Ghosts in the library

A little over 23 years ago I started work at the University of Hull.  It was 1996, I was a multimedia developer, I had just turned 20 and I knew everything (nothing).  It doesn’t feel long ago, yet at the same time it feels like an age. Now I find myself with 2 weeks left until I leave the University on a voluntary redundancy scheme. It’s a huge leap and one that I feel sad and scared about. I’m also excited about the opportunities I hope this will bring. I actually can’t quite figure out if I’m more sad and scared or more excited.  It’s a mix of emotions in the extreme and I’m not good with emotions.

Whilst walking around the library this afternoon it struck me how much change I’ve seen there over the years.  Staff and students coming and going, services changing, technology advances, the building pulled apart and put back together around me whilst I managed Library Services. Happy times,  sad times and something in-between.  So many memories, it feels so loud.  If you’ve ever read or watched Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’, it feels much like that.  Past events have left an imprint and it all exists at once.  You can hear things from years ago, see people, walls or staircases that don’t exist in 2020. “But you have always been the caretaker”.  I find myself working with ghosts, taking advice from them, justifying my actions to them, learning from them.  I think you can work somewhere for too long,   I think perhaps I’ve worked there for too long.  With 2 weeks to go, I feel ever present, but now cast out and not there at all.  It’s a strange existence and not one I like.

I’d always envisaged that I’d leave the University feeling good and leaving a legacy behind in some way, but that’s not the case.  I’m leaving feeling sad (and a little excited) and knowing there is still so much work to do and so much that I could have had an impact on, yet I know I’ve made the right decision.  I don’t want to work with ghosts anymore, I want to work in a library with real people, where I’m not haunted by legacy.  I need to tread a new path, I just have to find it.

UXLibs V – 17, 18 & 19 June 2019 – Rising Five!


It was Saturday when I got that kind of Avengers assemble feeling. It came a little earlier this year. Maybe it was the excitement, the anticipation, maybe I just knew more people and saw more tweets. Never the less, it was Saturday whilst washing pots in the kitchen.  I’ve said before that UXLibs isn’t just a conference but a community coming together,  this year felt much like that again, but also something different and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why (I’m not sure I can, even now).  That excited me though, and that’s why I go to UXlibs.

It was of course the 5th UXLibs and I want to reference the first stanza of the poem ‘Rising five’ by Norman Nicholson which was printed in the front of the UXLibs brochure:

I’m rising five” he said
“Not four” and the little coils of hair
Un-clicked themselves upon his head.
His spectacles, brimful of eyes to stare
At me and the meadow, reflected cones of light
Above his toffee-buckled cheeks. He’d been alive
Fifty-six months or perhaps a week more;
                              Not four
But rising five. 

When I read it, I didn’t realise the significance to me, not until I read the remainder of the poem later on, but we’ll come to that in a while.

For the first time ever, I wasn’t attending UXLibs on my own. There were three of us from Hull and this was good because it allowed more people to get involved and provide an opportunity for them to meet people in similar roles at other institutions. At the same time, I felt like UX was my thing and I didn’t want to let go and share it with others.  I felt very protective over it.

The focus of the conference this year was ‘From Research to Design’: putting UX data into action in the form of prototypes and pilots for testing. This felt very relevant to me and the work we have done (or not done) in Hull. Prototyping has not been my strong point in the past and something that I spoke about in my presentation Culture eats the design process for breakfast.   A lot of my work has focused on the research aspect of the design process, and I have often just handed over recommendations for others to implement if they wanted to, providing little support or leadership proceeding that.  Perhaps that felt safe and comfortable, perhaps that was just the scope of my job.  I don’t think that really works though, you should be involved in all aspects of the design process and be able to provide support and leadership through it.

There are likely to be a lot of write ups that talk about the presentation and workshops that we attended. There were some really great ones, but this post isn’t about that, plus @Shelly_gee pretty much nails it with her post. I am grateful to everyone who spent time and effort putting talks and workshops together, I know how much time, effort and stress it takes.   Also a huge thanks to the committee  @andypriestner @librarygirlknit and @lemurph for organising such a great conference and for allowing me to become an extended member of the committee, it was great fun, even the photo shoot!

I always come away from UXLibs with something a little different than I expected. This year was no exception.  Practically, I came away with the realisation that we collect far too much data,  data that is replicated in multiple collection methods too. We don’t need to do that.  I also validated that we just need to do stuff, try stuff and not worry about it being imperfect or going wrong.  In fact, you often get more useful feedback from something that looks unfinished because people feel they are allowed to comment on it.

My other takeaway was about moving on, how my work on UX in Hull needs to change and how my focus needs to shift into two areas, certainly if we want to continue to embed it. I spoke about organisational culture and its impact on the design process in my presentation.  For me, culture was a key underlying theme that echoed through the whole conference.  It’s clear that there needs to be a shift in organisational culture if UX in any institution is going to be truly embedded.  I think this is a key focus of my UX role in Hull.  Being a good leader, empowering others to try new things and providing a safe space for them to do so, certainly in the context of our Customer Services Team.  Supporting them through failure and helping everyone learn from them.  Using the design process as a framework for everything we do, from how our teams work to how we develop our services and spaces. My thinking there is very much influenced by Keynote speaker @fribban who does some amazing work and I’ve got to know over the past few years.  On a more practical note,  we need to put a lot more effort into our online delivery of services and I find myself almost going full circle with perhaps a refocus on IT and the implementation of UX in the delivery of online services. My thinking in that area is certainly influenced by the work @vfowler does in Melbourne,  We’ll see how than pans out.

So back to the poem. ‘Rising Five’  highlights the opposite of why it resonated with me.  It tells us to pay more attention to today and not always focus on what is to come.  The trouble is, I have done too much of that, in a work context.  Concentrating on today is often comfortable and easy, I need to think about what the future holds, where the library is going and where I am going.  I need to understand how I want to get there.   I think perhaps it’s time to pass the UX baton, or at least share it.  It’s time for my baby to go to school and stop holding on too tight,  let other people start to shape and develop aspects of UX here in Hull. I need to foster a culture of inclusion rather than having UX in a silo.  We have some passionate people and they have a great opportunity in our developing institutional culture, which I need to support them through.

I would also really like to get out and work with other institutions more this year, more workshops and more conference presentations too, if people will have me.

It would be nice to put in a paper to UXlibs next year, talking about the personal challenges of passing the baton and fostering a culture that allows us all to move through the design process. I’ll see what happens and I’ll see where I am. It’s going to be a year of tremendous change, both for the library and probably my role within it.  I need to meet it head on and not be scared.

UXLibs V – Culture Eats the Design Process for Breakfast – 19 June 2019


I thought that this was a great opportunity to try out a few things that might add value to the presentation and I had a great idea. The idea was, that you have a mobile app to go along with the presentation.  The app will allow you to answer a number of questions as we go through,  provide a transcript of what I’m saying for those who find it hard to understand my accent and  it would also link up with the UXLibs hash tag on social media and allow you to tweet directly from the app.   But since I don’t have that ready yet, we are going to try out a some more low-fi alternatives to gather more data.   When I ask a question, to respond ‘yes’ just raise your hand, to respond ‘no’ don’t.  Instead of a transcript on the phone, you have and printed version on your seat, and as for social media, just follow along directly on twitter.

I also, didn’t have time to finish all the slides, but I think it’s better to get something out there that isn’t perfect, so I have included several draft slides in there.

Does everyone understand? (Q-YES and NO)

UXLibs Community

Over the past four years, the #UXLibs community has undertaken a cross section of UX research activities and we have gained and shared some useful insights into how our library users behave.   I have been to other intuitions to talk about the work I have been doing and I’ve had people come to Hull and talk about the work they have been doing.  UX has taken me around the UK and as far as the US and I’ve met some amazing people.  At the Brynmor Jones library in Hull we’ve made some very positive service improvements based on insights that we have gained from UX research.

Frustration and Disappointment

However, early on last year I found myself feeling really disappointed and frustrated by the lack in UX being embedded in our general work and processes, it was something that we did on the side and something that I thought many didn’t see the value off.  Has anyone else in the room has similar feelings? (Q-YES and NO)

Time to reflect

This made me reflect a lot, about the environment in which I work and about myself and how I conducted the work. So, why isn’t it being embedded more?

Maybe it has something to do with communication? I often wasn’t very good at communication where services changes had come from, certainly not to library staff. They had no idea that the location changes of printers in the building was a result of UX research, or that we moved lap-top loans out of the silent study area based on insights we gathered.  I wondered if staff weren’t seeing the direct value of the research because there was no connection there. General staff in the library certainly didn’t have access to the data and they didn’t know what library users were saying.  That certainly felt like a possibility.

Maybe some people find it hard to work with qualitative data, it’s too fuzzy, grey and they get unnerved but it. After all, we work in libraries,  we like order and numbers.

There were a multitude of reasons that could impact on embedding UX but I started to think, may it’s because in Hull, we don’t prototype! Hadley ever! And that opened a huge world of questions around why that might be.

The design process

If we think about the design process:

Schwartz, Y. & Davis, A. (2017) Think less do more: how design doing can impact organisational structure and help create a user-centred culture. In Priestner, A.(ed) User Experience in Libraries Yearbook 2017. Cambridge: UX In Libraries, 150-154.


Are people familiar with this process? (Q- YES & NO)

I am really good at the first part of this, I have teams,  I am really good at gathering data,  we have a lot of data in Hull,  I am even good at analysing and sorting that data, I really love that bit, and I’m really good at coming up with solutions.  Great!   But that’s when we often fail to follow the design process.

I think there are two possibilities at this point:

  1. you hit a wall, you don’t move on you don’t make changes and you just sit on what you know and find it difficult to get progress with your ideas.

Does that feel like anyone in this room (Q- YES & NO)

  1. what we often do is leap! I’ve called it ‘The Hull Leap’. (Absolutely nothing to do with my institution,  it’s just because I live there!),  maybe I should call it the ‘Fear Leap’ instead.   We get our idea and we move directly to implementation! We implement a full-on solution, a perfect solution.  we often miss out the prototype and test stages.

Making Leaps

I recommended that we have a coffee cart on our ground floor to cater for the grab and go market because queues were too long. What happened?  We build a huge ‘cart’ which was more like a café in its own right.  The reality is that we had to remove it a year later because it was not sustainable.  Because of other new outlets on campus, there just wasn’t the staff to manage it.  So, we raised expectations, delivered something perfect and then took it away!  I think probably worse than just doing anything in the first place. People really liked the coffee cart!

Prototype and test

The thing is ‘prototype’ and ‘test’ are in the design process for a good reason, for me they are the most important part of it. They ensure that you deliver the best possible final solution in the implementation stage, prototype and test allow you to learn, to gather more data.   But, they are stages where things are not perfect and there is a higher risk of failure,  and that’s the issue.

So why if I believe that, do I not do it!?

Anyone else feel like that? (Q- YES & NO)

Why do we make leaps and hit walls

Do I not feel empowered to try something new? Do I worry what might happen if I fail?  Do I worry that I won’t be supported through that failure?  Am I scared that I’ll be told off? Do I worry about being blamed for something? And who am I scared of!?  Has anyone here had those thoughts, or similar?    (Q- YES & NO)


So, perhaps this is really a cultural issue, maybe I work in a broken culture.

History, legacy and learnt behaviours

I think everyone has issues that are a legacy of events that happened at some point in the past, we might have been shouted at, we might have been treated badly,  we might have also been bullied.  Those behaviours become seen as acceptable, they become learnt over time. The feelings you have as a result last for a very long time.  It all becomes part of our working culture.

I have an incredibly supportive line manager and the director of our library is also incredibly supportive of the work I do. If I fail, I will be supported by them, I will not be judged and they will help me learn and put things right.  Yet I still don’t prototype.   So maybe, that’s not where the support needs to come from.  I think you need everyone to be supportive.  Maybe you need a fundamental change to your working culture to enable you to move through the design process, maybe if we feel supported by our colleagues, empowered to protype and brave enough to fail, we will start to embed UX in everything we do.

There is the dilemma!   You first must acknowledge as a library, as an institution that you have a problem.  I think that’s a very hard thing to do. BUT WE DID THAT!

Building better leaders teams and culture

Our Director initiated a project titled ‘Building better leaders, teams and culture’ which set out to address the issues I mentioned, along with others. This really excited me.

The project was split into 5 themes, these came about following workshops and interviews undertaken by external facilitators:

  • Trust
  • Communication
  • Leadership and Management
  • Behaviours
  • Being part of something

I was lucky enough to be asked to co-lead two themes. Communications and Trust.  This is where I saw an opportunity.  Gathering and working with qualitative data is something that I’ve become comfortable with and I ran a UX project looking at staff space and technology a while back so, I knew that UX methodologies had multiple applications, it’s not always just about those using our libraries.

UX also seemed to be a good fit for this type of work too. I really wanted to get some meaningful data, particularly around trust (which is where I’ll focus) and it would get a lot more people involved.

For the first time ever, the project wasn’t led by senior management, they sponsored the project, but I certainly made sure that my project team took ownership. Right at the start I was asked “We’ve seen all this before, nothing even changes, why will this time be different?” – A great question and probably the hardest I had though the whole project- and there were some very uncomfortable moments.  My response was simply, that I wasn’t responsible for ensuring the project was a success, that responsibility was down to everyone involved.  They had said that they wanted change, and it was everyone’s responsibility to deliver it.

The trust theme group consisted of seven staff members, all who volunteered to work on the project. Those seven people went out and conducted semi structured interviews with library staff in their teams.  We interviewed every member of library staff at all levels.  We wanted everyone’s stories and we wanted everyone to feel involved.  This to me was an important part of developing the culture.  The response was tremendous!  I’ve seen big amounts of data before; but this was something else.  The willingness to get on board and the willingness to tell those stories showed a real appetite for change, a real appetite to develop our culture, and for me a real possibility to start embedding, not just UX,  but the whole design process in everything we do.

Using UX to understand and transform culture

I went through my ‘go to’ process to get to our end point, which took far longer than anticipated due to the amount and quality of data we had:

  • Story telling
  • Data download
  • Affinity mapping (more affinity mapping within data themes)
  • Identified issues (and positives)
  • How Might We
  • 6-8-5
  • How, Now, WOW

Quick wins and longer term goals

We came out with several quick wins and longer-term goals. I’ll mention just four quick wins because this talk isn’t really about that project.

  • Changed the dress code so everyone felt trusted to ware suitable clothes to work
  • Changes to sickness reporting policy
  • All projects be managed in the same way as this project going forward
  • Working practice groups be set up in all team

So what about embedding the design process?

Things are changing and I think people have started to let go of those legacy learnt behaviours and fears. We have started to think a lot more about the whole design process in everything are a doing,  certainly in the way one of our teams has developed working practices,  they are actually prototyping different ways was working to understand how things might work better in the future,  all staff in the team have been responsible to making that work, not the manager.  They have been supported through the process.  This for me is huge.

Where does it leave me?

I have two pieces of UX work ongoing this year, the first is based around frontline services which is being undertaken by a group of five staff members and with a team leader taking the lead, supported by me.   This is a two-year plan of UX work has ethics approval and using multiple UX methodologies, it’s very exciting.

Live with the data

A key learning point I have taken is to make this visible! My office wall has been full of post-its all containing data from our students. I spoke earlier about how there was little connection in the past with UX research and changes made, this is allowing people to see the work and the feedback we are getting. I have even had staff in the office offering solutions to issues on the board.

Allowing staff at all levels to engage with the data and not fear it, has had significant impact on the perception of my work (I think/hope!).

Low-Fi prototypes

Another this that I have done is start to prototype, and Low-fi prototypes too. Andy Priester said that the four most important words are ‘It’s only a prototype’.  We put white board sheets on our windows and asked people to write their feedback on whether sunshades would work.  They didn’t look great, but they did the job and we got some great feedback. We are now looking at options for something more permanent.  It’s also something the staff can see happening and see the data we get back.

The second is very much representative of a project that York University Library ran which is looking at academic engagement and understanding how the library fit into the development of academic modules. I initiated the work and have co-led it along with two of our librarians.  This work also has ethics approval which I now think is good practice and important.

But back to me, I don’t think I work within the perfect culture, what is perfect after all? I do find myself working in a developing culture that has started to allow the design process to happen.  I feel more empowered to try thing and I feel that I’ll be supported though failure, not just by my line manager, but by my peers.  And for me, that’s the important bit, that’s where that support needs to come from.   I feel that I’m braver,  I feel like UX and the design process is being embedded more,  but more importantly, I feel like I am able to make the huge leap into the prototype phase, where things aren’t perfect there is a higher risk of failure.

Back to video games

To wrap up, I want to go back to where my first slide started and think about video games. Video games have come a long way over the years, from a simple game like pong to games where we can interact with each other in multi-player worlds even though we may be on different continents. Games like Fortnight.   But I don’t think that is all to do with technology.  If you provided the guys who created pong with all of today’s technology, I don’t think they we would have come up with much more than what they did. They certainly wouldn’t have developed Fortnite . That’s because, they need to get there. There have been some great games over the years, but there have also been some horrendous ones.  It takes a lot of learning, a lot of testing and many iterations to get to Fortnite or Sea of Thieves.  And that’s why we need to prototype, we need to learn from our mistakes to ultimately develop something better.

This session wasn’t perfect

This session wasn’t perfect, I didn’t have the app,   I used some draft slides.  But did it need to be,  did that really matter? Did you think any less of me?

Perfect isn’t always the best!   Prototyping, testing and learning is!

The Importance of Roller Coasters

Blackpool Pleasure Beach – Icon, The Big Dipper, The Big One & Infusion

I haven’t blogged for a while, I think mostly because I have used the blog primarily for work purposes and the work I’ve been involved in lately hasn’t been something that could be blogged about,  nor would anyone be interested in it.  So here is a post from outside of work.

As families grow,  they inevitably go through change.  Change is important,  and it’s incredibly exciting to watch your children develop, explore and become the people they want to be.  You can do your best to influence this,  but you can’t and shouldn’t make them be someone they aren’t or someone they don’t feel comfortable being.  They will be who they become.   At times you feel out of control, they are growing,  you are growing and the dynamic that once was evolved into something different.   How do you find common ground in a world of Xboxes and online gaming, where spending pocket money on new clothing for your avatar in Fortnite is a necessary part of belonging in your peer group?  How do you find those things that glue you together as a family unit and how do you find things that matter to all of you?  I think,  by mistake.

Earlier on this year,  we stumbled upon rollercoasters.  My wife and I were never really ride fanatics and that worked really well when the boys were young.  We enjoyed the family rides and didn’t think about the bigger more extreme ones.  However, the boys have grown, they are now 9 and 13 and have become more adventurous.  My eldest and I had ventured onto rides like California Screaming at Disneyland California and Expedition Everest at Disney World in Florida, and we all road Big Thunder Mountain, which looking back was the catalyst to what would become a mild obsession.   My youngest had mostly been too small for the extreme coasters but that all changed this year and it would be fair to say that things really started at Disneyland Paris where me and the boys rode Rockin’ Rollercoaster and Hyperspace Mountain.  I was somewhat concerned about my youngest riding them,  but to my surprise he loved them both,  more so than I did!  The family obsession started with the four of us riding Crushes Coaster,  twice and Beth riding her first looping coaster, Temple du peril.  I think we all left Disneyland feeling something different than we had before,  we have always enjoyed our time together and valued that, but I think perhaps we found a joint passion.  I think more so, something that felt exciting, a group challenge, something that would test us all and take us to our limits.  We could also support each other through our experiences,  age being irrelevant.

We’ve visited a number of theme parks through this past summer, each time daring to go bigger, faster and more extreme.  We’ve experienced everything from old wooden coasters to new duel launch multi-inversion hyper coasters,  we rode both Vekoma and B&M SLCs and contrary to what many say,  preferred the Vekoma.  We’ve research coasters all over the world,  learnt about track layouts, types of inversions, air time hills and cobra rolls.  We have found a passion that we can all share, something that is the glue holding us together.  It’s given us some amazing days out and weekends away.  It’s brought us closer together and given us something to focus on when often we live in a world of chaos, work,  music lessons,  football training and after school clubs.

Sometimes it’s the strangest things that make the difference and you stumble upon them by accident.  I didn’t think we’d become obsessed by roller-coasters,   but I’m glad we did.

UXLibs IV – 05,06 & 07 June 2018 – It wasn’t just about the shoes!


So UXLibs happened, again, and it’s time to write the obligatory blog post(s) which serves as a way to help me reflect and process the mass of experience, information and learning that I have in my head.   This year, more than ever I feel overwhelmed and I’m finding it difficult knowing where to start.  Hence, this will not be a brilliantly articulate piece of writing.

UXLibs has at its core, an incredibly diverse, talented and supportive community. I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in that community since the first conference in Cambridge in March 2015. Since then I have seen people’s passion and confidence grow (my own included), I have seen some amazing work being undertaken and I have made connections that have opened doors allowing me to be involved in work that would never have been possible before.  For that I thank the community. This year I was invited to run a workshop (or rather two) which I felt incredibly honoured and excited at the prospect of (I have posted about that separately).

I often feel a little nervous when traveling to conferences, I think partly because I like going to new places, but I get worked up about traveling.  Also partly because whilst I’m relatively extraverted, I don’t always find it easy to mingle in situations where I don’t know anyone. It’s not as simple as to label me ENFP.    However, UXLibs IV felt different for three reasons.  It was just down the road in Sheffield, I already knew some people and I was really excited to be meeting a number of people whom I had already interacted with on twitter. I arrived in Sheffield relaxed,  then, I knew it was UXLibs when @shelley_gee, having travelled all the way from Canada greeted me halfway through my hotel check-in procedure with a hug,  and that, right there, is the UXLibs mentality – it’s interrupting someone’s check-in to make them feel welcome, to let them know that you are glad they came.  Right from that point I felt included.

The pre-conference evening event felt much like it has before, like a community coming together. It felt a bit like Avengers Assemble, perhaps more Librarians Assemble. I met a number of brilliant new people that night too, @clauersen, @johnjungdotus, @RosieHare to just name drop a few as well as being able to catch up with some of the UXLibs veterans.  I’m not going to name drop everyone,  but they know who they are.

The morning of the first day involved an early start as I agreed to help out with registration. This was really good, it was fun and served as a great way to say hello to just about everyone in person and understand who was there. Despite the early start, I felt really energised by the time I went in to hear @clauersen deliver his keynote.  (

In March this year, I travelled to Austin, Texas and co-delivered a UX Workshop on digital empathy and creating safe spaces online.  To my surprise, what I really took from that conference was a theme of diversity, inclusion and acceptance.  The UXLibs theme this year was ‘inclusivity’ and the conference really validated my thoughts around this. It also went a step further and helped me understand what it could mean in a practical sense and how our actions and personal biases, no matter how small can have a huge impact on how we make people feel as well as how we design and deliver our services.   This couldn’t have come at a better time for me,  I have been trying to piece things together in my mind since March and struggling a little.

I think fundamentally I’d been finding it hard because I couldn’t understand why it matters what colour skin someone has, whether they are gay, bi, trans, heterosexual, male or female and why anyone would have a problem with that.   But at some point in the conference, it clicked and I realised that this isn’t just about me, it’s not about me being okay with anything.   As @clauersen pointed out in his talk, I’m a white, heterosexual, male with a relatively good job and a family.  I don’t have any physical disabilities, I’m dyslexic but I don’t think that counts.  I have it easy, almost by default I hold a position of privilege, and that begins to make me feel uncomfortable –  and that’s a great starting point!  I don’t know what it feels like to be a trans male in a building with male and female toilets,  I don’t know what it’s like to come into the library during a gender transition. It’s not okay for me to just say ‘I don’t care’ about someone’s race or gender. Perhaps we all have a personal responsibility, regardless of role to help others feel safe and welcome in our spaces, both physical and digital.

So what am I going to do? A starting point for me will be raising awareness around diversity and inclusion with library staff, we all do our online diversity training, but this isn’t enough I will work with our EDI coordinators to ensure that diversity and inclusion isn’t just a tick box, I want us to consider it more in everything we do.

So that’s what I took away generally from the underlying theme of the conference. I attended a lot of excellent delegate talks which I won’t write about here, but thank you to everyone who took the time to prepare their content and talk about their experiences, this is so valuable. I feel like I should pick up on the friendliness and supportiveness of the community too, I can’t remember how many times I heard the phrase “Good luck with your talk, you’ll be great’ or how many people said to me that they hoped my workshop went well. Things like that really do make a difference, especially for people who don’t do it often.

I think if you truly participate in a conference and want to get the most possible benefit from attending, you need to work really hard whilst you are there, you certainly do that at UXLibs, it’s also a great idea to relax and get to know people on the evening, there are some great people at UXLibs. You should come home feeling a little bit broken with a mind full of exciting things you need to process. You should come home a slightly different person, having learnt something about work and about you personally, I certainly did.

UXLibs certainly isn’t just about the shoes, but let’s be honest, that’s part of it!

Photo – @clauersen

UXLibs – A collision of two worlds workshop – 06 June 2018


I don’t usually introduce myself when I’m doing a talk, it wastes time and you probably read who I am in the programme before making a choice to come and listen. It also usually says it on the intro slide behind me.  But, I will do today since we’ll be spending more time together and I’m not just talking,  we are going to have some interaction.  I’m also going to optimistically assume that you did all choose this workshop and you weren’t just put in here because your other choices weren’t available.  If that was the case, please don’t tell me!

I’m Carl Barrow I’m an Operations Manager at the Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull, which is around an hour east of here.  I have a specific portfolio around customer experience and usability,  both in the physical and digital sense.

This morning, I want to explore ways to help us deliver services that are usable to the widest range of people, certainly without making assumption on what might work for a specific demographic.  I’m going to talk for a while first and then we’ll move onto something more practical, with time for discussion and feedback along the way.

We are all living in the physical world, we move through spaces and we interact with 1objects, people and services in those spaces.  In our libraries for example, think about how we as staff and also our library users interact and move around our buildings.  The way we do that has an impact on how we deliver our services,  also our services impact how we and our users behave.

2We also spend time in digital space. We use websites for online shopping, we interact with each other on social media or WhatsApp.  You probably have an institutional intranet of sorts, something like MS SharePoint that you need to interact with and move around.  Using these spaces makes it possible to travel the globe with our friends, family and colleagues without even leaving the homes or offices, interacting with their experiences and they with ours regardless of physical location.

3What I find even more interesting is that these worlds or spaces stack up and even collide.  WE can have a duel presence. How may people are using twitter right now? How many of you have been tweeting and interacting with a talk that you aren’t physically in? This conference is happening physically here but it’s also happening in a digital space,  two separate spaces running parallel that we can move fluidly between, and these little devices (phone) help with that tremendously.

Thinking of phones, have you ever lost yours? What’s the first thing you do? For me, it’s panic! It’s like I’ve lost a limb, I break out in a cold sweat.  If I‘m on holiday I spend 4almost as much time checking that my phone is still in my pocket as I do checking that my two children were still with us. Even more so now they are getting a bit older.  So why is this? Probably because that small digital device is so much more than just a phone.  It’s a camera which has catalogued just about every moment of the holiday and shared those experiences on social media with friends and family across the globe. It’s a SAT NAV that ensures I can get to where I need be, it’s an encyclopaedia,  it’s a link to people I don’t see very often. Once I’ve parked my car,  I use an app on my phone to pay for the carpark.

5This small device has become so integrated into my world it’s hard to think how I might actually function without it. It’s like a portal that I use to travel between worlds, it’s like Star Trek.  It’s so easy to take my physical world and have that become part of someone’s digital world, even if they are 2000 miles away.  For many of us these worlds are colliding at an alarming rate, the boundaries have blurred, disappeared or just become irrelevant.

Why is this important for us at an Academic Library? It’s important because if this is me,  then it’s probably also many other people too.  Technology has become all important, but at the same time not important at all.    We don’t need to develop a digital version of a service anymore. Perhaps,  a service just is.   I said a minute ago that ‘it’s probably also many other 6people’ and the word probably is very important there,  technology forms a big part of many people’s lives, but for many others is doesn’t.  That’s why it’s important to understand technology use and if we develop our service with the lines blurred and worlds collided, we provide the most relevant platforms and the most useful entry points for as many people as possible.

So I want you all to keep that in mind as we go through the workshop today and experiment with two methods we are going to explore.   I’m also interested in your views on why and how they might be useful.

Cognitive Mapping

The first thing we are going to do is draw a cognitive map, you all have an A3 sheet of paper and there coloured pens.   You will have six minutes to draw a map of your working day. Think about the places you go and how you interact with them.  There are no wrong ways of doing this and no bad drawings.  I will ask you to chance pen colour every two minutes, starting with blue then green and finally black.  After the six minutes I will give you a couple of minutes to label the map.

CogMapPhotoGo… ( Everyone draws awesome cognitive maps)

These cognitive maps are a great starting point, but to make them really useful it is important to have a conversation around what has been drawn so that the map can be put into context.  Would anyone like to come up to the front and talk to us about what they have drawn?

(We had 6 people stand up and talk us through their maps over the two workshops – Thank you!)

We talked about how we were able gain a deeper understanding of a user story this way and how we had learned far more about someone’s day than might from a number of tick boxes on a survey. We talked about how, using three different colours we could identify the importance of different elements on the map, the things drawn first are the things of greater importance and at the forefront of someone’s mind and as we moved through the colours over the six minutes that importance differs.  We also picked up on the fact that some people might draw their map as a timeline and at that point the colours become less significant. This is absolutely fine, be we need to consider that when coding the maps.

I have used a coding method described by Andrew Asher (@aasher) in the past and this had proved really useful.

Your Digital Day

Photo By Andy Priestner @andytraining

You all now have a blank ‘Digital Day’ template in front of you, this is something that I devised a few months ago to help understand technology use and its impact on someone’s day.

I would be very interested to hear any feedback on its use as a tool.

On the template, you can assign a colour to each piece of technology that you use.  Along the timeline, you can you can use the relevant colours to highlight use.  The first column ‘I have with me’ is the tech devices you have about your person, the second column ‘I am using’ is what you are actually using at any point in time.  The third column is to note where you are and the fourth to note what you are doing.  (Download the blank template).

Following on we reflected in groups and discussed learning from both exercises. We thought about how this might help us to think a little differently when developing library services. Conversations were broad ranging from our obsession with smartphones and their constant use to our preferences for buying digital music online rather than a CD and how that impacts peoples listening habits.

7To sum up, Service design and delivery is certainly not black and white. We have to find and understand our users stories and look for and provide entry points to our services that work for everyone. Perhaps we need to look for that little bit of colour in an otherwise black and white world.  Keep in mind that technology may well be part of a service delivery, but it might just as easily not be.   Design for people,  do what they need,  don’t give them what technology can offer because you think it might be helpful and certainly don’t assume it will work for everyone.

Designing for Digital 2018 – Austin,TX


I just attended the Designing for Digital 2018 conference in Austin, Texas, at which I co-delivered a workshop on digital empathy and creating safe spaces online with Deirdre Costello (Director, UX Research, EBSCO Information Services – @deirdre_lyon) and Carrie Morgan (Head of User Services/User Experience Librarian, California State University San Marcos – @DigitalCarrie). I hoped to get a lot out of the conference, which I certainly did, but what I brought back from Austin is something completely different to what I expected, something more than just learning about design thinking and the user experience.

I’d like to think that I’m a liberal kind of person who welcomes diversity and self-expression. But the people I met, the presentations I attended and the city of Austin itself, made me realise that there is far more too it. We all have a personal responsibility to help people arrive at that place and make it safe for them. The trip made me reflect on culture change in the workplace and how we create safe spaces where people can become the best versions of themselves. It also made me reflect on the embedding of UX research in academic libraries and how we can promote and develop a culture that is conducive to that.

In her opening keynote, Veronica Erb @verbistheword from NRP talked about how we can create change without authority. This certainly resonated with me in the context of the work we are undertaking around culture at the Brynmor Jones Library and how we all have a responsibility to make this work successful. She talked about what it means to be a change maker and how taking small actions, supporting ourselves and broadening our perspectives can support and help us all to deliver change regardless of role or responsibilities. She talked about modelling the behaviours that we wanted to see and how acting in a way that isn’t normal within your team or institution could eventually make it so. She noted how this can sometimes be scary and challenging, and how we need to support ourselves through the process.

Veronica broke support down into three areas, thoughts, relationships and emotions.   She talked about externalising your thoughts to help you decide what to change and how to make it happen, along with ensuring that you have regular two way human communication to help make and evaluate change. She highlighted that when communication isn’t two way, it becomes an abusive relationship and how we all need to ensure we do our part in friendships and how, by building friendships we can create communities and stay connected to the world we are trying to make better. She talked about releasing your emotions, taking time to walk, read etc and making sure you relax and feel better, rather than burning yourself out.

Broadening perspectives was about being able to express yourself, how you think about how others express themselves and how they are judged because of it.   She talked about avoiding assimilating the compromises that we have made and training ourselves to manage the biases we have. By identifying our biases, and introducing items to our lives to counteract them, we can become more understanding, appreciative and accepting of others.

The talk really made me think and reinforced what I have said about us all having a responsibility to make change happen and be successful. By taking a few small steps, as Veronica noted we can even change the things that we thought “are just the way they are”.

I attended many other excellent talks through-out the conference, other highlights being Danah Boyd – Founder & President/ Principal Researcher, Data & Society/ Microsoft, who spoke about the messy reality of algorithmic culture and then Debashish Paul – Product Designer, Facebook, who spoke about his career journey and how his passion and enthusiasm for design helped him become who he is today.

The workshop we delivered went very well and felt like a really relevant fit with what I considered the underlying theme of the conference. We spoke about how UX often focuses on online usability, which informs design decisions through information architecture. While important, this doesn’t encompass everything a user needs in a space. We focused on another component of UX: creating spaces where users feel safe. We spoke about how users bring anxieties with them to online spaces, but how informed design choices can ameliorate that stress. We discuss empathetic design, ethnographic research methods and the practical application of results to ongoing and future projects. Workshop participants had the chance to practice interview techniques with real students and then take park in a design studio where they produced prototype online spaces based on their findings.

For me, the underlying theme was one of culture, diversity, acceptance and change.   A few days in Austin certainly makes you reflect. Austin felt like an incredibly liberal city, it is a wonderful and weird place. It made me question if I go far enough to support and help people celebrate who they are and whether I do my part to help create safe spaces for people in the work place.

We all bring something to the table, by understanding each other’s stories, respecting each other’s views and working together we can achieve great things.