As always with my conference notes, this isn’t a faithful summing up, but rather a few of the points that stuck out most for me. I’ll follow this up with a more reflective piece.
I haven’t added in anything about my own presentation, but have uploaded the pdf version of it: “From user-testing to user research: Collaborating to improve library websites.” I’ve also uploaded the pdf version of my poster: “Cram it all in! Exploring delight in the research process. And Summon. Oh, and subject guides too” in case you’re interested.
Andy Priestner: Opening address
Andy told us a couple of stories about his recent experiences on trains in Hong Kong and Melbourne. Despite the language barrier, he found the Hong Kong trains to be much easier to use, and in fact, made the experience so enjoyable that he and his family sought out opportunities to take the train: “Hey, if we go to that restaurant across town instead of the one down the street we could take the train!”(this isn’t a direct quote)
My notes on this read:
How can we help students not feel like they’re in a foreign place in the library?
How can we help the library feel desirable?
But now that I think about it, that first point is totally unecessary. Feeling like you’re in a foreign place isn’t the problem; it can actually be quite wonderful and exciting. Being made to feel unwelcome is the problem, regardless of whether the place is foreign or familiar. So I quite like the idea of trying to make the library feel desirable. I think my own library does this reasonably well with our physical space (we’re often full to bursting with students) but it’s a nice challenge for our virtual spaces.
Andy also talked about Ellen Isaacs idea of “the hidden obvious” when describing library staff reaction to his team’s user research findings. He also mentioned Dan North on uncertainty: “We would rather be wrong than be uncertain.” These two ideas returned at other times during the next two days.
Donna Lanclos: Keynote
Donna also told us stories. She told us stories about gardens and her mother’s advice that if you plant something new and it dies, you plant something else. With “Failed” as one of the conference streams, this key next step of “plant something else” is important to keep in mind. Failing and then learning from failure is great. But we must go on to try again. We must plant something else. Not just say “well, that didn’t work, let’s figure out what we learned and not do that again.” Plant something else.
Donna’s mother also said, though, that “sometimes the plant dies because of you.” So that maybe, sometimes, it’s not that you need to plant something else. You just need to plant the same thing and be more careful with it. Or maybe someone else should plant it or look after it.
Another point from this garden story was that there are always people in the library who take particular pains to keep lists of all the dead plants. People who say “we tried that before and it didn’t work.” Or who make it clear they think you shouldn’t try to plant anything at all. Or who cling too strongly to some of those dead plants; who never intend to plant again because of it. Don’t keep a list of the dead plants. Or maybe keep a list but not at the forefront of your mind.
Donna told us another story about her fieldwork in Northern Ireland. How she found it difficult to be gathering folklore when there were bigger issues; problems that needed fixing. Advice she got then and passed on to us was that just because you can’t fix problems with your ethnographic work doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything, that you aren’t doing anything. Gathering understanding – a new and different understanding – is valid and valuable work and it’s different work than solving problems.
She argued that ethnographic work is not about finding and solving problems but about meaning. Finding out what something means, or if you don’t know what it means, figuring out what you think it means. The work can help with small wins but is really about much more. This is a theme Donne and Andrew discussed further in the wrap-up panel on Friday.
Finally, I have this note that I can’t at all remember the context for, but boy do I like it anyway:
Not risk, but possibility
Jenny Morgan: UX – Small project/ high value?
Jenny’s was the first of the Nailed, Failed, Derailed sessions I attended and she was a wonderfully calm presenter – something I always admire since I often feel like a flailing goon. She spoke about a project she led, focusing on international students at her library at Leeds Beckett University. A couple of my take-aways:
- They asked students how they felt about the library. I like this affective aspect and think it ties in with what Andy was talking about with making the library desirable.
- Students don’t think of the whole building; despite the library making printers available in the same place on every floor, students didn’t realize there were printers on any floor other than the one they were on. As a consequence, students would stand in line to use printers on one floor instead of going to another floor where printers were available. Of course this makes sense, but library staff often think of the whole building and forget that our users only use, see, and know about a tiny portion.
- The international students they spoke to found the library too noisy and were hesitant to ask the “home” students to be quiet. They didn’t like the silent study areas or the study carrels; they wanted quiet, but not silent.
- International students are often on campus at times when “home” students are not (e.g. holidays, break times). They like going to the library for the community that they can’t find elsewhere, often because everywhere else is closed. This hit home for me because our campus really shuts down at the Christmas break, and even the library is closed. It made me wonder where our international students go for that feeling of community.
Carl Barrow: Getting back on the rails by spreading the load
One of the first things that struck me about Carl’s presentation was his job title – Student Engagement Manager – and that Web is included under his purview. I think I would love that job.
Carl was really open and honest in his presentation. He talked about being excited about what he learned at UXLibs and wanting to start doing user research with those methods, but feeling hesitant. And then he looked deeper into why he was feeling hesitant, and realized part of it was his own fear of failure. Hearing him be so honest about how his initial enthusiasm was almost sidetracked by fear was really refreshing. Conference presenters usually (and understandably) want to come off as polished and professional, and talking about feelings tends not to enter into it. But it makes so much sense at a UX conference – where we spend a fair bit of time talking about our users’ feelings – to talk about our own feelings as well. I really appreciated this about Carl’s talk. A few other points I noted down:
- He trained staff on the ethnographic methods he wanted to use and then (this is the really good bit) he had them practice those methods on students who work in the library. This seemed to me to be a great way for staff to ease in: unfamiliar methods made less scary by using them with familiar people.
- Something that made me think of Andy’s point about “the hidden obvious”: they realized through their user research that the silent reading room had services located in the space (e.g. printers, laptop loans) that made it rather useless for silent study. I personally love how user research can make us see these things, turning “the hidden obvious” to “the blindingly obvious.”
- I just like this note of mine: “Found that signage was bad. (Signage is always bad.)”
- They found that because people were not sure what they could do from the library’s information points (computer kiosk-type things), they simply stayed away from them. At my own library, trying to make our kiosks suck less is one of my next projects, so this was absolutely relevant to me.
Deirdre Costello: Sponsor presentation from EBSCO
Last year, Deirdre rocked her sponsor presentation and this year was no different. I was still a bit loopy from having done my own presentation and then gone right to my poster, so honestly, this was the only sponsor presentation I took notes on. My brain went on strike for a bit after this.
Deirdre talked about how to handle hard questions when you’re either presenting user research results, or trying to convince someone to let you do user research in the first place. One of those was “Are you sure about your sample?” and she said the hidden questions behind this was “Are you credible?” It reminded me about a presentation I did where I (in part) read out a particularly insightful love letter from a user, and someone’s notes on that part of the presentation read “n=1”: surely meant to be a withering slam.
Other points I took away from Deirdre:
- Sometimes you need to find ways for stakeholders to hear the message from someone who is not you (her analogy was that you can become a teenager’s mom; once you’ve said something once, they can’t stand to hear the same thing from you again).
- One great way of doing the above is through videos with student voices. She said students like being on video and cracking jokes, and this can create a valuable and entertaining artifact to show your stakeholders.
- Again related to all this, Deidre talked about the importance of finding champions who can do things you can’t. She said that advocacy requires a mix of swagger and diplomacy, and if you’re too much on the swagger side then you need a champion who can do the diplomacy part for you.
Andrea Gasparini: A successful introduction of User Experience as a strategic tool for service and user centric organizations
Apologies to Andrea: I know I liked his session but the notes I took make almost no sense at all. I got a bit distracted when he was talking about his co-author being a product designer at his library at the University of Oslo. The day before I came to UXLibs II, I met with Jenn Phillips-Bacher who was one of my team-mates at the first UXLibs. Jenn does fabulously cool things at the Wellcome Library and is getting a new job title that includes either “product designer” or “product manager” and we had talked a bit about what that means and how it changes things for her and for the library. That discussion came back to me during Andrea’s session and took me away from the presentation at hand for a while.
The only semi-coherent note I do have is:
- Openness to design methods implies testing and learning
Ingela Wahlgren: What happens when you let a non-user loose in the library?
Ingela described how a whole range of methods were used at Lund University library to get a bigger picture of their user experience. She then went into depth about a project that she and her colleague Åsa Forsberg undertook, trying to get the non-user’s perspective.
One UX method that was taught at last year’s UXLibs was “touchstone tours,” where a user takes the researcher on a tour of a space (physical or virtual). This lets the researcher experience the space from the user’s point of view and see the bits that are most useful or meaningful to them. Ingela and Åsa wanted to have a non-user of the library take them on a touchstone tour. They might see useful and meaningful parts of the library, but more importantly would see what was confusing and awful for a new user. I thought this was a brilliant idea!
Most of the presentation, then, was Ingela taking the audience along for the touchstone tour she had with a non-user. With lots of pictures of what they had seen and experienced, Ingela clearly demonstrated how utterly frustrating the experience had been. And yet, after this long and frustrating experience, the student proclaimed that it had all gone well and she was very satisfied. ACK! What a stunningly clear reminder that what users say is not at all as important as what they do, and also how satisfaction surveys do not tell us the true story of our users’ experience.
Ingela won the “best paper” prize for this presentation at the gala dinner on Thursday night. Well-deserved!
The team challenge this year focused on advocacy. There were three categories:
- Marketing Up (advocating to senior management)
- Collaboration (advocating to colleagues in other areas)
- Recruitment (advocating to student groups)
Attendees were in groups of about 8 and there were 5 groups per category. We had less than 2 hours on Thursday and an additional 45 minutes on Friday to prepare our 7-minute pitches to our respective audiences. I was in team M1, so Marketing Up to senior management. I’m going to reflect on this in my Conference Thoughts post, but there are a few notes below from the other teams’ presentations.
Andy Priestner: Welcome to Day 2
Friday was a sombre day, with the results of the Brexit vote. Andy has written a lovely post about writing and delivering his Welcome to Day 2 speech. I will have my own reflections in my upcoming Conference Thoughts post. But suffice it to say, Andy’s speech was spot-on, clearly appreciated by the audience, and left me rather teary.
Lawrie Phipps: Keynote
I got a bit lost at some of the UK-specific vocabulary and content of Lawrie’s keynote, but he made some really rather wonderful points:
- Don’t compromise the vision you have before you share it. He talked about how we often anticipate responses to our ideas before we have a chance to share them, and that this can lead to internally deciding on compromises. His point was that if you make those compromises before you’ve articulated your vision to others, you’re more likely to compromise rather than sticking to your guns. Don’t compromise before it’s actually necessary.
- Incremental changes, when you make enough of them, can be transformative. You don’t have to make a huge change in order to make a difference. This was nice to hear because it’s absolutely how I approach things, particularly on the library website.
- Use your external network of people to tell your internal stakeholders things because often external experts are more likely to be listened to or believed. (Deirdre Costello had said pretty much the same thing in her presentation. It can be hard on the ego, but is very often true.)
- “Leadership is often stealthy.” Yes, I would say that if/when I show leadership, it is pretty much always stealthy.
- Finally, Lawrie talked about the importance of documenting your failures. It’s not enough to fail and learn from your failures, you have to document them so that other people learn from them too, otherwise the failure is likely to be repeated again and again.
Team Challenge Presentations
I didn’t take as many notes as I should have during the team presentations. The other teams in my group certainly raised a lot of good points, but the only one I made special note of was from Team M5:
- There are benefits to students seeing our UX work, even when they aren’t directly involved. It demonstrates that we care. Students are often impressed that the library is talking to students or observing student behaviour – that we are seeking to understand them. This can go a long way to generating goodwill and have students believe that we are genuinely trying to help them.
My team (M1) ended up winning the “Marketing Upwards” challenge, which was rather nice although I don’t think any of us were keen to repeat our pitch to the whole conference! We thought the fire alarm might get us out of it, but no luck. (Donna Lanclos – one of our judges – later said that including the student voice and being very specific about what we wanted were definitely contributing factors in our win. This feels very “real world” to me and was nice feedback to hear.)
There were a couple of points from the winning Collaboration team (C4) that I took note of:
- Your networks are made up of people who are your friends, and people who may owe you favours. Don’t be afraid to make use of that.
- Even if a collaborative project fails, the collaboration itself can still be a success. Don’t give up on a collaborative relationship just because the outcome wasn’t what you’d hoped.
Again, my brain checked out a bit during team R2’s winning Recruitment pitch. (I was ravenous and lunch was about to begin.) There was definitely uproarious laughter for Bethany Sherwood’s embodiment of the student voice.
Andrew Asher: Process Interviews
I chose the interviews workshop with Andrew Asher because when I was transcribing interviews I did this year, I was cringing from time to time and knew I needed to beef up my interview skills. I was also keen to get some help with coding because huge chunks of those interviews are still sitting there, waiting to be analyzed. Some good bits:
- You generally will spend 3-4 hours analyzing for each 1 hour interview
- Different kinds of interviews: descriptive (“tell me about”), demonstration (“show me”), and elicitation (using prompts such as cognitive maps, photos)
- Nice to start with a throwaway question to act as an icebreaker. (I know this and still usually forget to include it. Maybe now it will stick.)
We practiced doing interviews and reflected on that experience. I was an interviewee and felt bad that I’d chosen a situation that didn’t match the questions very well. It was interesting to feel like a participant who wanted to please the interviewer, and to reflect on what the interviewer could have said to lessen the feeling that I wasn’t being a good interviewee. (I really don’t know the answer to that one.)
We looked at an example of a coded interview and practiced coding ourselves. There wasn’t a lot of time for this part of the workshop, but it’s nice to have the example in-hand, and also to know that there is really no big trick to it. Like so much, it really just takes doing it and refining your own approach.
Andy Priestner: Cultural Probes
I had never heard of cultural probes before this, and Andy started with a description and history of their use. Essentially, cultural probes are kits of things like maps, postcards, cameras, and diaries that are given to groups of people to use to document their thoughts, feelings, behaviour, etc.
Andy used cultural probes earlier this year in Cambridge to explore the lives of postdocs. His team’s kit included things like a diary pre-loaded with handwritten questions for the participants to answer, task envelopes that they would open and complete at specific times, pieces of foam to write key words on, and other bits and pieces. They found that the participants were really engaged with the project and gave very full answers. (Perhaps too full; they’re a bit overwhelmed with the amount of data the project has given them.)
After this, we were asked to create a cultural probe within our table groups. Again, there wasn’t a lot of time for the exercise but all the groups managed to come up with something really interesting.
I loved this. In part it was just fun to create (postcards, stickers, foam!) but it was also interesting to try to think about what would make it fun for participants to participate. When I was doing cognitive maps and love letters/break-up letters with students last summer, one of them was really excited by how much fun it had been – so much better than filling out a survey. It’s easier to convince someone to participate in user research if they’re having a good time while doing it.
Panel Discussion (Ange, Andrew, Lawrie, Donna, Matthew)
The next-to-last thing on the agenda was a panel discussion. We’d been asked to write down any questions we had for the panelists ahead of time and Ned Potter chose a few from the pile. A few notes:
- In response to a question about how to stop collecting data (which is fun) and start analyzing it (which is hard), Matthew Reidsma recommended the book Just Enough Research by Erika Hall. Other suggestions were: finding an external deadline by committing to a conference presentation or writing an article or report, working with a colleague who will keep you to a deadline, or having a project that relies on analyzing data before the project can move forward
- Responding to a question about any fears about the direction UX in libraries is taking, Donna spoke about the need to keep thinking long-term; not to simply use UX research for quick wins and problem-solving, but to really try to create some solid and in-depth understanding. I think it was Donna again who said that we can’t just keep striking out on our own with small projects; we must bring our champions along with us so that we can develop larger visions. Andrew and Donna are working on an article on this very theme for an upcoming issue of Weave.
- I don’t remember what question prompted this, but Ange Fitzpatrick talked about how she and colleague were able to get more expansive responses from students when they didn’t identify themselves as librarians. However, as team M5 had already mentioned and I believe it was Donna who reiterated at this point: students like to know that the library wants to know about them and cares about knowing them.
- Finally, to a question about how to choose the most useful method for a given project, there were two really good responses. Andrew said to figure out what information you need and what you need to do with that information, and then pick a method that will help you with those two things. He recommended the ERIAL toolkit (well, Donna recommended it really, but Andrew wrote the toolkit, so I’ll credit him). And Matthew responded that you don’t have to choose the most useful method, you just have to choose a useful method.
Andy Priestner: Conference Review
Andy ended the day with a nice wrap-up and call-out to the positive collaborations that had happened and would continue to happen in the UXLibs community. He also got much applause ending his review with “I am a European.”
Like last year, I left exhausted and exhilarated, anxious to put some of these new ideas into practice, and hoping to attend another UXLibs conference. Next year?