Sunday 13 October 2013

Barriers to a Great User Experience?

I'm currently working on the Hyperlinked Library MOOC and really loving it. The organisers have created a great community atmosphere and the material is really interesting and relevant.
I'm going to share my post this week over on this blog as I think it has a lot of relevance outside of the MOOC. This week we were asked to consider the user experience. The module was very interesting as the user should be at the heart of everything we do. I do believe though that sometimes in our quest to provide the best for our users we overthink things a little. Librarians have been guilty of this for a long time; it was certainly something I came across in my readings on social media use in libraries. My original post is below:
The issues explored in this weeks lectures and readings have caused some conflicting thoughts. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all as it’s not a clear cut issue.

Obviously libraries want to provide their users with the best experience possible in order to keep them coming back for more. There was a lot of focus this week on issues surrounding signs and desks and how they could be barriers to users. This is also something that has been discussed in depth in Cambridge libraries recently so it touched a bit of a nerve for me. I’m just going to come right out and say it:

Sometimes a sign is just a sign and a desk is just a desk!

Whilst I agree that you don’t want to put up a large amount of negative signage in your library as it’s just going to put people off, sometimes you do need to give them directions or remind them of rules. I liked the idea of having signs saying cell phones welcome here but sometimes you do just need a small reminder that they shouldn’t be used in other places. Otherwise, how will people know? Most people will respect others but not everyone. As much as I would love to have complete trust in everyones ability not to talk on their phones in a quiet study area I don’t see it happening any time soon. I think there is a growing trend against signage as it’s seen as a negative thing but we need to be careful not to take this to the opposite extreme. On a more positive note I did love the sign that asked users to disturb librarians. This is definitely something we should encourage more of!

As for the issue of desks as barriers … well you can certainly argue that. They do seperate the library staff from the users in physical terms but that’s not always a bad thing. At the end of the day WE are the staff and THEY are the users. That’s a barrier that we just won’t be able to get around. Sometimes though a desk is just a desk. It’s somewhere for a computer to sit, for people to lean on or work at, somewhere for the user to place their books ready for checkout. We shouldn’t overthink this so much!

I’m also not 100% convinced that users see signs and desks as barriers. Of course you can have an overkill on signs, as seen in some of the videos, but at the end of the day it’s important to remember that anything can be a barrier if you make it into one. The important thing to do it try to provide the best experience for your users without giving them what you think they want (or don’t want) rather than what they really need.

I’m not sure what reaction this post will get, but I think that debate is healthy. In my experience nothing gets people talking like a disagreement (still in that polite way that the library community has!) and at the end of the day this provides us with new ideas and shows that we are still very much engaged with trying to provide the best possible experience for our users.

This post is not aimed at anyone in particular who might have opposing views, each to their own and there are people out there with more experience of this than me. I've seen this issue come up a lot recently and this is just my small contribution to a much larger debate.

Monday 7 October 2013

CILIP New Professionals Day 2013

I've wanted to attend CILIP's annual New Professionals Day for a couple of years now but the timing has never been quite right for me. Luckily this year things worked out and I was able to attend. I always feel a bit funny describing myself as a new professional and I'm not sure I really fit the criteria laid down for the day - I've worked in libraries for eleven years now but I've only just completed my master's degree. I'm also not in a professional post as my job doesn't officially require a librarianship qualification. However this didn't seem to matter to anyone yesterday and I was pleased to see a mixed bunch of people of many ages and backgrounds in attendance. If nothing else I think I learnt to stop worrying so much about the new professional label!

The keynote speech was given by Barbara Band, school librarian and vice chair of CILIP. Barbara talked about the need for core librarianship skills no matter what sector we work in. It's essential that we meet the needs of our institution first and foremost but we must also remember the values of the profession. Barbara encouraged us to accept and use our traditional skills whilst also moving with the times. This may be easier said than done as we live in a time of such rapid change but it is possible. All these changes represent a chance for us to grow and learn if nothing else. Learning is something which I know many librarians are passionate about and I think one of the main reasons that the profession attracts so many enthusiastic people. It's certainly one of the best parts of librarianship for me - as evidenced by the title of this blog!  Barbara spoke about how librarians are often aware of emerging trends before our colleagues and so can be proactive rather than reactive, an enviable position to be in I think.

I was also glad to hear Barbara talk about the importance of continuing CPD. This is something which I've been thinking about a lot recently and based on the response to both this keynote and the session that I ran at LibCampEast on the topic, many others feel the same way. CPD doesn't have to be all about spending days on end at courses. Saying yes to opportunities and getting involved can provide many ways of developing and learning doesn't just happen on the job. There are many methods of CPD which you can fit in around your schedule, no matter how busy you are!

One last thing that Barbara stressed was that CPD is an important way to advocate for the profession. Every time we put ourselves out there, either in person or online, we are showing that we are part of an engaged profession. I think this is an important point that sometimes gets forgotten. The three main takeaways from the keynote were:
  1. grab opportunities
  2. keep learning
  3. advocate and promote
The rest of the day was filled with workshop sessions. Firstly I attended That Media Librarianship Gameshow with Laura Williams. Laura talked about her role as Media Logistics Coordinator at ITV. Although people might not think of this as a librarianship role it uses the core skills set of the information professional involving a lot of internal information management. It's important to remember that you will be applying against a much wider field for a career in media librarianship. There will be film students and those looking to get their foot in the door of the television business so it's important to remember the skill set you bring to the table as an information professional. Keeping up to date with the changing technology of the information world is a definite challenge but Laura was quick to point out the many rewards of a career in the media. She reminded us to look beyond the vast array of job titles as think about what we could offer with our backgrounds in librarianship.

Nick Stopforth talked about Modern Skills for Modern Public Libraries. He showed us that twenty-first century public libraries are responsive, accessible, transformative and rich in content. Most of this of course is in stark contrast to the perception that many people have of public libraries. Happily there are many in the profession working hard at altering this perception. Nick cautioned us that we should not expect to be doing the same things in two years that we do today, again echoing the theme of fast paced changes that kept coming up over the course of the day. If we are still doing the same thing then this means we haven't changed and as mentioned in the keynote, we should be proactive rather than reactive. The long term drivers for change in public libraries are the people that use them and new technologies. An example of this can be seen in the self-publishing phenomenon. Maybe the modern public library can have a role in the curation of self-published material? You never know when you might discover the next Fifty Shades of Grey...

After a lunch of burritos (which I can confirm live up to the hype!) we were back in workshop sessions. I attended Information Roles in Careers Services led by Megan Wiley, Victoria Stevenson and Matt Bedwell. The careers centre at the University of Bristol sees students at all stages of their academic career. The work involves information management, enquiry desk work, user training and current awareness activities. Resources have to be kept up to date and there is a great deal of judgement involved in the role. No formal 'reading lists' are provided so it's important to keep on top of the latest information on a wide range of careers. The team has to communicate to a lot of different users in a lot of different ways which keeps things interesting! The final workshop I attended was Mandy Powell's session about Developing Professional Skills. This session echoed a lot of what was mentioned in the keynote and so provided a nice way to bookend the day. Mandy stressed the importance of developing skills outside of your current role. This doesn't mean that you have to spend every evening and weekend doing CPD but it will make you CV stand out from the pile if you demonstrate that you have taken the initiative and done something unexpected. It's important to keep a record of your activities, even if you're not actively pursuing Chartership or job hunting at the moment. You never know when a portfolio of developments may come in handy!

I really enjoyed my first experience of New Professionals Day and I'm a little sad that I've never made it before. I would encourage anyone who is thinking about attending to go. It really is an inspiring and motivating day (and I'm not just talking about the post conference pub trip!).

photo credit: candy_gourlay via photopin cc