Being Leaderly in Team Environments

A recent interview of UX expert Leah Buley by Jared Spool on Spoolcast included an interesting discussion of leadership and collaboration. Buley was expanding on ideas she covers in her book, The User Experience Team of One. In the interview, Buley talks about how it took her a while to get comfortable becoming that person that might get up in a meeting and start drawing on a whiteboard or using post-it notes to help move the conversation along. When you do that kind of thing, she notes, you command attention but in a helpful way that she calls “leaderly.”

I really like the sound of that word, as it seems more collaborative and non-egotistical than saying you are “showing leadership” in a meeting. It may be a subtle distinction that only works for me, but that’s fine. At my library, I’m the only person with UX as part of my job title and core job focus (which isn’t to say that my colleagues don’t do UX work, as they do but may not think of it as such). In meetings for various projects–some local to my college’s library and some for projects that are shared across the system of CUNY libraries–I find myself wanting to contribute in ways that draw on my UX perspective. The last thing I want to do when I speak up is make it sound as though I am the expert that all must bow down to. I think if in my mind I frame my efforts as being “leaderly” I’m more comfortable with speaking up or contributing in other ways.

How the Mobile Web Affects Perceptions of the Traditional Web

This fall, I’m going to be working with some colleagues from other parts of CUNY to do some research that will allow us to explore the how perceptions of the web on mobile devices and on desktop/laptop browsers affect the user experience. Specifically, we want to look at an interface where there is a mobile web version that is notably different from the traditional web interface. How distinct can the interfaces be before the user experience is notably degraded? And which interface will suffer more in the way it’s perceived?

I realize that one way to get around the problem of forked interfaces (one for desktop/laptop browser dimensions and one for mobile browser dimensions) is to focus instead on a responsive design that shifts content around depending on the device being used. But I still wonder where the break point is for responsive design, too. How much shifting of content on a page in a responsive design can be done before the user who visits a site on different devices regularly gets thrown off by the altered layouts?

It may be the case that most users have minimal issues in adjusting themselves as they use different devices to visit the same site. I’m interested now in finding literature that addresses these questions and hopeful that the research my colleagues and I are about to  undertake will offer evidence with respect to interfaces in library resources.

Source of Information for Understanding Your Academic Library Users

As a user experience librarian, I need to make sure that I am considering all the sources of information that will help me better understand our students and faculty as library users. I want as much as possible to make keep in mind the mantra that “the user is not me.”

As an exercise in making a list of the main ways that I can learn about our users in the college library where I work, I put together this little mindmap that delineates between those sources where we are actively soliciting responses from our users and those sources where were are sifting through the traces of the users’ interactions with our services and systems. Did I miss anything important?

Usability Testing Basics

The kind folks who run the Carterette Series Webinars for the Georgia Library Association invited me to do a presentation on usability testing basics. I just finished up an hour ago and wanted to share my slides as soon as possible. The webinar recording will be archived and freely available soon (check the archived sessions page). In the meanwhile, here are my slides:

If you want to see my slides with my notes, you can get the original PowerPoint slides, too.

During the presentation, I read aloud from a script we used this past January when we were testing a draft of the library website. Here’s that script:

Test Script

First of all, we’d like to thank you for coming. Before we get started, I’m going to start a recording here so that we can document this session. Please don’t worry, as this session will be kept private and you’ll remain anonymous.

[Test moderator hits CTRL-F8 on the laptop keyboard to start the audio and screen recording]

As I mentioned earlier, we’re in the process of redesigning the library web site. In order to make it as easy to use as possible, we’d like to get some input from the people who will be using it. And that’s where you come in. We’re going to ask you to perform a very simple exercise that will give us some great insight into how we can make this web site easier to use.

I want to make it clear that we’re testing the site, not you. You can’t do anything wrong here. We want to hear exactly what you think, so please don’t worry that you’re going to hurt our feelings. We want to improve it, so we need to know honestly what you think.

As we go along, I’m going to ask you to think out loud, to tell me what’s going through your mind.

If you have questions, just ask. I may not be able to answer them right away, since we’re interested in how people do when they don’t have someone sitting next to them, but I will try to answer any questions you still have when we’re done.

Do you have any questions before we begin?

[initial questions for the test subject]

Before we begin the exercise, I’d like to ask you a few quick questions:

What year are you in school?
Approximately how many times have you used the library web site? (sample responses: several times a day, once a day, once a week, once a month, less than once a month)
Can you give me a list of 3-4 things you would expect to find or be able to do on the library’s website?
What type of information or services have you looked for or used on the library web site?
Is there any information or services you have had trouble finding on the library site?

OK, great. We’re done with the questions and we can begin the exercise. Here’s how it works. First, I’m just going to ask you to look at the home page of the test library website and tell me what you think it is, what strikes you about it, and what you think you would click on first.

And again, as much as possible, it will help us if you can try to think out loud so we know what you’re thinking about.

[Test moderator opens browser to test page]

OK. Is there anything that interests you on this page that you might click on?

Before you click, can you tell me what you expect to find when you click on the link?

[after clicking] Did you find what you expected?

[Three main tasks that test subject will complete]

I’m going to ask you to try to complete some tasks using the test library site. Please keep in mind that some of the interior pages of the library site don’t have all the text or links that ultimately will. And as you can see from the library home page, there are some open spaces that we haven’t put content into yet.

[First task; make sure the browser is back to the home page]

OK, beginning at the library home page, pretend that you want to know what the hours are for the library next week. Where would you go to find that information?

[Second task]

Great. OK, now let’s say that you’ve checked out a book that is due back soon. You’d like to extend the loan period. Can you see a way to use the library site to help with that?

[Third task]

Great. Now let’s say that you want to find a textbook titled “Brief Calculus.” Can you see a way to do that?

Thank you so much for your time. Your help today is going to be fed right back into our redesign efforts.

[Test moderator presses CTRL F9 on the laptop keyboard to stop the audio and screen recording]

Please feel free to reuse this script without attribution.

Usability Testing Our New Website

This past week, I’ve been working with with two colleagues from campus IT to run a first round of usability tests on library site redesign. Over the course of three days, we watched ten different undergraduate students perform tasks we had designed in advance (see our testing protocol if you’d like more details on what we did). We used CamStudio to record the screens and to capture audio from a USB mic and relied on one of us from the team to serve as an observer who would take notes during each test using this form.

I’m in the middle of re-reading the observer notes and watching the videos of the screen recordings as I try to write up a report summing what needs to be tweaked in the new site and what seems to be working. In the process of doing the tests this week, I learned a few things that will help us for the next round of usability tests on the redesign:

  • Make sure the testing situation is completely ready for the next test subject before they come in to the room. We asked students to run searches in a catalog search box on the home page. We realized after a while that we should have been clearing the browser cache after each subject was done; we noticed that the previous test subject’s search query was visible in the drop down list below the search box once the next test subject starting typing the same query.
  • Use more stable screen recording software. Although CamStudio offers two great features–it’s free and it works fairly well–it isn’t the most stable software. I think we’re going to want to look into getting Camtasia Studio or Contribute, which I am pretty sure my college has a site license for.

Tonight, I stumbled on a great post by Matthew Reidsma about how he does usability testing at the libraries at Grand Valley State University. He had a great idea of doing monthly tests with just three test subjects. Even more interesting was his way to having colleagues from the library watch the test in a room separate from the one where the test subject is (the test subject’s computer and the computer in the room where the librarians are watching are connected via screensharing software). This sounds like a great way for the staff doing usability testing to get buy in from colleagues about the changes being made. It also seems like it offers great evidence about how our students actually use our sites, thereby curtailing arguments over design issues where everyone is making suggestions based on theoretical ideas about user behavior.

One final note about usability and libraries. There is a new mailing list getting started that will focus on user experience and libraries. Subscribe? Check.

My New Job as User Experience Librarian

This month, I ended more than ten years of service in the Information Services Division at the Newman Library at Baruch College and started a new position as a user experience librarian in the Collection Management Division. While I will continue to provide reference services and teach workshops and credit courses, I’ll be working on all sorts of projects in Collection Management that focus on improving access to and integration of the library’s online and on-site resources. The work will consistently be driven by user needs, which means that I’ll be involved in a lot of usability tests, focus groups, surveys, and more, as part of an effort to design a better experience for our students and faculty. So far, I’ve been hip deep in our link resolver (SFX), our ejournals lookup system (Serials Solutions 360 Core) our federated search tool (Serials Solutions 360 Search), and admin options for various databases. My supervisor and amazing colleague, Mike Waldman, and I hope to release a mobile-friendly website that links to mobile-friendly databases, a LibX toolbar, and a project involving QR codes in the stacks linking users to electronic resources and LibGuides.

I expect I’ll still be posting items at my other blog, Digital Reference, but will also be active over here at Beating the Bounds, which is where I go when I want to talk about scholarly communication, open access, fair use, copyright, information literacy, databases, social media, and user experience.

(cross posted at Digital Reference)