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.


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.

UXLibs III: Conference Notes

As usual (and I love that I have an “as usual” with UXLibs), I’m going to break my experience into two posts: this one with my notes on the specific sessions I attended, and a second one with my overall thoughts about the conference. These notes aren’t a record of the conference, just the bits that stood out most for me.

Ethical UX (Matthew Reidsma’s keynote)

I am a huge and ridiculous fan of Matthew Reidsma. I love his work, I think he is a lovely and delightful person, and he is a great keynote speaker. So I feel particularly bad that my notes on his talk are a bit scanty. I think I was too absorbed to write much.

  • Your values get encoded in your work, whether you intend it or not. So we should intentionally code our values into our services and software
    • Ask “What happens in the world if we make this thing? How will it affect people?”
    • Think of Mike Monteiro: “We need to fear the consequences of our work more than we love the cleverness of our ideas” (watch the talk that this quotation comes from)
  • Matthew recommended the book “Design for the Real World” by Victor Papanek, and its call for social and moral judgment to come before design
  • When we use personas, are they always smiling? Shouldn’t some of our personas be cranky? Or sleepy? (I didn’t note down all of Matthew’s wonderful examples of real-world personas)
  • What does your library or library website look like to a student in crisis? (I can’t remember if Matthew referenced the book “Design for Real Life” by Eric Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher, but it’s all about this and is really really great)
  • When we rank search results by relevance, are these actually relevant results or results that look relevant?
  • Related searches or items (such as Summon’s “Topic Explorer” feature) can create reckless associations and whether these are intentional or not they can cause real harm to our users. (Matthew’s article “Algorithmic Bias in Library Discovery Systems” goes into a lot more depth on this)

Matthew’s presentation slides are now available.

How White is Your UX Practice? Inclusion and Diversity in Critical UX Research (Karine Larose and Simon Barron)

Karine and Simon worked on UX research for Imperial College that was nicely documented in reports they shared online, but this talk was about what didn’t make it into the reports: what they did wrong.

Essentially, they failed to attract a representative sample of their student body, which is diverse across lines of class, gender, race, and disability.

New to me was their use of a social model of disability, where it is the social environment that makes people feel disabled (see Penny Andrews’ chapter “User experience beyond ramps: The invisible problem and the special case” in the book “User Experience in Libraries: Applying Ethnography and Human-Centred Design” for more). I really like inclusive design and this seems to make it even more imperative; we can design environments that work for people or we can design environments that make people need to look for or ask for accommodations.

Karine and Simon also made the point that UX as it is often practiced can lead to majority rule; an averaging out that can erase the experience of people on the margins. They didn’t say this bit, but it would definitely be useful to explore our edge cases and determine if we’re consistently ignoring the same group(s) of people when we choose to ignore these edge cases.

Recommendations to address diversity in UX research in:

  1. Recruitment: be aware of unconscious bias when we recruit research participants, particularly when we approach users in person for quick, guerrilla-style research. Sending messages for recruitment might be a more inclusive approach, but we still need to make sure messages are visible to the full range of users and that our language is not alienating anyone.
  2. Research design: our research question needs to be clear – “the labour of understanding should be on the researcher, not on the user.” Jargon and complex methods can increase cognitive load.
  3. Actions: we should be ready to challenge non-inclusive UX research in our institutions (brava to Karine, who did just that at Imperial!). We need to seek out more and different voices in the UX world when we’re doing our own learning.  [I also have a note of “UX inclusivity framework” but no further explanation and I’m not sure exactly what that means. Perhaps creating a structure or plan for making our UX research inclusive?]

Text of Karine and Simon’s presentation is now available.


Sponsor presentations

Deirdre from EBSCO consistently gives a presentation that I find relevant and interesting. This year, she talked about her user research group and how it’s evolving within her organization.

  • “Year of Yes”: Deirdre and her colleagues said yes to every request for user research for a year. This was part of evangelizing UX throughout the organization and creating buy-in. But it was only one year, because once the word spreads, you have to make decisions about how to best use your time.
  • As her team evolved over 3 years, there were some lessons learned: deirdre

I don’t have a team, but much of this resonates as an individual trying to do UX in my library.

My favourite bit from Deirdre’s presentation was when she talked about how draining it can be to do one-on-one research with users. She said “shared vulnerability is exhausting” and wow, that resonated with me a LOT.

Serena and Stephen from ProQuest talked about user research with their customers.

  • I didn’t find this as interesting because I know what kinds of features my colleagues ask for, and they’re often not in our users’ best interest! But of course there are features in these products that are geared toward library staff, so it’s good that library staff are involved in this part.
  • “Avoiding negative impact is as important as creating positive impact” is a great point and very relevant to Matthew’s keynote. I think we often focus on making changes that will help without also looking at whether they can harm.

Unmasking the Authentic User Experience (Amy Kimura and Heather A. Dalal)

Amy and Heather used Open Hallway to be able to conduct unmoderated user research with students. The research was my favourite kind: they asked students to search for something they needed for an assignment. They did want students to start with the library’s discovery tool, but other than that, it was completely up to the student what they searched for and how. I love watching users do searches they’re invested in; it’s so much better than forcing them through questions that library people come up with.

With Open Hallway, the students were able to record their searches on their own so they could search when and where it was convenient for them (often 1am in their own room). The students were asked to think aloud as they searched. Amy and Heather showed some video clips that seemed to indicate that students were pretty good at thinking aloud without a moderator prompting them.

The students were quite frank with their comments, and Amy and Heather said it “captured the human aspect of student research.” A few findings that caught my attention:

  • Students have an extremely low tolerance for friction. This is not new to me, but I always welcome the reminder. Students have an extremely low tolerance for friction. Especially at 1am.
  • Many students did not understand the “Get it @ [library]” links. These links lead to a link resolver that will bring them to an online version, but it was misinterpreted to mean they had to go to the physical library. (I’ve not witnessed this confusion with students at my own institution, but we do use the phrase “Get it @ Carleton U” so I’m wondering if we should look into this.)
  • When students did make it to the link resolver, they had a lot of problems understanding how to get to full text, or even if they could. (Here, I felt super smug about deciding to use Matthew Reidsma’s 360Link Reset to make our own link resolver much more user friendly. Always steal use open source solutions from Reidsma!)
  • Amy and Heather said it’s reasonable to have high expectations for our students, since they are at university, but we don’t have to make it harder for them than it has to be.

I find this last point interesting, and it reminds me of discussions about how learning about accessing information is an important part of their education and that we shouldn’t “dumb it down.” To what extent is it a valuable learning experience for students to navigate our systems to find information? We don’t want them to have to become mini-librarians, but is there really learning value here? Or is this just a convenient excuse for libraries with shitty systems (i.e. pretty much all of us)? If students could easily access articles and books and other information, would that really be a detriment to their education? I can’t see that it would.

User Experience… Our Experience (Lorna Dodd filling in for Laura Connaughton)

Lorna and Laura work at Maynooth University Library, which had a big renovation 5 years ago and they wanted to learn more about how the space is being used now.

They used students in the Masters of Anthropology program to conduct ethnographic work, and they used a variety of methods (that I did not take careful note of!). The MA students (researchers) observed and interviewed 30 research participants (students). The researchers looked at the spaces where the users study, and they also looked at how the students interacted with the library space. It was interesting to me that “where they study” and “the library space” seemed to be separate entities for most of the students.

They found that users were interpreting the space differently than library staff. The renovated space included a beautiful, open entryway that is used for events and exhibits and staff were very proud of this space. Students didn’t understand why it was there: "I don't understand what this space is for. Just to look at books in a case? So that I cannot actually look at them."

(I was happy to see this particular finding, but maybe that falls under confirmation bias.)

They also found that although spaces had been created to be noisier (as part of being a “modern library,” Lorna explained), this was not necessarily appreciated by students, who want more quiet space for studying. I talked about this point later with Diane Granfield from Ryerson, who is currently working on designating more quiet library space after opening a very modern, noisy library space on her campus last year. My own library’s silent spaces are very popular with our students. Quiet space can be hard to find in the world, and those who want it – or need it – value it highly.

Team Challenge

For the team challenge this year, we received reams and reams of raw data from UX research carried out at the University of Lanarkshire Library and were asked to come up with next steps.

I was getting pretty tired by this time, but even though there was a LOT of information to go through (or maybe because there was so much), the Challenge seemed easier to grasp this year because it was clearly bounded. Then again, I was obviously not thinking as creatively as the winning Exxilon team who took a step back from all the data and looked at the bigger picture (which, apparently, included Roxette).

It’s interesting (and hard!) to work so intensely with people you’ve mostly just met. I felt bad because I got a bit testy by the end of the afternoon (see: tired!), but it’s all part of the process – working as a group on a short deadline. I think we did quite well; I didn’t have any sense of panic about presenting the next morning. And we even won our heat!

No Fear: Social Responsibility and Community Archiving — Pushing Boundaries of Archival Theory: Privacy, Preserving in Real Time (Meredith Evans’ keynote)

First off, Meredith joked about the many titles of her talk. I can’t remember which was the original and which she decided suited the talk better, but I’m guessing that “No Fear” was the one she really wanted to use.

I loved Meredith’s keynote. The work she does is really inspiring – from the LGBTQ archives at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, to Documenting Ferguson at Washington University, DocNow, and as head of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library.

  • Look for gaps and fill them in, particularly around services for and collections about marginalized people.
  • Connect with your community most of all; if you aren’t being supported by senior management, maybe support from your community will help bring them around.
  • Be bold, be brave. In the Documenting Ferguson project, they decided to let people upload whatever items they wanted, with whatever description they wanted. There was no gate-keeping, no professional selection process. This is not how archives usually work!
  • The Ferguson archive was originally created for the Washington University community, but became the voice of the larger community (Ferguson was about 8 miles away from campus). Users of the archive included journalists and law enforcement, and this created a lot of discussion around protecting the creators of the content in the archive. My notes are a bit vague here, but it seems like those discussions helped lead to the creation of DocNow: Documenting the Now.
  • DocNow has a board that includes archivists, librarians, academics, IT folks, activists, and journalists. They talk about ethics a lot. Just because Twitter is public, is it okay to preserve tweets? To preserve handles with those tweets? Is saying something in public (speaking out loud or on Twitter) different than making a public statement (explicitly creating a public record)? Should those things all be treated equally in an archive?
  • The creators of DocNow wanted to build the tool with their users, not just for them.
  • The work can be tiring and discouraging and you have to figure out how to get yourself through and beyond this.
  • Meredith spoke a lot about the importance of ethics and protecting your users / creators. With most of her work, wanting to protect the users / creators makes the project an activist project. There is a strong sense of social responsibility.
  • The overarching message, similar to Matthew’s keynote, was the need to be (more) conscious and to take (more) care when creating tools and services for our users.

Inward UX: Workshop with Matthew Reidsma

Matthew led us through a great exercise where we paired up to plan a party. One person made suggestions and the other responded to each with “yes, but” and filled in what was usually a concern or reason why the idea wouldn’t work. After that, we did exactly the same thing, except that this time the response started with “yes, and.” “Yes, and” created a totally different, much more positive atmosphere in the room. It’s a small thing, but it made a big difference. Although of course – as someone in the room pointed out – there are times when you really have to say “yes, but.” Still, it’s good to be conscious of whether you’re but-ing or and-ing when you’re reacting to someone else’s ideas.

We then each came up with some “how might we” questions to get at issues in our organizational culture. But instead of trying to come up with ideas on our own, we gave our partners our question and they had to come up with possible answers. Working on solutions for someone else’s problem was a great way to reframe and get a new perspective. I also found it easier to generate possibilities because I was less precious about the problem and didn’t immediately discount options as unworkable.

After this, we then created a rapid prototype for one of the solutions we came up with. Rapid prototyping can help you quickly see if something might work or not, and can lead you to see what other questions still need answering.

My partner and I seemed to have a bit of an issue with a language barrier (I think we each misunderstood the other’s original question/problem), but we stayed open to each other’s ideas and in the end I was surprised to have an interesting possible solution despite the fact that it was created to solve a totally different problem! It seemed to reinforce the power of “yes, and.”

The slides for the workshop I attended are now available (also available are the slides for round 2 of the same workshop)

Experience Mapping: Workshop with Anneli Friberg and Anna Kagedal

My expectations for this workshop were unfairly high, given that it was only one hour. I was hoping for complexity that, in retrospect, could not possibly have been achieved in one hour! But Anneli and Anna were lovely and positive and their instructions were clear and I think it was a pitch-perfect intro session. Apparently I know more about experience mapping than I had thought! Which was also a useful thing to learn.

Anneli and Anna led us through completing an experience map. Once we were done, they asked us to evaluate the session using love letters/break-up letters and a technique that was new to me: the 4L method. With the 4L method, you write down what you Liked, Learned, Lacked, and/or Longed for in the session. It’s a variation on other evaluation methods I’m familiar with but I liked it quite a bit.

Panel: Question Time

I really didn’t take many notes on the panel. (So tired! Brain full!) I liked Andy talking about the need to get better at writing short summaries of our work, rather than pages and pages of reports. Meredith validated this by saying that, as a manager, she only reads the first 3 lines, so you have to have a good subject line (or title) and then make that first bit really count.

I think this was where Matthew jumped in with the very pithy “The point of the work we do is not to do the work.” The work has larger purpose: to improve things for our users. So we have to get past the documenting stage and get to the doing stage.

Andy made a comment that you don’t have to transcribe everything you record and this generated further discussion on Twitter that seemed to center around UX as practical work vs UX research (and the concomitant librarian-as-practitioner vs librarian-as-academic/researchers). Fraught! Honestly, I see and understand both sides. I think the most important thing is to be clear from the outset what your own objective is – practice or research – and then conduct yourself accordingly. Certainly not all UX work needs to be academic research, but when it is we have to do it right.


I have a lot more thoughts about the conference, beyond these notes. I’ll write those up in the next few days.

UXLibs II: Conference Thoughts

fishMy UXLibs II experience started with the opening reception. There was a bit of a lull at the bar as I checked out the drinks menu, so the bartender said he’d make me a nice garnish while I decided. He then proceeded to carve a couple of limes into a fish(!) and gave it rather smashing strawberry eyes. I was utterly delighted during the entire process and then had a drink that acted as a fun ice-breaker for the rest of the evening, helping me to connect with some lovely people for great conversations.

And that – great connections with lovely people – continued throughout the conference (though I didn’t have my little lime-fish friend after Wednesday).

UXLibs is an intense conference, demanding a level of focus and engagement that I just don’t feel other conferences. The hands-on workshops and the team challenge mean that we’re not just listening and thinking to ourselves, but we’re creating and thinking with other people. Connecting. Collaborating. It’s really rather marvelous.

The conference organizers have thought a lot about the UX of UXLibs. For instance: everyone’s name badge had a personalized program inside, and beside the listing for my own presentation was a little “Good luck!” A small touch but a delightful one, like my little lime-fish. On Friday, the organizers were clearly exhausted and devastated and chose to be vulnerable and open about how they were feeling. The honesty and hard work (and fun!) the team models made it easier for me to be honest and open and to work hard and have fun too.

This year, the referendum loomed, creating low-level anxiety on Thursday and general sadness on Friday. Friday was hard for a lot of people. As a Canadian I’m a bit detached, but absolutely felt the heartbreak around me. First thing in the morning, Andy underlined the importance of us all being kind to each other and it felt like that really happened. Not that people were unkind on Thursday, but Friday felt different somehow. Emotions were definitely heightened and the sense of community felt heightened too. Last year I said that UXLibs was the best conference I’d ever been to. UXLibs II feels like it might be the best community I’ve ever belonged to.

How UXLibs II will have an impact on my work

I took away a lot from the conference, but Andy Pristner’s workshop on cultural probes – while also making my inner 10 year old snicker – has me really keen to try this method for my project on delight in the research process. How can I not try such a delightful method to explore delight itself? I’ll have to finish analyzing the data I’ve already gathered first, but I’m very excited about future possibilities!

When Ned described the team challenge this year, I’ll admit that I wasn’t immediately won over. I was in the Marketing Up category, where we had to pitch to senior management. I feel like my superpower in my job is that I seem to fly below the radar of senior management. Or at least they’re happy enough with what I do that they let me keep doing it, but are not so interested that they want or need to know much about it. (The latter isn’t ideal, but if it leads directly to the former then I’m not complaining. Yet.) So I thought the pitch wouldn’t be all that relevant to me. But my team was wonderful. Everyone was generous in both offering ideas and (this can be less common) letting go of them. People were happy to step up and happy to step back. It reminded me a bit of my beloved Web Committee; we worked hard but it didn’t feel hard. And after creating our pitch, hearing the other teams’ pitches, and mulling over bits from Donna Lanclos and Lawrie Phipps, I’m starting to realize that flying under the radar will not be a superpower for much longer. I will need to step up to not just do the work (and wow oh wow do I ever love doing this work) but I’ll need to start advocating for it to be a larger thing. I think I’m doing some good things in “stealth leadership” mode at the moment, but I need to think about when and how to go beyond, to amp up my swagger and diplomacy (à la Deirdre Costello).

Finally, I’m keen to embark on more collaborative projects. I have a sabbatical coming up in a couple of years, and I don’t think I’m constitutionally suited to squirreling myself away and working on my own. I feel like I could reach out to the UXLibs community (beyond my fellow Canadians) to find collaborators. Perhaps even on a larger-scale project like Donna was talking about in the final panel. It may not happen, but the possibility is exciting.

I’m already looking forward to UXLibs III, reconnecting with this lovely community and making new connections.

My personalized program/name badge plus winning key ring/bottle opener

UXLibs II: Conference Notes


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!

Team Challenge

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?


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.

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.