This article was co-written by the e-Forum moderators.
An ALCTS e-Forum on “User Experience and the Electronic Resources Librarian” took place April 10–11, 2018. Kate Hill (Electronic Resources Librarian, University of North Carolina Greensboro) and Michael Rodriguez (Licensing and Acquisitions Librarian, University of Connecticut) facilitated the discussion. More than 20 participants collectively contributed 70 posts over the course of the two days.
The first question elicited a number of thought-provoking responses. Courtney McAllister noted that “to me, UX is all about lowering access barriers and optimizing system or platform interoperability.” Buddy Pennington commented that interface design and user experience (ability of users to complete their tasks, plus their sense of satisfaction with using the platform) are deeply interconnected. Anne Lomas and Kelsey Kness echoed the centrality of “ease of use” to good user experience. Janis McKenzie highlighted the “willingness to dismantle our own assumptions” as fundamental to successful UX design and assessment. John Sandstrom emphasized the challenges of doing effective UX design and assessment in technical services, a department that may not interface with end users and may be precluded from doing so by organizational or other constraints. The second question (about challenges to doing good UX) included responses highlighting the problem of inconsistent user experiences with e-resource access on-campus versus off-campus, unrealistic user expectations about how library catalogs and discovery work, the digital divide (generational and geographic), and less-than-transparent or effective relevance rankings in library discovery services. The third question prompted several responses, including a post from Robin Hofstetter about a University of Illinois at Chicago case study of usability testing with wireframes in order to integrate advanced search features into a bento-style search box. Resource recommendations included “Library Service Design: A LITA Guide to Holistic Assessment, Insight, and Improvement” by Joe J. Marquez and Annie Downey (2016).
Discussion resumed on day two with a fourth question about assessing collections from a usability and accessibility perspective. Courtney McAllister created a rubric that “combines more traditional data, like cost per use, with criteria related to platform ease of use and accessibility compliance.” Several participants shared that for usability assessments they tend to rely on access problem reports and on staff feedback. Everyone wished they had more time to do this type of evaluation—time constraints came up repeatedly throughout this e-Forum explaining why UX is not a higher priority for libraries. In response to the fifth question, Buddy Pennington agreed that the key challenge is one of “capacity,” observing that library staff are generally “open to user research and UX, but building in the time to develop skillsets, implement projects, and report findings is very challenging.” Finally, when asked how we can bring UX into technical services, or if it even belongs there, Russ Dennison responded, “Perhaps re-cast who the ‘user’ is of technical services?” The user experiences of liaison librarians, administrators, and one’s own colleagues in technical services are critical too. How can we enhance internal workflows through the lens of UX?
Thanks to the contributions of a number of participants, this e-Forum was engaging and thought-provoking. We hope attendees are able to further conversations around bringing UX into the realm of electronic resources and the roles of library technical services staff.