Over at Ubiquitous Librarian, Brian pointed to a few academic libraries, including his own, that have created new positions that are being described as “User Experience Librarian.” I’m not sure what to make of this, and I wonder if it is the start of a fad that will attract some bandwagon jumpers. It certainly does sound like a cool job that would likely attract some attention.
But based on the descriptions I’ve read it seems the tendency is to take a traditional public service job with traditional responsibilities, such as reference and instruction, add a dash of assessment or usability testingÂ and thenÂ slap the title “User Experience” on it. For example, one of the position descriptions says “a User Experience Librarian to provide leadership for digital initiatives and services in the user, reference, and instructional programs of the library”. Hmm, nothing in there about taking leadership for understanding users, developing empathic-driven servicesÂ or creating a library environment that provides memorable experiences.
I also detect a significant Web 2.0Â and usability testing component to these positions. Web 2.0 does not equal creating good user experiences in libraries. An Emerging Technologies Librarian does not equal aÂ UX Librarian. A Usability/Interface Design Librarian does not equal a UX Librarian. I wonder if the library administratorsÂ creating these positions really understand the concept of the user experienceÂ and if these positions will really be geared to developing great user experiences or designing better libraries. Or is this just a case of “they did it so we should do it too” thinking.
So what exactly should a position description for aÂ UX Librarian read like. Well, I’m not entirely sure and I’ve been doing a good amount of reading and studying on this topic. I also examined some non-library UX job descriptions and the description for a Usability/User Experience Specialist that U.S. News & World Report profiled in their recent special report on “best careers for 2008”. But let me take a crack at developing a UX LibrarianÂ position description:
Library seeks an individual who understands and is able to articulate what a great library user experience should be, and who has the desire and ability to translate that knowledge into practice. Our ideal candidate will engage colleagues to develop innovative ideas that will turn our library into the campusÂ destination where students WANT toÂ be and create passionate library users who WANT to use our resources. As our user experience specialist this librarian makes sure our services and instructional products are both easy and pleasurable to use. The UX Librarian has demonstrated experience in observing and interviewing both current and potential library users to developing an inventory of user needs and preferences. Shifting library services and products from the mundane to the unexpected and memorable is a core responsibility of this position. The UX Librarian also brings to the library a perspective of totality in developing a user experience; the library experience must be consistent across all library services points, non-public operations and extend out into the user community. Past experience with a variety of survey and assessment methods, including user satisfaction surveys, focus groups, one-on-one interviewing and anthropological research techniques is highly desirable. Other desirable qualities include knowledge of design thinking methods, demonstrated knowledge of the user experience literature, and degrees or demonstrated experience in fields such as computer science, cognitive pyschology, anthropology, human factors research or marketing.
If this was the type of job description we were seeing for UX Librarians I think one problem becomes obvious. There probably aren’t too many librarians, maybe no one with an MLS degree, who has the right experience to do this job. Perhaps developing UX Librarians is going to be an “on-the-job” development exercise for this specialty. Just as we’ve been exploring what a great library user experience means here at DBL, we should also start thinking about what it means to be aÂ UX Librarian. And it may be that the right individuals for these positions shouldn’t even be librarians, but professionals from other fields who have the necessary training and experience.
Perhaps the good thing aboutÂ libraries developing UX Librarian positions is that their early experience will help to define theÂ job.Â Though the tone of my post may at times sound skeptical or critical, I’m taking the appearance of these new positions as a positive sign that librarians are beginning to recognize the value of UX and intend to take it seriously as a path to designing a better library. It’s exciting to see libraries creating both Blended Librarian and UX Librarian positions; it’s truly encouraging that these ideas and practicesÂ are moving into the mainstream of librarianship. Now what we need to do is to further our knowledge and understanding of what makes a great library user experience – it’s more than just excellent customer service – so that we can begin to create positions that will have a serious shot at achieving UX success in the library.