Walking Paper

A library design consultancy and blog by Aaron Schmidt

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.

25 Sep 13

Hand Painted Library Signage

Look what I found while riding through Wallowa, a small town in Eastern Oregon.


So many good things about this. “Our library is your friend.” Yes!

Don’t miss that prospector looking guy reading while riding his horse.

24 Sep 13

Catalog by Design

Aside from paying very little attention to visual design and not caring about the impact of horrible typography, the big problem with library catalogs is that they are not designed to help people accomplish library tasks. Instead, they’re designed to expose catalog records.

I’m not even talking about lofty library tasks like learning, creating, and connecting. I’m not referring to semi-interesting library tasks like discovering exciting content. I’m talking about very basic library tasks: finding items in a specific location, reserving items, and renewing items. Of course, people can do these tasks with our catalogs but only because the functionality has been clumsily bolted onto catalog ­records.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is totally backward—prioritizing the collection, not people, results in a user-hostile interaction design and a poor user experience. Imagine the reverse: a tool that prioritizes helping people accomplish their tasks, whereby bibliographic data exists quietly in the background and is exposed only when useful.

Starting from Design

I wondered what this would look like, so I sketched out some examples. I’m certainly not the first to complain about OPAC functionality, but taking this as an explicit design challenge rather than as a software architecture or cataloging challenge led me to emphasize readability and ease of use.

Beyond that, there isn’t too much to explain about these designs. Here’s a very plain bibliographic record and illustrates how simplifying them would make them easier to use.


The following hints at eliminating the need for a dedicated view of a single bibliographic record; in this mock-up, nearly everything a member needs to do with an item is available without it.


The ability to link directly to a single record is missing from this example, but that would be easy enough to sort out. This one is similar but uses a swipe-friendly layout that could be effective on mobile devices.


An effective catalog design would obviate the need for how-to screencasts and handouts. Designs like this would not only make our libraries easier to use, but, by freeing up the time we spend helping people with our catalogs, they would make librarians’ lives easier, too.

While these examples aren’t fully featured, they illustrate how focusing on people and tasks would change our catalog. When bibliographic data plays second fiddle, the page calms down and is easier to understand and use. What’s more, by employing some basic principles of graphic design, these creations instill more confidence in library services than our current ­catalogs.

Members in Mind

This is just one example of how focusing on our members’ motivations and goals can transform what we do. Members will be better served if all of our services are designed as responses to their motivations and goals. With regard to catalogs, this focal point leads to improvements in usability. For library services, this emphasis makes libraries more worthwhile.

The deeper libraries dive into the lives of their members and explore opportunities for improving their lives, the more impact we can make and the more valuable libraries will become. This sort of listening, not shouting, is the best form of library advocacy.

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

30 May 13

YOUmedia Name-dropped by Chance the Rapper

I recently downloaded the second mixtape – Acid Rap – from Chicago’s up and coming Chance the Rapper.

Listening to the track “Acid Rain,” a line made my ears perk up: “And I’m still Mr. YOUmedia.” Whaaa? Rap Genius confirms: And I’m still Mr. YOUmedia. Sure enough, Chicago Public’s YOUmedia was one of the places Chance the Rapper started performing.

He’s spoken at length about the role YOUmedia played in his music’s development:

“It was a really ill thing because it was smack in the center of downtown, so anybody from any school could come there because every train comes to the loop [downtown]. I met damn near all the producers on #10Day through this library. It was the spot.”

Consider this a complement to the “I graduated from the library” Bradbury quote we like to trot out. Clearly, a lot of creative output is the result of some sort of library use. But in most cases libraries have been neutral in that they don’t care if they’re for enjoyment, learning, inspiration, etc… or any combination. So what makes this example so great is that YOUmedia isn’t neutral in this way; it has the goal of helping kids create content. This example illustrates that creation focused libraries can have a significant impact.

7 May 13

Richland Library Website

I learned about the Richland Library website in a good presentation by Kelly Coulter, the library’s Virtual Services Librarian.

Richland Library

Solid site with a lot of things going for it. Kelly knows her stuff so I think this site will only get better.

Neither here nor there: note their .com TLD. Don’t see many libraries with those. Maybe it actually is relevant since .com is arguably the most common and usable TLD.

23 Apr 13

The Usable Library

Have you seen The Usable Library? I gave it a refresh last week.

The Usable Library: Straight talk from Influx Library User Experience

All sorts of straight talk about library usability, and a redesigned postcard that you can print and hang up!


28 Mar 13

Regulatory Sign at the Crocker Art Museum

This Spring I’ve been teaching a class on library UX for the San Jose State SLIS. In an assignment about analyzing library touchpoints one of my students, Stephanie Aurelio, included this nice sign from the Crocker Art Museum. I thought it was rather nice so she gave me permission to post it here. Thanks, Stephanie!

friendly sign

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