Advice for UX Shops of One in Libraries

On Twitter recently, I was asked for advice about setting up a new one-person UX shop in a library. I’ve only recently emerged from the UX-shop-of-one world, thanks to the addition of a part-time UX designer to my “team” and am not entirely sure how much my experience yields universal insights. So consider the following caveats about how institutional differences will affect the usefulness of any thoughts I have about how to get started.
  • How many people work in your library? Size of the library staff matters. If you are one of dozen or less people staffing the library, then your UX work is likely bundled in with other job responsibilities. Some libraries are large enough to support a whole unit or division devoted to UX (or at least web services, web oversight, etc.)
  • How directly can you make changes to the website (and its attendant ecosystem services and resources, such as the link resolver, the discovery layer, subscription databases, catalog records, proxy server, ejournals knowledgebase, etc.) or to physical locations in the library where you want to work your magic?
  • What is the culture of change in your library? Do proposed changes and new initiatives tend to get debated to death? Does everyone have to weigh in on decisions?
With those considerations, here are some suggestions for someone just getting started as the sole person with UX responsibilities (or a UX job title).
  • Find your tribe inside and outside the library. In the library, look for people who are open to user-centered services or user-centered design so that you can have someone to bounce ideas off of. If that person happens to run a service or manage a resource that you’d like to do some design work on, all the better. Outside the library, you’ll want to find communities of people in libraryland who are interested in talking about UX work and communities that serve a broader UX professional audience. For me, this includes:
  • Dive into “the literature” (I’ll only mention a few books, as there are dozens worth reading)
    • Useful, Usable, Desirable. A great book about UX in libraries by Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches to get started with. Especially useful is the way the book is organized to help you assess all aspects of your library to help you identify where you might want to begin your design work.
    • Rocket Surgery Made Easy. UX expert Steve Krug’s book about usability testing and design work.
    • Don’t Make Me Think. A revised edition of a classic book by Steve Krug about UX and web design.
    • Weave: Journal of Library User Experience. Open access FTW!!!
    • LibUX. Check out the archives of this podcast and make sure you subscribe to it.
  • Carefully gather evidence from user research and save it in a mindful fashion as you work on projects. It is essential to draw on this evidence when making formal proposals for some change you’d like to make. The more you can show your colleagues that design decisions can be driven by evidence and not whim, the more likely they’ll listen to you.
  • Do usability tests on existing systems and services to identify and properly document problems.
  • Learn as much as you can about project management, as a lot of UX design work is a multi-step process that usually involves your collaboration with colleagues who may not always see the big picture of the project.
 I’m sure there is more to add here (for example, take a look at this nice guide about library UX from Carli Spina at Harvard University for more ideas). If I’ve forgotten something important, or gotten something wrong, please share your comments!