UXLibsV: Notes

uxlibsvFive years of UXLibs – hurrah! Let’s dive straight in.

Barriers to UX Design: Andy Priestner

Andy kicked off the conference with his address about why he thinks not many of us are moving beyond research reports when it comes to doing UX work in our libraries:

  1. We see research as the finish line. UX is about uncovering actionable insights, not about statistical significance
  2. We’re terrible at idea generation. We tend to get set on the first “safe” idea we come up with.
  3. We pursue perfection. Instead, we should evolve services with our users.
  4. We’re too cautious. After talking with library directors, Andy thinks library staff perceive less agency than we actually have; directors say they want their staff to try new things.
  5. We’re not agile enough. Not everyone needs to be consulted before we can take action.
  6. Issues around ownership and politics. There is uncertainty about where UX sits and the scope is misunderstood.
  7. Ignoring the basics. UX is often perceived as innovation (and institutions love innovation) but UX can also be sorting out the basics.
  8. Fear of failure. We overreact to negative comments. Failure is not modeled; we may hear that it’s okay to fail but we don’t tend to see it.

Andy then gave some examples of projects where libraries created prototypes out of their UX research, and iterated to improve the design to actually meet user needs.

Leadership is Key—My UX Journey: Anneli Friberg

Anneli gave a very warm and personal keynote, talking about her experiences growing UX at her library.

One of the things that stood out most for me was her explanation of how “the user perspective” is different from “the user’s perspective.” Library workers often feel they have “the user perspective” because they spend so much time serving users. But Anneli said that this “user perspective” is only ever the best guess of library workers, looking from the inside-out. “The user’s perspective” is outside-in; we walk along with our users to learn what they actually do, say, and feel. It’s not a guess.

friberg-slideAnneli showed us her version of a UX maturity model (created in Swedish and translated into English). She talked about the importance of recognizing what kind of organization you work in and where you are in the maturity model. She spoke about the frustrations she encountered when her library was in the early stages of maturity and how it helped her to have an external network she could rely on for support.

To get through the frustration of the early stages of UX maturity, you have to shape the culture of your library. Anneli recommended leading this culture change by example.

Michael West has said “The core of leadership is compassion and kindness” and lays out four aspects of leadership: attending, understanding, empathizing, and helping. He describes “attending” as “listening with fascination,” which I really like as an idea. A few other interesting bits from Anneli’s keynote:

  • Failure is success in progress
  • Do idea generation together with your users
  • Take pictures of how students are using the library so you can easily show needs and gaps (e.g. a student hanging their coat on shelved books points to the need for coat hooks!)
  • Lead by clearing the path (help remove barriers for others)

Anneli had some interesting and useful things to say about failure. She believes that having a project fail was an important step in moving her UX vision forward. Her team did some research, found a problem, and wanted to try a solution. Anneli was pretty sure it wouldn’t work, but didn’t discourage them. They launched the solution and, sure enough, it didn’t work as well as they’d hoped. But having the experience of a failure, they were able to move on and try other things. They saw that failure wasn’t the end of the world, that the important thing was to try something, learn, and move on to try something else.

Neurodiversity, Universal Design and Secrets of the Library: Penny Andrews

Penny started her plenary talk by defining what neurodiversity is and is not. She then talked about how neurodiverse people experience the library. And often it’s not good.

Libraries have a lot of unwritten rules and unspoken social norms, and this is very challenging for neurodiverse students. Library staff often don’t want to be the police so we expect users to manage the space themselves. But this usually relies on those unspoken social norms. Clarity of the rules and enforcement of those rules would help neurodiverse students.

Silent study spaces can be difficult because they are never actually silent. It’s easier to hear things like people chewing and keyboards clacking in silent areas. But often, silent areas are where individual study spaces are found. Having individual spaces in non-silent areas could be helpful.

Penny told us that most neurodiverse students do not ask for individual accommodations, or else wait until their situation is completely unbearable. Autistic students are most likely to drop out within their first year. But if they continue, they tend to have the highest marks.

So, what can libraries do?

  • Be upfront with our information (not hide it under “Services for Disabled Students”). Library websites have so much information and no good way into it.
  • Related, be specific with our communications. Don’t just say “we’re here to help!” but make it clear how and why to make a one-on-one appointment.
  • Use universal design and consider various people’s needs from the start, not as an add-on. We can’t do one-size-fits-all because of competing needs, but our designs can account for these competing needs.
  • Don’t depend on Disability Services as a liaison. Not all students declare their disabilities so Disability Services won’t know what those students need.
  • Recruiting can be difficult. Talk to people in the library who look like they’re not having a good time. Go to special interest groups that might draw neurodiverse people (Penny recommended something geek-related). Regular recruiting methods often bring out the outliers who always want to join in and who don’t represent the majority of neurodiverse people.
  • Always go in assuming we know nothing. A little bit of knowledge (knowing one neurodiverse person) is worse than knowing nothing. Neurodiverse people are a diverse group.

After Penny’s presentation, someone asked her if there were certain UX research methods that neurodiverse people found difficult. Penny responded that ambiguous prompts—particularly things like “draw your research experience” or “build your ideal library”—tend to be difficult, as is anything with group work. Definitely good things to keep in mind.

Tales of the UneXpected: Hannah Fogg and Lorraine Noel

Both speakers talked about the experiences of having front-line staff engage in UX work at their libraries. Hannah started off with the experience at Angela Ruskin University (ARU).

At ARU, they didn’t want UX to be just for librarians, so they brought in Andy Priestner to do UX training for their frontline staff. As part of the training, the staff did mini UX projects using their newfound knowledge of UX research methods. Having “mini” projects was meant to not overwhelm some staff who might be scared off by a big project, and at the same time not give free rein to others who would be tempted to be too ambitious.

One of the projects Hannah highlighted was a mapping exercise that showed users completely avoiding the print journals shelving (they diverged to one side or the other), so a decision was made to move those shelves out of that area of the library entirely.

Lorraine was up next to talk about the experience at Huddersfield. They had seen what ARU had done and wanted to replicate it, in hopes of professionalizing their front-line staff and enhancing the user experience. Bryony Ramsden led the workshops for Huddersfield staff. Attendance was mandatory and they also had to work in groups on a “modest UX project.” Those groups had to include staff from at least two different areas of the library (I love that idea!), and each of the 10 groups had a manager as a “guide on the side.”

There were a lot of benefits to the Huddersfield experience, but Lorraine also mentioned that there was some initial resentment from staff, likely due to the mandatory nature of the project.

Hannah said that at ARU, staff appreciated learning skills in project management that could help with their career progression. Also, ARU lost their UX expert and staff were happy to feel empowered to carry on the UX work on their own.

Passionate About Floorplans: Tim Graves

(I was excited about this session because floorplans are the bane of my existence. We get a lot of requests to make them fancier or add functionality, but keeping them up to date is a constant struggle. I finally resigned myself to walking through our 5 floors three times a year, making any necessary corrections on printed versions of our maps so I can update the ones on the web. The maps posted in our building get updated by the campus facilities people and at times bear little resemblance to the web versions. ARGH!)

Anyway, Tim also wanted to improve the floorplans on the website of the University of Sussex. The library was receiving a lot of questions about how to find things in the library and Tim thought that better floorplans on the website might help people better navigate to what they needed.

First, he came up with a version based on printed floorplans, but they were too complex and not responsive on smaller screens. Inspired by the London Tube Map, he created a simplified version, but discovered it was *too* abstracted from reality to be useful. The “just right” solution came after he did a lot of reading in the design literature (especially Alberto Savoia and Jeanne Liedtka & Tim Ogilvie) and started iterating his design with users.

Tim mentioned the usefulness of “pretotyping” a solution to see if it’s worth getting to the prototyping stage. A pretotype is essentially a very rough, low-fi prototype. It might be a good thing to keep in mind if you work with people who find it difficult to create quick and dirty prototypes. You could say “we don’t need a prototype yet, let’s just pretotype it!” Even though *you* know a prototype can just be a rough sketch, they can think it’s a whole different (and new!) thing.

You can see Tim’s improved floorplans. And he said that he’s happy to share the code that drives them. You can contact Tim at t.c.graves[at]sussex.ac.uk.

Appreciative Inquiry Workshop: Kristin Meyer

Appreciative inquiry is a method that helps people focus on solutions instead of problems, leads groups to action, and does so in a very positive way. I was really excited about this workshop because anything that Kristin does always seems excellent. I was not disappointed.

The workshop started with an introduction to appreciative inquiry and then Kristin led us through a sped-up process of appreciate inquiry as we worked through an issue that’s been raised through UX research at her own library. The steps we took:

  1. Connect to purpose: Look at the big picture and why this problem is important. How could exploring this area benefit users?
  2. Frame it and flip it: Clearly state the problem so that everyone is on the same page. Then, think about the desired state instead of the problem and come up with a question to help us explore what we desire for our users.
  3. Dream of the ideal future: Think about words and phrases that describe an ideal solution. How will success look and feel?
  4. Ideate: We skipped this step in the workshop because it takes a lot of time. Kristin mentioned her favourite ideation technique is Brainwriting, described in the book Gamestorming (2010).
  5. Prototype internally: Our colleagues may have good ideas and asking them for feedback can help build early buy-in. Generative questions keep things positive: What do you like about this idea? How can we improve this idea?
  6. Prototype with users: Again, we skipped this step because we had no users to prototype with.

I liked step 2, where we flipped the problem into a desired state. I’m guessing that thinking of “what do we want to happen” instead of “what do we want to stop” could help avoid the “solution” of putting up a sign or trying to curb behaviour with punitive measures.

I also really like the idea of connecting to colleagues with generative questions, rather than asking for general feedback. Andy may have said that not everyone needs to be consulted, but sometimes it’s important or useful to consult our colleagues. Using generative questions would be a way to lessen the chances of hearing “that will never work” or “why don’t you do X instead?”

Advanced Interview Techniques: Danielle Cooper

Since I’m about to embark on a project that involves a lot of interviewing, I thought it made sense to make sure that I took advantage of any opportunity to improve my skills in this area.

Danielle has a lot of experience with interviewing users in her job at Ithaka S+R. The short version of this workshop is that the best way to get better at interviewing is to keep doing it, so we spent most of the time in groups of 3 taking turns being interviewer, interviewee, and observer. Danielle gave us some practical tips as well.

To probe for more information, from least obtrusive to most:

  • silence
  • non-verbal affirmation
  • echoing the response
  • affirmative neutral comments
  • repeating or clarifying the interview question
  • summarize and synthesize the answer
  • simply saying “tell me more”

If participants are not very forthcoming, you can try a variety of these probes. Be willing to cut your losses and end the interview if you’re not getting any useful information.

On the other hand, if participants are way too chatty, you can try the following:

  • gentle inattention
  • polite transitions
  • graceful interruptions

Working in Difficult Environments: Lessons from the World of Civic Design: Suzanne Chapman

Suzanne started her keynote with some examples of behaviour that many of us recognized from our workplaces. chapman-slide

She then pointed out that these behaviours were from the Simple Sabotage Field Manual from the OSS (predecessor to the CIA), a document explaining to spies how to sabotage enemy organizations.

She gave a quotation from a senior person in one of the organizations she’d worked in: “We are trying to do as much end user testing as possible without actually talking to users.” Suzanne noted that UX maturity models, such as the one Anneli showed in her keynote, are missing the part where humans are difficult and sabotage-y.

She also noted that doing UX in libraries is extremely hard.

But this work can be made easier if everyone can agree on specific guiding principles. She shared seven that she uses at the Centre for Civic Design:

  1. Do the most good for the most people who need it the most (italics mine). This goes beyond the 80/20 rule and looks at need rather than just numbers.
  2. Delivery is the strategy. Given the choice between culture change and “getting shit done,” they have chosen to let culture change come second.
  3. Work lean, iterate quickly. Sometimes this means doing the least shitty thing, but it always means that you should only make *new* mistakes.
  4. We use design to make things better. Design means working your way through the problem in order to reach a solution, not just grabbing a solution.
  5. We design with users, not for them. This is similar to Anneli’s message to take the “user’s perspective” rather than the “user perspective.” Also, research is done with a goal of improvement, not just for learning.
  6. Hire and empower great people. And there has to be agreement about what it means to be empowered; there should not be responsibility without authority.

These principles may not resonate, or even be possible in your library. But going through the process of deciding what your library’s guiding principles are can be your anti-sabotage model.

My web committee went through this process, based on guiding principles Suzanne wrote while she was still working in libraries. The process was very helpful in making sure we really were on the same page. It’s also a useful document to show people coming on to the committee for the first time. It would definitely be *more* useful if it went beyond just our committee, but it’s something. If you’re interested, we’ve made our guiding principles public.

UXVR: The Potential of Virtual Reality to UX Research: Victor Alfson

Victor spoke about a project he did at the Black Mountain Library in Stockholm. He asked users to create a great library for themselves using a VR headset, Tilt Brush (a 3D-painting app), and a 3D model of the existing library. He asked participants to narrate their actions, but also jumped in with questions.

It’s a similar task to what you could do with pen and paper, but using VR gave a different angle. To recruit participants, Victor asked the (possibly slighty creepy) question, “Do you want to come down to the basement to try something cool?” 9/10 people that he asked agreed to participate! And once they were there, they stayed—for 40 minutes on average— because the task was novel and engaging.

Victor found that participants were very candid in what they said, and he wondered if that was due to people feeling like they were in a private space. With the VR headset on, they were alone in the 3D library space, with Victor’s disembodied voice occasionally asking them questions.

So what did users draw and talk about? Well, it was the usual things: food, noise, finding the right kind of space. But the insights were interesting. A few kids drew a McDonalds in the library, and went on to say that they just wanted to be able to eat their snack without a librarian bugging them. One kid drew a vortex in the library that would take them directly to their home. Victor asked further about this and found out that this kid had to take two buses and the metro to get home from the library. I wondered if this kind of thing would have come out in a pen-and-paper exercise, or if it was the technology that made the kid think about an amazing technological solution to their transportation problem.

Overall, Victor said that it was very fun research for both him and the participants. And his library will be following up on some of the insights they gained, such as creating a new quiet study room for kids working on their homework. Previously, these kids tried to find quiet nooks and crannies to work in, so both they and their needs were unseen by library staff. Victor’s project brought them out of their quiet corners and gave them a new space of their own. A nice real-world result for this VR project.

Internships and Ethnography: Students Researching Students: Claire Browne

Claire spoke about using a student intern to carry out a UX project using a cultural probe to get to know the needs of taught postgraduate students at the University of Birmingham. The university’s Careers department was looking for meaningful student placements that showcased careers in higher education and gave students experience with project management and data analysis. It was a great fit with the library’s desire to expand their UX work.

Before the intern was hired, the library had to have the project go through ethics review and recruit participants (10 in total). They had ideas for what they wanted in the cultural probe, but the intern, Luke, was able to put his stamp on it, finalizing the tasks and adding notes and jokes to the participant diaries to keep their engagement up throughout the 2 weeks of daily tasks.

Some of the tasks were: answering specific questions, writing a letter with advice to a student starting out, card sorting, a photo study showing their typical day, a love letter/break-up letter, and a cognitive map.

All participants did every task, which seems to show that Luke did a great job keeping everyone engaged. Participants enjoyed the variety of tasks and provided a lot of rich information in the self-reflective tasks.

Luke gave a presentation to senior staff about his findings and they were very engaged with this 17 year old telling them about the problems in their library. I want to know more about this; were they more engaged because he was an “outsider,” because he was a student, because he was young? Related, Claire mentioned that one of the benefits of having a student intern on this project was that he was not influenced by restraints or constraints felt by library staff; he saw only the user side.

Another benefit Claire mentioned was that Luke was able to engage with the student participants in a natural and informal way that she didn’t think would be possible for librarians. She thought the librarians would have been too formal or crossed the line into “cringey.”

If you want to know more, Luke wrote a report about the project and the techniques that were used in the cultural probe.

Love at First Sight: Consolidating First Impressions: Debbie Phillips

Debbie also spoke about doing a cultural probe, this time at Royal Holloway and focused on the experience of new students in their first weeks on campus. The focus was not entirely on the library, as the project was a collaboration among the library, Campus Life, and Internal Communications.

The Campus Life team were able to help with recruitment and 23 students agreed to participate, though only 13 actually finished all the tasks. Still, since they were hoping for 8 participants, this was a good result.

I was struck that, like Claire, Debbie said they were “hoping for a good mix” of participants. Both projects got a reasonable mix but missed out on representation from one or two groups. I think we often do generic recruitment when we want a mix, assuming that we should recruit from a wide group to get a wide range of participants. But if we want, for example, mature students or international students as part of the participant group, we really need to recruit them specifically in order to make sure of it. (I believe Claire did make this point as something they would do differently next time.)

Some of the tasks in the cultural probe at Royal Holloway: diary questions (2 questions from each of the 3 teams plus some general ones), photo tasks, postcard to friends/family (participants could ask for it to be posted but no one did), campus map with emoji stickers to indicate how they felt about specific buildings or areas of campus.

The library found they were surprised at how many students came to the library during their first visit to campus. They were also surprised at how few students attended their library induction. So, they’re planning to try to find ways to help students learn more about the library during that first campus visit, rather than waiting for induction.

Related, they also found that students expressed a preference for learning about campus prior to arrival, so the library will increase their communications ahead of Arrivals Week, rather than waiting until students are actually on campus.

Final Thoughts

I usually do a full post about my thoughts on the conference, but I don’t have a lot more to say. I had an amazing time, as usual, thanks to the wonderful group of people who come to this conference. In my professional life, UXLibs is my very favourite place.

I’m about to head off on sabbatical (maybe you can help with some of my projects!), so I’m not going to immediately apply much of what I learned but I am already excited to do that when my leave is over. I realize that I’ve been emphasizing the research part of UX because research is actually part of my job description and, outside of the website, design and prototyping is not. I felt comfortable doing research beyond the scope of the website, but not finding a way to move that research into action. When I get back to work I hope I can figure out how to, as both keynotes exhorted: get shit done.

UXLibs III: Conference Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UX-adoption-model

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

UXLibs II: Conference Notes

UXLibs_programme

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.