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Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Resource Guide Collection

Elements of UX: A Librarian's Guide to User Experience Design

It's all about empathy

"The key to making things understandable is to understand what it's like to not understand."
- Richard Saul Wurman (architect, author, and designer)

"[Apply empathy] not in the 'how can I figure out what motivates these people so I can get them to do what I want' way, but more in the 'understand the position they find themselves in' way."
- Steve Krug, Don't Make Me Think

Understanding the particular needs, desires, and goals of your patrons is essential to creating a good user experience for them. It's equally important to learn what's not working out for your patrons right now. So how do you do that?

Listen (and talk) to them.
To get the conversation going or lay the groundwork for more serious study, try surveys, focus groups, or user interviews. The drawback to these types of feedback is that they don't allow for observation of actual behavior.

Watch and learn.
UX depends on knowing how people truly use devices, services, and spaces - and that means you'll need to learn how to observe. Get out there and take notice of how people are interacting with a self-check machine, the way they look and respond to a seasonal display, or how the chairs and tables in a reading area get rearranged every day.

Try journey mapping.
Before a person comes to your building to find an item or attend a program, they've already interacted with the library in some way. Maybe they found out about the event from a Facebook or website post. If they're coming in to pick up a book they reserved, they've placed a hold on your catalog website and probably received an email notification letting them know it's available. They find a space in your parking lot, or maybe they have to circle the block a few times to find something on the street.

Thinking about all the steps in the process of completing any activity or using any service can help you better understand the potential "pain points" in the user experience.


A persona is a representation of a major user group in your library or organization. You will probably need to develop several personas to capture the majority of your users.

Here's an example: Henriettah, the persona we used to help us create this workshop. We built this little character sheet with Xtensio.

Description of Henriettah, a typical library conference attendee