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

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  • Table of Contents
  • About the authors
  • Reviews

Useful, useable, desirable: like three legs of a stool, if your library is missing the mark on any one of these it's bound to wobble. Every decision you make affects how people experience your library. In this useful primer, user experience (UX) librarians Schmidt and Etches identify 19 crucial touchpoints such as the library website, email, furniture, parking lot, events, and newsletters. They explain why each is important to your library's members and offer guidance on how to make improvements. From library administrators to public relations and marketing staff, anyone concerned with how members experience your library will benefit from this book's

  • Coverage of the eight principles of library UX design, explaining how they can guide you to better serve your library's members
  • Advice on simple, structured ways to evaluate and improve aspects such as physical space, service points, policies and customer service, signage and wayfinding, online presence, and using the library
  • Scorecard system for self evaluation, which includes methods for determining how much time, effort, and skill will be involved in getting optimum performance

Easy to dip into as the need arises, this book points the way towards ensuring that your library is a welcoming space for everyone.


1. Introducing Library User Experience

1.1       What Is User Experience Design?

1.2       Why UX for Libraries?

1.3       The Trinity of Good UX

1.4       The Principles of Library User Experience Design

1.5       How to Use This Book

1.6       A Note on Terminology

2. User Research Techniques in This Book

2.1       Attitudinal and Behavioral Research

2.2       Other User Research Techniques

2.3       Additional Reading

3. Physical Space

3.1       The Library Building Is Clean and Functions as Intended

3.2       The Library Building Is Free from Clutter

3.3       Furniture Adequately Supports Member Needs

3.4       The Building Supports Diverse Behaviors

3.5       Members Have Easy Access to Power Outlets

4. Service Points

4.1       Members Readily Approach Service Desks

4.2       Service Desks Adjust to Changing Needs

4.3       Members Receive Assistance When and Where They Need It

4.4       Members Receive the Kind of Assistance They Need

4.5       Additional Reading

5. Policies and Customer Service

5.1       Your Library Has a Service Philosophy

5.2       Your Staff Members Know and Live Your Service Philosophy

5.3       There Is as Little Policy as Possible

5.4       Library Policies Empower Staff

5.5       Staff Members Are Friendly and Genuinely Want to Help

5.6       Service Is Consistent across Departments and Modalities

5.7       Service Is Consistent across the Organization

6. Signage and Wayfinding

6.1       Your Library Has a Brand Manual That Is Consistent with the Principles of Graphic Design

6.2       All Signage Uses the Same Visual Language

6.3       Different Types of Signs Are Visually Distinct

6.4       There Are as Few Signs as Possible

6.5       There Are No Paper Signs Taped to Walls, Doors, Tables, Computers, or Any Other Surfaces

6.6       Regulatory Signs Are Written in a Plain, Polite, and Friendly Manner

6.7       Library Cards Contain Useful Information and Employ the Library's Visual Language

6.8       First-Time Visitors Can Easily Locate All Parts of the Library

6.9       Additional Reading

7. Online Presence

7.1       Members Can Easily Search for Library Items and Place Holds

7.2       Members Can Easily Accomplish Critical Tasks

7.3       The Size of Your Website Is Commensurate with the Amount of Effort You Can Devote to It

7.4       Web Content Is Engaging

7.5       Content Is Written for the Web

7.6       Website Employs Web Design Conventions

7.7       Home Page Clearly Expresses What People Can Do on Your Site

7.8       Website Is Easy to Use on All Devices

7.9       Website Employs the Library's Visual Language

7.10     You Use Social Media in Meaningful Ways

7.11     Additional Reading

8. Using the Library

8.1       The Technology in Your Library Is Relevant, Useful, and Usable

8.2       Collections Are Relevant to Member Needs

8.3       Marketing Materials Are Relevant to Member Needs

8.4       You Merchandize Your Materials

8.5       Library Services and Programs Solve Problems

8.6       Additional Reading

9. Wrapping Up: Philosophy, Process, and Culture

9.1       Whole Library Thinking

9.2       The Design Process

9.3       Your Organizational Culture

9.4       Parting Words


Appendix: Keeping Score



Aaron Schmidt

In the past fifteen years, Aaron Schmidt has been a circulation clerk, reference librarian, and library director. Currently, he is the principal of Influx Library User Experience Consulting, a lecturer at the San Jose School of Library and Information Science, and writes a column called “The User Experience” for Library Journal. Current projects include a UX guided overhaul of the Chapel Hill Public Library and coaching 10 libraries in Florida through UX improvement projects. Schmidt serves on the editorial board for Weave: The Journal of Library User Experience, and he coauthored the book Useful, Usable and Desirable, a guide to applying UX to libraries. He has presented internationally on the topic of library innovation and design.

Amanda Etches

Amanda Etches is the Head of Discovery and Access at the University of Guelph Library, where she spends her time guiding teams and projects that are all about making the overall library experience better for users, both in-person and online. She is also part of Influx, a user experience consultancy that works with libraries. She has an MA in English Literature and an MISt in Library and Information Science, both from the University of Toronto. Amanda frequently writes and presents on web design, usability, and user experience practices and trends. She tweets @etches and blogs intermittently at, two places where you are likely to find her feeling guilty about having so much fun doing exactly what she is supposed to do.

"Readers will find much to digest to improve their users' experiences."
— Technical Services Quarterly

"This manual of sorts is often both pithy and observant … Librarians, or anyone with a vested interest in libraries, will greatly enjoy this book. I found it to be a motivating and refreshing read, and I believe that others will feel the same. Schmidt and Etches's book allows librarians to look at their libraries with fresh eyes, and it encourages them to reimagine their library with an open mind."
— Serials Review

"This is an excellent introduction to user experience design for libraries and embodies the authors' own advice in being particularly usable and useful ... The clear, accessible yet entertaining writing style is enjoyable to read."
— Australian Library Journal

"This book is thoughtfully written and organized and is so loaded with great ideas that you will be hard-pressed to finish reading the book before rushing out to start making changes. By providing what is effectively a workbook with detailed instructions for assessment and user research, you will discover myriad opportunities for improvement in your libraries."
— Journal of Library Innovation

"This is a killer manual for any library staff member to have at your desk, no matter what your job is ... This book covers the gamut of library user experiences: your physical space, service points, policies and customer services, signage and wayfinding, online presence, and using the library. I could probably work for the next year on bringing our library into alignment with the principles outlined in this book, and I can honestly say it would be a year well-spent. For some achievable ideas for how to make your community's experience in your library better, try this book out. An investment that will keep paying you back every time you make an improvement."
Librarian In Black