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Discovery & User Experience

So what’s UX anyway, and why should libraries care?

rubber duckieOur department, Digital User Experience (aka DUX), is a fairly new one in the IUB Libraries organizational structure. In fact, having a department devoted to user experience (UX) is a fairly new concept for libraries in general. There are a few others scattered thither and yon; for example, the University of Michigan Libraries have one, although theirs is a part of their Library Information Technology unit, while ours is a part of Library Academic Services (our public-services division).

So if you’re here at IUB, you may still be wondering just what we mean by “Digital User Experience” (never fear, we occasionally wonder this ourselves) and how it relates to the mission of the Libraries. I recently came across a great article from UX Magazine which struck me as a great summary of the principles of UX and how they apply to the way people actually think and process information:

Weinschenk, Susan. “The Psychologist’s View of UX Design.” UX Magazine May 19, 2010. Web. 19 October 2011.

When you read this article, keep good old Ranganathan and his Five Laws of Library Science in the back of your mind. To refresh your memory, those are:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

Granted, Ranganathan only talked about books, since digital resources didn’t yet exist in his time – but these laws apply to users of electronic resources as well. Check out this article from discussing how the third law, in particular, applies in the digital world:

Cloonan, Michele V. and John G. Dove. “Ranganathan Online: Do digital libraries violate the Third Law?” Library Journal April 1, 2005. Web. 19 October 2011.

I would argue that the fourth law is even more important in the digital world – a huge part of user experience design involves getting people to the information they want as quickly and seamlessly as possible. Anyway, as you can see, Ranganathan’s laws largely revolve around the relationship between the library user (“the reader”) and the library’s intellectual content (“the book”) – and it is precisely that relationship, in particular the quality of the user’s experience when using the library’s resources and services, that UX practitioners hope to improve. In the case of DUX, of course, we’re specifically concerned with the library’s digital resources and services along with the digital representation of the library’s analog content (e.g. paper books and in-person resources).

Once you’ve read through the two articles I’ve linked here, I hope you’ll have a better understanding of what we mean when we talk about UX, what DUX can do to help improve the lives of our libraries’ users (patrons, customers, whatever we’re calling them this week), and why when you think of DUX you shouldn’t only think of cute little yellow quackers. If you have questions or comments, of course, we’d love to hear from you!

rubber duckie in a tub

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