience (UX) department, after my predecessor Brian Mathews left for another position. In fact he posted on his widely-read “Ubiquitous Librarian” blog that he was leaving which is when I fired up my word processor and wrote a rather pleading cover letter to the Institute begging to be hired. At that time Georgia Tech (and Brian, in particular) had detected an opportunity for libraries to leverage techniques widely used by web usability designers in Silicon Valley to “get into the shoes” of users. The end goal was to create a great “user experience.”

Recently, after decades of data and advocacy, the prospect of a long overdue physical renewal of our library buildings, as well as a reimagining of library services has become a reality. My role has evolved from user experience to directing the service experience and program design effort in support of the Library Renewal. Essentially, I am now responsible for ensuring the great ideas we envisioned during the planning stages are prototyped, successfully implemented and iteratively improved upon.

Empathy and Compassion for the User

Many students, faculty colleagues, and even librarians ask me: “what is a user experience librarian?” I usually reply that my core mission is to make every user feel like a VIP on every level of their encounter. In fact that was our rather audacious departmental mission statement. Our counterparts in the retail and hospitality industries might call themselves “customer experience” professionals, or even the new manifestation of a CEO: “Chief Experience Officer” (I’m sure “Chief Empathy Officer” is just around the corner…). But what lies behind all of this jargon? What pulses at the heart of the desire to thoroughly understand and improve the user experience? This is just my personal, “gut” feeling, but I believe at the core of what drives me and most UX librarians is a deep empathy and compassion for the user. We are obsessed with getting into the minds of students and faculty and feel their pain points (and their successes!) in their encounters with the library – whether via the digital portals or in the physical facility. UX specialists constantly ask: What hurts? Why? How can we improve the situation? Can we test if the solution is working? If it is working, why? If not, why not?

The UX Librarian Portfolio

A few years ago, my former associate dean at Georgia Tech, Bob Fox (now dean of libraries at University of Louisville), and I completed a study of User Experience positions around the country for the ARL SPEC series. We found that, although the UX role is still rather amorphous as compared to other more traditional library positions, there did appear to be a few broad areas within which many user experience librarians focus their efforts:

*Assessment (primary focus)
*Marketing and Communications (secondary)
*Facilitating Outreach and Partnerships (secondary)
*R&D / Innovation (tertiary)

These are very broad domains that involve a great deal of collaboration with almost every other unit in an academic library. As many of you already know the assessment role alone often requires an entire position or more. In our resource-strapped libraries the UX librarian needs to be very strategic with how their time is used and ensure that the research being conducted has a strong likelihood of improving user experiences at scale. So it is typically applied research. The UX research arsenal usually involves surveys, focus groups, managing advisory boards, as well as more non-traditional user research methods such as leveraging apps (like dScout) or time-lapse photography of user spaces. In addition, the core principles of UX work in libraries aligns with the design thinking approach applied by people like Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, or Don Norman, author of the seminal text The Design of Everyday Things.

Innovation and R&D

On a related note, the need for a “skunkworks” R&D effort is rarely addressed in most libraries. My sense is that resource needs at most academic libraries are simply too great to permit anything like Google’s heralded “20% time” wherein employees are permitted to undertake any kind of research they would like (basic or applied) for one day during the workweek. In lieu of that fixed “innovation” time, I have been fortunate to develop partnerships with colleagues and leverage existing campus resources, which have led to some innovative programming and outreach projects. I suspect this is the case with many UX librarians who seek to push the boundaries on user research and engagement.

Other Duties, as Assigned…

At Georgia Tech, a secondary responsibility for UX included collaborating on outreach and public programming initiatives, as well as developing consistent branding and messaging by centralizing Marketing and Communications within the User Experience dept. I should point out that the User Experience dept. at Georgia Tech included myself and two full-time staff who were direct reports. One person was dedicated to marketing and communications (essentially, copywriting for print and web outlets), and the other staff member was a multimedia, branding and graphics specialist who also supported some assessment activities. Both are now with other organizations but this arrangement worked pretty well for us when it was in place. Every institution is unique, so your mileage may vary.

Conclusion

So, although my role is now focused on the Georgia Tech Library Renewal, I think the UX work helped to lay the groundwork for a forward-thinking service model and architectural program strategically aligned with user needs. The UX position should be crafted to strategically fit with your user community’s needs. However, any person in this role should have a deep desire to empathize with, and ultimately affect positive change for, those who rely upon library services.

Many thanks to Ameet Doshi for sharing a profile of his work as a UX librarian and the value he brings to his institution as a designer of better libraries. If you are a UX librarian and you’d like to share your profile and let others know about your UX work, feel free to get in touch with me.