LibUX for Dummies (Like Me)

Learning new stuff on your own is hard.

I’ve always been ambiently interested in areas of user experience, user-centred services, and improving library design (both physical spaces and virtual spaces). But I’ve always struggled to find comprehensive learning opportunities on this topic. I need something that is sufficiently practical, but taught by an expert, and which holds me to some level of accountability.

There’s lots of practical material out there written by practitioners in the field, but those resources – blogs, websites, conference presentations – are often written for fellow experts. Ain’t nothing like experts talking to other experts, to make a novice instantly feel lost and/or dumb.

The other pitfall of practitioner materials is that they aren’t necessarily focused on comprehensive teaching… they’re grappling with the niche-y particularities of their job tasks, so it’s hard for a novice to put that work into a meaningful, big picture context.

The thing about learning about UX is that:

  1. It’s an important topic for librarians no matter what you’re job is, because we kinda live and die by our users, and
  2. there are points of entry for just about everyone: technologists, and non-technologists, public service folks and technical services folks, people who are up in the clouds of research, and people who are down on the front lines of the reference desk. UX touches on so many aspects of what libraries do.

To this end, I’ve been trying to find resources to help novices learn the basics of UX practice, and thought I’d share the few I’ve found particularly helpful, as someone who is not technical, and doesn’t have much of a background in these topics.

I am currently working through the various sections of Coursera’s “Interaction Design Specialisation.” I’ve completed a section called “Human-Centered Design: an Introduction” and am now onto “User Experience: Research & Prototyping”. Me, the person who is the most intellectually lazy holder of a Masters degree you will ever meet. Me, who’s flunked out of every MOOC she’s ever signed up for.

The reason I’m not flunking out is because Coursera’s “Specialisation” courses are shorter, smaller, more practical courses focuses on topics that hit the “job skills” end of learning, rather than the history and theory of it. They’re also focused on topics I actually give a hot damn about (My past MOOC attempts were on the subjects of Economics, Statistics and Finan… Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz I’m bored just typing those words).

I also stumbled across a course called, “Using User Experience (UX) Design to Improve Library Services from the Web to the Circulation Desk” offered by Amanda L. Goodman and Michael Schofield (I am waiting patiently for another section to be announced. If you’re interested, fill out this form, and let’s peer-pressure the ALA to offer it again). I’m imagining that being able to understand the stuff I’ve learned via my Coursera work through the specific context of libraries is gonna be a great opportunity.

I tried reading the excellent book, “Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library” while I was on summer holiday last year, but it mysteriously turned into a bookmark for a trashy mystery novel instead. Books are great, but they do not hold you accountable for your intellectual laziness. They just sit there, not judging you, not goading you to open the pages to reveal the beautiful ideas within. That said, this book is written for a true newbie, and can be picked up by anyone, regardless of technical skillz. I’m going to get back to it soon, and will ensure there’s no PD James in the house when I do.

And for those moments when you come across a UX topic that is completely foreign and befuddling to you, do a search for it on the Nielson website. It covers a wealth of UX topics, written by experts, in an explanatory way that is helpful even to novices.

I’ve also come across two conferences that are specifically geared towards the LibUX community:

  1. Design for Digital: Held in Austin in April, right on the heels of ER&L (and SXSW), this conference seems like a Mecca for UX-minded library folks specifically interested in web-based user experiences  (on this side of the Atlantic).
  2. UXLibs: On the *other* side of the Atlantic (depending on your perspective) is the UXLibs conference, which sound equally rad. If I had to guess (and I am), I’d say this one is less webUX-specific, and more focused on UX research more broadly.

The #libux hashtag is a great way to stay connected to the LibUX community, and to discover new resources. It’s worth following because it’s not too busy or overwhelming, but people share great articles that way. It’s where I came across several online spaces for librarians working on user experience stuff, whether it’s web development folks, public services folks, or researchers. Here are a few of those resources:

  1. LibUX: The most obvious hub (that I’ve come across) for library UX folks. There are blog posts (though they fall on the more technical/expert end of the spectrum), and even podcasts (which I find very accessible and just a delight to listen to!). Once again, the masterminds behind this site are Amanda L. Goodman and Michael Schofield. They also maintain the “Design and UX for Libraries” Facebook page, which is worth a follow. (Side note: Do these two ever sleep? Impressive, guys!)
  2. usable libraries: Each month, a useful, usable library website is given a shout-out from Emily Singley. Like an advent calendar, but for library websites that aren’t terrible! Her explanations of “what I like” are easy to understand, and being able to see a diverse example of good websites is a nice way to learn more about UX best practices.
  3. UXMatters: Yes, it’s ironic that a hub for the UX community should be so ugly, but there’s lots of good content here, much like on the Nielsen website.

So, those are some resources I’ve come across in the short time I’ve been exploring these themes in a marginal amount of depth. If you have other courses, books, or online resources you think might be useful for a budding UX person, let me know.

UPDATE: A few more recommendations (thanks, Monica!):

UPDATE: I also came across the Certificate in User Experience (UX) online certificate, offered through Library Juice Academy.

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