Library UX Audit

The following is a mock UX audit exploring the ways User Experience can be applied to libraries. Originally created as classwork for the University of Illinois LIS program.

Dear Library Director,

We’re excited that you’re interested in conducting a user experience audit at your organization! We’re happy to present you with this preliminary plan in improving your user experience.

Why UX Matters

  • User experience is everywhere. From the physical layout of a store to the friendliness (or lack of friendliness) of a checkout clerk, there are multiple aspects of a business or organization that determine our experience as users of that particular institution.
  • Good user experience is so simple it can be hard to spot. This is especially true if you aren’t looking for it — and that’s what we’re here to help you start doing. As casual users, it’s easy to appreciate positive user experiences without recognizing them for being that. We appreciate effortless interactions, and part of the UX audit of your library will involve seeing just what makes an interaction effortless and pain-free.
  • User experience is about seeing your users as people. We think this is the most simple thing it comes down to — and the most important. When you start looking at the people who are coming into your library and really understanding how they function, you can start to provide tailored, personable services that will be beneficial to everyone involved.

Getting Started

Who’s involved: Everyone

If you have the staff and resources to create a department/task force devoted solely to monitoring and improving your library’s UX, great! But we know not everyone has that luxury. That’s okay, too; providing the best user experience possible is something that all members of your organization can and should have a part in.

We think that one of the best ways to start getting all staff members involved is by promoting discussion about what user experience is and why it matters. Here are some talking points that we suggest covering with your staff:

  • What are some examples of positive vs. negative user experiences you’ve had in the past?
  • What made these experiences either positive or negative?
  • What examples can we think where our patrons might have had a negative user experience at the library? A positive one?

Research and Evaluation

The real heart of improving user experience involves two things: understanding what experience you’re currently providing, and figuring out ways to build upon or alter that current experience. We believe that this requires a strong foundation in research. Without first understanding the needs of your users, designing a product or service for those users will prove to be a frustrating experience for everyone involved!

Here are some more traditional methods of collecting research that are worth considering.

  • Surveys: Directly asking your users questions to find out their patterns of use, their perceptions of the library, and some of their opinions about aspects of the library can be useful to find out what patrons are thinking.
  • Community demographics: Knowing the numbers and statistics of your community will help you form at least a preliminary idea of who you’re serving.

These can be useful starting points, but we really want to emphasize some other research methods for you to consider. It’s also important to note that without evaluating your research, it more than likely means very little. That’s where you and your UX team step in — as the researchers involved in your library, you can and should be evaluating along the way to figure out what your findings really mean for the current state of your organization, as well as looking at ways to make improvements.

Who are our users?

  • Personas: Personas are a great way to take some information you might already have from demographics, and put it together in a way that puts a face to the numbers — literally.

What is our content? How are we representing ourselves?

  • Content Audit: Keeping inventory of your content can be a daunting task, but the rewards are often invaluable. This is more than just looking at what books you have in your stacks — think more along the lines of intangible content, like website pages or staff files on a shared computer drive.
  • Customer Journey Map: These maps are visual representations of how your patrons physically move through the library and interact with different parts of the library (known as “touchpoints”). Like content audits, they’re a great way to re-structure how you visualize and think of your own library space.

How are our services/products being used?

  • In-depth analyses of your services and products: From the library website to the public catalog to the physical layout of your computer lab or stacks, it’s important to assess and really evaluate what you currently have, and why you have it the way that it is.
  • Usability Testing: Building on your initial assessments, usability testing is a great way to see how people actually use those services and products. Surveys are great to get an idea of how people think they use a product, but you’ll find that usability testing will often illuminate patterns of use beyond what a survey might suggest.

What changes can/should we make?

  • Service Safari: Service safaris are a great way to get some input about user experience while also having a coffee break! Take your UX team and visit another organization or business, while taking note of all the things that contribute to your overall experience, for good and bad. Once you’re back at the library, you can evaluate your observations together as a team — and see what this might suggest for you as librarians and library staff.
  • Contextual Inquiry: Like the service safari, contextual inquiries involve a lot of observation. But this time you and your UX team are purely in that observational role; set up somewhere in your own library, and spend some time just watching how patrons use the space and the touchpoints within that space. Have everyone compile a list of their own observations, and then meet back together as a staff to really evaluate and delve into what you saw, and what it means or suggests for your library.


We believe that providing optimal user experience is about moving beyond traditional (though often still valuable) methods of research to looking at the personal, community-based needs of your library. We hope this helps you get started, and look forward to working with you to implement some of these UX methods and more!

Thoughts on improving library UX

Originally written as classwork for the University of Illinois LIS program.

Think about the statistics — circulation, reference questions, program attendance — that your library records and reports. Which, if any, report on user experience?

The library I have the most experience working at is the Ricker Library of Architecture and Art at the University of Illinois. While we do report statistics like circulation, reference questions, and library attendance, the librarians working here also seem to recognize that these sort of stats are not the only thing that matter in measuring the success of the library.

What could your library be recording and reporting that are indicators of user experience?

I think libraries in general need a better focus on questions like the 5 Whys that Aaron recently posted. We should be looking less at how many people are coming through the library and more at how they’re experiencing the library, and why. This will open up new ideas about how we can remodel things, like the physical space of the library, to optimize our patrons’ experiences.

The good news is that the new head librarian that started at Ricker a few months ago seems really interested in improving these sorts of things. She’s taken a real initiative to look at the structure of how the library is currently working, and a lot of that includes simply observing — being out in the library at different times of the day and week just to observe what areas and practices could possibly be re-thought.

She also asks a lot of the current staff members (including myself and the other grad assistants), why things are currently being done the way they are, which I think is so crucial for libraries to do. Especially in a scenario where certain practices have been set up for many years, it’s easy to fall into patterns that are explained as “that’s just the way we’ve always done it.” I think libraries need to be working to continually improve themselves, and that includes constant questioning and examining of our procedures and how they are (or aren’t) improving the experience of those using and working at the library.

What are some steps libraries can take to transition from using circulation statistics to using other, perhaps more engaging, methods of reporting what they do?

I think it’s hard to distill user experience down into the sort of quantitative statistics that stakeholders are often very interested in. I completely agree that we need to be moving beyond the current model, to a new one that emphasizes different aspects of value. I think that will require a shift towards perhaps more time-consuming, but hopefully more illuminating and encompassing models of qualitative research and reporting, incorporating many of the practices we’ve looked at in this class.

Ultimately, I think we need to get stakeholders interested in the human value of libraries rather than data and statistics that is purely about numbers. We need stakeholders interested in the quality of the services that the library offers, rather than solely the quantity of people served.

Reflect on the mission of libraries, and how that should impact the future of libraries.

The mission of most libraries, to me, is to provide a space — physical and otherwise — that fosters interactive (whether it be with other people or with the resources we have to offer) learning and experiences for a community. Measuring the quality and success of learning and experiences is inherently more multifaceted than looking at only quantitative statistics, so I think we need to focus on incorporating qualitative methods of evaluation in order to guarantee that we’re measuring the success of libraries on more than circulation stats and headcounts.

UX memo for public library

Originally written as classwork for the University of Illinois LIS program.

The idea for this particular innovative use of a library space was inspired but what I saw at a local library where I’ve been doing an IT practicum this semester. One staff member began a Teen Open Lab, and I had the chance to sit down and talk with him recently about the development of this space/idea. While looking through the resources for this week, I thought it was interesting how much of his description of the development process aligns with the IDEO Process. He didn’t present it in that structured of a format, but I found that the things he described, and the way the Lab runs, fit in really well with the 5 steps.

Dear Library Supervisor,

As you know, there is a recurrent issue involving noisy teen patrons congregating in the stacks on school day afternoons, shortly after the local middle and high schools let out. Since the particular area they are gathering in is near both the entrance to the library and the main circulation desk, they are a frequent concern for circulation staff nearby. The staff has expressed being uncomfortable with having to repeatedly chastise the noisy teens, often to little success and/or causing anger and discontent between the staff and the teens. It is my hope to suggest a solution that involves the teenagers in productive activities at the library, while also addressing the concerns from staff.

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WordPress and libraries

1. WordPress foundations continued

This week I finished up watching WordPress: Building Themes from Scratch Using Underscores on I feel much more confident about my approach to creating a WordPress theme after going through this video course, and am looking forward to beginning work on my own themes in the upcoming weeks.

I also took a look at Pro WordPress Theme Development, which covers a lot of similar topics as the video course. I appreciated the tips on theme testing and some further info on the review process once a theme has been submitted to the WordPress theme directory. I think this will be another source that may be useful to return to in the next few weeks if I have specific areas with questions/concerns.

2. Libraries using WordPress

Switching gears a bit, I’ve been looking at some case studies and examples of libraries currently using WordPress as a CMS.

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Community Needs in Libraries

This post was originally published as a reading reflection on the article Learn by Asking: The User Experience.

The best libraries tailor their services to the needs of their communities. And while different communities have different needs, there certainly are similarities in communities across the country. What might some of these similarities be, and how can libraries use these similarities to their advantage?

Regardless of the goals and interests of a particular community, I think that libraries should be places that offer, protect, and enhance:

  • access to information
  • assistance with finding that information
  • access to technology
  • assistance with using the technology offered
  • forums/spaces for collaborative interactions

With this image of a library in mind, I think communities have several base qualities/interests in common when using the library.

  • People are interested in information in a variety of forms, although the methods through which they prefer to seek out and receive information may vary.
  • A “community” suggests to me a collection of individuals that share something in common — be that living in the same physical location or sharing a similar set of values/interests.
  • Supporting communities and community learning therefore means looking past individual patrons and instead looking at how a community functions as a whole.
  • This means facilitating an environment (through the programs, services, etc. offered/supported by a library) that is invested in the communication and cooperation of the patrons within our institutions — that communication being just as much between community members themselves as between community members and library staff.

That all said, one of the biggest take-aways I got from this week’s readings was the importance of connecting with our users at as personal a level as possible. Aaron’s “Learn by Asking” article emphasizes this with his discussion on the necessity of cultivating empathy towards users: “if we want to make deep connections with our communities, we must figure out how people feel.” In order to make non-superficial connections and assessments of the communities we serve, it’s crucial to take as much interest in learning about the communities we work with as possible. User interviews paired with some of the other techniques we’ve been discussing this semester seem like a great way to work toward accomplishing this.

Ultimately, when talking about a community, I think it’s important to remember that individual needs/desires interconnect in different ways. It’s probably not enough to find that User A uses the library one way and User B uses the library another. It’s where the motivations, interests, and interactions of Users A and B cross paths that true community evaluation can take place.