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:

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 19.50.52

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:

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 20.25.43

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…

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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.