Walking Paper

A library design consultancy and blog by Aaron Schmidt

7 May 14

For Sale: Library Logo/Barcode iPhone 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:


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.


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!


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?


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.


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.




The public library in San Miguel De Allende.

Biblioteca de México “José Vasconcelos”



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.

Looks like cat hair. Totally gross.


From the collection of Jaime Garcia Terres.


Kids’ space.


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

Here’s the space for the visually impaired.

Tactile wayfinding.

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

Section for visually impaired children.

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

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

And in the bookstore: To read is a 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!)


4 Nov 13

A new identity for Copenhagen children’s library




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!



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

30 Sep 13

Is your Library a Sundial?

In order for a product or service to provide an excellent user experience it has to be useful, usable, and desirable. Libraries are no exception to this rule. In fact, these three characteristics provide a great way for us to analyze the user experience we’re providing. Let’s unpack these terms:

USEFUL:The best products and services aren’t superfluous; they actually help people do something. Accordingly, libraries should solve a problem or satisfy a need. If a library isn’t useful, it won’t be important to its community, and use will be lackluster. It’s as simple as that.

USABLE: A good user experience is free of pain points. It’s a no-brainer that people are happier with and more likely to take advantage of libraries when they’re easy to use. When something is difficult to use, people feel frustrated, or, even worse, stupid. No one likes to feel this way. Likewise, it doesn’t matter how useful your library is if it isn’t easy enough for people actually to use.

DESIRABLE: This is all about making people want to use your library. Factors that influence desirability include the level of convenience, social implications, and emotional connections. Also, expectations play an important role in desirability. Pleasantly surprising people in the process of delivering a service is a great way to up the wow factor and increase their ­loyalty.

Unfortunately, this triad are not mutually inclusive. Just because something is useful doesn’t mean it’s easy to use. What’s more, levels of usefulness, usability, or desirability can be context-­dependent.

Think of a rotary telephone. Is it useful? Somewhat. It can allow you to make a phone call, though that’s the only thing it can do. Is it usable? Yeah, it isn’t difficult to use, though it isn’t as convenient as a touch-tone phone. Is it desirable? Probably not, unless you’re purposefully going for a vintage aesthetic. What about a sundial? It can tell the time, it’s useful! Is it usable? No! You need the sun and, more important, specific knowledge of how to operate it.

This trinity of good UX can serve as a valuable assessment tool. If you employ them to analyze enough individual services, you’ll start to get an idea where your library’s overall strengths and weaknesses lay. You can then concentrate on making the most relevant and effective improvements.


Making your library more useful will require that you examine your library services—but don’t start there. Since your goal is to create services that are useful to your community, you must make this your focus first; demographic studies and user interviews are a great way to begin. Only once you’ve learned more about the needs of your community should you circle back to your library services. The scope of your brainstorming will depend on how progressive your library is when thinking about its mission. Is it a place where people come to check out books, or is it a place where people come to improve their lives? This is your chance to augment your library services radically.


Finding and eliminating pain points aren’t always complicated. Usability testing is the classic method for improving websites. Watch people carry out tasks, see what’s tripping them up, and change accordingly. The same can be applied to our buildings as well by conducting contextual inquiries. Making the library easier to use can involve revising policy, so it’s best to have an organizatio nwide understanding of how usability impacts library services. No matter your method, the goal is to shed your librarian perspective and see your library in use through the eyes of a community member.


What products and services do you enjoy using? Your sleek and lightweight laptop? A restaurant that not only has delicious food but also a friendly staff? A car that conveys status? Use your personal experience as a guide, and adapt the elements that distinguish the products you enjoy.

Increasing desirability might be a tough sell since it in part deals with aesthetics, something often applied as mere window dressing. Still, ensuring that your library has a good visual design sense—in addition to being useful and usable—shows that you want people to enjoy it. Can a library position itself as the hip place in town? Probably, though it might take a major brand restructuring. Think of ways to get people excited about using the library.

All the decisions made in your library every day contribute to or diminish its usefulness, usability, and desirability. Keeping this in mind will help everyone make the right choices.

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

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