20 December 2017

Interview skills for LIS students and new grads: notes from an ALIA panel

I was a panellist at an ALIA Students and New Graduates Group workshop on interview skills in September.

Having had countless job interviews (some more successful than others!) and also having been a chair and member of quite a few interview panels, I can see things from both sides of the table and was happy to share some practical advice along with my other panellists.

Below are my raw notes prepared in advance for the session - not all of these were used on the day and they do reflect the sector I am most familiar with (academic libraries).

For other perspectives, you can also read a wrap-up of the event on the ALIA SNGG blog and view a recording of the panel session on their Facebook page.

What can I do to prepare myself for an interview?

How do I stop anxiety?

You can’t really! However, there are a few practical things that can help.
  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before
  • Don’t over-caffeinate
  • Remember to take some deep breaths while you are waiting and in between questions. 
As a panel member I expect you to be feeling a bit nervous and it is absolutely OK for you to acknowledge that you are feeling that way. It’s actually really uncomfortable for the panel too when someone is very nervous - we want interviews to be as positive as possible for everyone.

It is OK if you are feeling really out of control to ask for a moment to compose yourself. Take a deep breath, have a drink of water, then when you are feeling ready give the panel a smile and let them know you are OK to go on.

What do I wear?

I usually think about what might be standard for the role and go slightly more dressy than that.

It's important to choose something that you feel comfortable in - there is no need to add to your anxiety / discomfort, and for that reason, I would avoid wearing something that you haven’t worn before.

What should I bring?

Things to consider bringing include:
  • A copy of your CV and application (for your own use - the panel will already have copies of these)
  • Any notes that you think might help you. But remember, these should be prompts rather than written out answers - you are there to talk to the panel not read to them! 
  • A pen and a piece of paper to jot down any keywords from the question can be useful - writing a few notes can also give you a bit of breathing space if you get asked something tricky and need to gather your thoughts. 

What are the technicalities of a panel interview?

How do you rank candidates during the interview?

At my place of work, questions would usually be related to the selection criteria. We would also usually have an icebreaker / opener along the lines of “Tell us why you’ve applied for this job and what you think you would bring to it.”

Panellists will have a list of questions with some pointers from the chair about what to look for when scoring.

We use a 1-5 scale and also take a lot of notes so that we have information for panel discussions later on.

How do you formulate interview questions?

Questions would usually be based on the selection criteria and on behavioural interview principles.

Depending on the job and the level we might also include a work task of some kind. We would let people know beforehand what this is if it requires any preparation, or would at least give them a heads-up that a work test of some kind will be part of the interview.

What questions should I prepare to ask the panel?

The specific question doesn't matter so much to me, but what I am looking for would be:
  • Questions that demonstrate that you have done some research about the organisation
  • Questions that show you are genuinely interested in the position e.g. What would a typical day be like?, What types of activities would I be involved in during my first six months? 
You should also ask anything that you need to to convince yourself that you would take the job if offered it - it is a two-way street so if you have concerns this is your chance to air them.

What happens after the interview?

When do you call referees? What questions do you ask them?

I call referees as soon as possible after the interview, though it can sometimes take a few days to organise a phone call.

I ask questions based on the selection criteria and use the same behavioural style as for interviewees - I ask for specific examples of particular skills or experiences that we are after.

If there are any niggling concerns from the interview I might ask something specific about that.

I also ask these extra questions:
  • What do you think this person’s strengths are?
  • What areas do you think this person may need some coaching or professional development in to enable them to succeed in this role?
  • Would you employ / work with this person again?

How long does it take to decide on a candidate?

It usually does not long to make a decision once the referee checks have been done. However HR processes can take a really long time!

The chair of the panel will usually have to provide some documentations justifying the panel’s decision. Then there are likely to be different levels of approval in HR, Finance and other areas that have to be granted before an offer can be made.

On those "soft skills"...

Who should I address when talking to the panel?

The person who asked the question is a good place to start but it is good if you can make some eye contact and look around a bit if you can remember to do that.

What can I do to stop from showing how nervous I am?

See points made above about not over-caffeinating, getting enough sleep and remembering to breathe.

I get really shaky hands sometimes in interviews. If that happens, I try to keep them in my lap under the table.

What kind of body language should I demonstrate in the interview?

A nice firm handshake and a friendly smile goes a long way when you first enter the room. Making as much eye contact as you are comfortable with is also good.

Don't wear anything that is going to encourage you to fidget with clothes, hair and jewellery. It's really distracting for the panel!

Try to have an open posture. Sit up straight with your shoulders back - this helps with breathing too.

How do you select interview candidates?

Masters or diploma qualification, does it matter?

It will depend on the position but usually having an undergraduate or postgraduate degree is less important to me in my assessment than your responses to the selection criteria.

Visas, English as a second language

The rules around visas are usually dictated by legislation and workplace policies - the supervisor usually does not have much say in this.

For me, it is not your English language skills per se but the ability to communicate well to a variety of audiences that is really important. I work in a technical back-of-house function but we still have to communicate with other parts of IT, with clients, and with vendors all the time. We also need to be able to produce very clear written documentation for different audiences.

Years of experience vs "new graduate" willing to learn

Experience is really important. In addressing selection criteria, you will do better if you can provide specific examples of how you would be able to do the job or learn how to do the job. This is what you generally get from the workplace, which is why I would encourage people to make the most of their placements, well-chosen volunteer opportunities, and any short-term work that you can get while you are studying.

Internal vs external staff 

Panels who are doing their jobs properly should be interviewing candidates on their own merits. It should not be the case that internal candidates get special treatment. I have employed an external candidate over an internal candidate who had been acting in the role.

However what you must realise is that if you are up against someone who has already got experience in a particular job that will enable them to supply really good stories in their written applications and interviews. So that is why they have an edge.


Again, panels should be as neutral as possible in assessing candidates against the criteria. However at the final stages then fit with the organisation and longer term planning can definitely come into it. It is very expensive to recruit someone and induct them into the organisation and then have them leave and have to do it all over it again.

I have personally employed someone over-qualified who I believe could use a job as a stepping stone to something else. I don’t have a problem with that as long as the expectations are clear that I would expect a high performance from that person while they are in the job.

What are your top tips for a candidate during an interview?

I would encourage you to think very clearly about the first impressions that you will make and in particular how you will respond to the first question you will be asked, which is usually about why you have applied for the job and what you will bring to it.

This is often really badly answered. People waffle on for ages, repeat what’s already in their written application, or focus only on themselves (e.g. I am ready for a challenge, I want to take the next step in my career).

My advice is, put yourself in the shoes of the panel. We want the best outcome for our organisation and going through recruitment is a time consuming and highly stressful process for us as well. We are not there to solve your problem of not having a job or sufficient career progression. We are there to solve our problem which is that we have a gap in our organisation that we need to fill with the right person for the job.

If we’re interviewing you then you are likely very close to being that right person. You can make our jobs easier for us by focusing not just on why the job would be a good thing for you, but why having you in the job would be a great thing for us.

02 July 2017

IT Skills for Librarians: Q&A with Susan Tegg (Griffith University) about business process improvement

This post is Number 8 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

For this post I asked my colleague Susan Tegg about how she got started building her skills in business process improvement, and how this fits within her current role as the Team Leader, Library Technology Services in Griffith University's Library and Learning Services.

Thank you, Susan!

Can you briefly describe your your current role and your career pathway to where you are now?

My current role is Team Leader, Library Technology Services. This involves
  • working with the team to achieve the key performance indicators in the team's operational plan 
  • service management planning to ensure our systems meet the changing requirements of stakeholders and are operating at optimum levels
  • watching the library environment and system roadmaps for changes and likely impacts
  • working with stakeholders to improve workflows and student experience
  • working with staff to prioritise work and dealing with crises
  • encouraging and listening to staff concerns while also keeping perspective
  • representing the team and service at meetings and in discussions
  • creating a team environment of mutual support.
Lately my work has been more project-focused as Griffith has changed its approach and needs.

I started working in libraries over twenty years ago. Positions I have held include serials librarian, cataloguer, system librarian, head of circulation, faculty librarian, and library operations manager. I have supervised staff for most of that time. My career has been uneven due to lifestyle changes which meant career interruptions and a focus on things outside work.

What were the circumstances that led you to identify business process improvement as something that you wanted or needed to develop further?

The main reason I am attracted to business improvement is that I see the need for libraries to revolutionise their work to take advantage of IT changes.

I often see teams believing they are adapting to change when what I see is their trying to adapt the change to to their current processes.

I want to challenge current processes, to identify outdated processes and redundant tasks, and processes that can be streamlined or removed/automated. Many are legacy processes designed to manage print.

Libraries need to change and stop or reduce doing many of the labour intensive tasks so librarians are adding value in areas that need professional judgement.
What formal or informal development options were available to you to develop your business process improvement skills and knowledge? How did you initially get going, and do you have plans to continue to develop in this area?

When I was operations manager at a previous library, I was able to design workflows and ensure tasks were streamlined.

During two library system conversions, business processes were challenged by vendors and I enjoyed being involved in conversations with business areas.

Coming to Griffith encouraged me to refine my skills after attending a one day course on Business Processes and working with Scholarly Resources [the team that manages acquisitions, cataloguing etc] to map their processes.

At the moment improving my skills is done by talking to a colleague and examining other business analysts at Griffith to understand their way of working.

Can you briefly describe what business process improvement involves? What kinds of tasks or activities have you undertaken as a practitioner of this skill? Are there specific methodologies or tools that are commonly used?

Business process improvement has a few stages.  

Initially current work processes are mapped with the business area. The desired outcome is a document which reflects the current business processes, presented in a way which encourages the manager/team leader and staff read and review, and hopefully see areas for improvement. It is challenging because as the person mapping the work, I need to understand why an activity is done without antagonising them.      

Once the process is mapped on Microsoft Visio (although I have also used Google Drawings), a step by step table is created. In this table, there are various fields which explain ownership, systems used, dependencies and issues. The table is quite detailed and to ensure it's manageable the business process is often broken down into parts.

The diagram and table need to be reviewed several times to ensure it is correct.  

Parts that are hard for me include:
  • not making assumptions
  • not getting enough detail
  • trying to move too fast so failing to let the team reflect as the mapping happens.
Hand in hand with process mapping is user stories, which explain why activities happen. For example: Why is that copyright statement stored? This ensures each activity has a purpose.

Once completed the manager or team leader can reflect on the process. They can then decide that a business process should be stopped (because it is no longer required), improved (e.g. by using a different system or combination of systems) or automated.

How do you feel business process improvement ‘fits’ with the other skills and knowledge that you bring to your professional practice as a librarian?

Business process improvement is an essential skill for librarians.  Having an approach that looks for constant improvements and challenges legacy practices is needed because the world and work is changing around us.

How do you and your organisation benefit from your having business process improvement skills in your toolkit?

In the current environment, I don't have much opportunity to work through process improvements outside projects or in my own team. I can see that managers and team leaders would get benefits from doing business process improvement work especially for transactional work.

What advice would you give to a new professional starting out who had an interest in business process improvement? Can you suggest any no- or low-cost professional development options that are available?

As a new professional, I would ask for procedures for whatever team I worked in and create a diagram. Ask your supervisor if they have an area that could benefit from business process mapping, for example where no procedures are written. Express your interest developing and practicing but with real life situations.

Diagrams are powerful for explaining a business process visually and are quickly understood. Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) is a standard for business process diagrams - to be useful it's important to understand and use the standard shapes in BPMN (e.g. a circle for an event, a rectangle for a task or activity, a diamond for a gateway or decision point). The step by step explanation reveals things not in the diagram, like dependencies, staff/time involved and issues. Both parts are needed.
  1. Start with internet resources or books.
  2. See if you can get advice from a business analyst and examples/documents from your organisation.
  3. Talk to your supervisor about what you are doing because it will involve your time and meetings with others. Time is valuable!
  4. Getting information without challenging too assertively gets good results so practice listening skills but identify gaps and question things that don't make sense.  
  5. If you have a business process mapping tool like Microsoft Visio available use it or otherwise start with Google Drawings or another free tool.
  6. Be ready to present and talk through anything you do. Documentation needs to be professional and in line with your organisation's templates.

That brings us to the endn of this series of blog posts to a conclusion. The purpose of this series, and the associated NLS8 presentation, was to inspire new librarians (and maybe some more established professionals) to think beyond coding to the many other IT skills applicable in library and GLAM workplaces. 

You don’t necessarily have to study user experience, change management or business process improvement at university or attend a formal training course. There are lots of opportunities to learn on the job and in your own time, and it doesn’t have to take years or cost a lot of money. 

Hopefully what’s also become evident through this series of posts is that many IT jobs don’t actually require in-depth technical knowledge. The best IT projects aren’t just about the technology. 'Soft' skills like communication are essential for success and librarians can often transfer these from their more traditional roles. 

At the conference, I closed by encouraging new librarians to find someone to have a chat to about IT skills they are interested in. It’s my experience that most people love talking about what they do, especially if you buy them a coffee or a drink while you fire your questions at them!

01 July 2017

IT skills for librarians: business process improvement

This post is Number 7 of 8 in a series arising from a presentation 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

A couple of months ago I wrote a post where I identified this as the number 1 thing I wish I had learned in library school. In that post I said 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.

I think we all know that things in our workplaces could be improved; library processes are full of inefficiencies. Many of us make our best efforts to change things, but we often struggle to do this without any methodologies or tools. That is where business process improvement skills can come in.

I'm passionate about this because as a manager you come to realise that small changes in processes can have big impacts. If a process change saves 10 minutes a day for someone, that’s an extra week in the year. If you save 30 minutes a day then have nearly an extra month. If that change is made to work that a whole bunch of people do, then you start to see how that can all add up. This is really important in work environments where many of us are struggling to find the time for innovation and continuous improvement on top of our regular work just 'keeping the lights on'. Budget is part of that, but so is ensuring that professional staff are freed up as much as possible from tedious process-driven work to apply their judgment to higher-value activities.

A business process improvement specialist usually starts with mapping current work processes. You might run interviews and focus groups with staff and maybe observe them as they carry out the process.

Then you would create both a visual representation of this process (such as the 'swimlane' diagram below) as well as a document describing it in detail.

This will be presented to the manager/team leader and staff for review. They might identify areas for improvement themselves or you might also have recommendations.

Once a direction is known you might work through a similar process to document the workflow as you would like it be using the same combination of visual and textual communication. This can then be presented to systems support staff or external vendors who might work to make the changes that are needed to improve the process.

As with the other skills that we’ve looked at, communication is critical. You need to be a really good listener and to be able to put people at their ease – not everyone is happy about having their work put under the microscope in this way! (See Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey as the head librarian and business automation consultation in the wonderful move Desk Set for a fictionalised version of the strife that can ensue...)

Visual communication skills are also essential – making diagrams that tell the story clearly is a big part of getting your recommendations accepted. There are specialist tools (such as Microsoft Visio, used to create the swimlane diagrams above) and industry standards like Business Process Model and Notation for creating these diagrams, so if you are getting serious about business process improvement you will probably want to upskill in these.  

The next (and final) post in this series is a Q&A with my workmate Susan Tegg, about how she she applies business process improvement skills as part of her job as the Team Leader, Library Technology Services at Griffith University.

Getting started with business process improvement

Read: Marlon Dumas (2013), Fundamentals of Business Process Management (available to borrow)

Read: Lenore England and Stephen Miller (2015). Maximizing Electronic Resources Management in Libraries: Applying Business Process Management (not widely available, but you could try to get an interlibrary loan from UTS)

Experiment: Drawing tools such as Microsoft Visio (free trial available), LucidChart ( or Google Drawings or another free tool
Enrol: QUT online 3-week course: Business Process Management: An Introduction to Process Thinking (free, or pay $109 to upgrade with a certificate, freedom to complete in your own timeline and ongoing access to the course materials)
Source: Documents from your organisation that you can use as templates
Find: A business analyst to talk to about what they do

30 June 2017

IT skills for librarians: Q&A with Julie Toohey (Griffith University) about change management

This post is Number 6 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

For this post I asked my colleague Julie Toohey about how she got started building her skills in change management, and how this fits within her current role as a Health Discipline Librarian in Griffith University's Library and Learning Services.

Thank you, Julie!

Can you briefly describe your your current role and your career pathway to where you are now? 

I initially started at Griffith twenty-two years ago as a casual library clerk and at the time was studying for a library technician diploma however a Librarian talked me into a degree instead and I've never looked back.

I've worked in many different types of positions over the years and currently I am the Health Discipline Librarian for the Gold Coast campus. I've also taken on many secondment opportunities which at times seemed scary but I did so to develop a wider, more relevant skill set. Sometimes you just need to jump in with both eyes wide shut!

Secondment opportunities have included Team Leader for Acquisition Team, Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC) Coordinator, Senior Change Manager for the Griffith Experts project; and Library and Learning Services Manager, Sciences.

Stepping outside the organisation I also had the opportunity to co-facilitate the national Australian National Data Service Health and Medical Data 23 Things Research Data Webinar series with Kate LeMay. The series was held over a 10 month period.

What were the circumstances that led you to identify change management as something that you wanted or needed to develop further?

Basically I was approached by my Director to take on the Senior Change Manager role for she believed I had the necessary skill set to achieve objective outcomes.  She also felt that I:

a) was good at engaging/communicating with the academic community
b) understood the structure of the university
c) understood the politics of institution
d) wasn’t afraid to keep moving on, and
e) genuinely liked dealing with people.

I firmly believed in the product [Griffith Experts] and I was up for the challenge.  And I really admire my Director and I didn't want to let her down.

What formal or informal development options were available to you to develop your change management skills and knowledge? How did you initially get going, and do you have plans to continue to develop in this area?

I completed a Project Management workshop in 2014 and I also minored in Business so even though I’ve never worked as a Change Manager before, I’ve always been aware of the importance of the role. Managing change is not just about communication plans, milestones and tasks, it’s also about managing people, their expectations and their emotions. And pressure. It’s also about managing pressure and being accountable.

In addition to the new role, I was also required to join a new team in the Project and Planning Office reporting directly to the Project Manager. It was a very steep learning curve for not only was I learning a new role within a new team, I also had to learn project language! Luckily the other Project Change Manager was an extremely gentle and patient young woman who never once showed signs of frustration or hair pulling when endlessly asked to explain project language and processes.

Once the project was completed, I returned to my Health Librarian role and whilst I don’t have change management in my formal professional development plan, I’d certainly jump at it again if approached.

Can you briefly describe what change management involves? What kinds of tasks or activities have you undertaken as a practitioner of this skill? Are there specific methodologies or tools that are commonly used?

When I first started the Change Manager role, I was handed the large task of completing the project Communication Plan so I had to absorb all project objectives/deliverables fairly quickly.

When developing the Communication Plan, we were required to identify project stakeholders, project user group members, discipline area champions (those who would support our product once we were in go-live stage); decide upon a communication methodology; identify project key messages and challenges and develop a communication rollout/schedule. The work done around the Communication Plan was work completed prior to project roll-out. Once completed, we then had to start implementing it.

Post project go-live date, it was a case of ongoing marketing across all Griffith academic community, delivering workshops and drop in sessions which created an extreme amount of stakeholder and end user management.

In terms of tools we were required to raise issues/bugs via the Project Team service desk tool requesting developers to resolve/acknowledge/close issues. "Not within scope of project" was a term I heard often and burnt into my memory.  Nowadays I I even manage to use it at home, i.e. Question: "What’s for dinner tonight?" Response: "Dinner is not within tonight’s project scope".

How do you feel change management ‘fits’ with the other skills and knowledge that you bring to your professional practice as a librarian?

Change management skills worked nicely with my Health Discipline Librarian role.  The project I worked on was an institutional profile system and the objectives of the project aligned closely to my own in terms of my role i.e. I’m passionate about raising Griffith’s profile as an institution and also raising our individual researchers’ profiles.

I’m generally task orientated and spend considerable time managing the relationships with researchers and their expectations which lends itself nicely with a change management role. The opportunity to encourage academics to embrace their profile was pretty special.

How do you and your organisation benefit from your having change management skills in your toolkit?

Personally I learnt a lot about myself and my capabilities whilst working as a change manager and it opened my eyes to the pressures of project work. After spending many years in the same role, people can become complacent and don’t tend to stretch themselves.

Since returning from the project, I push myself constantly to deliver over and beyond the boundaries of my role. I’m a lot more adaptable and embracing of change. The change management role has allowed me to grow and my toolkit is a lot better off because of the experience for I now feel more adaptable, more relevant and remain competitive.

What advice would you give to a new professional starting out who had an interest in change management? Can you suggest any no- or low-cost professional development options that are available?

If you have a project team in your organisation try to jump on-board. Also if you have access/ability to attend change management or project management workshops then put up your hand.  You could share your interest with your Team Leader/Manager and have it written into your professional development plan as a long term goal.

There is also quite a large amount of literature on change management to consult.

29 June 2017

IT skills for librarians: change management

This post is Number 5 of 8 in a series arising from a presentation 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

Change management is an IT skill that I wish more librarians were interested in. In 2013 I spent six months seconded to a project that was implementing collaborative research data storage services. It was one of the most rewarding professional experiences I have ever had.

I got an enormous amount of satisfaction out of being the 'bridge' between a group of highly skilled IT professionals with a fantastic service to offer and the group of researchers who could really make use that service if they only knew it existed. I've blogged before about some of my experiences on this project, in particular around developing a communications and marketing campaign to launch a new product.


The name for this skill in SFIA is "Change implementation planning and management" which is a bit of a mouthful! SFIA defines it like this:

The definition and management of the process for deploying and integrating new digital capabilities into the business in a way that is sensitive to and fully compatible with business operations.
In this context we're not talking about the management of organisational change such as restructures, but rather the set of activities in an IT project that make sure the people who will use a new or upgraded product or service are aware of what’s happening and able to respond to the changes.

I’m sure you’ve all experienced in your study or work life what happens when an IT product is replaced or upgraded without attention being paid to communicating with the people who need to use it. It's pretty annoying at an individual level, and at a macro level it has serious consequences for organisations. One recent report from the US Project Management Institute had some pretty shocking findings: two in five projects did not meet their original goals, and of those, half the failures were related to ineffective communications. This study found that projects with poor communication were far more likely to run over time and over budget.

As an information professional, change management offers you the ability to contribute to the successful rollout of new products and services by ensuring everyone is committed and has the information and training they need.

In the early stages of a project you would be involved in analysing all the parties that will be affected by or interested in the outcome of the project, and coming up with strategies to ensure that their needs will be met throughout the project. This can get get pretty complicated on a larger and more complex project, as the parties could be everyone from senior managers, who may require an monthly email or a briefing paper, through to users of the service who will need frequent and more detailed information if a change is going to affect the way that they do their work.

Later in the project you might coordinate with communication and marketing specialists to produce different kinds of collateral such as printed materials and online self-help guides and videos, as well as a plan for social media. You could be involved in developing a budget for a launch campaign, and working out how you will measure whether your campaign has been successful (sign-ups for a new service, increased usage, positive feedback etc).

You might also be involved in developing and implementing training programs, which could range from very light-touch opt-in approaches through to mandatory training programs for large numbers of people. These could be developed face-to-face, online through webinars, or via self-directed learning (e.g. an online module). Again, there will be costs associated with these that may need a budget to be prepared and endorsed.

In terms of required skills, change managers need to be great communicators - you need to be able to negotiate, persuade and influence. Your ability to tailor messages to different audiences is key. It's also helpful to have an understanding of how projects work (and particularly any methodologies that are used in your organisation). Change management is now a fairly well-established discipline with its own professional bodies, and there are different theoretical models and ideas about best practice that are interesting to learn about.

Below you will find links to some free or low-cost options for learning more about this area. In the next post I'll be talking to Julie Toohey, a librarian who has worked as a change manager and has lots more great advice.

Getting started in change management 

Watch: Lynda.com (free trial) Change Management course, especially the section on change management in projects

Read: Esther Cameron and Mike Green (2015), Making sense of change management : a complete guide to the models, tools & techniques of organizational change (available to borrow)

Find: A project manager or change manager that you can talk to

Follow: @Prosci

28 June 2017

IT skills for librarians: Q&A with Suzy Bailey (Griffith University) about user experience

This post is Number 4 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

For this post I asked my colleague Suzanne Bailey about how she got started building her skills in user experience (UX), and how this fits within her current role as the Resource Discovery Specialist in Griffith University's Library and Learning Services.

Thank you, Suzy!

Can you briefly describe your your current role and your career pathway to where you are now?

My current role is Resource Discovery Specialist at Griffith University.

At parties, this conversation thread usually dwindles into silence as I struggle to explain what I do. My husband usually interjects to joke that I’m a geologist in the mining industry and we laugh and move on…but here goes...

My role is focused on ensuring a good user experience when researching using our online systems. On a practical level that involves search tool optimisation; exposing content to Google and other indexing tools; and ensuring usability of library websites and applications with a focus on user-centered design techniques. It’s an overarching role that involves liaison with a number of portfolios and external vendors because I’m not directly responsible for the many of the systems and sites I’m advising on. I need to be persistent, logical and provide evidence to justify changes.

Straight out of school, I studied a Bachelor of International Business with a Japanese major, then I dropped out of a Bachelor of IT to enrol in a Post Graduate Diploma in Library and Information Science. After graduating University, I spent 10 years at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). My permanent position was as a part-time Reference librarian, but I was seconded to various positions including:
  • Liaison librarian
  • Document delivery supervisor
  • Library systems officer
  • Project officer
  • Information systems tutor
While I worked, I completed a Masters of Information Technology. With a newly acquired home loan and the imminent threat of returning to part-time work, I applied for a six-month contract at Griffith as a Web Developer for the Library Management System Project. QUT generously allowed me to take a cross-institutional secondment, and then agreed to extend it, twice! I accepted my ongoing position at Griffith soon after.

What were the circumstances that led you to identify user experience as something that you wanted or needed to develop further?

At QUT I was very fortunate to work on a number of projects, most notably a 12-month website redevelopment project where I had the opportunity to work with a passionate human-computer interaction expert.

She was devoted to user research and I learnt many techniques - but more importantly a cure to my indecisiveness! It’s great to be able to make informed decisions based on actual data. I’ve sat in many a meeting with colleagues arguing about button colours and wording. Being a fairly passive person, my nature is to let the more dominant personality make the decision.

User experience (UX) analysis changed all that. When you hear a user verbalise that they think we close at lunch time (when the website says 12am), you can easily argue to change 12am to midnight.

What formal or informal development options were available to you to develop your user experience skills and knowledge? How did you initially get going, and do you have plans to continue to develop in this area?

In terms of getting started, it was really informal - watching and learning from other people. I watched recordings of usability studies at my workplace and got involved in the analysis, eventually building up the confidence to run them myself.

Whenever I attended a conference such as VALA I always went to the UX streams. I followed speakers on Twitter, read their blogs - many of them informally publish their UX investigations including techniques and outcomes. For example Matthew Reidsma of Grand Valley State University or The Futurelib Innovation Programme at the University of Cambridge. Obviously there are also the formal avenues, such as Weave: Journal of Library User Experience.

A very passionate University Librarian once recommended the book Paper Prototyping by Carolyn Snyder. It features some great low tech user centered design activities. Do you like craft?

Writing for the web training was mandated by my employer, and they funded attendance at various workshops over the years on topics such as design thinking and UX research methods. These workshops have always had a library bent however and in the future I’d really like to get inspiration from some other industries through attendance at UX Australia.

Can you briefly describe what user experience involves? What kinds of tasks or activities have you undertaken as a practitioner of this skill? Are there specific methodologies or tools that are commonly used?

User experience is how someone feels when using a product or service. Touchpoints include: website, signage, staff, space, emails, databases, furniture, hardware, recorded phone messages, public announcements and so on. Do these touchpoints result in high quality user experience?

There are many techniques used to analyse this, but the most common is probably task based usability testing. This involves asking users to complete an common task (for example renewing their loans) and watching what they do and what problems they encounter. There is a specific protocol to follow and development of appropriate tasks is important. It can be a time consuming process - but well worth it.

There are online tools such as Loop11 to enable you to test remotely, rather than face-to-face. The usability test is usually combined with an interview which can uncover attitudes and opinions.

Another commonly used technique is card sorting. It’s traditionally used to create information architectures for websites because it allows you to find out how people think your content should be organised or grouped. I frequently use OptimalSort to collect data and semi-automate the analysis. But coloured post its on a black wall look way more fun.


Other techniques I use regularly include observation, cognitive mapping and user journey mapping. The list of potential techniques is long….

What’s important in all techniques - and I’ve noticed librarians tend to struggle with this - is that there are no wrong answers and you must resist the urge to correct or show the user the ‘right way’. Almost the opposite of what I did as a reference librarian…

How do you feel user experience ‘fits’ with the other skills and knowledge that you bring to your professional practice as a librarian?

The NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Library Edition identifies valuing the user experience as a short-term trend driving technology adoption in academic and research libraries over the next one to two years. So, my skillset is trendy!

But with no culture of user experience analysis in a workplace, you still need persuasive/influencing skills to affect change. Position descriptions or selection criteria often require you to demonstrate problem solving skills. UX work demonstrates effective problem solving because it requires you to recognise and identify the nature of the problem; structure and look for solutions; make a decision about the best solution and implement it; then review the outcome. These skills are a good fit with IT troubleshooting, business process analysis and a client focus.

How do you and your organisation benefit from your having user experience skills in your toolkit?

I think it allows us to be proactive rather than reactive. Librarians spend hours supposing why statistic x is going up/down and how we might reverse that trend; hours reviewing feedback from surveys, trying to working out exactly what a cryptic response was referring to and how we could improve.

The thing is, people are not very good at accurately self-reporting their behaviour. Having user experience analysis skills can help to get to the core of the issue and (hopefully) results in better products and services.

What advice would you give to a new professional starting out who had an interest in user experience? Can you suggest any no- or low-cost professional development options that are available?

Volunteer to be a participant! If you’re a student, keep an eye out for recruitment campaigns on your institution’s website. Some professional organisations/consultants also recruit paid participants - think Mystery Shopper. Professional UX consultants often use some of the more expensive UX technology - like eye tracking - which you’re unlikely to be able to afford in a library environment, so it’s quite eye opening. Pardon the pun.

Library Juice Academy offer a number of low-cost courses. I’d start with Writing for the Web or DIY Usability Testing.

And of course, there are many great free resources like Usability.gov or Design Thinking for Libraries: a toolkit for patron-centered design.

Oh and play around with free trials to online tools like Loop11 or Optimal Workshop - their documentation is quite comprehensive.

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.