by Jaclyn McLean
Collection Services, University Library
University of Saskatchewan
At our first journal club meeting of 2016, I chose an article from Weave; a new peer-reviewed, OA, web-based journal, to start a discussion about usability principles and teams in academic libraries:
Godfrey, K. (2015). Creating a culture of usability. Weave: Journal of Library User Experience, 1(3). http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/weave.12535642.0001.301
I’ve been reading a lot in the areas of usability and user experience (UX), especially in libraries, as I build a foundation of knowledge for my program of research. This article seemed like an interesting introduction for those less familiar with usability principles, and the idea of a culture of usability across the library intrigued me. I also like the Weave editorial philosophy, especially their primary aim “to improve the practice of UX in libraries, and in the process, to help libraries be better, more relevant, more useful, more accessible places.” This aligns well with some of the reasons I picked usability and UX for my research, and ideas I keep in mind in my practice as well. And before I dig into the article, and our discussion, I just want to mention something about usability and UX. Weave is a journal aiming to improve UX, but the article we read was about usability teams and principles. Usability and UX are not the same (though you’ll see the terms used nearly interchangeably at times, incorectly).
Godfrey’s article could be divided into two broad sections: a description of usability and usability teams, and an examination of the local experience at Memorial University Libraries. In the first section, she frames her discussion with a literature search on usability principles and practices, and the newer concept of standing usability teams in libraries. She also discusses the importance of making usability a core concept in all areas of library development – physical, virtual, and service. She describes the core concepts of usability, and how Memorial is consciously applying the idea of examining pain points and other concepts usually confined to online environments, to their physical spaces. The challenges of creating a culture of usability (or of changing any culture), and especially the concept of join-in rather than buy-in when attempting such a significant change were very interesting to think about.
The second section gives an overview of the Memorial University Libraries context, and how the implementation of a usability team went there. Godfrey outlines how the team was formed, what’s been done so far, and some plans for the future. She identifies the creation of their usability team as “the first step to creating a culture of usability and improving the user experience.”
Our discussion ranged widely, from the style of the article, to ideas of usability beyond the web, concepts of building culture, and beyond. Several of us were hungry for more – details of the actual projects undertaken by the usability team and their outcomes – but recognized that this wasn’t the article we had in our hands. This article felt more like an introduction to the concept of standing usability teams in libraries, an overview of usability concepts, and some local experiences rather than a full case study or assessment of a usability team in a library.
The bulk of our discussion focused on local context. We already do a lot of talking about our different cultures and how to build them here, and have focused recently on building cultures in the area of leadership, project management, assessment, and EBLIP. How many cultures can one workplace consciously foster, we wondered? Could we honestly see something like a standing usability team happening here? In the end, we thought that adopting usability concepts and ideas into work we already do, and good standing committees that are already in place would be more successful in our context. In that way, we specifically talked about EBLIP – because by it’s very definition, EBLIP takes into account our users. So maybe rather than adding a new culture shift to our agenda, it’s more about keeping the user aspect of EBLIP in mind when we implement or assess services and programs – and use that as a reminder to stop assuming we know what our users need, or as a reminder to check in with our users on a regular basis.
Libraries have a bad reputation of looking inward and forgetting about our users – so even broad discussions of user preferences and initial user consultation could be a significant improvement. I know from my own area of work (technical services), a key example of how we fall down on user consultation is when a discovery system needs to be reconfigured, and only library staff are consulted for needs/preferences, rather than users.
In the end, this article made us hungry for more. As practitioners, we were immediately curious about the how and the what of the work. We wanted to see the outcomes of the iterative testing, the aggregated responses from the survey, and the results from this standing team. We hope that Godfrey is planning a follow-up with more of the details from on the ground, so we can continue to learn from what seems to be a unique project. Krista, if you’re reading this, I hope that you are planning to share more about the work you’ve done so far and what’s planned next!