Walking Paper

A library design consultancy and blog by Aaron Schmidt

28 Jul 14

Our New Book: Useful, Usable, Desirable

By designing your library with the user experience in mind, you have the potential to deepen the connection your library has with its community, and make your library a place that people love to use.

Amanda Etches and I wrote a book to help you do just that.


The book is a practical guide to assessing and improving all sorts of touchpoints in your library, and also covers foundational UX theory. Each chapter deals with a different part of the library and provides a list of checkpoints that you can use to assess how your library is doing. Each checkpoint states why we think is important, and tells you how to improve your score (should that be necessary). Yes, there’s even a scoring system.

As the subtitle says, this is about applying user experience design to your library. Think of it is as a big heuristic evaluation for the whole library, with supporting information about why UX matters, some practical user research methods, and helpful tips on design thinking. Check out the table of contents below to see what’s covered.

What’s more, I’ve been told that the book is “genuinely entertaining.” Not bad, right? Big thanks to Amanda for making the writing process fun, and for making the book really great!

You can ILL it via WordCat (or locally maybe!), buy it on Amazon, or at ALA’s store.

Table of contents:

1. Introducing Library User Experience
1.1 What Is User Experience Design?
1.2 Why UX for Libraries?
1.3 The Trinity of Good UX
1.4 The Principles of Library User Experience Design
1.5 How to Use This Book
1.6 A Note on Terminology

2. User Research Techniques in This Book
2.1 Attitudinal and Behavioral Research
2.2 Other User Research Techniques
2.3 Additional Reading

3. Physical Space
3.1 The Library Building Is Clean and Functions as Intended
3.2 The Library Building Is Free from Clutter
3.3 Furniture Adequately Supports Member Needs
3.4 The Building Supports Diverse Behaviors
3.5 Members Have Easy Access to Power Outlets

4. Service Points
4.1 Members Readily Approach Service Desks
4.2 Service Desks Adjust to Changing Needs
4.3 Members Receive Assistance When and Where They Need It
4.4 Members Receive the Kind of Assistance They Need
4.5 Additional Reading

5. Policies and Customer Service
5.1 Your Library Has a Service Philosophy
5.2 Your Staff Members Know and Live Your Service Philosophy
5.3 There Is as Little Policy as Possible
5.4 Library Policies Empower Staff
5.5 Staff Members Are Friendly and Genuinely Want to Help
5.6 Service Is Consistent across Departments and Modalities
5.7 Service Is Consistent across the Organization

6. Signage and Wayfinding
6.1 Your Library Has a Brand Manual That Is Consistent with the Principles of Graphic Design
6.2 All Signage Uses the Same Visual Language
6.3 Different Types of Signs Are Visually Distinct
6.4 There Are as Few Signs as Possible
6.5 There Are No Paper Signs Taped to Walls, Doors, Tables, Computers, or Any Other Surfaces
6.6 Regulatory Signs Are Written in a Plain, Polite, and Friendly Manner
6.7 Library Cards Contain Useful Information and Employ the Library’s Visual Language
6.8 First-Time Visitors Can Easily Locate All Parts of the Library
6.9 Additional Reading

7. Online Presence
7.1 Members Can Easily Search for Library Items and Place Holds
7.2 Members Can Easily Accomplish Critical Tasks
7.3 The Size of Your Website Is Commensurate with the Amount of Effort You Can Devote to It
7.4 Web Content Is Engaging
7.5 Content Is Written for the Web
7.6 Website Employs Web Design Conventions
7.7 Home Page Clearly Expresses What People Can Do on Your Site
7.8 Website Is Easy to Use on All Devices
7.9 Website Employs the Library’s Visual Language
7.10 You Use Social Media in Meaningful Ways
7.11 Additional Reading

8. Using the Library
8.1 The Technology in Your Library Is Relevant, Useful, and Usable
8.2 Collections Are Relevant to Member Needs
8.3 Marketing Materials Are Relevant to Member Needs
8.4 You Merchandize Your Materials
8.5 Library Services and Programs Solve Problems
8.6 Additional Reading

9. Wrapping Up: Philosophy, Process, and Culture
9.1 Whole Library Thinking
9.2 The Design Process
9.3 Your Organizational Culture
9.4 Parting Words

24 Jul 14

What if your library 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.


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.


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.


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


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.

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