27 June 2017

IT skills for librarians: user experience

This post is Number 3 of 8 in a series arising from a presentation that I will be giving at the New Librarians Symposium 8 on 25 June 2017 in Canberra. You may want to start reading with the first post in the series

User experience is probably the most well-known of the three skills area that I'm focusing on in this series of blog posts. While most libraries still don't have a dedicated role in this area, awareness is definitely increasing about the importance of online usability and user-centred service design. Skills in this area are slowly creeping into job advertisements and positions descriptions.

SFIA has three distinct but related skills in this area: User experience analysisUser experience design, and User experience evaluation. I've blobbed these three together a bit for my presentation and these posts, since the boundaries between them are not clear-cut in terms of professional practice.

SFIA defines one of these skills, user experience evaluation, as:

Evaluation of systems, products or services, to assure that the stakeholder and organisational requirements have been met, required practice has been followed, and systems in use continue to meet organisational and user needs. Iterative assessment (from early prototypes to final live implementation) of effectiveness, efficiency, user satisfaction, health and safety, and accessibility to measure or improve the usability of new or existing processes, with the intention of achieving optimum levels of product or service usability.
User experience is a critical IT skills area because research clearly shows the problems that arise when user needs are not taken into account, and the benefits that accrue when they are, e.g.

  • Website usage doubles when sites are made easier to use
  • Improved success rates for lower-literacy users completing tasks
  • Better self-help reduces deskwork and phone calls, and frees up staff time for more complex work. [1]

User experience would be a great area to look into if you want to improve new or existing products and services by assessing how effective, efficient, satisfying and accessible they are for the users of your organisation. Those users will be different depending on where you work, and you would take a different approach to PhD students than you would to the partners in a law firm or to the parents of kids coming to storytime!

Across all of these environment though here are some fairly generic activities that you could undertake:

  • Set up Google Analytics to capture and analyse quantitative data about how users find you (entry points, search terms used), how long they stay, where they go (path analysis, click-throughs) and whether they come back (return visitors)
  • Check how well your services perform on different browsers and different devices like mobile phones
  • Observe (ethically, of course!) how users behave, either by watching them in person or using online tools that allow you to do this remotely (
  • Ask users about behaviours and preferences directly through surveys, interviews and focus groups
  • Or get them to co-design websites with hands-on activities such as card sorting (where participants organise topics into meaningful categories using cards or often PostIt notes) or journey maps 
  • Conduct accessibility tests to identify problem areas for people who are using assistive technologies like screen readers
  • Audit content to highlight ways in which writing for the web could be improved
  • Translate the findings from these kinds of activities into reports and recommendations so that action can be taken to improve things. Then you get to do it all over again so you can evaluate whether the changes have been successful or not!
Although some of this work might be solo, you would usually be working with other people, such technical teams, project teams, vendors perhaps, and of course the users of your services. Empathy and curiosity are essential, but you also need really good communication skills, because ultimately you will need to convince others in your organisation to make improvements of some kind. 

Of course, you need to build up a toolkit over time for doing all these different kinds of data capture & analysis. So how to get started? Below you will find some links to low- and no-cost options to get a taster for user experience, and in the next post you can read my Q&A with a real-life librarian with experience in this area, Suzy Bailey.
Getting started with user experience

Read: Weave: Journal of Library User Experience.

Enrol: Library Juice Academy courses (start with Writing for the Web or DIY Usability Testing, US$175 each)

Browse: Usability.gov, Design Thinking for Libraries: a toolkit for patron-centered design and many more

Experiment: free trials and documentation for tools like Loop11 (online usability testing) or Optimal Workshop (card sorting)

Follow: Donna LanclosMatthew Reidsma, Andy Priestner, The Futurelib Innovation Programme and many more


[1] Nielsen, J. (2007). Do Government Agencies and Non-Profits Get ROI From Usability? Retrieved June 21, 2017, from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/government-non-profits-usability-roi/

26 June 2017

There's more to IT than coding - an IT skills framework

This post is Number 2 of 8 in a series arising from a presentation that I will be giving at the New Librarians Symposium 8 on 25 June 2017 in Canberra. You may want to start reading with the first post in the series

There is a lot of interest in the library profession in coding right now. Library Carpentry is taking off, and journals, newsletters and blogs are full of debates about whether coding is an essential skill for 21st century librarians.

It's not my intention to rehash these debates: if you are interested in exploring this topic Domenic Rosati's 2016 article [1] provides a readable overview. What I want to suggest is that coding is just one of many IT skills that could be relevant in a future library (or GLAM) career. I work at a large Australian university as the manager of the library's technology team. Seven of us are responsible for an application portfolio of a dozen different library systems and repositories, but coding is actually quite a small part of our work lives.

I put a proposal forward to NLS8 because I have been concerned for a while that most librarians are only directly exposed to a very narrow sub-set of the IT profession and may not be aware of the range of other skills that could be usefully combined with library qualifications and experience. Depending on your prior experience, your interests and aptitudes, and your specific work context, IT skills other than coding might be more readily applicable to your work as an information professional. But as a new professional (and maybe even as an established member of the profession), how would you find out more about different skillsets in IT and how to start building them?

Many librarians would be aware of the professional competency frameworks or models that can guide us as we embark on our professional journeys and continue to learn over the course of our careers. These frameworks are usually associated with national professional associations, such as ALIA's Core Knowledge, Skills and Attributes and the LIANZA Bodies of Knowledge.

One of my ongoing disappointments as a library technology manager is the way that IT is included in these competency frameworks. At best there is a focus on being a competent user of technologies with enough ability to support library users, but there is little to suggest librarians should be involved in IT strategy and design, in-depth application support, and innovative technical projects. New librarians aspiring to move into library systems roles or hybrid roles that require extensive collaboration with IT professionals (research data management, for example) would be hard-pressed to find guidance in library competency frameworks about the kinds of skills they might need.

Fortunately other frameworks are available that provide a more granular perspective on IT skills. One of these is the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA). This is a competency model for the IT industry that is used in over 200 countries worldwide. SFIA contains over ninety IT skills. It can be used for self-assessment or as a framework for certification by associations such as the Australian Computer Society, the equivalent organisation to ALIA for our IT colleagues.

This short video provides an introduction to SFIA and how it is used by different cohorts in the IT industry (staff, employers, professional associations) for different purposes (skills mapping, professional development planning, recruitment, certification).

Not everything in SFIA is relevant to librarians and, to be honest, the way it is written can be difficult to read and understand. There is a lot of technical jargon and business lingo that can seem a bit impenetrable when you first look at it!

What a framework like SFIA does offer librarians though is a tantalising glimpse into a world that is bigger and more diverse than most of us can imagine. SFIA demonstrates that just as the library and information profession is more complicated than most non-librarians realise - with multiple sub-sectors and specialisations requiring different knowledge, skills and experiences - so too is the IT profession.

Coding is just one of the ninety-seven skills in SFIA (Programming/software development). In the rest of the posts in this series, I will focus on three other skill areas that I think are highly relevant in libraries and other GLAM contexts. These are:

  • user experience
  • change management 
  • business process improvement

In the following six posts I'll explore these topics in more detail. For each skill, there will be two posts. The first in each set will provide some detail about the skill, including pointers to professional development (PD) options for new information professionals, with a focus on no- or low-cost options. The second will present a more personal perspective, through a Q&A with a librarian from my own organisation (Griffith University) who has incorporated that skill as part of their professional practice.


[1] Rosati, D. A. (2016). Librarians and Computer Programming: Understanding the role of programming within the profession of librarianship. Dalhousie Journal of Interdisciplinary Management, 12(1). Retrieved from https://ojs.library.dal.ca/djim/article/view/6450

25 June 2017

But I Don't Want to Code! A series of posts on emerging IT skills for librarians

This post is Number 1 of 8 in a series arising from a presentation at the New Librarians Symposium 8 on 25 June 2017 in Canberra.

The presentation is called "But I don't want to code! Three emerging IT skills for librarians (other than coding) and how to start developing them". My original pitch for this session was:

There is a lot of interest in coding right now, but coding is just one of many IT skills that could be relevant in your future career. This session is aimed at tech-savvy new professionals who want to increase their employability by combining library and IT skills, but may not be aware of the variety of skillsets within the IT profession and how these can be applied. You will be introduced to the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), an IT industry competency framework used in over 200 countries. The session will then look at three IT skills you could apply in libraries and other GLAM contexts: business process improvement, change management, and user experience analysis. Case studies of librarians practising these skills as part of their roles will be included, along with pointers to professional development pathways (with a focus on no- or low-cost options).
You can view the slides now on Speakerdeck and these will also be available for download via the NLS8 Figshare collection (to be published in July).

I knew there would be much more content on this topic than could possibly be included in the 20-minute talk at the event. These blog posts provide further reading and links to  professional development options, so that attendees can follow up and also so people unable to attend NLS8 have an opportunity to access the content.

Posts will be coming out daily starting on Sunday 25 June, which is the day I'll be presenting at NLS8. The contents of the full series will be:
  1. Overview (this post)
  2. There's more to IT than coding - an IT skills framework
  3. Introducing user experience
  4. Q&A with a librarian about user experience
  5. Introducing change management
  6. Q&A with a librarian about change management
  7. Introducing business process analysis
  8. Q&A with a librarian about business process improvement
Thank you to the organisers of NLS8 for proving me with the opportunity to present this work!

31 March 2017

March GLAM Blog Club: What I Wish They Taught Me in GLAM School (business process improvement)

The lovely New Cardigan community for gallery / library / archive / museum (GLAM) professionals has launched #glamblogclub, suggesting a monthly topic to encourage Australian GLAM folk to write something regularly. March's prompt is What I Wish They Taught Me in GLAM School. 

I need to preface my response to this topic by saying that I'm just not into complaining about what I didn't get taught in library school and I dislike it when others do too. I can't imagine how hard it is to design and deliver curricula that try to meet the diverse needs of graduates and employers across so many different sectors in an industry that is subject to such a fast pace of change. I have a lot of respect for academics working in increasingingly casualised and market-driven universities to provide librarians of the future with a solid base from which they can (and must) continue to build the skills and knowledge that they will need to succeed in any one particular job or sector. The Library Loon writes often and well about the pressures on LIS educators which include constant (and often ill-informed) criticism of things that "should" be part of library courses. As professional practitioners we need to move beyond our own limited experience of the study that we have done and to be more aware of how difficult it is to get programs of study designed, endorsed internally and externally accredited. Some empathy with the hard-working people that undertake this labour for the greater good of our profession would go a long way, particularly at a time when their own futures may be uncertain

In any case if there were one skill I think I could have applied in almost every job I've done, one thing that had I learned it early on would have made me a better librarian, it would not be specific to GLAMs but is something far more generic: business process improvement.

The analysis of business processes, including recognition of the potential for automation of the processes, assessment of the costs and potential benefits of the new approaches considered and, where appropriate, management of change, and assistance with implementation. 
I'll be talking about this at the New Librarians Symposium in June so I don't want to drill into too much detail here. I will just say that every librarian - regardless of position, level or sector - carries out work that could be documented and analysed systematically in order to improve the way it's done. Library processes are full of unnecessary manual handling, duplication, kludges and workarounds (often but not always due to crappy technical systems) that over time morph into "but we've always done it that way". We all intuit that things in our workplaces could be improved and many of us make our best efforts to change things, but we might be more effective in this if we looked outside GLAM school to the other disciplines that provide methods and tools for just this kind of work. 

29 January 2017

GLAM Blog Club #1: What I learned in 2016

The lovely New Cardigan community for gallery / library / archive / museum (GLAM) professionals has launched #glamblogclub, a monthly topic to encourage Australian GLAM folk to write something regularly. As a repeat #blogjune offender, I'm always grateful for an external impetus. This month's topic - 'What I learned in 2016' - provides a great chance to reflect on the year that was. The two overarching themes for my year, which seem almost at odds with each other but actually slotted together nicely, were technology and nature.

2016 was the year that I began to more fully embrace my role as an IT professional as well as a librarian. I've written previously about some of my confidence issues starting out a couple of years ago in a new job managing a library technology team. Last year I consciously decided to spend a lot of time during the year building my skills and networks on the IT side. I joined Women in Technology and became certified as an IT service manager. I still made time to read some library publications, but I found this content was often less relevant to me than reports from tech strategy groups like Gartner (on topics like cloud computing and learning analytics) and newsletter-style content from outlets like The Mandarin (good for a critical appraisal of public sector digital transformation strategies). 

On the job I arranged for colleagues in our IT security and architecture team to document the library's as-is technical architecture to help us with future planning: partipating in this activity and partnering with enteprise architects was such an interesting experience that I decided to propose a session for this year's THETA conference about it. I continued to represent the Information Management portfolio on the board that reviews and approves technical developments of all kinds, and in the process learned a lot more about how areas outside the library - such as HR, finance, facilities, student administration and academic parts of the university - make use of IT.

While I still identify professionally through-and-through as a librarian, it's been good for me to fully accept the hybrid nature of my role. I don't have to give up my librarian passport to go to live in the land of IT; being a dual citizen is not only possible but  desirable as technology now underpins almost every service that my library offers.

In life outside of work, I settled into a new suburb after buying a house in late 2015 with my partner. Our new suburb is far more diverse and friendly; one of our next door neighbours is a sprightly 95-year-old lady whose late husband built many of the houses in our street. I am slowly learning more about birdscaping as I try to improve a small garden previously tended by owners with a scorched-earth policy. We don't have many birds visiting our garden yet but there are certainly plenty around just waiting to be tempted by a garden with more fruit, seeds and insects and a water supply.


My quality of life has improved dramatically as I can now walk to and from work through a lovely native forest that surrounds the campus that I'm based at. One benefit of this has been losing weight and getting fitter. But that benefit pales next to the enjoyment of watching small changes that take place as the seasons come and go in a place that you have become familiar with. 

I've seen incredible things, like the morning that was so foggy all the thousands of spiderwebs that were usually invisible emerged like magic (above) or grass trees with their spikes in full bloom with thousands of tiny star-shaped flowers attached (below). 

I don't know if this is what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku (forest bathing), mindfulness, or just a writerly attentiveness to the small details of plants and animals, but my daily walks in Toohey Forest leave me both calmer and more energised (and it's not just me - science says it's good for all us!) I'm looking forward to more of this in 2017.