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April 22, 2014 / Charlie McNabb

OLA Day 2: Assessment and UX and Online Identity, Oh My!

Last week, I had the tremendous pleasure of attending the 2014 Oregon Library Association annual conference in Salem. The three-day conference included keynote speakers, multiple sessions to choose from, exhibits, showcases, and plenty of opportunity for socializing at receptions and meals. On Thursday, April 17, I attended the keynote address and three thought-provoking sessions.

Keynote Address

The day began with an inspiring keynote address by retired New Jersey State Librarian Norma Blake and Mount Laurel Library Director (New Jersey) Kathy Schalk-Greene. Following the conference’s theme of “the inside out library,” the two discussed ways to transform the library through “inside” tasks like programming and displays and “outside” tasks like collaborating with community organizations.

I really appreciated hearing first-hand experiences with innovative advocacy like Snapshot Days, telling the story of a day in the life of the library in order to demonstrate the library’s value to the community. I also came away with low- and no-cost ideas for making the library a more welcoming place, such as aggressive weeding and effective signage.

Creating delight should always be a top priority

Creating delight should always be a top priority

The State of Library Assessment in Oregon

Next, I attended a presentation by Rick Stoddart (Oregon State University), Meredith Farkas (Portland State University), Lorie Vik (Eugene Public Library), and Sara Seely (Portland Community College) about library assessment techniques. Rick Stoddart started by defining assessment as a collaborative process that involves continual learning and re-learning about the library. Common assessment priorities are information literacy, reference, interlibrary loan, collections, technology, and so forth.

Meredith Farkas shared a whiteboard feedback project she participated in at Portland State University. Three large whiteboards with prompts were set up in strategic areas of the library during the last week of classes. Students provided a lot of feedback—interestingly, boards that were in high-traffic areas away from the circulation desk saw more action, probably because students were loathe to give negative critique within eyesight of staff. At the end of the week, answers were put into a simple spreadsheet and analyzed for themes and frequency. This no-cost assessment provided compelling insight into what students need and how the library can better meet their needs.

Whiteboard prompts

Whiteboard prompts

Lorie Vik discussed an assessment project designed to communicate value to stakeholders. City of Eugene employees have frequent information needs that could be located for free at the Eugene Public Library, but a lack of knowledge prevents these free resources from being used. She created a needs assessment that she emailed to different City organizations to help her tailor presentations and a “Popular Resources” intranet page. Determining specific community needs is so important to be able to show how our services are relevant. I suspect that needs assessments like this one could have the potential to radically change library websites from being useful for librarians to being more useful for patrons.

Finally, Sara Seeley talked about tying assessment to information literacy instruction. During a term-long info lit course at Portland Community College, she helped students learn how to locate and evaluate information for authority, currency, reliability, reasoning, and validity. Toward the end of the term, after students had an opportunity to practice research skills, she performed a source selection survey designed to query how students select sources and what words they use to describe a “good” source. By allowing them to use their own words, she forced them to really consider how they go about choosing sources, instead of just picking what sounded like the best answer from a list. After coding the responses, the top three that emerged were “credibility,” “content,” and “format.” Still, despite having a seemingly decent grasp on what makes a good source, many students didn’t select the best source. I think we’ve all had it hammered into our heads that peer-reviewed journals are the best scholarly source, and many students automatically go for that option, even when the content is not relevant to the information need. Food for thought, especially now that scholarly sources are proliferating in the digital world in various formats.

Librarians as Designers: User Experience (UX) Thinking

I was very excited about the next session, on UX, and I was not disappointed. Library design consultant Aaron Schmidt gave an engaging and, well, very user friendly presentation on user experience thinking in the library. My prior knowledge of UX was pretty sparse—I knew that it was a framework for design but thought (wrongly) that it was only for technology application.

Aaron started by talking about interaction design and how important it is to really consider every step in a user’s path. Every element that a user interacts with, whether it’s signage, shelving, the OPAC, or a librarian, has an impact on the user. A quote that leapt out at me was “the way our stuff looks affects how people perceive it.” So true! Think about condescending signage, or websites that are impossible to navigate. These experiences are frustrating and lower our opinion of the library. One excellent suggestion was to create a journey map of each step a user has to take to accomplish a task, then do a walkthrough to evaluate each step. In a journey like the one below, the library has several opportunities to create an excellent experience in terms of the physical building, the website, promotional material, technology, and staff.

User journey map

User journey map

User experience is about developing empathy for the user and ensuring services and spaces are easy to use, interesting, and relevant. I love the idea of looking through the patron’s eyes to improve each step of the journey, and I was glad to learn some new techniques for assessing user experience.

Controlling Your Digital Alter Ego: Educating Library Users in Online Identity Management

The final session I attended dealt with online identity, social media literacy, and professional branding. University of Portland professor Eric Anctil had a fabulous (and somewhat terrifying!) presentation about managing our multiple identities and being accountable for our public personae. As technology advances, our expectations about the world change, and our identity changes as we interact with the world through technology. What’s more, the Internet is forever, and every dumb mistake you make is permanent and public once it’s on Facebook.

There is no such thing as untagging

There is no such thing as untagging

So how do we curate our online identities and help our library patrons and students do the same? George Fox University librarian Robin Ashford and Oregon State University librarian Laurie Bridges both shared about social media literacy courses they’ve developed. Laurie has taught orientation courses for freshmen on the topic of online identity management, and Robin has taught a graduate course about developing a professional online identity. Many students have a rich online life and need help figuring out how to brand themselves in a more professional way, but many other students have little experience with social media and need help learning new platforms and understanding how they can be useful for them.

I must confess that I straddle that line, as a millennial who came of age as the Internet was becoming available to the common folk. I had the chance to make most of my adolescent mistakes before I was on Facebook, but became heavily invested in some of the earlier social media and find myself somewhat confused about newer platforms. This presentation gave me some solid tips on how, for example, I could use Twitter professionally.

The takeaway from this presentation for me is that you can’t erase the past—but you can deliberately layer new and better stuff on top of it. Oh, and there’s tons of library networking opportunities on Twitter.

I learned so much from these three sessions and the keynote address. By the end of the day, I was all fired up about library assessment, user experience, and reputation management!

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