Author Archives: mollificence

About mollificence

library student, writer, mom, Kindle addict

Because I am involved in mankind

Because I am involved in mankind
(Donne, 1624)

My favorite parts of the class were all the observing assignments where we went to real locations (library or otherwise). I really loved reading everyone else’s service safaris in particular, and seeing the range of services we investigated. It was interesting to see what small steps you could take to shift your thinking and allow you to see things with fresh eyes.

Because I have a background in technical writing and editing, the website and writing topics felt more familiar, although I did plenty of new stuff in those areas as well. The real life assignments were the ones that got me out of my comfort zone, however.

I was especially glad to read the Nondesigner’s Design Book and learn about the visual aspects of design. I always thought of myself as very verbal and assumed visual design was not one of my skills. That book made basic visual competency look accessible. I may not set the design world on fire but now I feel like I can critique design and improve it.

One of the things that surprised me about the class was how often the issues of the broader culture and inequities came up, and how integral that is to user experience. I started the class thinking in terms of websites, library policies, etc. But once you start emphasizing the human aspect and empathy for library members, the whole world gets invited in to the library–which means that the whole world of issues come into the library.

This came up in the assignments, for example when we watched the video about the Alley Health Fair from the Vancouver Public Library (BCLibraries, 2012).  It came up when I observed at the Hayward Public Library, noticing how the surrounding economic realities affected the library was inescapable as part of the observation, as well as seeing how libraries try to balance the needs of different groups in a compassionate way. We can’t sit tight in our little safe libraries, do what we’ve always done, and ignore the needs around us. As Rodger wrote, libraries are a part of greater host systems, systems that we need to give back to (Rodger, 2007). As the world around the library changes, so must we, because our surroundings are changing.

Every man is a piece of the continent
A part of the main.
(Donne, 1624)

Of course it’s common for librarians to say that we are part of our communities, we value them, we love them, and so on. One of the great things about this class was being given specific, measurable things to help reach the goal of improved user experience and greater user engagement. Specific tools of design and web writing principles, and simple exercises like service safaris and contextual inquiry provide the entry for empathy to occur, opening up the library experience and allowing us the space to invite our communities in.

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide
(Millay, 1956)

I thank everyone for a wonderful semester!


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

Donne, J. (1624). No man is an island. Retrieved from

Millay, E.S. (1956). Renascence. Retrieved from

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


Speaking of helpful signs for the pool/library…


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.

Week 9 Reading Reflection

Using a hammer should be easy because the goal is to drive a nail, not figure out how to use a hammer.

(Kapp, 2012, Malone’s Theory of Intrinsically Motivating Instruction section, para. 3)

People turn to libraries sometimes for fun goals, sometimes for serious goals. Sometimes they seek community, sometimes knowledge. One thing that is common across all of these goals is that people are focused on their goals and not on library procedures. To the extent libraries can “get out of the way” and provide a seamless experience, we can serve our members better.

As the quote above illustrates, people don’t pick up a hammer and want to spend time learning how to use it: they want to drive a nail. Neither do they think, “oh goody, a chance to learn a new database interface.” Especially now that search engines like Google provide a very simple interface, people are impatient with a lot of “interface” getting in between them and what they want. Complex interfaces, borrowing policies or card eligibility that is hard to find out and/or hard to understand all can “get in the way.” Library members don’t want to be “made to think,” at least not until they have found the content or program that they desired in the first place (Krug, 2006).

User research is a critical way to find out what is “in the way” of library members. It is easy enough to say we need to get out of the way, but hard to put ourselves in members’ shoes in order to see what is in their way. We may take for granted knowing borrowing card eligibility rules, or that the local weekly paper prints a list of our programs but our website doesn’t, or how to use the OPAC or what the procedure is for requesting a meeting room.

Something else common to most libraries is the fact that the actual users are often a subset of the potential users. Teoh mentions the importance of interviewing non-users to find out what could convert them into actual users (Teoh, 2014?). Reaching out to people who are underserved is a critical part of fulfilling the library mission, and in-depth research like interviews can help any library will uncover hidden obstacles.

Surveys can only tell us so much. As Schmidt notes, “Surveys can be useful for getting a sense of people’s stated preferences (often different from their actual preferences) but rarely go deeper” (Schmidt, 2010). People might say they want to be able to reserve a room, they’re less likely to say, “I’m totally confused by the process of reserving one, and I think I’d rather be able to do it with a web form than a phone call, since I have to try and do it while my toddler is napping, or after library hours when the kids are in bed.” Conducting in-depth user research (such as interviews) can uncover contextual information that help us make tasks easier. We need to know what members need to (1) be successful in life and (2) successfully use the library (Schmidt, 2012). We need to know what users need and desire, and we need to know what the library is doing specifically that either encourages or blocks them from being able to obtain this. Or in other words (with apologies to Suz Tzu), “Know your users and know yourself, in a hundred searches you will emerge victorious.”


Kapp, K.M. (2012). The Gamification of learning and instruction: game-based method and strategies for training and education. San Francisco: Wiley. Retrieved from;jsessionid=57AA0CD25A18ECC2528E9FB245BC7502?lang=eng

(note about this reference: this ebook seems to have been removed from the SJSU library so it may have been made available specifically for the Gamifying seminary and removed afterwards)

Krug, S. (2006). Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Berkeley, CA: New Riders Publishing.

Schmidt, A. (March 1, 2010). Learn by asking | The user experience [Web magazine]. Library Journal. Retrieved from

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

Teoh, C. (August 1, 2014?). User interviews – A basic introduction [Web log]. Retrived from

Bibliothēca Personae

I developed personas for a middle school library and a graduate business school library.

Middle School Library Persona Development

Right now I am volunteering in the middle school library, so I made some “middle school library” personas. Demographically they are all in a narrow age band, and they all have the role of “student.” There are however a variety of reasons they use the library.

For a lot of kids, the library is a “safe space” where they can have a concrete activity–reading books, doing homework, or checking out a chessboard to play. Many students prefer it to the more free-for-all activity of outside free periods. These students don’t always check out books; for them the library is more of a community center with a more controlled environment and closer adult supervision, and that gives them a sense of security. This is especially important to the students new to middle school. Making sure there is plenty of space to sit and read or to play chess is important for serving these students, as is maintaining enough supervision so that they feel safe and comfortable. (Since electronic devices are banned during the school day, happily we don’t have to worry about having enough plugs!)

Some students are voracious readers and want more new books all the time (graphic novels and manga are particularly popular). Some students struggle to keep track of which books they have out and when they are due. Middle school is a key stage of becoming responsible for keeping track of all your own “stuff.” Students often ask me what books they have out, and a few have asked if they could access their library record from home (they can’t). The library catalog can be accessed at home from a web browser–but only for searching the catalog. Students cannot log in to check what books they have out or when they are overdue. Seems like it would be a useful service to let them check what they have out while they are at home and can look for the books. The school has a system to check all homework assignments and grades online, seems like it would be mighty useful to add library circulation too!

It’s easy to just slip into thinking that libraries are a place where we have books. Creating these personas helped me think about why the library is important to students, and think of possible ways to improve the experience.

Business School Library Persona Development

I worked in a graduate business school library right after college, so I chose that as my second library. My experience was a while ago so this persona development involved a little more guesswork.

MBA students are pursuing professional degrees, not research degrees, and a lot of their work focuses on course reserves and classwork. (Ph.D students would have a different set of needs and goals, and if I were really developing personas for this library I would probably develop a different persona to represent these more research-oriented graduate students). Also, MBA programs focus a lot on career development so career and prospective employer information is pretty important to them.

Amongst faculty, the younger, tenure track (but not tenured!) faculty are under a lot of competing pressures–teach, publish, and since these younger faculty are also more likely to have young families, somehow balance family life with work. Ubiquitous library services are going to be very important to this group.

On a lighter note: Just for the heck of it, I gave my personas names based on a major characteristic: Chelsea plays chess, Michael loves manga, Steven is interested in sustainability, Portia is a professor. My husband walked in while I was working and saw me with a web page open to “girl names that start with CH.” He looked slightly alarmed and said “Um…is there anything you need to tell me?” Heh. So, for your perusal, here are my “babies.” I am so proud of them, *snif!*

Riverside Middle School Library Personas



Johnson Management Library Personas



Contextual Inquiry at Public Library

I decided to visit a nearby public library for my contextual inquiry.

Newspapers/Magazines Area

I was in the library late morning/midday on a weekday, and it was pretty busy. This is the first time I have visited this library. When I entered the library, I first went upstairs to the children’s area to see if my friend (fellow library student) was working. She was there but the children’s area was swamped (a toddler program had just finished and many people were staying to hang out longer. It seemed too crowded to observe (not to mention that I thought an adult without a child observing and taking notes in the children’s area might make people uncomfortable). I greeted my friend but went back downstairs to the main level. This level was busy but not as crowded.

On the plus side, the library has a lot of computers that patrons may use. On the down side, they have so many it was hard for me to find a place to sit that did not have a computer already! There were not many comfy chairs in the “main” area and few tables without computers (there are comfy chairs distributed deeper in the stacks, making them less optimal for observation, but probably good for quiet reading). The teen area had comfy chairs as well as empty tables and chairs (as well as a large sign declaring TEEN AREA FOR AGES 12-17 ONLY). Despite the busyness of the library it was totally empty, causing me to deduce they actually enforce this policy. The only other area with empty tables was in the Newspapers/Magazines section (also labeled “Laptop/Wifi Area” by hanging sign). Most tables had people at them but I found one empty where I could sit and face out viewing most of the main level. I was able to closely observe the Newspapers area and had a more distant view of the reference area, circulation desk, main entrance, and restrooms that were right next to the main entrance.


  • Almost everyone in this area was an adult. I observed one teen and two stroller children who each passed through briefly with a parent.
  • The tables in this area were made to sit 4-6 people. Most only had one or two people; people distributed themselves to empty tables when possible rather than sharing a table. Most patrons on the main level appeared to be there by themselves, the exception was a teen and an older man who appeared to be there together, with the teen playing on his tablet and the older man reading the newspaper.
  • About two thirds of the patrons had electronic devices. About half of the devices had visible library labels and were loaner laptops, the other half appeared to be their own devices. One teen sitting with an older man had a tablet, the other devices were laptops. Those who did not have electronic devices were mostly reading magazines or newspapers.
  • There are several dedicated library computer terminals but very few people used these. One woman with a child in a stroller came in and sat down at one terminal. The child (about 15-16 months old) began to fuss and the mother started talking to her cheerfully while trying to continue her computer task. “We’re just going to do this real quick and then we’ll be on our way.” An older male patron got up to leave and on his way out smiled and waved at the child, who stopped fussing. The mother smiled at him and said “Thank you.” She finished her task within a couple of minutes and left.
  • I observed many different staff members passing through; they tended to walk quickly and purposefully and looked busy and intent on something.
  • One adult male patron was pacing back and forth in the reference area the entire time I was there. He occasionally would shake something in his hand that sounded like a rattle or maraca.
  • Several people came to get newspapers or return them.
  • One man with a cane walked into the area and an older woman rose to greet him and suggest they go somewhere else; presumably this was an appointment of some kind, using the library as a place for meeting. They left the area.
  • The restrooms just inside the main door were in almost constant use. There were two single bathrooms, one labeled for men and one for women. Most of the people using the restroom came in the library, used the restroom and then left immediately. One man entered one of the restrooms and remained there for so long that a staff member from the circulation desk went to check on him as people were waiting. Their conversation was too quiet/far away for me to hear but did not appear disruptive (still can’t be fun to be the staff member who has to go and get the patron out of the bathroom).
  • An elderly woman came in and looked for a newspaper. She was talking out loud, apparently to herself but it was easy to hear her. She began by saying “Well, let’s see if I can find it this time.” She was squinting, shaking her head and saying “Monday, Monday, Monday” (presumably finding the previous day’s papers and not the current day, Tuesday). She then gave an audible, heavy sigh and walked away. She did not approach any library staff for assistance but wandered away through the library, again muttering audibly “They take it and sleep on it, every time.” She wandered back in about ten minutes or so, this time she muttered “Monday, Monday” and then “they take it and sleep on it.” At this point a male patron returned with a paper and offered it to her. She thanked him and set the paper on the table, and stood there to read it for about 5-7 minutes. Then she went to put it back and could not find where that paper went. At this point I noticed that the labels for the newspaper titles were in very small print. I had been trying to observe unobtrusively but at this point I got up to help the woman find the place where it went, “Excuse me, ma’am, the Daily Review is here.” She thanked me and put it back and then stopped to tell me about the newspaper issue (“They take the newspapers and sleep on them, I can never find today’s, it’s the same guy every time.”) I smiled sympathetically.


There seemed to be a large number of staff present, but they were always walking purposefully somewhere. I wonder if the library could be improved by having staff circulate more slowly, possibly making eye contact with people who looked up, smiling at them. Many people won’t “interrupt” busy looking staff but might be willing to ask a question of a staff member who did not look like he/she was charging somewhere much more important. Some of the pain points I observed might be observed simply by encouraging staff to move through the library more slowly and with an open, approachable attitude.

There seemed to be some tensions here stemming from the library being in a downtown area where poverty and homelessness are issues. The library is a relatively safe place to use a restroom or to spend time without being hassled to “move on.” I did not witness any disruptive behavior but some tensions appeared. As mentioned above, the restrooms were in constant use, mostly from people who enter the library only to use them.  I noticed that when I went upstairs to visit my friend in the children’s area, the bathrooms up there were labeled “Family Restroom” with an accompanying sign that states “These family restrooms are reserved for families using the Children’s Area. Please ask for the key at the Children’s Desk. Adult restrooms are located on the main floor of the library.” When I first saw this I was a little taken aback at the locked restroom, but after sitting downstairs and observing the constant use of the main restrooms, I realized this was probably a way to ensure that restrooms for small children stayed clean and available to them.

The man who was pacing nonstop in the reference area was not disruptive but his behavior was unusual and might make some patrons uncomfortable. Fortunately, people seemed to either accept or ignore it. I’m challenged to think of ways to improve this: on the one hand, people reading and working should have a quiet space for doing this. On the other hand, the man’s behavior was only odd, and he quite possibly faced harassment if he loitered in the downtown areas outside the library. Balancing these issues is probably a major ethical dilemma for public libraries in many areas. Some libraries, including the San Francisco Public Library, have a social worker on staff to help patrons who seem to be in need of it, but Hayward library may not be large enough for this kind of staffing. Pain points like this are difficult to address since they involve societal conditions beyond the library and I acknowledge they may be quite difficult to address. Even without a social worker, however, if library staff could make a point to greet and simply touch base with people, they might have an opportunity to help refer people to local services (which hopefully they are aware of). Getting to know people might also make it less awkward on occasions when behavior becomes disruptive and you need to ask it to stop. For some libraries, the issue of poverty and homelessness is a central problem grappled with by their community.

The newspapers were popular with the seniors at the library and were the other pain point I observed. The woman I observed was very annoyed and yet did not ask for any help. A circulating staff member, as I mentioned above, might have noted her situation (since she wandered around for several minutes), or more generally might be able to ask patrons who seemed to be done with their paper if another patron could have it. Another way to alleviate this pain point is to order more copies of the daily newspaper, or even to place the most popular papers at the information or reference desk to maintain some librarian control over the copies.

Before leaving I went back upstairs to chat with my friend for awhile. I mentioned the newspaper issue to her and she said “Oh yes, that’s always a bone of contention. We only get one copy of each paper and people get them and seem to hoard them.” It seems to me as if a fairly small expense (get more than one copy of the major newspapers!) could alleviate this pain point. I realize multiple newspapers probably don’t have much archival value once they are outdated, but given the popularity of newspaper reading with the senior patrons, it might be worth it (and this pain point is far easier to solve than major social issues).

Another possible improvement might be in the furniture. Very few people used the dedicated library terminals, and almost all the open tables were taken, usually by only one person. Providing some empty desk stations, or tables with carrel-like divisions, where individuals with their own devices could work might be more practical than large tables for many people. Almost all users were individual.


This was very eye-opening. In particular the issue of poor or homeless patrons made me realize that some of the issues public libraries face are very intractable ones. How to improve something over which you have minimal control is difficult to imagine, and yet to be a part of a community means trying to help the community with real community issues.

I also realized how important it is to really observe what goes on in a library. Library staff may not realize the unapproachable aura they give off by charging around looking rushed. They may be willing to help people–and regular patrons probably feel comfortable interrupting them, but new patrons may not.

Wood wrote, “Our mind-set is that people are really just like us, and they’re really not” (Wood, 2013). I saw this reflected in the newspaper issue, which is one I did not at all anticipate. I don’t read newspapers at all, and I confess when I heard the woman muttering about not being able to find today’s paper, the thought ran through my head “So what? Websites are always today’s news.” Newspapers are clearly very important to some community members, however. Quite possibly this is a situation where “something is more than itself” (Wood, 2013). For some the ritual of going to the library and reading the newspaper may well be an important way to connect with others and be part of a community, even in just a small way. For the poor and homeless the library may be more than a library–it is a place where they can meet a basic need for a bathroom or just be safe for awhile without needing a reason to account for their presence. This was an important reminder of how much the library can mean to someone who does not have many “safe spaces” to choose from.


Wood, G. (March 20 2013). Anthropology inc. The Atlantic. Retrieved from



Journey Maps for Castro Valley Library

Chris G’s service safari to H&R Block really got me thinking about how we can ease the pain of “necessary evil” user experiences. In the case of libraries, one of these would be paying overdue fines. Shameful confession: in the excitement of research papers and science fairs recently, my kids have accrued some overdue book fines, so I decided to make my journey to my local library to pay them. Normally I prefer to do that online rather than make a special trip, but it seemed like a good opportunity to see how the library handles a less-fun user experience. Some users will not feel comfortable using an online system to pay fines, so it is important for libraries to handle this well in person.

Realistic Journey Map

Realistic Journey Map - Paying Overdue Fines

Realistic Journey Map – Paying Overdue Fines

Realistic Journey Map

I found that the library handled this pretty well. I presumed that library members may be a little anxious or stressed when paying overdue fines–not intensely so, but it is a task most people would prefer not to have. I was pleasantly surprised at how it was handled, although I did find a few places for improvement.

First I went to the library website to check branch hours and to find information about paying overdue fines. This was one of the areas that could be improved. Branch hours were easy enough to find, but under the “How do I” section of the website I found only “Pay my fines/fees online.” People who wish to pay in person may not think this applies to them. The information that you can also pay in person is buried in a paragraph on the “Pay my fines/fees online” page. There is probably an assumption that “everyone” knows you pay fines at the circulation desk, but this may not actually be true of all library users.

Driving to the library and parking was fine. As I walked in, I saw two people ahead of me helping each other with the doors and smiling and exchanging greetings. This gave me a good feeling about the friendliness of the place. I held the door and also exchanged greetings with the person behind me. This gave the impression of the library as a friendly community place. Although the library doesn’t control all patron behavior, they certainly set the tone for the library and influence the general behavior of patrons.

I went to the circulation desk (I thought it was a reasonable assumption that a person with overdue fines would already know where the circulation desk was–in any case, it is very prominent on the left as soon as you walk in). The one problem here is that the circulation area is mostly self-check stations, and the staffed desk is somewhat hidden, furthest from the door. The staff member sits behind a tall desk and if the self-check stations are busy may be blocked from the entering patron’s view. There are no signs to indicate “Circulation” or “Pay Fines” here.

There was one person ahead of me so I did not have to wait very long. Several people happened to come in right behind me and a second staff member came out from the library office to help with the sudden influx.

The librarian I spoke to was friendly and pleasant, as well as matter of fact. People may feel slightly embarrassed paying fines so it is important for librarians to set them at their ease. She was discreet by turning her screen slightly and showing me the amount on the screen, which would be a nice gesture for people with very high fines who were embarrassed about it. She was also able to combine both fees from the boys’ cards into one transaction (which you cannot do in the online fine system). While running my card there was a very small delay which she explained, saying “I’m just waiting for the one you need to sign.” When finished, she smiled and said “There, you’re all set!”

I had allowed about 10-15 minutes for this task and actually I was in and out within 5 minutes. I was pleased with how quick and efficient it was, with the librarian’s pleasant demeanor, so this was mainly a positive journey.

Improved Journey Map


Improved Journey Map -Paying Overdue Fines

Improved Journey Map

There were two main areas where the library could improve. The website information could be more clearly presented. Navigation should clearly indicate information about paying fines by any method, and the fines page itself should be updated to provide information for both methods of payment. The page should be written better for the web with headings, bullet list for accepted methods of payment and so on. (Not relevant to my journey map but interesting to note is that the information for paying fees online tells users to “click the My Account button.” This page could be improved by providing a direct link within the content of the page.)

The furniture arrangement and signage for the circulation area could be improved to make it more clear where you go for help, and to make the staff seem more approachable. On the whole, however, this “necessary evil” was well handled by the library.