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.

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