Adding Useful Friction to Library UX: Ideas from UXLibs Workshop Participants

Post-its with ideas on adding friction

At this years UXLibs conference, I led a workshop on adding useful friction to the library user experience. I’ve already posted my text of the workshop, but I told the participants that I also wanted to share the ideas that they came up with during the course of the workshop. The ideas were generated around three themes:

  • friction for users, with a goal of helping those same users
  • friction for staff, with a goal of helping users
  • friction to improve inclusion in the library

What is below is verbatim, as much as I could decipher, from the post-its. There’s seems to be a combination of examples of bad friction and ideas for good friction. If you were a participant and would like to correct or flesh out what’s here, please get in touch!

Here are all of the responses from both workshops, in no order at all:

  • Remove desk or make it a low height only
  • Lower the circulation desk or remove it altogether
  • Users: appointments (promote other options first, Books/resources)
  • Giving the article rather than showing to find the resource
  • Answer questions instead of showing how to do it
  • Wayfinding no.1 enquiry — looking at it with fresh eyes
  • Staff want to put passive aggressive posters everywhere
  • Toilet sign / Not a key — Gender N.
  • Have the students suggest furniture in the library
  • A room with a computer and a loudspeaker where the patron can hear what is on the screen
  • Clickable text where a loudspeaker symbol shows you that you can hear what is said
  • Wayfinding signage / Posters — loads of / passive aggressive
  • Enforced preview when editing web pages
  • Put forms through web group to ensure they’re not excluding
  • When they click around one website
  • When they order on shelf items
  • When they order articles
  • Making them having coffee with other departments and teaching staff
  • Making them walk across campus to use another office
  • Making them use the public spaces one hour a week
  • You haven’t used Library Search for a while – do you need some tips?
  • Get rid of printed self-help so staff have to promote online self-help
  • Friction to help people understand the space they’re in
  • Helping new users find books (when they want it!)
  • Multi-language at entrances and around
  • Remove classification systems!!
  • Inclusivity check before things are published
  • Remove search term suggestions databases
  • Remove phone, e-mail, etc. from the info desk (anything that isn’t talking to students)
  • Giving more options for reference help – all hours of the day, off campus, offline, etc.
  • Change the quiet reading rooms with the group rooms every week
  • Have staff meetings at the group study areas/rooms
  • Put the check-out machines on the top floor
  • Wary of pop ups but what if pop has the answer
  • To slow down scanning of web pages — part scan and leave just prior to achieving answer
  • Pop up box: “Sign in to get: full text, saved search, e-shelf, etc.”
  • A confirm button when adding manual charges to accounts
  • All A4H staff to be fully trained!
  • Had thought of reducing page options/text but could friction be added another way?
  • When they order interlibrary loans
  • We added friction to subj guide BUT — super friction -> no control for subj lib. Therefore like the less friction idea presented by Shelley
  • Pop up on self-issues: Your books will auto-renew for “x” weeks but may be recalled
  • Are you sure? Deleting records from Endnote web
  • EMS Editions: Removing assets
  • Exhibition gallery: interactive screen
  • Event submission
  • Feedback forms
  • Find a book / study space blindfolded?
  • Stop them from using terms and phrases that people don’t understand
  • Test all changes to web page on real users, especially extreme users
  • Plain language checkers for web content
  • Highlighting research consultations over guides + DBs
  • Declarative signage: “You are on the (blank) floor, (blank wing)”
  • Website style guides
  • Push back on academic staff to upload accessible teaching materials to VLE
  • Making ILL request — have you check whether this is in library? (?)
  • Encourage use of learning technologies, but also provide analogue alternatives
  • Provide alternative signage options (multiple alternatives)
  • When entering study zones -> be aware of conditions expected in space
  • Links that take users to Arabic page rather than going back to main page
  • Allowing males to borrow / use the library during female hours
  • Having box to return the books used inside the library
  • Having a shared online spreadsheet if they would like to have someone to cover their desk hours rather than emailing
  • Did you know? pop ups on library websites
  • iPads out intermittently to draw attention
  • Having to meet with a librarian
  • Signage (or something else!) that prompts new students to consider using Library catalogue before trawling the physical shelves
  • Helpdesk would benefit from friction when students make initial enquiries re: Learning Difference Support (e.g. Dyslexia) — In my Univ Lib they are required to ask about this in an “open” queue without any confidentiality!
  • Near shelves potential redirect to lib cat
  • On entry to help students choose appropriate working space
  • On entry think about what student intends to achieve during visit
  • Replying to email enquiry messages force scroll to beginning to force people to read whole history
  • Have you left this in required state? Bog poster for open access disabled loos
  • Creating new challenges in every day tasks to upskill staff, provide better services to users
  • Asking questions (too many!) to get essential services in place / working properly (e.g. hearing loops [or might be learning loops])
  • Forcing users to rub up against us: “This resources has been brought to you by your library”
  • (for colleagues) Flag for spamming no. of forwards and emails to lists per day
  • Returning books through the book sorter—asking “have you returned all the books you need to” before issuing a receipt
  • Students who don’t have a disability but are anxious to be able to have one-to-one library hours, therefore all need to be asked at induction
  • ILR’s (InterLibrary Requests) asking “is this available locally”
  • Items in store requested through the catalogue—”can this be accessed online” before the final request click—stops unnecessary collections from store that are not collected
  • Vendor outlinks “You are about to leave the library’s website”
  • Time to choose to read something you wouldn’t have thought of yourself
  • Time to reflect on impact of a certain behavior
  • Time to advertise additional services that might be helpful
  • Screens/maps to look at before looking for books → are you going where you want to?
  • Set target times to resolve a query. Solutions should be quick and easy.
  • Library website: design decision
  • Library website: content
  • CMAS editors: removing assets
  • ILL request form when item not available
  • Library clear link when no results on discovery layer
  • Disable possibility to take a breath from chat
  • Stricter policy for adding web pages
  • Slow down book drop
  • Friction in ordering interlibrary loans which should be purchases
  • How do we offer booking of “resource rooms”?
  • Can we make it more difficult to make web pages inaccessible?
  • Forced message to remove USB before the PC shuts down/logs you out
  • Triage questions? IT vs Library
  • Only hosting video tutorial with embedded subtitles — don’t rely on YouTube autotitles = RUBBISH!!
  • What images are you using to show your library? Does it look inclusive on posters / online / in literature? E.g. pic of our staircase
  • Reservation Collection—self-issue—extra touch screen with due date for 48 hr loans
  • Stop them from rushing to the top floor, like signs in the elevator
  • Force staff to actually test the accessibility of web sites
  • Students, faculty, other ←
  • Library VRS → stop before leaving the chat “Are you sure you don’t need further help?”
  • How do we address people / users?
  • Double-check before making a poster to “solve” a problem!
  • Role management: Design does not equal project management
  • Peer-checking of presentations / teaching sessions for accessibility
  • Writing training materials for students with English as a 2nd language
  • Uploading to online system: large files, Microsoft format, video and audio (not stream), copyrighted
  • To support distant or part-time students
  • Starting projects without: clarity about outcomes, testing, resources required
  • Adding resource e.g. reading list not using the system
  • Copying over last years materials to this years module
  • Better obstacle than fee for interlibrary loans or document delivery
  • Remove “scripts” for staff answers on Just Ask (IM) — be more personal?
  • No pictures of PDFs or text on web — screen readers can’t cope with them
  • Pop-ups letting students know access is being provided by the library (to online resources)
  • Library website
  • QR codes??
  • Symbols instead of English — Puts everyone at the same level of wayfinding regardless of language skills
  • Diverse reading lists
  • Know Your Staff Wiki!
  • Regular process to review existing web content before adding more
  • Entrance vestibule to silent study spaces
  • Promoting self-service portal at library entrance
  • Chatline. FAQs page to scroll through to get to input page
  • Force a catalogue search before submitting an ILL request
  • Policy that all staff deal with a request for help at point of need and see through
  • Logging all enquiries on an EMS
  • Pick-up shelf: Make users check out their reading room loans
  • Database records in Summon—people going straight to Lib search when not everything is listed
  • Sign up form for focus groups so we can pick by course, not first come, first served
  • Academic workbooks arranged by topic on CMS not just straight link to AS server
  • Online support and workshops more prominently promoted than 1:1s as easier to same [some?] large number
  • I need to approve all external comms and surveys
  • Web edits — I have to approve all pages
  • Training on [survey?] software linked to approval from me
  • Me as final editor for newsletter (brand / accessibility)
  • Gender neutral toilets
  • Editing text for screen readers — on all channels
  • Check catalogue for students who have incorrect info on reserve items
  • Complete a short online library quiz as part of first module
  • Activate your student card in the library within the last week of term
  • Put “Please refer to…” messages where rules aren’t clear
  • ILL — request articles/books we already have—way to make them search first?
  • Search box — choose what format first (they will type anything in a search box without thinking and then think we don’t have an article because they are looking in catalog)
  • Ebooks — add to reserves or pop up asking them to look by title
  • Student staff tell students we don’t have an item when we do — need to try other ways — have system prompt?
  • Expand chat hours so people uncomfortable approaching desk can still ask questions
  • CMS — make popup for alt-text but also color contrast, web writing, close-captioning for videos, etc.
  • Content manager for website — approve all changes even Subject Guides
  • Better feedback on item request — many are not picked up
  • Knowing who your liaison is if on a certain page
  • Staff Friction: Using CRM or equivalent to report issues to other teams, i.e. metadata errors: don’t ring team, logon LANDESK (CRM). Has advantages collating themes and work.
  • Inclusion: Feedback form gender
  • User [Gateways portals]: To prompt and remind about compliance maybe – copyright / usage — use of data/info. Authentication does this also.
  • Staff: Printing checklist Actions before resorting to use of staff printer
  • User: To prompt remind/inform resources purchased on behalf of students by institution
  • IT passwords for faculty users
  • Using lockers after library closing hours
  • Computers on every floor (staff)
  • Toilets (improve inclusion)
  • Game area (students)
  • Lounge area (students)
  • Change main structure of website
  • Adding too long text to buttons
  • Adding too many main category pages
  • Put “silence” signs on every door → there have to be noisy places
  • Just grab a book (without having a look to the books around)
  • Policy: force all staff to use structured text documents so that they are accessible
  • Self-return machines (Don’t take think books, so we need to “slow” the users know know this)
  • Inclusion: Programs → languages
  • Open access funding program → read criteria before submitting the application
  • Adding too long texts into modals designed to be glanced
  • Gender in feedback forms
  • Requirement for text and audio on video
  • Request / reservation: This book is on the shelves in this library. Are you sure you want to request it? [checkbox] Yes.
  • Sign on ground floor: The only toilets and drinking water in this building are on this floor. (Most library services are 2 floors up from here)
  • Making gender option in forms more inclusive e.g. more option or textbox
  • Before making an order/reservation that costs money
  • Before making a reservation
  • Before deleting your user account
  • Before deleting any info permanently
  • Get staff out of their offices — send them to find academic who have not been in the library for a long time
  • We have a Lib Reciprocal Programme across unis in S.A. But in our Lib we force users to see an Info Lib before they get a letter to visit another uni library.
  • Catalogue research (first finding is seldom the best)
  • Remove option to add media on webpages for most staff
  • Accessibility checks before publishing a webpage
  • Filling out book request form for somebody
  • Clearing a list in the catalog
  • Printing single vs. double sided
  • Staff designate, monitor, and enforce quiet areas
  • Building entrance vs. exit
  • Reserving lendable technology
  • Requesting items from storage
  • Information in subject guides
  • Giving information to new students about the library’s services
  • Ordering interlibrary loans
  • In the Discovery systems
  • Request print copies of articles
  • Promote new physical and online materials in entrance
  • User (student) testing before buying e-books
  • Build UX into all projects
  • Prayer facilities
  • A note on self service screen to common ?s. Really good idea.
  • Spending more time with the unfamiliar
  • Symbol sign posting
  • Meet and Greeters at front door
  • Pick up cards at library
  • Send librarians out to visit people
  • Stop “library” work at enquiry point
  • Wellbeing attention grabbing display — subject guide to
  • Registration online — pick up library card in person
  • Commuter room with lockers — charging (away from home help)
  • Auto emails for book arrivals triggered by front desk team so that we are certain it is ready on the shelf
  • Friction needed to prevent deletion of content
  • Subject guides Allow use to browse area and discover other books related to study
  • Develop electronic check lists for staff to ensure staff complete all necessary steps in a task on time and in order
  • Finding tools — Before search encourage users to reflect if using the right finding tool
  • Reading lists — Cap amount of items that can be added → “Do you really want to add this item?”
  • Self-issue machines — Add “do you want to borrow” for very short loans / high charge (had at public)
  • Modernise the till and integrate with LMS. Creates a couple of steps that slows staff and avoids mistakes on the till from “autopilot”
  • “Lost” status and “Found” status. Create pop up explaining what to do and if want to continue to avoid incorrect use.
  • Int’l students — Don’t assume that library experience of someone else is the same particularly when they have a different international experience / Encourage staff to think before assuming person is just not as smart as culture they are accustomed to.
  • Filters — Putting a [friction?] to alert people that they can expand their search to include content not available at [library] as well
  • Friction for staff: prompts to ask particular questions / edit or do something people often forget
  • When searching: “This search result is showing everything. Is that what you want?” Or “It looks like you might be searching for a journal title. Would you like to do that?”
  • Different language options — catalogue, website / signage
  • Compulsory reflection on implicit biases before finalising a form / policy / procedure / interview / process / etc….
  • Sometimes it’s good to get “lost” and find hidden spaces…
  • Have “no wifi” areas to create “switch-off” spaces…
  • Noise control — something that encourages slowing of pace / pause on entry
  • Furniture might cue quiet study vs. collaboration
  • If staff are including a gender (or other protected characteristic) question on a form, make them type their justification!
  • Supporting assistive tech (friction for staff)
  • Stop long forms with every piece of info the librarian needs to order an item
  • Shibbolth sign in from pub page — get to the right path, choose the best relationship for access
  • Group study facilities — varied tech options
  • More tailored handouts for students who have English as 2nd language or 3rd etc.
  • DVD borrowing: “Don’t forget to unlock your case!” pop-up?
  • Multimedia options for dyslexic students — on entry to library
  • Chat box help kiosk for students who feel like “imposters” (afraid to admit what they don’t know)
  • Single sign on — subject / CS team comms.
  • Consistent approach to adding info to app. Autonomy and overall framework.
  • Quizzes on VCEs at end of modules
  • Furniture — soft for de-stresses
  • Commuter students — find out what their priorities are and how this differs from other students
  • To get integrated in the education with the Library competence, so every student gets the same education (information literacy)
  • Find location in the library
  • Gender free web
  • Block them from the staff cataloguing OPAC — only use for 1 hour a day
  • Think of the people you put on the website. Still mostly young, happy users.
  • Teacher making resource lists
  • Users: Interlibrary loans
  • Pop-up help button after 3 kw searches < 1 minute
  • Discover layer: where am I searching
  • Website friction from adding content — specifically start
  • “Headlines” when coming in to the library — To show services offered that are “unknown”
  • Stacks — “Did you find out the exact location of your book?”
  • Making signs — Added friction for personnel
  • Multilingual captioning
  • Sign friction or not?
  • Faculty-librarian meeting for new faculty (in-person? why?)
  • More faculty-librarian friction
  • Leaving web presence, what about credibility? Evaluate results
  • Require AIT text on IMG upload
  • When leaving discovery tool to external site
  • Management friction
  • Default web editor template; to change, require friction
  • Consider for more friction at admin side
  • Mandatory meeting with librarian for an assignment
  • Swipe card to enter the library
  • Baby changing tables
  • Rainbow lanyards
  • Help uniforms / sashes?
  • Program friction — new program proposal
  • Signage
  • Dual monitor search comp. for info desk enquiries
  • Stop users from ordering books on shelf
  • Warning pop up !DANGER!
  • Universal design on website
  • Pause before changing your brand colors etc. to your online library interface. …consider accessibility first.
  • Pause before allowing online systems use your personal data …instead, learn what the provider will do with your data
  • Pause before composing the perfect, new metadata or information model for the new library service …instead, involve users and designers in the process
  • Shh… Quiet beyond this point



UXLibs IV: Conference notes


This is a round-up of my notes from the UXLibs IV conference but it’s certainly not a faithful record; just what stood out to me. It might give a sense of the content for people who missed it or want to revisit. Because it’s so freaking long (as usual), I’ve separated out my own reflections on the conference into a UXLibs IV: Reflection & Inspiration post.

The 4th iteration of UXLibs had a focus on inclusion this year and Day 1 kicked off with intros from Andy and Matt and then Christian Lauersen’s great keynote “Do you want to dance? Inclusion and belonging in libraries and beyond.” I didn’t take a lot of notes (perhaps my mind was already on my workshop), so I’m glad Christian posted his talk. A few of the things he said stood out for me:

  • Inclusion is a process
  • Biases are the stories we make up about people before we know who they really are
  • It’s easy to have values but hard to follow them

Christian also used the great quotation by Verna Myers: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” I’m sure I’ve heard that before, but it resonated more, somehow, hearing it here.

After Christian, I did my workshop. Like last year, I was a little too done to visit the UXLabs during lunch. After lunch were the delegate presentations, and although I was happy with the sessions I chose, I was really sad to miss the others. Everything looked so good! Can’t wait for this year’s yearbook so I can catch up.

Session 1, Track A: Danielle Cooper and SuHui Ho

Danielle’s talk was “Decolonization and user experience research in academic libraries” and she spoke about a research project being done by Ithaka S+R and 11 academic libraries about Indigenous Studies scholars. She talked about how indigenous research differs from Western research and how those differences are being reflected in this project. I didn’t capture everything, but here are some differences:

  • The interview process includes the researcher talking about themselves and why they’re interested in the project; why do they want to know about the things they’re asking the participants to talk about? We usually don’t do this in our user research, trying to present ourselves, instead, as objective observers.
  • Participants get to review the transcript of their interview as well as drafts of the final write-up. They get a voice in how their words are represented and in the findings/results of the research.
  • Related to the above, more space is given to the participants’ words in the results. Rather than just short quotations, long passages are presented to let their words speak for themselves.
  • Participants can choose how they are acknowledged in the report. They are not anonymous by default. Danielle mentioned that this led to issues with Research Ethics Boards, where anonymity is usually required for research with human subjects.

After Danielle, SuHui talked about her work at the University of California, San Diego in trying to balance majority and minority users of the library website on a very diverse campus. Her team worked with 9 library user personas that were developed at Cornell and decided to focus the on undergraduates who were not experts in library research. People represented by other personas could have their needs met by the website, but might have to dig a bit deeper.

SuHui also mentioned the importance of changing up the images used on their library website. Although only 20% of the student population at her university is white, almost all of the images around campus, including on websites, are of white people. So SuHui made sure the photos of people on the library website reflected the diversity of their users. On this, she said it’s important to “act within our power.” I really liked this phrasing.

Session 2, Track C: Jon Earley, Nicola Walton, and Chad Haefele

I was very excited to hear Jon talk about library search at the University of Michigan, and I geeked out over how they moved away from legacy systems and interfaces and built a new search. The new search takes a bento box approach, which my own users hated viscerally a few years ago, but the UMich implementation seems to fix many of the issues students at Carleton had with bento boxes. The pre-cached results and consistent interfaces are pretty great. I was a bit fangirly about the whole thing.

Jon also mentioned that the UX research that drove this project was done before he started at UMich, and the people who had done this research had all left the library. This could have made things very difficult, but they left great documentation behind. I asked what made the documentation of the UX research so good, and Jon said that having priorities and key points highlighted, and very brief reports helped him grasp what was necessary to move from UX research to product design. They also continued to do user research along the design path.

I liked his lessons learned:

  • Include accessibility at each decision …. Rely on HTML and not custom JavaScript widgets
  • Be thoughtful about what deserves your time and resources
  • Performance is a feature
  • Use the words your users use

Nicola Walton from Manchester Metropolitan University was up next with “Behind the clicks: What can eye tracking and user interviews tell us that click statistics can’t?” She was very upfront about the fact that they had done the project backwards: they got an eye tracker first and then figured out how they wanted to use it. She recommended not doing that, but certainly seemed to have no regrets about their experience. She’d found that people get quite excited about eye tracking data, so it was a great way to get in to talk to people who might not otherwise want to talk about UX.

Nicola had lots of videos (though, sadly, not enough time to show them all) which made it clear not only that people struggle to use our library websites, but that what can look like success in the web statistics—people visited the right page—can turn out to be failure—people didn’t actually see what they needed on the page.

Chad Haefele from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was the last in this session and in Day 1. He is looking at possibly funneling people through to different home pages of the library website based on their user type. They are doing a big card sorting exercise with various user types, looking at how often people use specific library services: never, sometimes, often, or always.

Chad was hoping to have data for the conference, but they ran into some difficulty with their Ethics Board over their recruitment strategy. They had planned to use a version of Duke University Library’s “regret lottery” but were not allowed to, so recruitment was delayed.

Day 1 ended with a marvelous conference reception and dinner, terrible 80s music, and dancing. Much fun.

Day 2 started with 3 incredible speakers. I am still fired up from their talks.

Sara Lerén “Inclusive design: all about the extremes”

Sara dove deeper into the notion that users can’t tell us what their needs are. Or in her words:

I’ve always heard that (and seen it in action) but Sara’s explanation of why was a revelation to me. She said that users’ tendency to gloss over difficulties (or, as she put it, “tell us shit”) is likely due to the average brain’s proficiency with cognitive economy. Average brains are really good at minimizing cognitive load through categorization, schemas, automation. (When describing Sara’s session, I’ve said that average brains are really good at sanding down the edges of things; I hope that’s not a misrepresentation.) What Sara called “extreme” brains (non-neurotypical brains) are not so good at minimizing cognitive load in this way. And this is why non-neurotypical users can be better at expressing their real experiences, feelings, and thoughts.

Sara encouraged us to include non-neurotypical users in our research and testing because they will better be able to tell us what’s wrong with our designs. Designing for extremes makes design better for everyone. We see that with designs for physically disabled users: single-lever handles on faucets, curb cuts, and more. Later in her talk, Sara referenced Dana Chisnell’s great work on testing and designing for people with low literacy, and quoted her:

“I came away from that study thinking, why are we testing with anyone with high literacy? Designing for people with low literacy would make it easier for people who are distressed, distracted, sleep-deprived, on medication, whatever. If I could build this into everything, I would.”

Sara’s recommendations for smart user testing:

  • approximately 5 users
  • include extreme users (extreme in neurodiversity, skills, age)
  • test in their natural habitat

Sara also mentioned Yahoo’s vision for an inclusive workplace “for minds of all kinds.” I like this phrasing much more than “neurodiverse,” which sounds a bit clinical to my ear. I’m definitely inspired to see out “minds of all kinds” in my future user research and testing.

Dr. Kit Heyam “Creating trans-inclusive libraries: the UX perspective”

Kit started his presentation with what he called “Trans 101” to make sure we all understood the basics. We can’t work to be trans-inclusive if we don’t understand the multi-facted nature of trans identity. Kit then followed up with examples of experiences trans people have had in libraries.

I didn’t take notes on the exact examples, but one has stuck with me. A student who’s a trans man had an issue with his old name being used in one of the library systems. There was a drawn-out encounter with a library staff member who was not helpful in resolving the problem, and eventually said “It’s so difficult not to offend people these days! You’re not offended are you? It’s an understandable mistake. It’s just so many girls have short hair these days! And your voice…” That student decided it was easier and safer for him to just avoid using library services after that. I found this pretty heart-breaking.

Kit said that what makes the biggest difference for trans folks is not what fits in a policy, but rather the interpersonal relations. He went on to say later that “staff make the user experience.” Great design cannot make up for a terrible encounter with a staff member. And we can’t leave it up to chance whether trans people will encounter welcoming staff; it cannot be what Kit called a “staff lottery.” Some of his specific action recommendations:

  • Updating records
    • Work from a checklist
    • Safeguard confidentiality; could anyone work out that this person is trans?
  • Describing/addressing people – in person or by phone
    • Use gender-neutral language/descriptors
    • Avoid “Sir” and “Madam” / “love” and “mate” / “Ladies and gentlemen”
    • Don’t make assumptions based on your voice: verify ID another way if necessary
  • Signals of inclusivity
    • Pronouns on badges, in email signatures, in meetings
    • Awareness of intersectionality
    • Offer non-binary options (genders/titles) and avoid “he/she” wording
  • Recognise that harassment is about effect, not intent
  • Toilets
    • Don’t assume you know which toilet someone wants to use
    • Have clear procedures for dealing with complaints which stands up for trans rights

The signals of inclusivity show trans people that you’ve thought about them. Though Kit did have an example of a library that gave mixed messages, with staff having pronouns on their badges, but library announcements starting with “Ladies and gentlemen…” It’s important to be consistent.

Most of all, it’s important to have clarity around these kinds of actions and procedures for everyone who works in the library—not just the library staff but also security staff (perhaps especially security staff).

Dr. Janine Bradbury “Safe spaces, neutral spaces? Navigating the library as a researcher of colour”

I fear I’m not going to do justice to Janine’s talk since much of the time I was sitting, rapt, rather than writing anything down. But I will do what I can.

Janine talked about libraries as a literary symbol of literacy. She talked about this symbol being particularly potent for black people and showed a couple of videos to demonstrate this. One was an ad for Bell’s Whisky (Janine asked us to pretend it wasn’t an ad) that showed an older black man learning to read and making his way through stacks of books at the library, starting with early readers and progressing, finally, to a novel written by (it is revealed at the end) his son. Janine posited that if language is power then literacy is about reclaiming power.

Janine then showed a clip of Maya Angelou talking about libraries. At the end of the clip, Dr. Angelou says “Each time I’d go to the library, I felt safe. No bad thing can happen to you in the library.” Janine then spent some time unpacking the notion of libraries being “safe.” She said, “It’s not safe for white people when Maya Angelou is in a library.” But more to the point, libraries are not always safe spaces because they are very often white spaces. White spaces are not always safe for people of colour.

Janine then went on to chronicle her own experiences in various libraries from the time she was a child to now. She spoke of the tension between this kind of lived experience as a library user and the symbolic potency of the library in black culture, such as we saw in the two video clips. That tension is, at least partly, the result of the library as an institution and therefore a place of institutional racism, institutional sexism, etc. Janine later went on to say that the “stamps, fines, charges, cards, documentation” of the library “echoes institutional practices associated with the tracking and surveillance of black bodies.” I found that incredibly interesting and rather chilling.

Related to the recent movement in the UK for decolonising the curriculum, Janine suggested the following actions for decolonising the library:
Actions for decolonizing the library (see image description)

Janine called out the work by Harinder Matharu and Adam Smith from the David Wilson Library at the University of Leicester as a good example of decolonising the library. Harinder and Adam presented on Day 1 of the conference on their work with Black History volunteers to unearth hidden histories of their institution and the impact of those histories on students’ sense of belonging. I can’t wait to read their chapter in this year’s yearbook so I can learn more.

Team Challenge

The remainder of Day 2 was mostly taken up with the Team Challenge. I did like that the challenge was not a competitive one this year; the emphasis was on sharing experiences and it took some of the pressure off. Particularly since it came at the end of the conference and I was pretty beat.

Maybe it was just because I was tired, but I didn’t really enjoy the team challenge. We were to use UX research techniques to reflect on our own individual experiences of doing UX research and then pull those individual experiences into a cohesive team presentation. I was really glad my job had recently taken a positive turn, otherwise I would have found it a very grim afternoon. Still, I didn’t find it very inspiring. But that could be because I’ve done quite a lot of self-reflection in the past year and, when working with a group of UXLibs people from around the world, I’d rather spend the time looking outward and trying to solve actual user problems.

But on the plus side, it was nice to get to know the people on my team. And, in the end, it is always the people that make UXLibs for me. More on that in my Reflection & Inspiration post.

UXLibs IV: Reflection & Inspiration

Pencil with inscription: UXLibs: Do do do it!

These are my personal (perhaps too personal!) reflections about UXLibs IV and where I found inspiration this year. You may just want my Conference Notes.

This was my fourth time at UXLibs. I was actually thinking of giving it a miss this year. I was having a crap year and was feeling uninspired, hopeless, useless. Why would I want to go to a conference and be surrounded by people who were doing interesting things? Wouldn’t it just make me feel worse? Turns out, no. Quite the opposite.

But back to that feeling of being uninspired, hopeless, useless. Since last summer, I hadn’t been working on any projects at all, nor did I feel much interest in starting any. I had hit the gaping maw of a professional low and couldn’t get myself out. I looked into not just leaving my job, but leaving libraries period.

I noticed a couple of things, compared to times when I felt more engaged:

  • I hadn’t done a scary thing in a while
    • First off, I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than reference those stupid Lululemon bags with sayings like “Do something scary every day” on them. But. Many of the things that I have loved doing started with me cringing while I hit “Send” or “Submit.” Pitching to WeaveUX? Cringe and submit. Sending a very rough first draft to Kristin Meyer? Cringe and send. Pretty much any conference proposal? Cringe and off it goes. I hold the fear and lack of confidence at bay for the second it takes to do a thing I can’t undo. I hadn’t done that in months.
  • I stopped tweeting
    • Partly, I didn’t feel like I had anything useful or interesting to say. Partly, I was disengaging from most contact with people. But I did miss it. Look, I know that the little dopamine lift I get with a like is programmed to keep me addicted to the app and we should all put down our phones and blah blah blah. But I’m not a social media star; my follower and following lists are small and I have met and like most of the people on them. So getting a like is getting a little smile from them, or a touch on the arm: “I know you and I see you.” It makes me think of them, and reminds me that I’m glad to know them. How can this be a bad thing?

So that was where I was when I decided I would come to UXLibs again this year. And then, three weeks before the conference, I got a new boss who managed to restore some of my hope. I no longer felt useless. All that was left was to get inspired.

Cue UXLibs.

Some inspiration I found, in no particular order:

  • I am inspired to heed Sara Lerén’s call to do user research and testing with users on the extremes: “minds of all kinds,” people with low literacy, perhaps students struggling with English as their second (or third or fourth) language, students with disabilities. I have happened upon users in these groups during user testing, but now I will seek them out.
  • I am inspired to heed Kit Heyam’s call to make our library as inclusive and welcoming to trans and non-binary students as possible (within my power). I’ve started looking at our website for gender-neutral language. But that’s just a first step and I hope I can spiral upward from there. Perhaps try to do something to minimize the “staff lottery” for our users.
  • I’m inspired to heed Janine Bradbury’s call to decolonise the library (again, within my power), perhaps with the model of Harinder and Adam’s work on Black History at the University of Leicester.
  • I’m inspired to heed Andy Priestner’s call to think bigger about UX in my library. In many ways, I feel like I’m stuck at first steps and want to start to get to embedding and influencing.
  • I’m inspired by Chad Haefele to keep thinking of new ways to make the library website better, and by Nicola Walton to keep finding new ways to test it. I’ve been letting our site stagnate a bit.
  • I’m inspired by Jon Earley to write better documentation! To streamline spaghetti systems, to improve performance, and to always trust the words of our users.
  • I’m inspired by Danielle Cooper to learn more about indigenous research and look at better supporting indigenous students in my library.
  • And I’m inspired by the people I met and the conversations I had at the conference to keep doing the work, to stay in libraries, to do scary things, to stay connected.

SuHui Ho’s idea that we “act within our power” to improve inclusion turned out to be really inspiring to me. On first blush, it seems a suffocatingly small idea if you feel like you have very little power. However, when I thought about it more I realized that by acting, I can expand my power, which then gives me more scope to act, and it can turn into a wonderful upward spiral. I think it can also be inspiring for those times I’m feeling daunted and overwhelmed, for when I’m uninspired, hopeless, useless. I don’t have to fix everything, I don’t have to do everything, I just have to act within my power.

So, in the spirit of acting within my power, I’d like to invite you to collaborate with me on UX work. Or perhaps invite you to invite me to collaborate with you. I have a sabbatical coming up in July 2019 and I know I’m not suited to spending an entire year working on a project all by myself. So I’m seeking collaborators, co-conspirators for projects large or small. I’ll be staying in Ottawa, so the collaboration would likely be at a distance but I’m definitely open to some travel. I’ve been very vaguely thinking about looking at student help-seeking, or whether we can improve the UX of being a library worker. But I’m completely open to other ideas. It’s still a year out, so there’s lots of time to think and plan.

It feels slightly ridiculous and not a little scary to do this. But dammit, I’m going to cringe and hit “Publish” anyway. Please do do do get in touch.


UXLibs Workshop: Adding Useful Friction to Library UX

Post-its with ideas on adding friction

This is a version of the content I presented as part of my workshop at UXLibs IV in Sheffield on June 6. Clearly, I talked way too much.

This is very much an exploratory workshop. I’m going to talk for a bit about an idea or concept and then you’ll have time to reflect and explore how that might apply in your own library. Then I’ll talk some more, you’ll reflect some more, and so on. We could easily do a lot of “think, pair, share” but I know that model doesn’t work for everyone – some of you need quiet time to think, some of you need to talk to think, and there are people in the middle. I’d like you to be able to think and explore in the way you need to. So, if you prefer to talk through your ideas with other people could you write a big T on a sticky and stick it on yourself? And if you prefer to think quietly to yourself, could you write a big Q on a sticky and put it on? If you don’t care, just label yourself a talker. When we get to the time when we’re reflecting and exploring, if you’re a talker, please seek out other talkers and let the quiet folks do their own thing. You can also change your letters as we go.

On to friction!

What do I mean when I talk about friction? Some people define friction in UX as anything that frustrates you, but I think of it more as something that slows you down – like in physics. You have an object sliding down an incline – more friction makes it go slower. And yes, heat or frustration can build up, but I am primarily talking about the slowing effect.

When people talk about friction in UX, it’s usually in the context of wanting to remove it. Because we don’t want to slow people down unnecessarily; we want to help them do what they need to do with the least amount of fuss. But often libraries do slow people down. We see buildings with a jumble of signage. We see websites with a lot of text and jargon. We have a lot of processes with way too many steps.

And I think that’s why many of us are drawn to UX. We see things like this and we want make things easier for our users. Some of you may be familiar with Steve Krug. Don’t Make Me Think is a classic in web usability. Essentially, Krug says: People don’t want to think about your website, they just want to do what they need to do. When you go to the library website, you shouldn’t have to think too hard to find the hours. When you come into the library, you shouldn’t have to think too hard to find a toilet. It should be clear, it should be easy. I love Don’t Make Me Think.

But, today, I want to explore the idea that there may be times when we do want our users to think.

An example, though not from libraries. Some of you might remember from earlier this year, an alert went out to people in Hawaii. “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” But it was a drill.

A shot of the screen the employee who made the mistake saw made the rounds almost immediately. Computer screen with a confusing list of links to alerts, warnings and drills

You can definitely argue that there was too much friction on that screen. But, as many argued in the days that followed, there was clearly not enough friction in the design of the system to prevent errors. It seemed so obvious that people designed a bunch “are you sure” pop-ups that they thought could have helped slow down the employee. To help make him think.

Now, what on earth does this have to do with libraries? Our users are not going to be sending missile alerts from our library catalogues. But have a look at this example: Clicking on a journal title launches another search that wipes out search results and history

I do a search in Summon for user experience friction, limited to journal articles, full text, and in the last three years. I look at the results and see one from Journal of Documentation. What happens if I click that link? Let’s assume I notice this: Search within Journal of Documentation. I don’t want to do that. Let’s clear and get back to my results. I didn’t want to clear everything! Okay, I’ll use the back button. Got back to search within the journal, so back again. I just want to get back to my original results. But they’re gone. Once I click that link, I can’t go back. And okay, losing your search isn’t the same as triggering a missile alert. But it’s not great. This definitely needs a little more friction before a single click wipes out my search.

So friction can come in the form of preventing people from making mistakes. Slow them down, maybe give them some extra information, so they don’t do something they don’t mean to do. But friction can have other

At the Interaction17 conference, Christina Xu talked about friction in UX design in China. While she was working there, she found that sometimes she had to engage in a conversation by phone or chat with someone at a business before she could complete an online transaction. Even when she used the equivalent of Uber in China, called Didi, her driver would call to confirm her location. She found this weird but realized that this kind of friction was being used to establish accountability or trust; to help build a relationship. In an academic library context, maybe a student has to contact a subject liaison as a step in their research assignment. That could make it more likely that the student contacts their liaison again. My local public library makes users come in to a branch at least once a year to renew their library card. So friction can definitely be in the physical world as well.

(At this point, I asked workshop participants to think of their own libraries and where there may be spaces or services or interfaces where users could be helped by being slowed down a bit. They could brainstorm with others or think on their own, and they wrote their ideas down on post-its.)

It can be tricky to think about slowing users down, when we usually try to streamline things for them. So, I’m going to introduce another way to add friction in your library without slowing down your users. Instead, you can add friction for library staff.

At my library, we redesigned our online subject guides to try to make them less overwhelming for students. We moved from a tabbed design to accordions. In our user testing of this design, we found that more than 5 accordions was a little much for students to quickly scan. So, on the back end we built in a little barrier: Option to add more than 5 accordions is disabled in the editing interface

The button to add more section is disabled when you get to your 5th accordion. Staff are allowed to have more but they have to make a request. And we’ve only had one person make requests for more accordions. That little bit of friction in the back-end design has been enough to keep people to 5 accordions which, ultimately, makes a better front-end design for our users.

On the physical side, at my library, we used to make students bring us the call number of books they wanted from our Reserves Room (a closed stacks area). If students came to the desk with just a title they were sent away to look up the call number. Now, we have a computer at the Reserves Desk and staff are encouraged to help students find what they need. They don’t have to, but since the computer is right there, they look like jerks if they don’t. Adding friction for staff can be a way of aligning staff work with user needs. You want to make it easy for staff to act in ways that support users. Or, to put it another way, you want to make it difficult for staff to act in ways that don’t support users.

(At this point, I again asked people to think about adding friction for staff in their libraries in order to encourage user-centred behaviours—though no electric shocks or trap doors, please. Again, they wrote their ideas on post-its.)

We’re going to change gears again and think about adding friction to improve inclusion. Many of my examples and ideas around this come from the wonderful book Design for Real Life by Eric Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher. The book is about how a lot of design assumes a pretty narrow range of demographics or life experience. One of the driving forces behind the book was Eric’s experience of getting a Year in Review ad from Facebook, full of happy clip-art people dancing around a picture of his young daughter who had died from brain cancer that year. Definitely not a year for dancing. Eric doesn’t say this directly, but this kind of thing tells a user “our product, our service, it’s not for you.” And I don’t think we ever want to tell our users that the library is not for them.

So where does friction come in? Well, sometimes trying to cut down on friction in processes and interfaces can create a design or service that leaves out certain people.  Maggie Delano describes using the period tracker Glow, that only gives these three options for why you’d want to track your period:

  • Avoiding pregnancy
  • Trying to conceive
  • Fertility treatments.

Maggie says, “It’s telling women that the only women worth designing technology for are those women who are capable of conceiving and who are not only in a relationship, but … in a sexual relationship with someone who can potentially get them pregnant.” This left out Maggie and it leaves out a lot of people with periods. But three options fit so nicely on the screen! Adding more options is going to create complexity, it’s going to slow things down. But it’s also going to be more inclusive.

Another example is the radio button for selecting gender on a form. Even when it’s expanded beyond a binary choice, it’s problematic:

Gender: Female, Male, Other, Prefer not to say
From Sabrina Fonseca “Designing Forms for Gender Diversity and Inclusion

Do you really want to make people self-identify as “other”? Is “Prefer not to say” the safest choice? But what if you’re actually quite happy to say but you’re not represented here? I would question whether you really need this information. But if you do, make it a free form question for everyone. Don’t just make people who don’t fit the binary write in their answer; give everyone that same friction of choosing what to enter. And explain what the information will be used for, so someone doesn’t get outed unexpectedly. Yes, this will make your form wordier. Yes, it will slow people down. But this friction is worth it to make sure that you’re not telling groups of your users that the library is not for them.

(At this point, I asked participants to think about where in their libraries they could add a little friction—on the user side or on the staff side—that could help with inclusion; that could implicitly or explicitly let a group of users know that they are welcome. Again, ideas were captured on post-its. After this, participants posted all of their ideas and spent time looking at others’ ideas.)

Now I want to talk for a little bit about friction and user research.

Remember that Hawaii missile warning and people saying that there should have been an “are you sure?” pop-up? It seems like a no-brainer. We see them everywhere for even trivial things. But because we see them everywhere for even trivial things, they don’t always work. In a book about the use of technology in medicine and hospitals, Robert Wachter reports that at one hospital, of 350,000 medication orders per month, pharmacists received pop-up alerts on nearly half of them (The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age). That’s a pop-up alert about every 18 seconds. Pharmacists, unsurprisingly, learned to click past those alerts without even looking at them. You can’t just add friction, you have to test it and test it in your users’ context. Is the friction creating a useful pause, or is it just frustrating?

Another aspect of friction and user research is what happens when users bring friction with them. Design for Real Life has a whole chapter on what they call stress cases – not edge cases but stress cases – and how stress depletes our cognitive resources. A stressed brain simply does not function as well. And for those of us in academic libraries, we can be certain that our users are coming to us stressed.

A 2016 survey of students in universities in my home province of Ontario found that 65% had experienced overwhelming anxiety in the past 12 months. 65% had experienced overwhelming anxiety. Some libraries are trying to include resources on their websites to help stressed students.

But how can you make sure your sites and services are usable by people under stress? Users who agree to participate in research or testing are generally not those who are experiencing overwhelming anxiety. And certainly you don’t want to create overwhelming anxiety for your participants! But you can generate a little bit of cognitive stress by having them remember a sequence of 8 letters and numbers or a sequence of 8 symbols, or you can have some conversational noise in the background. These fairly simple activities can mimic a stressed brain and let you know if your designs work okay for people under some stress.

Although we generally want UX in libraries to be smooth and easy, there may be times when we want to slow people down a bit. To give them a bit of space to think: to help them avoid mistakes, to help them make connections. Or we might want to slow down our library staff to help them act in ways that serve users well. There might be ways friction can help our libraries be more inclusive, more welcoming. And we might want to add friction to our user research in order to mimic some of the stress our users are under when they come to us. We definitely should test any friction we add to our services, spaces or interfaces to make sure that we’re not actually creating frustration instead of that useful pause.

(Before people left the workshop, I promised to share the ideas generated in both workshops. There were so many post-its! But here are all of the ideas generated by the participants.)