Random thoughts on user experience in the university library.

Following up on last week’s post referencing library user experience, I sketched out the areas of interaction where user experience might be “a thing.”  The more I thought about it, the more involved it became.  Here is the first draft:

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See what I mean?

We think about student user experience as an amorphous entity and wonder how to increase student engagement in the library and with library services.  But what is required is to deconstruct or decompose the single overall experience into its constituent activities, then focus on each interaction.

Let’s start with the center and the right side of the above sketch.

A correction emerges:

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Why should the learning management system (LMS) be of concern to the librarian, you might ask?  Increasingly, Blackboard (or whatever system is being used) is the primary location for the give and take between students and their instructor and between students themselves that results in learning.  If the librarian is missing in action there, not providing and demonstrating library resources, a significant part of the learning opportunity is lost and the resulting user experience is to some extent defective.  If present, the librarian can, in the best case, incorporate research resources, and in the least case, point students to the library website and to the reference desk in response to stated and unstated requests for additional resources and for research instruction.  This is the newest frontier of user experience I will discuss here, but by no stretch of the imagination is it the easiest.  New frontier, new turf, borders to be crossed, walls to be brought down.

The library website.  Yesterday, en route to the reference desk for my final hour on a quiet autumn evening, I took a detour to the snack bar downstairs for a decaf cafe americano. The place was packed. There was a hum, a buzz, like a beehive.  Students were on their laptops and tablets, some social media-ing, but many doing hardcore work, individually and in groups.  And that’s when it hit me.  Students have less need to physically visit the library when the library website is top notch, firing on all cylinders, linking them to the information universe. All they need is a brief but thorough lesson in how to find the library webpage and what to do with it to make it work for them.  Maybe, just maybe we should dispatch reference librarians to places where students already congregate to study, for onsite library website use instruction, and for general fofoca (hearsay, gossip, chit-chat).

The library website is a certain locus for examining and measuring user experience.  Some useful and user-friendly library websites I have come across are here, and here, and here.

The library itself. Every now and then library users come in for books.  For books! Can you believe it? And we have books at our library, on the shelves, thousands of them, just in case.  And we count people who come in, and keep track of what books circulate, and new books get ordered and arrive and are processed in, just like old times.  First in, first out.

Collections still matter.

But books on shelves are increasingly becoming museum-like, interesting relics of a time long past, a moveable feast in an ancient house of curiosity. Books will always matter as long as there are people who can make them, either as writers and scholars, or as bookbinders. Maybe there is a place for each university library to share with the university press (if there is one) in making books, perhaps with one of those machines that produces and reproduces books on demand. Artisanal, like Four Seasons, and just-in-time, like Uber.

Next week we will continue with a discussion of the reference desk. In the meantime, good stuff from #UXLibs here.

Please provide your feedback in the comments section for a conversation, or take a quick survey here:

And for dessert, a full album of Guru, Jazzmatazz…

The agile librarian recuperates after a fall

I haven’t written anything in over a month, two months, because I haven’t had too much to say, just very busy with life and living. Oh, and there is the blackout walking home for lunch, and the breaking of the wrist in the resulting fall, and the lengthy recovery and the therapy to learn to use my wrist again. More detail here. Do y’all know how versatile a joint the wrist is?

But back to librarying. During my recovery, I have been maintaining a part-time schedule at the reference desk of a nearby university library. It’s been a distraction from pain, but it has also been an instructive period of the semester when students are cranking out research projects and leaning heavily on the librarian at the desk. And I have learned a thing or two, about research design theory, about ethnography and user experience (which necessarily includes librarian experience), and about using QuickTime, ScreenFlow and Youtube, all of which has informed my agile practices in the library. So it has carried me off in a different direction, in several different directions. For starters:

1. Digitization/electronification of information has liquidified the learning resources/assets that used to be part of our domain. We used to be “administrators” of learning assets. No more. Now information is being accessed everywhere and all the time. The definition of “the library” has changed.

2. As librarians, we were pretty much content with getting students started with developing their research question and initial search terms, then setting them free to conduct the iterative research process. No more. Now students have an expectation that we will provide them information support throughout the research process, and we have an obligation to do so. The identity crisis is over. The librarian, like information, is and has to be everywhere and all the time. The definition of “librarian” has changed.

3. User experience has necessarily become ethnographic. Correspondingly, ethnography emcompasses both the learner and the teacher/librarian, the interaction, the form and structure of the interface, and how both sets work together to accomplish the learning goal/objective.

4. The learners are not just the students, and faculty/staff/librarians are not exclusively the teachers. We are all learning entrepreneurs, putting together various combinations of factors of learning production, some that succeed, others that fail, but all that expand the boundaries of previous static thought. There are no traditional monopolies. And the sage on the stage is no more. Both the classroom and the library are “flipped” in unique and fascinating ways.

5.  Learning is rhizomatic, decentralized, and resistant to regulation.  It exists everywhere and all the time.

A student came to the reference desk with some questions about research design models. I told her that was not my area of expertise, but I would help her with her research if she would teach me the models. After about 20 minutes of conversation (it was a slow Saturday) she said, “Thank you, this has been very helpful.” I was floored, because I learned a lot more in that 20 minutes than she did.

This is the journey.

the agile librarian is back in the library!

In between library jobs, I was able to focus on agile applications to HR processes specifically, and to what I gingerly refer to as overall bureaucratic engineering operations in general.  I am back in a reference librarian position, although only part time, which affords me the opportunity to re-examine the application of agile thinking/management/leadership to business and instructional processes in a university library and in higher education.  So we begin…

A blog I discovered, maddimclark.workpress.com, maintained by LIS student Maddison Clark at Durham College, reminded me of the centrality and criticality to LIS studies of Ranganathan’s Five Laws:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his / her book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

I like the way Maddison expanded the five laws:

  1. Books are for use.
  • Resources, location, faculties and location are now more accessible to people
  • Longer hours of service ( open Saturdays and Sundays , Winter/ fall hours, Summer/ Spring hours )
  • Digitalization – books are being downloaded to E books, audio books, DVDs , computers access, Free Wi-Fi,  larger print ( etc.)
  • Select the materials the patrons will used
  • Having libraries near or in other services ( example: sport centres)
  1. Every Reader his / her Book
  • Diverse interests – different genres, nonfiction and fiction satisfy patrons
  • Access to all information and readings
  • To understand Patrons needs/ wants , librarians must find what they want
  • Have a fair amount of multiple collections ( not too much of one subject)
  • To have books for all patrons
  1. Every book Its reader
  • A book is useful for every individual
  • Every book has its own place/ belonging
  • Organize in a way patrons can access quickly & efficient
  • Librarians should announce new books with newsletters/ posters/ websites
  • Have the proper classification for the type of library
  1. Save the time of the Reader
  • Librarians should have the books in area that is quick access to all quickly and effectively
  • Have library classify into the three main classifications ( Dewey, Colon, Library of congress) to find books for user’s quickly
  • Provide guides and booklets for patrons that are efficient and easy to access for materials, books, texts and audio and video
  • Have the proper staff that are available and know their library
  1. The library is a growing organism
  • The library is always growing with new materials of fiction & non fiction
  • Digitalization
  • Digital / visual reference desk service
  • New programs and events
  • Growing and developing of content of information and knowledge

to be continued…

And just because I like it:

what does the agile librarian do between library jobs? Pt. 2

No longer between library jobs. Big Yay! Started a new part-time library job last week. But continuing the discussion of Agile application to HR issues.  (Don’t fret, we’ll bring the Agile discussion back to librarianship soon enough. In the meantime, taking this HR detour might eventually be instructive). Today, we are going to take a brief look at the history of Agile methodologies.  Later in the week we will look at some considerations when converting or transforming existing processes to Agile ones.

Agile History

It is easy to trace the history of Agile to the Agile Manifesto of 2001 and the twelve principles that followed in its wake.  Easy but far from sufficient.  We need to look at a few of the antecedents to that 2001 gathering to know what is really going on.

Lloyd Wilkinson, in Agile Development: A Brief History, traces the roots of agile project management thinking to Toyota process in the 1950’s, more specifically, kaizen, or continual improvement in automotive manufacturing processes.  In case you haven’t already clicked on the link, kaizen is a Japanese word that is translated as “continuous improvement.”  In lean, or just in time manufacturing systems, the process itself must “continuously change in order to deliver value to the customer.” Before we take a deep dive, it is necessary to say that one might make an argument that HR systems bound by rigid rules and regulations are not capable of continuous change.  I would argue (1) that the multiplicity of rules and regulations, all overlapping, is precisely what opens the door to flexibility and dynamism and (2) what manufacturing process was more rigid that automotive assembly line production, and yet, Toyota’s introduction of Kaizen practices made it a world leader in the automotive industry.  But back to the subject…

Kaizen has a few foci that are particularly relevant to HR processes.  First is the Kaizen 5S concept: sort, or removing anything from the space not needed for daily operations; straighten, or placing the essential things in the right place for optimum operations; sweep, or removing anything that is clutter and repairing anything broken; standardize, or codifying best practices; and sustain, or establishing new, more efficient standards and resisting the tendency to return to old ways of doing things.

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Second is the concept of employee involvement supported by employee trust. Specifically, this concept has as its antecedent, the work of Elton Mayo and the Hawthorne Effect (please click and read!).  Very briefly, Mayo concluded that

  • The aptitudes of individuals are imperfect predictors of job performance.
  • Informal organization affects productivity. The researchers discovered a group life among the workers.
  • Informal organization affects productivity. The researchers discovered a group life among the workers.
  • Work-group norms affect productivity.
  • The workplace is a social system.

A moment here on James Martin and Rapid Application Development (RAD). James Martin, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for his 1977 book, The Wired Society: A Challenge for Tomorrow, introduced in 1991 an approach to RAD that involved iterative development and the construction of intermediate prototypes. These two elements would play a critical part in Agile project management thinking in subsequent years.

For extra reading, this article also looks at the history of Agile thinking: The roots of Agile project management.

Later in the week we will look at some of the challenges and possible pitfalls of adopting Agile thinking to existing processes.  And to raise eyebrows, we will call the next post: “The Road Less Taken, or, People are software in any production process.”

In the meanwhile, a bit of Sarah Vaughan for the Labor Day Weekend:

what does the agile librarian do between library jobs?

My relocation created an employment gap of sorts and I found myself between library jobs. But luckily for me, my old, former career reached out and steered me towards part-time employment focusing on finding solutions to HR challenges in a federal bureaucracy. Little did I know initially that that opportunity would open doors to fascinating potential applications of agile thinking and agile methodologies. (I’m hearing a combination of two tunes, Amy Winehouse, Back to Black, and Stephen Stills, Love the One You’re With. Will include the you tubes at the end of this post.)

There are striking similarities between HR work and the software development challenges that gave rise to agile thinking. Various types of HR work exist in a dynamic bureaucracy and each type has various phases. We will focus, for example, on the onboarding process, i.e., bringing new employees onboard for the first time.

Initially, the customer or client, in the HR case, the manager decides she/he needs a new position to fill the expanding needs of the office. Ideally, that manager will work closely with his HR colleagues to define the requirements of the new position, i.e., what work they will actually perform, and the skills any prospective employee will need to accomplish the work. A position description results.

The position is advertised. Hundreds of applications pour in. The HR staff winnows down the applicants whose qualifications actually meet the position requirements. Traditionally, this is a phase that is pretty much accomplished exclusively by HR. But we all know that excellent applicants get weeded out unnecessarily during this process.

Managers are handed a bundle of applications and a list of names for assessment. They make their selection, HR makes sure everything is in order, and the person is hired.

So why does this process take 4 to 6 months in government? The waterfall method may have clues!

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A busy HR section may have several positions being filled at once, all at various phases, similar to software products being developed. And there are various places where “stacks of things” pile up, i.e., in HR as well as with the manager. And in the absence of a constantly updated tracking mechanism, no one can say for sure where the roadblocks in the process are located. As a result, managers blame HR for slowdowns in the process, and HR blames managers for their slow responses, and problems don’t get solved, until eventually, six months later, a person is hired (though not the best applicant, because she, exasperated with the process, finds just as good a position elsewhere).

So how can we apply the agile method to onboarding to make the process simpler, quicker, and just as efficient?

How about a picture!

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From previous posts, we know the agile method values individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a plan. Nice words, but how do we “do” this?

The first “principle” of agile software mentions early and continuous delivery of valuable software. From the HR perspective, this means program managers have to take the time to consult with HR staff about the new position, and HR staff have to make the time to consult with program managers. If it is the case that program managers already have a candidate in mind (and we know that happens!), that should be communicated to HR staff. As applications pour in, there should be regular comms between HR and the program office, expediting that winnowing process. The point of the matter is constant communications that lead to greater efficiencies.

The second principle addresses changing requirements and harnessing change for the customer’s competitive advantage. This may be a bit difficult, HR-wise, because positions are posted to USA.gov, which allows little alteration in the process. But locally, if requirements do change, there is no need to “re-create the wheel.” Again, the key to applying slight requirements changes is communications between HR and the program managers. This could be a bit tricky, but it is manageable.

The third principle: deliver software frequently. Traditionally, HR units pile up stacks of applicants (time consuming), then pour through them (time consuming), then deliver winnowed stacks to managers after a period of time (time consuming). Then managers postpone going through the stacks, and hopefully eventually go through them (time consuming). In an agile environment, that feedback loop is tightened through frequent engagement. But the onus is on both HR staff and program managers to reduce the wait time at each stage and to reduce the repetition of stages themselves through efficient communications.

OK. There are nine more principles and you can find them here  (The “Agile” in Agile Librarianship) in a previous post (your homework assignment, dear reader), all relevant, and all pertinent to HR processes. If we go through them all here, we will never get to the videos!

OK.  Dessert at the end of the meal.  The videos:

a new adventure, a new job, a new “return,” and new challenges…

So, a lot has happened in the past week…

First, I just stumbled upon a MOOC, Thought Vectors in Concept Space, and I’ll have to go back to my “history” to figure out how I got there, but it dove-tails nicely with some research interests I have, so I decided to check it out.  So, I went to the site, and lo and behold, discovered some very cool librarians there.  Then went to the first week readings and found Vannevar Bush’s essay, “As We May Think,” an essay I tussled with in my first LIS course two years ago, and that caught my attention. So here we are.

I will continue to blog here on my new obsession/concept, Agile Librarianship, but will change the tags and categories appropriately.

OK.  More new stuff.  Completed the first week of my return to my old job (already blogged previously).  Three days a week.  Did some interviews.  Typed up some notes.  Sent them to my boss (for whom I am serving as a senior advisor).  Off to a pretty good start.

Got notified of a new job that I will start this coming week, two days a week, part-time reference and instruction librarian at a local school, American University.  I am very excited about this job, even though it is part-time and only two days a week, because it keeps me connected to librarianship, my career choice for the next phase of my life.  Let me say here that I am and will forever remain grateful to Western Carolina University and Hunter Library for my first career library job and I continue to miss those mountains!

So I am going to stop here and take the plunge into “As We May Think,” and see if I can find my notes and presentation from LSC 557 at #CUA_LIS.  See ya later, alligator!

p.s. Some cool music from the archives for a Sunday afternoon:

Late entry: just caught this on C-Span and updated my Facebook status:

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and the job search continues…

Resumed with my old employer yesterday.  WAE (When Actually Employed) they call it. Part-time for retirees.  Three days a week trouble-shooting consulting, I call it. Keeps a bit of change in my pocket.  Going to get a badge today. Need the badge to get into the computer. Who every heard? Big corner office in the sub-basement. Don’t like it. Think I’d prefer a cubicle with sunlight and fresh air to the dungeon.

Read through some OIG reports yesterday. Security briefing today. Computer access tomorrow if I’m lucky. Real lucky.

Still waiting to hear back on a couple of part-time librarian jobs. Part-time is enough for now. Need to keep my toes in the water. You know what I mean? We’ll resume work on our project as soon as my partners return from vacation. Gathering material every day.

And ModPo resumes in September. Gonna try to balance it with the Science of Happiness edX course that starts the same week. Joined a coaching team.  And continuing with Agile.

Enough for a retired guy…

And today’s Epictetus quote:

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The “Agile” in Agile Librarianship

Agile “is a set of methods and methodologies that help your team to think more effectively, work more efficiently, and make better decisions.” (1)

Well, you might say, that could apply to practically any business process and to most non-business activities, and not just to software development.  And you would be right.  We’ll say more later about Agile applications to librarianship project management and to teaching and learning methodology (#digped) in subsequent postings.  For today, we will focus on some of the Agile founding documents.

Here is the language of the original 2001 “manifesto:”

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.(2)

And here are the twelve principles, hammered out by the signers of the original manifesto, originally at the same 2001 conference, but refined at subsequent meetings:

We follow these principles:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.(3)

If you are thinking that this, again, could apply in many instances, and not just to software development, you would be right again!  That is the whole point.  I look at it like this:  in the past twenty years so much energy and effort have been applied to getting software right, that in the process, industrial processes have been developed that are generally applicable and that work, too!  The same (or similar), of course, can be said about all the effort that has been poured into warfighting against non-conventional forces in the last 15 years, i.e., that processes have been developed that can be successfully applied to other fields of endeavor, and we’ll get to that in just a second…

But for the moment, back to the topic at hand.

Every library I have every been associated with, as a librarian, as an intern, as a student worker, as a student and researcher, and merely as a member and a patron, while on the surface may appear to be a very calm and peaceful place, behind the scene is a veritable factory of projects, processes, and activities, a true site of productivity. These projects and processes, including but not limited to acquisition and procurement, disposal, cataloging, contracting and leasing, repair and preservation, circulation and interlibrary services, strategic planning, instructional design and delivery, and research and reference services, all exist on various timelines and with various objectives. They require a wide range of skills, talents and training, not necessarily limited to what one may consider the traditional skill set of the librarian.  It is an area ripe for Agile applications and methodologies distilled from years, from decades of software development.  This is where we are…

OK.  So let’s just take the deep dive.  The work of librarianship is nonlinear because the output of the system is greater than the sum of its parts when the parts are isolated (superposition) and when the system multiplies, its output multiplies more than proportionately (homogeneity).(4)  Library workers and software developers will know what I am talking about, as will war-fighters.  Work (production) is going on all over the place, at different rates of speed and in different directions.  And wise, strong leadership is required to steer this ship on a steady course, so to speak.

Let’s sum up.  Agile is a management style, and a leadership style, and a way of thinking that provides effective and efficient control of what might otherwise be considered an unwieldy and even chaotic set of industrial processes that exist in a nonlinear system.

More on Thursday…

(1) Stellman, Andrew and Jennifer Greene. 2014. Learning Agile.  O’Reilly Media, Inc.  Sebastopol, CA.

(2) The Agile Manifesto accessed on August 24, 2015 at www.agilealliance.org

(3) The Agile Manifesto accessed on August 24, 2015 at www.agilealliance.org

(4) Lynch, Justin. 2015. Nonlinearity and the Proper Use of Buzzwords. Small Wars Journal. Accessed on August 24, 2015 at www.smallwarsjournal.com.

Blogging 101 – Moving legacy content from Blogger to WordPress

Many folks (like me)  have legacy blogs and content in Blogger that they would like to transfer to WordPress. Yes, it is possible, and actually quite easy.  It’s basically a two step process of preparing the blog contents for export in Blogger, then importing that package into WordPress.  I will outline what I did here.

First, go to the blog you want to export in Blogger.  Click on “design” in the upper right corner, then click on “settings” at the bottom of the left side, then click on “other.”  At the top of the next page, under Blog Tools, select “Export Blog.” The contents of your Blogger blog will be downloaded to your default place with a name that looks like this: “blog-month-date-year.xml.”  That will be the end of the export stage.

Now go to the destination blog site in WordPress.  Click “My Sites” in the upper left corner, then click “WPAdmin,” then “Tools.”  Under the Tools menus, click “Import,” then “Blogger,” then chose your file from the location where you downloaded it.  Then the magic happens, and your old Blogger content populates your new WordPress site.

Easy peasy!

This also works for exporting from other legacy blog platforms.

And today’s Epictetus quote:

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Blogging 101 – Index, looking back on the course, & making some social calls

It occurred to me that it might be useful at some point in the future to have a one page index of all our assignments in the course. That is what I’ll do here:

Blogging 101 – Day 1: Introducing myself to Blogging U

Blogging 101 – Day 2: Getting the title and tagline right

Blogging 101 – Day 3: Getting to know the blogosphere neighbors

Blogging 101 – Day 4: Identifying my audience – poetry lovers

Blogging 101 – Day 5: Selecting a theme (Lovecraft to Libretto to Lovecraft)

Blogging 101 – Weekend post. Just submitted a poem to Goodreads

Blogging 101 – Day 6: Brushing up the About page

Blogging 101 – Day 7: Personalizing the blog

Blogging 101 – Day 8: Reaching out to the neighborhood

Blogging 101 – Day 9: Be inspired by the neighbors in the blogosphere

Blogging 101 – Day 10: Adding a blogroll, or two, or three

Blogging 101 – Day 11: Blogging around a prompt – community service

Blogging 101 – Day 12: Comments in the community

Blogging 101 – Day 13: Try (another) Blogging Event – #reblogwednesday

Blogging 101 – Day 14: Extend your brand

Blogging 101 – Day 15: Create a Feature

For those still reading.   Filomena and I and some friends went to the Goethe Institut last night to catch one of the movies in the African Diaspora International Film Festival, Nginga, Queen of Angola.  We spent two very memorable years in Luanda, 1998-2000, so the movie had special meaning to/for us.

More information on Raina Nginga is available here (Wikipedia).

And here we are at Nando’s for a Portuguese-South African repast after the film:

At Nando's after seeing Nginga Queen of Angola