Everything Librarian: November 2017

Sunday, November 19, 2017

User Experience in the Library

Prison Librarian to UX Designer?

I currently work as a prison librarian and for months I have contemplated a career change. While I enjoy working as a prison librarian it can be a solitary and limited work life. No phones or fit bits are allowed at work. I can't even walk in the door with a cup of coffee. Sometimes I grow weary of this luxury-less work life. I have an undergraduate degree in Fine Art and a graduate degree in Information Sciences. With substantial career experience in graphic design I thought it would be a natural transition for me to go into User Experience Design, or UX Design. After all, I can sketch a wire frame, create a persona, and troubleshoot websites with the best of them. I am good at working with people and interviewing them to know their habits and routines. Why not become a UX designer?

To pursue my dream of making more money and getting out of prison librarianship I spoke to an old friend who lives in New Jersey and works as a UX Designer. He gave me an hour-long lecture at lightning speed that gave me a unique insight into what it is that a UX Designer does. The best I am able to translate into laymen's terms is that the UX Designer works upfront with design and the creative team to create a plan of how to develop a website. The UX designer tests the human and computer interaction for intuitiveness and user-friendliness. What works? What doesn't work? What could work better? It is problem solving at it's core, something that creatives and librarians know a lot about.

Two Disciplines are Better Than One

I looked into a UX design certificate program at the University of Baltimore but at age 52, I really didn't want to spend a year and $15,000 to retrain and redirect. So, I did what many will do when faced with a crossroads, a possible change...I procrastinated. Then one night I had a light bulb moment about how to combine these two fields that I feel drawn to-- Librarianship and User Experience. After all, librarians love their patrons, their users. But are libraries creating programs and spaces that their patrons love? Why not have UX Librarianship?

What is a UX Librarian?

UX Librarianship combines the assessment and evaluation of UX within any library environment. What are the needs of your library users? How do users use your library? What are the strengths? What are the weaknesses? UX Librarianship goes beyond the library grad school SWOT analysis and follows users more closely to create a library that is responsive and user-friendly at every turn. While library school may give lots of lip service to the idea of the ever-changing library, the real model may sometimes remain static. UX Librarianship challenges library leaders to truly assess and evaluate the user, or patron, experience in the library in a scientific and methodical way. What is working for each individual user? What is not working? The UX Librarian puts the needs of the patrons first. To do this, UX librarians create a user-lead environment where the needs of the user come before those of the library staff or library board. UX Librarianship goes beyond providing excellent customer service by exploring like a scientist how the user uses the library and how it can be improved.

Are Libraries Ready For Change?

There is only one problem with UX Librarianship and that is the library itself that can be resistant to change and adaptation. I have heard from many professional librarians that are frustrated by older library leaders who want to hang on to 20th century library ways. Though, one could also argue that the 21st century has brought many changes and challenges to the library world that many have faced head on and conquered. Many others have chosen to keep their library in stasis, to not rock the library boat. The bottom line though is that each community is always in a state of change and flux-- a good library needs to be in touch enough with their users and patrons to be able to accommodate new technologies, new needs, and new purposes.

Libraries Serving Users

What are some ways that libraries change to meet the needs of their communities? Recently four branches of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Library started a program that has social workers in the library to help people connect to services such as applying for disability. This is not a traditional library program but a recent addition that has been brought about by a need in the community. Another recent addition to the arsenal of services offered by libraries is Narcan, the nasal spray that reverses the effect of an opioid overdose. I can hear some skeptics asking, "Is providing Narcan a service? Is providing Narcan a service that libraries should offer?" I would answer emphatically, yes. If having Narcan in libraries nationwide saves one person it is well worth the service. The New York Public Library publishes a yearly collection of information for formerly incarcerated people entitled Connections. This 158-page publications offers information on housing, benefits, and services for those needing re-entry services back into the general population of New York and the United States.

As libraries continue to change, expand, contract, and grow in the 21st century, they need to keep an eye on the changing demographic of the community, the depth and breadth of programming offered, and the way in which services are provided. Through research, evaluation, assessment, interview, and observation, UX librarians help to keep libraries relevant and up-to-date in a world that changes very quickly. After all, the last two of Ranganathan's Laws are: The library is a growing organism, and save the time of the reader.