Disclaimer: I put this together for our UX Intern at my place of work - it's publicly available in case anyone else finds it useful but it's not meant to be 100% comprehensive! And will inevitably reflect the biases of what I'm interested in and what we're looking to achieve with UX at York. 


User Experience or UX, as it is defined in the library context, is a suite of techniques based around first understanding and then improving the experiences people have when using our library services. It utilises ethnography and design to achieve this.

Andy Priestner (all links on this page will open in a new window, by the way) is a librarian and trainer / consultant who created the first UX in Libraries Conference in the UK in 2015. He defines the whole thing in the May 2015 edition of CILIP Update as follows:

Ethnography is simply a way of studying cultures through observation, participation and other qualitative techniques with a view to better understanding the subject’s point of view and experience of the world. Applied to the library sector, it’s about user research that chooses to go beyond the default and largely quantitative library survey, with a view to obtaining a more illuminating and complex picture of user need. These are often hidden needs that our users do not articulate, find it difficult to describe, are unwilling to disclose, or don’t even know that they have – which special ethnographic approaches are perfect for drawing out.

As for ‘UX’, until recently it has largely referred to design and usability of a website or software, but it is now enjoying a broader – and more useful – definition which encompasses user experience of spaces and services too. UX in Libraries [endeavours] to weave together ethnography, usability, and space and service design techniques under one umbrella.
— Andy Priestner, Update May 2015

Posts about puttING UX Into Practice


Start here

Traditionally the term UX has been used to refer to usability in the online environment. However this is not primarily how we're using it in this context. 

The following presentation provides a gentle introduction to UX in Libraries and its two key components, ethnography and human-centred design.

It's also worth checking out the specific examples given from Slide 12 onwards in one of Andy Priestner's presentations.

The academic library context

As you can see from the slides above, libraries are (mostly) extremely user-focused and always seeking to get a proper understanding of how our users interact with our services, and how they rate them. We have a lot of survey data from the National Student Survey, the LibQual+ Survey, PTES and PRES surveys of Postgraduates, plus our own shorter surveys and focus groups.

Ethnography is not meant to replace these, it's meant to supplement them and ensure we aren't too reliant on any one source of feedback. UX is fundamentally MESSY in comparison with the other ways in which we gather information about our users. It takes a long time to do and even longer to process what we learn (and perhaps longer still to make design changes to the way our services work as a result). We want UX to get to the emotion: how people feel about our services, and what they truly need for those services to be more effective - whether they can articulate those needs at this stage or not.

The process of UX in Libraries, reduced to it's most basic form, is first to seek to understand our users through ethnographic techniques, analyse and process what we learn about them, then to design better services or products based on what we learn. Often libraries use a 'rapid prototyping model' - which is to say when we learn something we could do to improve the user experience, we will do it as soon as possible, see how it works, and if need be change it again quickly after that. 

Understanding Ethnography

Donna Lanclos is a name that comes up a lot in this field - she is a library anthropologist working in the US but who has also partnered with UK institutions. She provided a keynote for the UX in Libraries Conference (UXLibs) earlier in 2015. She has provided a brilliant transcript interwoven with her slides here. I tried to write it up as best I could here - it's worth reading the tweets in the embedded Storify too.

I also tried to explain 5 ethnographic techniques we learned about at the UXLibs Conference here. It covers Cognitive Mapping, Observation / Behavioural Mapping, and more briefly Interviews, Touchstone Tours and the Love-letter / Break-up-letter. It includes some examples and links to slides - particularly worth a look are examples from Donna Lanclos of congitive maps, here, and Andrew Asher's post about coding your findings. See also Georgina Cronin's slides which cover several aspects of ethnography in practice, including the AEIOU framework.

A nicely easy-to-digest case-study in ethnography and space design can be found on the UKAnthroLib blog, written by Meg Westbury. Part One is here, which sets it up. Part Two describes the actual ethnography.

On the more technical side, Andrew Preater writes about grounded theory and UX here.

Understanding Design

As well as the report on Paul Jervis Heath's Design keynote (as linked above), Matthew Reidsma also delivered a keynote at UXLibs which centred primarily around Design. I was particularly struck with the need for designs to be self-righting - rather than trying to engineer perfection into everything, we should instead focus on ensuring users can recover from mistakes (user error or design error) without needing to call for help. My report on Matt's keynote is here. Here's a selection of tweets from people in the room watching the talk.

Here is the talk itself - 47 minutes long and worth watching the whole of.

You can also find just the slides on Speakerdeck, or find just the audio on Huffduffer. Finally there's also a transcript of the talk, if you prefer to read it. But definitely watch it first before checking out via those other media.

Although this focuses on online design (mobile UX) I found this Slideshare presentation from Kevin Rundblad interesting in terms of what it had to say about UX methodology and design.

The UX in Libraries Conference

As you can see from all the links above the UX in Libraries Conference was very important in establishing UX in a library context in the UK. Matt also curated a list of write-ups of the conference. I've copied and pasted the below from his site - it should provide a lot of insight into ethnography, design, and UX in general.

OTHer media

The UKAnthroLib blog, mentioned above with the Meg Westbury case study, is a great place to see examples of ethnography in practice. One idea used in ethnography in libraries, but not mentioned above, is the feedback wall – Clare McCluskey has written about the one at York St John here and Andy Priestner has written about one in Cambridge here. The blog is usefully categorised from a drop-down menu on the right - so for example you can see all the posts on mapping together.

Designing Better Libraries is another blog with good categorisation, featuring posts on Ethnography, Design Thinking etc.

Weave UX is an open source journal dedicated to Open Source, wrangled by Matthew Reidsma whose UXLibs keynote on Design is linked above. Mikael Jergefelt's article on using beacons to blend the physical and online user experiences is excellent.

Matt also looks after a twitter regular conversation on UX. Anyone can view this via the hashtag #litaUX, and there's a Storify of the most recent chat (at the time of writing) here.

LibUX is also a great resource, with several useful podcasts, although it primarily focuses on the online side of UX rather than the ethnographic aspects we're concentrating on here.

Also focusing more around web user experience, here is an absolutely huge list of items, via Amanda Goodman, on that subject.

Going Further

The ERIAL Project is huge ethnographic study in an American academic library. There's plenty to learn on their website in general, but in particular read the ebook they produced: College Libraries and Student Culture: What We Now Know.

There are various books on the subject recommended by existing practitioners of ethnography in libraries - in particular Wolcott (2008) 'Ethnography: a way of seeing' which a lot of people speak very highly of including Donna Lanclos, Andrew Asher and Andrew Preater. Donna also recommends Foster & Gibbons (2007) 'Studying Students: The Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester'. Andrew suggested Blommaert & Dong (2010) 'Ethnographic fieldwork a beginner's guide', Pickard (2013) ‘Research Methods in Information’, 2nd edition, and Charmaz (2014) 'Constructing grounded theory'.

Meg Westbury recommends Buley (2013) 'The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide', Bowles (2010) 'Undercover User Experience Design (Voices That Matter)' and Ladner (2104) 'Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector'.

Other recommended texts are Schmidt and Etches (2014) 'Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library'.

The Department of Anthropology at Fresno State University has also completed a project on ethnography in libraries.

An article to read after exploring some of the techniques of UX

This is a much more formal piece of writing than most of what is above, and is not something to dive into right away. It is though a VERY comprehensive look at UX in libraries up until 2012 - thanks to Ange Fitzpatrick for the link.

Khoo, Rozaklis and Hall: A survey of the use of ethnographic methods in the study of libraries and library users
(Library & Information Science Research, Volume 34, Issue 2, April 2012, Pages 82–91)