UXLibs conference: thoughts

My first post on UXLibs was bits taken from my conference notes. This is what shook out when I reread all my notes and reflected a bit.

Matthew Reidsma (who was somehow even more inspiring in person than online, and I’m not sure how that’s even possible) spoke in his keynote about Heidegger, including his concept of being-in-the-world, and the question “How does the world reveal itself to us through our encounters with it?” In my notes, I continued “How does the library reveal itself through our encounters with it?” and – more pertinent to my work – “How does the library website reveal itself through our encounters with it?” Matt went on to explain that by interacting with things, we are making meaning. So, by interacting with the library website, what meaning are we helping our students make?

This made me think of the great workshop I’d had with Andrew Asher on the first day. One of the many things we did was watch videos of students trying to find information. A second year student needed to find peer reviewed articles but clearly had no idea what this meant. A fourth year student came upon an article on her topic from the Wall Street Journal and thought it could be useful in her paper because it sounded like it was on her topic and came from a credible source (not seeming to realize that a credible source is not the same as a scholarly source).  I found it striking that neither of these students seemed to understand what scholarship looked like; what it meant for a thing to be a scholarly source.

So, taking those two points together, is there a way we can help students make meaning of scholarship through interacting with our website? And I don’t just mean, how can we help them understand how to find various scholarly materials (you find books in this way, you find journal articles in that way), but can we help them understand how to interact with a journal article in a scholarly context? Can we help them use that article to first create understanding and then create their own scholarly work?

This in turn circles back to Donna Lanclos’ keynote on the first day where she challenged us to move beyond helping our users with wayfinding, and engage with them in the act of creation. She challenged us to move beyond the model of the bodiless scholar whose chair is hard, who can’t leave the library to eat, and who has to endure horrible searching on crappy library websites to find what they need. The finding part doesn’t have to be so hard. The hard part should be thinking about what you’ve found and then making something new out of it.

So, to grab a phrase from Paul-Jervis Heath’s keynote, “how might we” design a library website that helps students make meaning out of the scholarship they are finding? How might we design a library website that helps students focus less on finding and more on thinking and creating?

Since reading Emma Coonan’s great piece in UKSG News, “The ‘F’ word,” about moving away from a focus on finding in the context of information literacy, I’ve been wondering how we could do this in the context of the library website. UXLibs has prodded me further, and – even better – given me some tools, techniques, and a giant mound of inspiration to get out and try to start working on it.

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UXLibs conference: notes

I’ve been quiet of late, as we’ve not been doing any user testing this term; instead we’ve been taking a step back and thinking bigger about our website. But after attending the User Experience in Libraries conference (UXLibs) last week, I’m excited to move forward with user testing/research and thinking big.

St. Catharine's College, Cambridge, site of UXLibs
St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge, site of UXLibs

UXLibs was amazing amazing. Don’t believe me? Check out the #UXLibs Twitter stream during the week of the conference. I’m not going to try to capture the essence of the conference (see these posts by Ned Potter, and conference organizer Andy Priestner for that). Rather, I’m just pulling out particular bits from my notes that resonate most strongly with me. Many of these may not make sense out of context, but I’m happy to provide context if you ask.

From the keynote by Donna Lanclos:

  • What happens if we decenter staff expertise?
  • Find out what users understand not what they want
  • Not helping with wayfinding but engagement with creation
  • If an activity has intrinsic value, does it need to be assessed?
  • We want people to “revel in independent thought” (Revel!)
  • If we’re going to do ethnography, we have to be okay with feeling uncomfortable, and with feeling comfortable with ambiguity. We need institutional support for uncertainty.
  • A pedagogy of questions involves “a voracious not-knowing” (from @jessifer)
  • Do a small proof-of-concept project and use ethnography to see if it’s working

From a workshop with Andrew Asher:

[we explored a couple of ethnographic techniques: cognitive mapping (e.g. asking people to draw a map of the library from memory, or mapping out where they went when and what they did there), and respective process interviews (asking people to draw each step of a step-by-step process as you ask them about that process)]

  • The location of mapping exercises (i.e. in the library or away from it) doesn’t seem to influence the content of the maps created
  • Mapping can demonstrate where prime real estate is being used for low-impact things
  • Commuter campuses [and so probably commuter students] are very different from residential, when looking at mapping journals
  • Drawing can help with specificity but don’t get too hung up on the drawing

From the keynote by Paul-Jervis Heath:

  • People are fundamentally unable to tell you what will help them (they don’t know or don’t notice)
  • Should vs want creates an interesting tension -> how do you help people be the better version of themselves?
  • Books are sharks!
  • Rules of improv are good rules for ideation
  • I really have to read Gamestorming one of these days

From a workshop with Matt Borg and Matthew Reidsma:

[we were introduced to the wonderful world of grouping post-its with affinity mapping (by voice, pain points and then categories) and empathy mapping (by what people say, what they think, what they do, and what they feel)]

  • Maybe we should add “games” to our “search books, articles and more” Summon box
  • We need to have empathy with our colleagues, as well as with our users
  • Add the demographic, etc. metadata to post-its to make it easier to find patterns

From the keynote by Matthew Reidsma:

  • All those links on the website – people put them there
  • Interacting with things = making meaning
  • Usability is beyond functional, it’s making sure people have meaningful interactions with the world
  • It’s easy to recover from breakdowns [errors, confusion] when you understand how the thing you’re using/doing works
  • Usability could be helping people better understand our tools/services so they can better recover
  • Test to learn, not just perfect; learn how people cope

There was so so so much more than this. I have a follow-up post on some bigger picture stuff. But there’s so much more than that too. I’m going to be processing this conference for a while.