What is User Experience and how can it help us support our communities? On this show I speak with Lauren Stara, Library Building Specialist for the State of Massachusetts. She shares what is behind the User Experience movement and how getting out of our own heads and into those of our users can lead us to advancements that will take our libraries with fresh eyes into the future.
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This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.
What is User Experience, and how can it help us support our communities? On this show I speak with Lauren Stara, Library Building Specialist for the state of Massachusetts. She shares what is behind the User Experience movement, and how getting out of our own heads and into those of our users can lead to advancements that will take our libraries, with fresh eyes, into the future. Enjoy the show!
Lauren, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Adriane. Thanks for having me.
Question #1: It’s great to have you here, and I’m really excited to talk with you today about User Experience. So, let’s jump right in. First, what is User Experience? 01:22
Well, you may have heard the term UX. That’s basically an acronym for User Experience. What it means is turning things around, and designing library services and spaces for the patrons, or users, or customers, whatever term you use. So, you want to ask them what they want—what we should be doing. Rather than thinking we already know what they want.
Question #2: That makes a lot of sense. What is behind the User Experience movement?01:59
The term User Experience, or UX, started in the computer industry in the field of human computer interaction. It means analyzing something—either a computer program, a service, a physical space, whatever, from the user’s point of view.
For physical spaces I also like to bring up the adage, form follows function. And, that came from Louis Sullivan, who was an architect—a very well known architect, in the late 19th and early 20th century. I learned about him in architecture school. What that means is that the layout or the configuration of space should be determined by the use of the space, not by what it looks like.
Question #3: You talk about how designing for user experience involves getting out of our own heads and into those of our users. How do we do that? 02:53
This word is in danger of becoming overused recently. But, I’m going to say it anyway—and it’s all about empathy. I ask people that I work with to let—try to let go of all of the years of library education and experience that you have, all the training, all the years of coming to work every day, and imagine walking into your library building with completely fresh eyes. We call that beginner’s mind.
You have no knowledge or understanding of why the library is the way it is. Why the space is the way it is, why the procedures and processes are the way they are. Why the library catalogue is—cataloging is mysterious to a lot of people [laughter]. Why is it the way it is? Let go of all of that. You don’t know. Imagine experiencing the space or the service with no knowledge of where it came from.
I really think that, for the most part, librarians have a lot of empathy. And, I like to refer back to the reference interview that we all learned in library school, where you know that ninety percent of the time the thing that the person asks you is not what they’re really looking for. So, you have to learn to read the patron. Try to get at where they’re coming from.
If your listeners have not seen the YouTube video from Brené Brown on empathy, I highly recommend it. It’s very well done, and very short. I’m going to talk about a LibGuide a little later in the podcast, and I have a link to that YouTube video on the LibGuide.
Question #4: You say that before we create solutions we must know the problem by identifying users, and assessing community needs. How does this happen in the User Experience model? 04:57
One tool that’s really useful for this is the persona, and that’s another concept that came from the computer world, in this case web design. What it means is you take—it’s kind of a mashup of common characteristics of a certain type of patron, or user.
You might have a persona for an elementary school child. Or, you might have a persona for a working millennial, or you might have a persona for a senior. Those types of people tend to have common characteristics. There’s a whole process you can go through to create a well rounded picture of that person, or persona.
Then, you use that tool and imagine their response. What do you think—how do you think they would respond to, let’s say, a service, or a space? Or, how do you think they would behave when entering the library?
This builds on—a minute ago I talked about letting go of all of those years of experience that you have. But now, I want you to think about that because you know how people behave in the library. Every library is going to require several personas, not just one, because we have so many different user groups—at least in public libraries we do.
I wanted to reference a LibGuide that I co-wrote with a co-worker a few years ago. It is called Elements of UX:A Librarian’s Guide to User Experience Design. It has more information about how to develop a persona, as well as empathy, and that Brené Brown video, as well as some activities, and lots of resources. So, that LibGuide is at guides.mblc.state.ma.us/elements-of-ux.
Thank you, and we’ll put that in the show notes, as well. So, listeners, you don’t have to remember that. Please refer to the show notes. That sounds like a really useful resource. Thank you so much, Lauren.
Question #5: When doing all of this you advise, start small, think big—can you tell us about that? 07:33
Of course, so change is hard. We all know that change is hard. We’ve been through a lot of change in the last year and a half, and it’s been hard. Big change is really hard. The point that I want to get across is that small incremental change leads to big change in two major ways.
One is that a bunch of small incremental changes add up to a bigger change. And, the other way is that small changes, sort of, prime the pump. They get both your staff, and your patrons, or even your trustees, your stakeholders—they get people used to change. And then, they crack their minds open a little bit and then they can entertain the bigger changes.
I work in library building design for most of the time, and it takes years, sometimes decades to build a new library, or do a major renovation of a space. So, you want to keep that as your big idea, but here are small things that you can do to improve the space that you have.
You can get rid of clutter in your library. You can rearrange the furniture in a new configuration. You can take a hard look at your collection, and get rid of some of the deadwood in your collection. Most of us don’t have the luxury of keeping stuff just because we might need it someday. I’m an advocate of really having a lean collection, and using that extra space for something else.
I believe we have a real opportunity right now. I think as we reopen our libraries we should not return to just business as usual. We’ve been through a major, major disruption. We’ve had to do a lot of innovating over the last year and a bit. So, which of those innovations should we keep? Which of them don’t serve us outside of the pandemic, but which of them do?
I think that curbside service, or drive-up service is something that’s going to be around for a long time because people really like it. It’s very convenient for the user. Now one caveat to this is that I am also very—I don’t want to advocate for just adding more services. I think that librarians for decades, and a hundred years have been just learning how to do more with less. I think we have to stop doing that. We have to understand that what we do is valuable, and it should be supported financially, and with staffing and time, and the kinds of resources that we need to do all the amazing things that we do.
So, I am not an advocate of saying, Just add more services and put back all of the things that we did before. You have to look at each service critically, and say, Okay, is this really valuable? Who does this serve? Is it the best way to provide that service? Maybe we need to look at it.
Question #6: So as we look at user experience, is there a way to make this continuous and easy? 11:11
Well, as I said before, even though you’re starting small, you need to think big. Dream a little bit. Imagine, Where would you like to go in ten years, twenty years? Where does your community want the library to be? What does your community want from your library that you’re not doing right now?
Come up with a vision for where you want to go. Remember that each of your small incremental changes should support that long-term goal. Having a written or graphic roadmap that you can have up on your wall and just keep reminding yourself of what the big idea is, can be really helpful.
Keep in mind the goal can change. It can evolve over time. Maybe two years down the road you’ve realized that that big idea that you had—you need to tweak that a little. So, the goal can change. It doesn’t have to be static and stay forever. We all know that innovations are happening in information services all the time. I tell people imagine—not imagine, remember what the library was like twenty years ago. We couldn’t have even begun to imagine the things that we’re doing now. And, I think that pace is just going to accelerate. So, we have to really think about being flexible. Both in our spaces, our furnishings, and those kinds of things, but also in the way we think. Be open to new ideas.
The other thing that I wanted to mention is that this vision, or this graphic roadmap that you produce can really help inform your strategic planning process. It can be a help in that way too.
Question #7: Is there anything else you’d like to share? 13:15
The thing that I want to get across to your listeners is that this doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just try stuff. Last year I co-wrote, or actually the year before, I co-wrote and it was released last year—I co-wrote a book that was published by ALA Editions, called Responding to Rapid Change in Libraries-a User Experience Approach. In that book there’s a whole section about failure and how important it is.
For most of my life I was so concerned about getting stuff right, getting the right answer on the test, you know? I really found after I learned how to let go of that—I found that it was really stifling me. It really meant that I wasn’t paying attention to a lot of stuff that might be really valuable. So, when I started just trying stuff, and allowing myself to fail—those failures led to all kinds of new ideas that I never would have come up with otherwise. So, try stuff. If it doesn’t quite work then tweak it and try it again. And, if it’s a complete disaster that’s fine, just try something else.
Question #8: Very good. And, thank you for pointing us toward that book. It sounds like an amazing resource. As we talk about books, do you have a favorite management, or leadership book, and why? 14:43
Actually, I don’t have a favorite leadership book, but I have a favorite leadership person [laughter], and that is Pat Wagner. She runs an organization called Pattern Research. She’s out of Colorado. Her website is patternresearch.com.
She has this free webinar called, How to Improve Your Workplace When You Are Not the Boss. And, it is amazing. It’s all about how you can be influential, as far as your workplace culture goes, even when you’re not in charge of it. So—and everything that Pat does is wonderful, she has a lot of free webinars and she has some paid stuff also.
I agree one hundred percent. We’ve had Pat on this show—always worth looking at what she’s involved with, just amazing.
Question #9: In closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally? 15:43
Personally, well, when I was a kid libraries were all about books. I had my nose in a book constantly. Librarianship is my second career. I was an architect first. I had a very early mid-life crisis. I became a ski bum for a few years [laughter] in Colorado. As you know, Adriane, when you’re a ski bum you really can’t do that in the summertime. So, I got a job at the public library checking books in and out. When I started working at the library I just—I felt like I had come home. It was obviously my calling.
Now I have the great good fortune of combining those careers into one, and it’s just amazing. In the last ten years there’s been an explosion in what’s happening—at least in public libraries, I think, in all types of libraries, but especially in public libraries. I think that that’s, at least partially, due to the fact that we are spending more time and effort in finding out what our patrons, what our communities want and need.
And I say, you know, take a look at what the gaps in your community support system are and does the library have a role to play in filling that gap. I get so excited about some of the innovative things libraries are doing. The newest kind of thing is food literacy, or nutrition literacy. A lot of libraries are doing programming around both growing food and preparing food.
Another thing is workforce development. I even heard last week about a library in Arkansas that has a flight simulator to help people get their pilot’s license. I mean, that’s amazing. So, libraries are all about finding out how to support their communities, whatever that looks like. And, that’s one of the beautiful things about libraries, you know, across North America and across the world is that no library is exactly like the next library, because each community is different, has different community needs, and libraries try to step in and fill those needs.
There are so many possibilities to support our communities. And, User Experience is one way to get to what those might be for our own library. So, Lauren, I want to thank you because this is great information. I’m so excited for our listeners to tune into User Experience and some of the resources that you’ve provided for us today. So, thank you for being with me.
Thank you so much. I’ve had a good time doing this.
You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes tune into https://libraryleadershippodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have monthly updates delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
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