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.

Summary

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!

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