The American Library Association’s recently published title, Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library, 2014, is a well-thought out and easily digestible read for those who are interested in identifying areas for improvement and want to design positive user experiences in their library.
At first glance, the title might lead one to believe the book is a how-to guide for building a new library, but rather, it’s a refreshing approach to what you can do right now to improve the experience of users in your library.
Authors Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches reveal the eight principles of good library UX design that library staff need to be conscious of, including: you are not your user; the user is not broken; learning about the lives, preferences, hopes, and dreams of library users is necessary in order to adjust and create services; developing empathy for users requires experiencing the library the way they do; easy has to come before interesting, in other words functionality before bells and whistles; environments should work just as easily for people with disabilities as they do for people without disabilities; everything in the library should be designed with intent, so walk around the library and ask why things are the way they are; and finally, it’s about more than good customer service - good UX design considers not just how users are treated when they walk into the building, but how being in that building makes them feel and how the building enables them to accomplish their goals.
Schmidt and Etches lay out the trinity of good UX, which, as the title insists, encompasses being useful, usable, and desirable.
Useful - This is the heart of the matter. A product or service must solve a problem or satisfy a need to create a great user experience.
Usable - What good is something that’s useful if it’s impossible to use or a constant cause of frustration? Not much good at all.
Desirable - In order to really connect with a product or service, people must either need or want to use it (but hopefully both).
The central chapters of the book focus on the six checkpoints or primary areas of service to be considered and provide a three-star system to score how easy or difficult each remedy will be. An optional points system is also available for libraries to grade themselves in these areas. The checkpoints in broad terms are:
Physical space – is it clean and uncluttered? Does it function as intended? Does it support user needs and diverse user behaviors? Are there enough power outlets?
Service points – Can users readily approach the service desks? Do the service desks adjust to changing needs? Do users receive assistance when and where they need it, and do they receive the kind of assistance they need?
Policies and customer service - Staff is friendly and genuinely wants to help; the library has as little policy as possible and makes sure what policy there is empowers staff; service is consistent across departments and within the organization.
Signage and way finding – Signage has a consistent “brand”; different types of signs are visually distinct; there are no paper signs taped to walls, doors, tables, computers, or any other surfaces; regulatory signs are written in a plain, polite, and friendly manner; library cards contain useful information; first-time visitors can easily locate all parts of the library.
Online presence - Users can easily search for library items and place holds and can easily accomplish critical tasks; the library’s home page clearly expresses what people can do on the site and web content is engaging; the library uses social media tools in meaningful ways.
Using the library - Technology in the library is relevant, useful, and usable; collections and marketing materials are relevant to user needs; and library services and programs solve problems.
Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library, by Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches, ALA, 2014.