Walking Paper

A library design consultancy and blog by Aaron Schmidt

24 Jul 14

What if your website disappeared?

What would happen if your library’s website disappeared? You’d probably get a lot of phone calls. If I had to guess, most would be about:

  • Finding library items
  • Renewing library items
  • Library hours and locations

To a lesser extent, there might be questions about:

  • Loan periods
  • How to get a library card
  • Library events
  • Library services
  • Ebooks

However, I’d guess you would not receive many calls about:

  • Book reviews
  • Library value calculator
  • Homework help
  • History of the library
  • Library mission statement
  • Library policy
  • Library board minutes
  • Podcasts

This thought experiment gives us some perspective about the things library websites should be focusing on—the critical tasks users are trying to accomplish. It also offers perspective on the aspects of our websites that are comparatively unimportant—everything else.

Plainly, a lot of the content on your library’s website could be a complete waste of time and effort. Are your users looking at it? Check your analytics. Are those who do deriving any value from it? One way to find out is to remove it temporarily and see if anyone speaks up. Given the hard work it takes to create and maintain content, you might find that your return on some investments is low.

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WON’T COME

Why do some libraries insist on developing website content that is not being used? There’s no doubt it would be great if library users came to our sites to read book reviews, listen to podcasts, and calculate the value that the library delivers to them. We want to be a valuable resource. We want people to trust our opinions and rely on us for guidance. But just because this would be wonderful doesn’t mean it is going to happen.

We’re ever hopeful that if we advertise our websites in the right way, or create the right sort of graphic, or make the visual design more attractive, people will begin to use our content. This is pure fantasy. We need a healthy dose of reality.

By living in this dream world, we’re doing ourselves and our members a disservice. It is time for us to adjust our expectations about what it means to create and maintain a library website. If we liberate ourselves from producing scads of content that no one wants, we’ll have some surplus resources. We can use this extra horsepower to achieve other library priorities that meet user needs, such as improving our catalog interfaces.

SETTING A GOOD EXAMPLE

I’m not yet aware of any libraries sending out great niche newsletters; please get in touch if you’re doing so. But here are three libraries that have reduced the scope of their sites and focused on what’s important.

Addison Public Library, IL
A very lean (and attractive) website.

Lane Public Library, Hamilton, OH
This site’s content is quite restrained and presented in an effective, attractive manner.

Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, KS
There’s still a decent amount of content on this site, but the staff have done a lot of whittling down from the previous iteration. The result is an easy-to-grasp understanding of what users can find on the site and targeted information that’s worthwhile to those interested.

NEW/OLD SPACES FOR CONTENT

Instead of creating content for your website and hoping people will visit, consider delivering it to their inboxes. Email newsletters are experiencing a ­renaissance and for good reason. Nearly everyone uses email. And sending an email is a sure way to get something in front of someone’s eyeballs. Marketing experts have observed that people are much more likely to take action as the result of an email than a tweet.

I’m not advocating spamming your users’ in-boxes with generic library information. Instead, consider creating one or two newsletters based on the interests of your community. These newsletters will not appeal to everyone, and that’s the point. Find a niche—such as cooking, gardening, or hiking—and invest your efforts in developing a relationship with the folks who are passionate about that activity. It is a lot easier and more effective to deliver value to a select group of people about a specific topic than it is to create a website that appeals to everyone. Start small, and if you’re successful and have extra time, create a newsletter for another group.

Library print newsletters face the same problem as library websites. While they’re useful for providing a comprehensive look at what’s going on at a library, they’re too general for anyone to get excited about. Consider rolling your newly developed niche content into a complementary print newsletter, too.

7 May 14

For Sale: Library Logo/Barcode iPhone Cases

cases

Put your library’s logo and patron barcodes on iPhone 5/s cases. Great summer reading prize giveaways and Friends’ fundraising items.

More info on Influx’s site

Random background info

This idea is a response to the type of library-chic fetishization that Jessamyn wrote about so well here. Don’t get me wrong, I like geeky library pride stuff as much as the next librarian. But I figured: why not making something in the same vein that promotes actual libraries and encourages library use?

2 Apr 14

Earning Trust

Earning the trust of your library members is crucial to delivering a great user experience. Without trust, it is impossible to connect to library members in a meaningful way.

Libraries benefit in all sorts of ways when they’re trusted institutions. Trust breeds loyalty, and loyal library users are more likely to take advantage of the library. What’s more, loyal patrons will also be more apt to sing the praises of the library to neighbors and colleagues. For libraries, thinking about trust highlights the importance of recognizing members as individuals. Thinking of users not as a homogenous group but rather as persons will allow your library staff to develop more empathy and build stronger ­relationships.

There are many ways to earn—and lose—people’s trust in a library. Let’s take a look at a few:

FACE-TO-FACE CUSTOMER SERVICE

As we are social creatures, the human interactions that happen inside of our buildings are often a make-or-break aspect of building trust. In fact, customer service is so tightly linked to trust and the overall user experience (UX), it is often the only aspect of UX that librarians consider. Genuinely friendly and helpful interactions lead people to accomplishing their goals, demonstrate respect, and tell people, “Yes, we really do care about you as a person.” Poor customer service usually diminishes even the most desirable services.

Customer service also involves ­follow-through. Libraries must do what they say they’re going to do. This applies both to small- and large-scale claims. On the granular level, it is important that librarians carry out the tasks they promise members; reserving an item or phoning them with the answer to a reference question, for instance. On a broader level, libraries need to back up the big claims often found in mission statements. Things like “improve the quality of life for all citizens” and “provide access to the world of social and cultural ideas” can only be demonstrated through action. Simply pasting some nice words onto a web page won’t cut it. Show, don’t tell.

SHOWING YOUR PERSONALITY

It is easier to relate to a group of people than it is to a building. I’ve worked with a lot of libraries’ staffs over the years, and I don’t think I’ve met a single group that didn’t have at least a strong contingent of enthusiastic and fun employees. Letting librarians’ personalities show makes it easier for individuals to relate to—and therefore trust—the library.

There are plenty of opportunities for this: displays, events, contributions in newsletters, emails, and on the web, among others. Have some fun, be yourself, and ensure that your library’s brand makes it apparent that it is an organization filled with people. Remember, being fun and engaging folks doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dumbing the library down. Only people who take themselves too seriously think that way!

MAKING PEOPLE SUCCESSFUL

A great way to earn loyalty is to help patrons to be successful. When it is apparent that the library has their best interests at heart, people are likely to use the library more—and advocate for it. Remember, people’s actions in a library don’t exist in a vacuum. When they check out a DVD, they’re hoping to be entertained. When they ask a reference question, they probably have a goal they’re hoping to attain. Even if that goal is a barroom bet (maybe especially so!), helping people to reach their ends is an important way to earn their trust. Would your library be a different place if you started thinking of it as an organization that works with members to accomplish goals?

WEBSITES

The content on your website, what people can accomplish using it, and its visual design all impact the level of trust people place both in the site and in your institution as a whole. A website with outdated information or poor legibility raises a red flag and leads people to believe the site is sloppy or ineffectual.

HONESTY

In “The Transparent Library: Living Out Loud” (LJ 6/1/07, p. 34), Michael Stephens and Michael Casey illustrate how transparent libraries set themselves up to build long-lasting relationships.

“Transparency and arrogance are like oil and water—the two simply don’t mix. This is a very good reason for encouraging transparency in any organization. It’s very difficult for a transparent library to lie and shy away from the truth….”

If a library isn’t honest with its members, it is unlikely that a trusting relationship will form. Making it known why your organization makes the decisions it does and being forthright when it makes mistakes are effective ways to humanize your library. Engaging patrons with participatory design methods and involving them in the planning process take this idea further. The more deliberate the transparency, the better the result.

18 Nov 13

23 Color Views of Mexican Libraries

I was in Mexico City last week and it was great. Why was it great? Aside from having a completely transcendent taco experience I got to see some more Mexican libraries. Super good stuff:

The Biblioteca Amalia González Caballero in El Parque México.
park2

park

park3

dia

The public library in San Miguel De Allende.
sanmiguel

Biblioteca de México “José Vasconcelos”
b_m4

courtyard

anoche2

The National Library has a project called “City of Books” which houses the personal collections of five Mexican authors. The spaces function as part archive, part research libraries, part tribute, and part all around amazing places to be. The building also has an amazing space for the visual impaired, an inspiring general use area and a popular area for kids.

Carlos Monsiváis liked cats. The art in his library reflected that.
b_m3

Looks like cat hair. Totally gross.
hairbooks

cv

From the collection of Jaime Garcia Terres.
?2

?

Kids’ space.
kids2

kids

A great room for meeting, talking, studying, reading, laptopping, etc… The lifted ceiling makes one feel as if they’re still outside.
b_m2

Here’s the space for the visually impaired.
blind

Tactile wayfinding.
blindwayfinding

The art in this room is audio. Press your ear against the wall to hear a soundscape.
blindart

Section for visually impaired children.
blindkids

Okay, not libraries, but two museums. First, the Museo Rufino Tamayo.
tamayo

This wasn’t even an exhibit in El Chopo. Just some amazing storage organization!
chopo

And in the bookstore: To read is a pleasure.
pleasure

Previous Mexican Library content on Walking Paper

4 Nov 13

Decision Notebooks For Sale

decisions notebooks

Here’s another notebook for jotting down all of your great library improving ideas!

They measure 3.5″x5″ and contain 32 pages of dotted grid pages. Optimized for brainstorming, they fit in your pocket so you can have one you wherever you go. I think it is best one yet!

$3 each
$8 for 3
$25 for 10
(plus some modest shipping charges!)

notebooks_-01-01

4 Nov 13

A new identity for Copenhagen children’s library

hvasshannibalbib1_0

hvasshannibalbibplakat4_0

hvasshannibalbibfigurer_0

The identity is based on a modular system of shapes that can form different characters and patterns. The idea is that the kids can have fun with this system – creating stories and characters of their own – and that the identity can continue to grow in many direction. [via HVASS&HANNIBAL]

Wow. The act of creation is built in to the identity of the library. Super cool.

“The result was very surprising – the children generally prefered the more simple designs, whereas the librarians prefered the more complex ones with lots of details. So in the end we decided on keeping the logo very simple with the possibilty of adding details when combining it with more of the identity’s shapes…” [via Creative Review]

Librarians preferring complexity? You don’t say!

hvass-hannibal-bib-2

hvass-hannibal-bib-3

14 Oct 13

Focus on People, Not Tools

Librarianship has lost its focus – our professional concern for people has been eclipsed by a pre­occupation with collections and technology. This is understandable. Historically, libraries have been centered on bringing the world to our members through our collections. This problem of access was important to help solve, meeting a vital societal need. Likewise, our focus on information technologies and the web is natural, too. Throughout the years, these tools have presented some outstanding challenges, though generally they have aided tremendously in our mission to expand access to accumulated cultural knowledge and output. But our fixation on collections and technology is no longer serving us – nor our members.

REVEALING ROLES

Let’s take a closer look at our attention to the web. Web technologies are tools, but we’ve been concerned with them as ends in themselves. “We need a responsive library site!”excited web librarians might say. What they mean is that the library needs to deliver information in a convenient way. “The library would benefit from a vibrant Facebook profile,” another librarian might say. This is probably true but only because having a vibrant Facebook profile can create conversation and community connections.

Take a look at the debate on what to call the people who come into our institutions – patrons, customers, users, members, etc. I would argue that the rise of the ugly word user in our profession and others is, at least in part, tied to this shift in focus away from people and onto the tools they use, as if their tools define them.

Finally, our spotlight on tools can also be found in the titles of conference sessions and articles. Oftentimes, the technology functions as the subject, while the outcome – if it’s there at all – is the predicate. Our communities, again, if present at all, are unspoken direct objects. Here’s what I mean:

  • Augmented Reality & Next Gen Libraries
  • Top Technology Trends
  • Gamifying Your Library
  • 25 Mobile Apps for Librarians
  • Circulating iPads

This is a subtle but meaningful difference. Focusing on the technologies rather than the outcomes changes the way we talk about these topics and the way we learn about them. When we aim for the outcomes, we’re more likely to think deeply about the problems we’re trying to solve and consider multiple strategies that speed us to our goals.

Let me be clear: I’m not downplaying the importance of technology in libraries or setting up a false dichotomy. As a profession, librarianship has developed many mechanisms to learn about technology and the web. This is important, and we need to keep learning about the broader world of resources that can help us efficiently deliver our services. But let’s shift our collective eye to learning about people first, so everything we know about technology can be put in service of supporting meaningful goals.

SHIFT THE FOCUS

Our collective focus on technology also prevents technology from being as deeply integrated into our libraries as it should be. When we fetishize technology, we can only look at it shallowly. When we depend on emerging technology librarians to be the ambassadors for relevant technologies, we take the rest of the organization off the hook.

In fact, if we put the emphasis on people, library technology will become even more important. Currently, it is all too easy to implement tech solutions halfheartedly, check the box that the project is complete, and more or less be done with it. Think of our websites, catalogs, and self-check machines. There’s plenty of room to improve these things, but since we can check the box of “yes, we have those” we don’t strive to do better. In the future, when we emphasize peoples’ needs and their ideal use of libraries, we’ll spend a lot of time ensuring our technology is useful, usable, and desirable. “What sort of checkout experience are we providing members?” is a much bigger and important question than “Are our self-check machines working?”

Once we shift our focus the right way, we can encourage larger efforts. For instance, in addition to the Library Information Technology Association, we need the Library & Community Knowledge Association. In addition to the conference Computers in Libraries we need the conference People in Libraries. A complement to the American Library Association’s (ALA) TechSource? You guessed it: ALA PeopleSource. When we focus on people, we can acknowledge that technology is an important but subservient tool that helps libraries meet the needs of their communities.

This first appeared in “The User Experience,” a column I write for LJ.

7 Oct 13

Putting the “You” in UX

Even simple library tasks can require library members to use multiple aspects of the library. For instance, take discovering an item, reserving it, and picking it up at the library. Here’s a typical customer journey to accomplish this task:

  • See book recommendation in library newsletter
  • Place hold on book through library website
  • Receive notification email
  • Travel to library
  • Park in lot
  • Enter building
  • Take child to youth services department
  • Locate reserve shelf
  • Locate item on shelf
  • Reclaim child from children’s room
  • Walk to self-check machine
  • Interact with library worker
  • Exit building

This member’s overall experience will be formed by each touchpoint used to accomplish the task. Each interaction enhances or detracts from the experience. Steve Krug, in his seminal book Don’t Make Me Think (2d ed. New Riders, 2005), talks about the “reservoir of goodwill” users have with websites. Each time users are confused, a bit of goodwill is depleted and the experience sours. Conversely, each time they find what they need or easily accomplish a task, the reservoir is filled.

FILL THE WELL

The “reservoir of goodwill” applies to physical services, too. In the above example, the overall experience is a calculus of how each touchpoint impacts the reservoir. If every touchpoint is giving a good experience, but in step nine the item is very difficult to find on the reserve shelf, the overall experience will be tainted. This calculus is complicated because experiences are subjective and individuals have different needs. For instance, a library location convenient to one person might be a hindrance to another.

Orchestrating these touchpoints to work in harmony takes a lot of effort and a lot of cross-departmental collaboration. Think of all the departments that are involved with the above task:

  • Readers’ Advisory librarians: Selecting items to recommend, writing reviews
  • Marketing: Designing the newsletter
  • IT: Sending email notifications, ensuring the self-check machine works
  • Administration: Deciding the library’s location, designing services, hiring all staff involved
  • Facilities: Parking lot maintenance, building cleanliness
  • Youth services: Customer service, child’s experience
  • Technical services: Processing items
  • Library workers: Shelving items, customer service

All of these areas must work in sync to create, in this case, a great item reserving/picking up experience. Extrapolate from here all of the different things libraries do, and we have a bunch of cooks creating a lot of different dishes.

AWARE OF THE USER

A good user experience doesn’t happen by accident; everyone needs to be aware that they’re having an impact—positive or negative. Start with the above list and document how all of the departments impact people’s experiences. If your library is small and doesn’t have many distinct departments, don’t fret, you can still do this exercise. Chances are that people in your library play many roles. Make these roles explicit in the process of mapping out the experiences influencing decisions people make. Knowing exactly who makes particular decisions can lead to better decision-making. It can even expose those mysterious “we have no idea how this came to be” decisions.

Even better, take a member-focused approach and create journey maps for common library tasks. Illustrations representing a user’s flow though a library service can be helpful, but your maps don’t need to be fancy to be effective. Even a simple list like the one at the beginning of this column can be a valuable way to analyze and improve experiences. After you’ve created journey maps for important library services, think critically about each touchpoint. What is this touchpoint accomplishing? How did it get to be this way? Is it necessary? Is there a better way to do it?

Having a cross-departmental UX team is a potent way to do projects like this. It not only gives the UX team broad organizational knowledge, but involving staff from all departments is a great way to create librarywide buy-in and prevent territorial disputes.

OWNING UP

Leading by example is perhaps the most important thing we can do to improve experiences. If everyone considered how their work impacts the user experience, our libraries would be much improved. So, take up the mantle! And if your coworkers aren’t following your lead, start introducing UX on the sly by steering conversations in this direction. Keep asking, “Will this be good for our members?”

This first appeared in “The User Experience,” a column I write for LJ.

30 Sep 13

Influx Library User Experience Newsletter

Sign up now and get in on the ground floor! Newsletter 001 is about to make its way into inboxes, and there’s a little reward for everyone signed up before it is sent.

What to expect from this newsletter

We will send you UX related links that we find interesting. Maybe a little bit of original content will sneak in on occasion. Whatever the case, we’re aiming quality over quantity. (Yes, just like we advocate for libraries – not only only their websites but also programs and services too). This is an experiment and we’ll adjust it as we go along.

Putting it together felt different than preparing content for this site, so it’ll be different but I can’t quite put my finger on how it will be different. If you like this site, you’ll like the newsletter. Or your money back!

Whatever the case, it will be 100% non-spammy and we’ll give it our 100% to make it interesting and informative!

You should sign up now.

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