UXLibs III: Conference Thoughts

(This was a difficult post to write and ended up being quite personal. You might just want my UXLibs III conference notes.)

I was really really looking forward to UXLibs III. I love the UXLibs conferences and this year, I was presenting with Kristin Meyer. Kristin and I wrote an article for WeaveUX last year and it was an absolutely amazing experience. We had never met and yet the partnership was so easy; we had similar ideas about deadlines and effort, and we had similar writing styles. With UXLibs III, we were able to work together again and would finally meet in person. Exciting!

And the conference was great. The content was absolutely and completely what I’m interested in. Meeting Kristin in person and presenting together was fabulous. The other people I met were really great. The people I already knew were completely lovely. Plus, there was ceilidh dancing!

And yet… coming home, I don’t feel as fired up as I have in previous years. Is my love affair with UXLibs over?

During the conference, I had a great conversation with Bernadette Carter from Birmingham City University about the Team Challenge. She was struck by how most of us wanted to fix all the problems identified in the research documents, even the things that weren’t our responsibility—like broken plugs. She loved that we all cared so much that we wanted to fix ALL THE THINGS. But we also talked about how, back in our own libraries, it can be incredibly frustrating when we can’t fix things outside of the library’s control.

I wonder if the implicit promise of the first UXLibs was that we were learning how to fix everything for our users. We just needed to observe behaviour, ask the right questions, read a number of love letters and break-up letters and we would understand what our users needed. Then it would just be a matter of designing solutions, taking them through a few iterations and voilà! Fixed!

But we can’t fix everything for our users—for any number of reasons—and that’s hard. But UXLibs is also now a community where we can talk about it being hard.

In Andy’s opening address (partly replicated here), he talked about his struggles with having UX work either ignored or undermined at his previous workplace. I didn’t take any notes during Andy’s talk, and I think that was because I was busy thinking about how similar his themes were to what I was about to say in the presentation Kristin and I were doing immediately after Andy’s talk.

In that presentation, I talked about a UX project that didn’t go well, mostly because of the organizational culture in my library. When I look at Andy’s model of UX adoption (below), I think my library would rate even worse than his—all in the red. On top of our not-great org culture, we are going through a tremendous amount of change. I don’t see (yet) how the UX work I want to do fits. I don’t see how I fit.

UX-adoption-model

This year has been difficult for me professionally. I’ve felt uninspired. I’ve felt useless. I still feel a bit adrift. UXLibs was a shining beacon in my calendar that pulled me through the winter. It was supposed to save me, I think; to help me feel inspired and useful and full of purpose again.

Having been pretty open about challenges in my library on the first morning of the conference, many of the conversations I had during the rest of the conference were related to that. So I guess it’s not surprising that, post-conference, I’m not feeling fired up with inspiration. It was incredibly helpful to share feelings of struggle, but it hasn’t created momentum for what I might do next.

Thinking about the conference keynotes, my takeaways weren’t so much ideas for doing things, but rather cautions to be more careful with, and more thoughtful about the things I do. This is not at all a negative; I think it’s a sign of maturity.

In the Question Time panel on the last day, one of the questions was whether UX was a fad. I thought it was a bit of a silly question at the time and of course none of panelists agreed that UX is a fad. But thinking about it a bit more deeply now, I think for me UX was not a fad but a new lens—a shiny one! It extended my long-held interest in human-computer interaction and usability to the larger library: physical and virtual space and services. My intro to UX coincided with a change of job, and with that change, I had newfound freedom to pursue UX work. It wasn’t a fad, but it was a new love—a great and glorious infatuation. The love isn’t gone, but I’m starting to notice the snoring and farting, and really couldn’t someone else cook dinner once in a goddamned while?

UXLibs has matured in three years, and most relationships do lose a bit of fire after the first while. My more muted reaction to the conference this year is not a reflection of anything that’s wrong with UXLibs. I’ve just got my own stuff to work out. But I’m in this for the long haul. I’ll be back next year, as excited to attend as ever. These are my people. This is my place.

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3 thoughts on “UXLibs III: Conference Thoughts

  1. I think your feelings around this are probably inevitable and as you say to do with maturity and realism. Certainly my own experiences of rejection of, and opposition to, the UX work I was doing has shaped my relationship with it especially over the past 6 months, Very glad you intend to come back for IV.

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  2. Sadly, I think most libraries are pretty far in the red on those measures, which makes them very difficult places to work for those who want to innovate (and believes libraries NEED to, to stay relevant and alive).

    We love the mission of libraries, and some parts of the culture of libraries, but it’s very difficult to find a supportive environment to work in one.

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