A blog from the Southern Ontario Library Service

Review: Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library

Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library
Aaron Schmidt & Amanda Etches

Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches describe ‘useful’, ‘usable’, and ‘desirable’, as the key elements required for a good user experience- and they aren’t wrong. A balanced amount of each is necessary: obtaining something desirable (a cool new technology) may draw in patrons for a while, but if it’s not useful it will become less relevant to the community. A service that is both useful and usable is great, but if the community neither wants nor needs it, what is the point of providing it? Satisfy all three, and the experience you provide to members will pretty well be the best it can be.

User experience encompasses the obvious, such as managing public computers, online references and physical materials; but what we fail to remember sometimes, and Schmidt and Etches bring this up, is that the library is not just about the services, but about the whole experience from when they park the car, to navigating the stacks, to using the public bathroom. Walking around your library and questioning the placement of everything from the circulation desk to the recycling bins puts you in the shoes of your patrons and is an excellent exercise. To each item you come across, ask yourself, “What purpose does that item have by being there?” If the answer is “it’s just always been there” or “I’m not really sure”, then it was not placed there with user behaviour in mind and should be moved or changed.  

Each aspect of the user experience is referred to by the authors as a ‘touchpoint’. And one of the wonderful  things about this book is that it doesn’t have to be read in sequential order, nor in its entirety (phew!). Chapters are dedicated to different touchpoints. Once you identify where your library’s weakness lies, simply turn to the chapter where they guide you through elements of that touchpoint and provide a checklist of changes (which are rated from simple to significant) to tackle them.  

This books has had an influence on me as I look at simplifying our homepage and making it easier for our site visitors get to where they need to go. Standards are getting higher all the time, and we’re continuously working on improvements, even if it feels like we are pulled in a thousand different directions. Schmidt and Etches remind me that it doesn’t always take drastic change to make a difference. Small steps are equally important.