Monthly Archives: April 2015

Reading Reflection: Library Innovation

I volunteer in the school library at the middle school. We collect only very simple metrics on circulation and on textbook records (the librarian checks textbooks and class-assigned novels in and out also), basically ones that come from the (unimpressive) circulation system. Most of the school libraries in our district have pretty static library services (and budgets–with the occasional panic over whether they will cut the librarian’s job or hours). Since increased funding is a pipe dream, no one really thinks too much about innovation, which is too bad, since for many of the students, the library is a lifeline, and I think it could be that for more kids with some innovative thought. Some innovations don’t need to be expensive.

The dull statistics we do collect could probably be used to tell more about user experience than they do. From the circulation statistics, the popularity of books could tell us a lot (and the library is small enough that even a manual review could be useful). The books that there are a lot of hold requests for, or renewal requests for, or overdue slips for–that could be very useful information, especially if it could be linked to some sort of genre information (which is often not included in basic cataloging information). Adding some sort of genre tagging could allow for some automated information about what genres as popular, or what’s waxing hot or not over time. Knowing class assignments and then seeing what books turn to for those assignments could tell us about students’ level of information literacy and what they find interesting.

Even the textbook statistics could tell us something: students who lose or damage textbooks or library books may be students with a more chaotic home life. Keeping track of these students and reaching out to them or reporting to the counseling department could raise kids to the radar who need extra support.

Lankes writes, “A good librarian challenges what could be, not simply reifies what is” (Lankes, 2013). There is a tremendous library knowledge gap among school students–the students who regularly use the library often learned library skills from families, having been taken often to public libraries. Other kids who don’t use it just think of it as a place you have to be quiet and are unaware of the library’s potential for self-chosen learning. Both school and public libraries have a mission to challenge that. The kids who aren’t even aware of what the library offers are probably the ones who need it most. As Morville points out, “The story of the library was rags to riches, not the rich get richer” (Morville, January 16, 2013).Our mission is to address information inequality and to offer library skills to underserved groups.

In trying to close the library skills gap, school libraries have one advantage over public libraries: they know exactly who all their potential users are, down to a complete list of names. Tracking who uses the library and who doesn’t could help you reach out to potential users and make them active users. The Library innovation and the community video (BCLibraries, 2012) about the Alley Health Fair made me think how a school library could get “out of their comfort zone” and reach out to students where they are. Already, the librarian will visit a class that is studying Egypt with a cart of books. But what about visiting the basketball courts (and the kids who use their every free minute to play) with books about sports? The school garden with books about the natural world? School clubs could be visited with a topically appropriate book cart. Our school also has “mandatorial” periods where students who need it get extra help. Perhaps the librarian could visit mandatorial sessions with books that support common issues that students are struggling with. What about a roving librarian with a laptop on the school wireless network to help students in mandatorials (or some other school situation) with research? Collecting information about what students want to know is more important than knowing how many books they check out.

Another strength that school libraries have that classrooms don’t is that library learning can be serendipitous, rather than mandated by the Common Core (or whatever the state secretary of education bought into this year). Learning can be “self-paced and student centered (Morville, August 25, 2013). In a blog post last April I explored the subject of serendipitous learning, a great strength of the library: “Libraries have always been places for self-chosen learning; it’s a history that can be built on in helping with a transformation of learning for the future” (McKinney, April 20, 2014). Learning can be driven mainly by the interest of the student. Instead of just accepting what we have always done, we can listen and learn and then teach.


BCLibraries (December 17, 2012). Beth Davies – Library innovation and the community [YouTube video]. Retrieved from

 Lankes, R.D. (January 3, 2013). Beyond the bullet points: Missing the point and 3D printing [Web log]. Retrieved from

 McKinney, M. (April 20, 2014). Why do songs rhyme? [Web log]. Retrieved from

 Morville, P. (January 16, 2013).  Inspiration architecture: The future of libraries [Web log]. Retrieved from

Morville, P. (August 25, 2013). Architects of learning [Slideshare presentation]. Retrieved from:


New Service Memo: Redesign of Laptop/Wifi Area

I do not currently work in a library so I decided to go back to my public library Contextual Inquiry for some inspiration for my new service memo. On my contextual inquiry trip I noticed a few pain points. I decided to select one of medium difficulty and imagine coming up with a solution for it. This memo is informed by my contextual inquiry trip but with a lot of hypothetical thrown in.

Laptop/Wifi Area Redesign

TO: Mary Elizabeth Tipton, Director
Sunnydale Public Library

FROM: The User Experience Team

Dear Ms. Tipton,

As you are aware, the configuration of our Laptop/Wifi Area has presented some pain points for our library members. The existing large tables work well for groups, but in practice, the majority of our daytime users are individuals with their own devices. During late afternoon (after school) and evening hours, more groups utilize the tables, but there is still wasted space. Our team has developed a proposal for redesign of the area that would improve our members’ experience of our library.

 Using the IDEO process (Moen, 2001) our UX team has investigated the space, brainstormed, tested out a small prototype of a redesign, solicited library member feedback and drawn conclusions on what we believe to be a new design that will delight our library members. With your approval, we would like to implement the final recommendations outlined in Step 5 of this memo.

Step 1: Understand and Observe

 Team members spent several days at different library times observing how the Laptop/Wifi area is actually used. Currently the space consists of several large rectangular tables that seat about 6 people, with chairs. Also in this area are computer carrels with dividers, holding 8 total dedicated desktop computers that can be used by library members. There is no soft seating in this area. There is some soft seating in the nearby stacks area.

 Daytime hour observations:

  • Almost all large tables are “filled” by one individual with his/her own device or reading a newspaper from the adjacent newspaper/magazine area
  • Dedicated library desktop computers are underutilized, rarely more than 1 or 2 in use at one time
  • Rather than “intrude” on someone who is seated at a table, new patrons will sit in the stacks or against a wall with their devices
  • Occasionally people try and use the computer carrels with their own devices; this is awkward as the computer and keyboard take up almost all the space on the carrel surface, yet they seem to prefer trying to manage this in order to have an individual space
  • Teen Space empty during most daylight hours (until schools get out)

 After school/evening/weekend observations:

  • Tables more likely to be taken up by groups working together but there are still a number of individuals who need workspace
  • Teen space in heavy use
  • Area noise level increases
  • Library desktops still underutilized though less so; about half are in use at any given time
  • Minimal newspaper/magazine reading
  • Library members less likely to sit on the floor or disperse to the stacks (where soft seating is available)

Step 2: Synthesize

 After observing and recording, the user experience team gathered to analyze our observations and understand what is going on in the Laptop/Wifi space. We wrote observations on sticky notes so that we could sort them and see patterns. The major category that struck us was the fact that space is wasted by the inflexibility of the furniture. Another observation is that people make adaptations to the space (examples of this were moving keyboards to one side of the computer carrels so that they could use their own devices, or sitting on the carpet against the wall rather than asking to share a table already occupied by another user.) Also, patterns of use are different at different times of day. Unsurprisingly the teen space sees almost no use during school hours, and heavy use once schools get out for the day.

 Major themes:

  • Waste of space
  • Inflexibility of furniture
  • Variability of usage patterns at different times
  • Underutilization of dedicated computers
  • Patron-driven adaptations to space 

Step 3: Visualize

At this point the UX team began brainstorming ideas to improve this space for our library members. We came up with the following list of ideas:

  • Decrease dedicated library desktops to free up carrel space for members’ own devices
  • Increase number of loaner laptops to keep an equivalent number of library computers available (although most members seem to bring their own devices, we need to remain aware of digital divide issues)
  • Include soft seating as well as desk/table space in the area
  • create flexible furniture spaces to adapt the space as needed, for example:
    • Tables with removable dividers that can easily be individual carrels OR a table for group work
    • Flexible soft seating that can be rearranged for group seating or individual reading/work space)
  • Create flexible signage to change the purpose of spaces throughout the day (“Group Work” space converts to “Teen Space” after school hours e.g.) 

Step 4: Prototype 

In order to test our design ideas, we decided to test drive a few changes in the area:

  • Replaced one large table with a modular table with dividers (that could be carrels or a group work table)
  • Removed two (out of eight) desktop computers to create empty “bring your own device” carrels
  • Moved two soft chairs from the stacks area to the Laptop/Wifi area
  • “Test drive” flexible signage in the teen space (“Group Work during school hours, “Teen Space” after school/weekend hours)

We then spent a couple of weeks observing the effects of these changes, as well as soliciting library member feedback. Most feedback was positive but we did discover one of our ideas that didn’t really work out. 

Step 5: Implement

 As a result of observations and feedback from the prototype period, we have drawn the following conclusions:

  • The flexible modular table was very popular and allowed members to adapt the space to prevailing usage pattern during the time slot.
  • Empty carrels were also very popular and dedicated desktops were still not used at capacity for most of the day despite there being fewer of them
  • Small increase in requests for loaner laptops
  • Soft chairs were popular, especially for newspaper reading and tablet use
  • The teen space/group space experiment did not work well. Occasionally we faced the prospect of asking adults to leave so teens could use the space. Teens reported discomfort at having their dedicated space taken away. Space that is “theirs” is very important to teen library members, more so than to adult members.

Final Redesign Recommendations

As a result of these observations, we recommend the following for the final redesign of the Laptop/Wifi Area:

  • Replace 5 of 6 existing tables with modular tables with removable dividers
  • Add flexible soft seating that can be group or individual seating as needed
  • Remove four out of eight dedicated desktop computers and use half of the carrels as bring your own device carrels
  • Add four loaner laptops
  • Discontinue flexible signage and preserve dedicated teen area

With your approval, we look forward to delighting our members with our new and adaptable Laptop/Wifi space! 

The UX Team

Molly McKinney
Niall Nesmith
Olivia Oakenshield
Petra Pendragon


Moen, R. (2001). A review of the IDEO process [PDF]. Retrieved from

UX Audit

Dr. Julia Hypothetical
Director, Sunnydale Public Library
13 Aspen Drive
Sunnydale, CA

Molly McKinney
Mollificent User Experience Consulting (MUSEC)
45 Usability Way, Suite A
Castro Valley, CA

 Dear Dr. Hypothetical,

 Thank you for your interest in Mollificent User Experience Consulting. I am happy to provide you with more information about what our firm can do for your library! Here is a brief overview of the UX audit process.

Why UX?

Libraries work hard to maintain relevance in today’s digital world. Library members turn to libraries for a positive experience, but it is possible for us to lose focus on our mission and fail to provide that delightful experience. Libraries need to give back value to the larger host systems of which they are a part (Rodger, 2007). In Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World, the authors write about creating the “long Wow!”–creating an experience that “delights, anticipates the needs of, or pleasantly surprises the customer” (Merholz, Verba and Wilkens, 2008, p. 131). We anticipate the needs of library members when we make necessary tasks, such as paying fines or placing holds, easy and convenient. We also can surprise and delight members with services that add value to their lives. Additionally, since the mission of the public library is to provide access for all, a focus on user experience improves the equity of information and is a social justice issue (Harihareswara, 2015).


To assess the library, we follow a three phase process of getting staff involved, doing research to get to know your users, and assessing the library to get to know your own library with fresh eyes.

Get Staff Involved

Everyone in the library should be involved with a user experience audit. If this is not feasible, a representative UX team should be selected, allowing all stakeholding groups meaningful participation in the process. Knowledgeable input from staff helps set the right goals for the audit and staff buy-in will make the UX audit a beneficial and successful project for your library. We will meet with staff members and set the goals for this project.

Service Safaris

To get staff into the UX mindset, we encourage them to participate in service safaris to other libraries or other types of service providers, doing a task as simple as ordering a cup of coffee or picking up drycleaning, while taking notes about the experience and how it goes well or falls short. This simple and fun activity helps open your eyes to user experience, an awareness that staff can then apply to their own library. (Schmidt, March 5, 2012).

Get to Know Your Users

User research to understand what your library members need and want from your library is the next important step in the UX audit. To get a general picture, we use traditional methods of information gathering, such as community surveys and collecting demographic information, but we also encourage more qualitative information-gathering to get some depth of information.

Surveys and Demographic Information

These traditional methods of information gathering help provide a big picture of library members, after which we can investigate in more detail with some in-depth user research methods.

User Interviews

Even a few interviews with library members can provide a wealth of information that surveys and demographics miss. In user interviews we seek to drill down to get rich insight into members’ goals (Schmidt, January 18, 2012).

Persona Development

After surveys and interviews, we develop fictional representative personas of library members that will help guide our planning for user experience (Schmidt (2012, October 3).

Contextual Inquiry

Members of the UX will spend time in the library observing how patrons accomplish common tasks, and note any pitfalls. After observing and taking notes, we brainstorm potential solutions for any obstacles (Schmidt, 2011, June 1).

Get to Know Your Library

Once the UX team has developed a sense of your library members’ goals, we turn our attention to assessing the library and how well it meets them. We assess both the library’s web presence and the physical library and how it facilitates library member tasks.

Content Audit

Reviewing the pages of your library website provides a big picture assessment of the usability of the site. A content audit also helps in the later process of prioritizing changes, since a content audit spreadsheet can be manipulated to see patterns (Detzi, 2012).

Journey Maps

Journey maps are flow charts that outline how members accomplish principal tasks at your library. By noting every step in a given task (such as reserving a meeting room), we can uncover obstacles that get in the way of a superior user experience (Churruca, 2013, March 17).

Signage Audit

Libraries need to convey a great deal of information about programs, services and policies. Sometimes in the rush to get as much useful information out there as we can, our signage becomes overwhelming, or fails to convey the tone we wish it would. By examining the library signage we regain control of the message we convey and improve the comprehensibility of signage (Schmidt, 2011, February 1). 

Post Assessment

After we have gone through these steps and made a thorough assessment of your members and your library, our team will work with your staff to prioritize issues and propose solutions within the framework of your available resources. We are experienced at helping libraries get the biggest return on change efforts and can help you chart a long term plan for being responsive to user experience as well.

 Please let me know if you have any further questions and I will be happy to answer them. We look forward to working with your library.

Molly McKinney 


 Churruca, S. (2013, March 17). Experience maps, user journeys and more. [Web log]. UX Lady. Retrieved from

 Detzi, C. (2012, March 20). From content Audit to design insight:  How a content audit facilitates decision-making and influences design strategy [Web log]. UX Magazine. Retrieved from

 Harihareswara, S. (2015). User experience is a social justice issue. code4lib (28). Retrieved from

 Merholz, P., Schauer, B., Verba, D. & Wilkens, T. (2008). Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.

 Rodger, E.J. (2007). What’s a library worth? American Libraries: September 2007, 59-60.

 Schmidt, A. (2011, February 1). Signs of good design | The user experience [Web log]. Library Journal. Retrieved from

 Schmidt, A. (2011, June 1). Getting to know your patrons | The user experience [Web log]. Library Journal. Retrieved from

 Schmidt, A. (2012, January 8). The user interview challenge | The user experience [Web log]. Library Journal. Retrieved from

 Schmidt, A. (2012, March 5). Stepping out of the library | The user experience [Web log]. Library Journal. Retrieved from

 Schmidt, A. (2012, October 3). Persona guidance | The user experience [Web log]. Library Journal. Retrieved from

Sign, you’re a friend of mine

I went to the Castro Valley Library to find my signs. I found two to work with, an informational one advertising the library’s online Mango Languages resource, and another sign that was a combination of directional and informational, announcing the location of the free tax help service in the library.

Mango Languages Sign

This sign advertises the Mango Languages online language learning tool that is available to library members. The orange and green color scheme has a pleasant, sunny effect, and makes sense with the service name, Mango. The Mango logo is pretty. However, there are a lot of problems.

The overall effect is very confusing. The most attention grabbing  part is the huge “LOOK” and the arrow–neither of which tell you what the sign is about. The arrow points down to the end of the tagline. The next focal point is “FREE WITH YOUR ALAMEDA LIBRARY CARD.” But what is free? You have to read all the way down the sign before you can figure out what service the sign is advertising (Mango is a cool name but is not obviously connected with language learning). At the bottom of the sign it finally gets to the point: “Mango is an online, fast and easy way to learn to speak a new language. Get started now!”

Sounds great! Get started how?

The purple and gold Alameda County library logo doesn’t match with the orange and green Mango branding all that well. It’s understandable they want the library branding on there too, but it really adds clutter. I imagine this is a common problem when libraries have branded services (Mango, Overdrive, Zinio, etc.) but they also want to include library branding so people realize it is a library service and not an advertisement.

There is use of ALL CAPS to try to provide emphasis. The alignment is a mix of centered and left-justified which causes your eye to jump around a lot.  The huge arrow makes your eyes jump around even more and yet it doesn’t point to a important feature or piece of information, so it isn’t helpful. This sign makes you work too hard to figure out what the sign is about.

The information on the sign needs to be cut down. It is on the front of a plastic box containing flyers with detailed information (a numbered procedure) on how to access Mango, so a lot of detail could be saved for the instructional flyer (which could stand to be rewritten too, but that’s for another day!)

I decided the most important information for the sign was that the library has an online language learning tool for members, and I tried to create a sign that conveyed that more quickly and clearly. I found some other Mango collateral on the web and found the image of the woman “picking up” a language and decided to use that.


I think this sign is more clear about the two main questions a viewer would have: What is this about and how can I use it? The graphic reinforces the fact that this is a language tool (unlike the arrow, which was just….a big arrow). I removed the library branding to reduce clutter–I think most people remember which library they’re in.


  • There is a focal point and it answers the question of what this is about (Williams, 2004, p. 100)
  • The image of the woman breaks out of the poster frame to open up the space (Williams, 2004, p. 18)
  • Detailed information is shrunk down to small type to open up space (Williams, 2004, p. 27)
  • Everything is left-aligned rather than centered/mixed alignment (Williams, 2004, p.48)
  • Bold end and beginning (Williams, 2004, p. 50)
  • Contrast provided with font size (Williams, 2004, p.144)
  • Contrast provided with different font types, Oldstyle and Sans serif (Williams, 2004, p.131)

I also wanted to add a nice orange color gradient that matched the Mango logo (light orange fading to white at the bottom). This turned out to be a big hassle because the woman’s blouse is white and so making the area around her transparent without turning her blouse orange in patchy spots was very difficult. I gave this up.

Tax Help Sign

The second sign  I chose was mainly directional but also had an informational aspect to it. The library has volunteers offering tax help by appointment. This sign just inside the front door indicates where you should go if you have an appointment.



Once again, the dreaded center alignment and ALL CAPS. Also the “by appointment only” seems a bit stern, I wondered if there was a way to convey the same information with a more positive tone.

Williams mentions that warm colors like red “command our attention” (Williams, 2004, p.164). You certainly aren’t likely to miss this blood red sign fading to black. It was the first thing I noticed as I came into the library. I found this red offputting, and when I showed the sign to my husband he said, “It reminds me of blood, to be honest, and blood and taxes aren’t really things you want to associate.”

Also, unless I already have a tax appointment and know what this service is, I am likely to misinterpret this sign. I asked my husband what he thought this sign was for and he said “tax help for seniors.” That’s what I thought too. Actually “AARP tax help” refers to volunteer Tax-Aides from AARP. The service is available to anyone of any age who wishes to use it. In this case, the sign has too little information, since it is so vivid it will catch most people’s attention as they come in, but only those already in the know will understand it. I tried to make adjustments so that it served the primary directional purpose but also provided sufficient information to people whose interest was piqued by the idea of tax help.



  • All caps changed to sentence case and main heading made as large as possible (Williams, 2004, p. 157)
  • Eye-watering red toned down to burgundy (Williams, 2004, p.164)
  • Contrast provided by burgundy and white (Williams, 2004, p.63)
  • Left-alignment (Williams, 2004, p.48)
  • “Tax Appointments” heading conveys the idea that appointments are needed and will catch the attention of those with appointments needing directions
  • Explanation of heading in close proximity (Williams, 2004, p.15)
  • People who are interested in learning more about tax help or making an appointment know where to go to find out more


Williams, R. (2004). The non-designers design book. Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press.