UX Libs II Conference - Jo Alcock Consulting
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UX Libs II Conference

UX Libs II Conference

I was recently fortunate enough to attend the UX Libs II Conference in sunny Manchester (well, it was sunny one of the days!). For anyone not aware, the UX Libs events are for people interested in user experience (UX) research. The first UX Libs Conference was held in Cambridge last year, which sadly I wasn’t able to attend but I followed the tweets from afar.

The first conference focused predominantly on sharing different methods you can use to support UX research and was very practical in focus (attendees were assigned teams to work on a research project in one of Cambridge’s libraries). The second conference focused more on sharing what had happened since the first conference (a lot!) as well as a group challenge on advocacy to help us think about ways to engage others in the approach.

It was a packed schedule (I’m really not a fan of 9am starts!), and we were kept very busy; the variety of different types of activities was good. We had keynote presentations, practical presentations, group work, and workshops. I really enjoyed both workshops I attended and wish I could have attended all four!

There’s a lot I want to digest from the conference, but my initial points to share are listed below:

Thinking about our own user experiences can help us reflect on what library users may be experiencing
I do this a lot when I’m away – I had a fantastic experience at Hershey a few weeks ago for example and it caused me to think more about the type of experience I can offer, as well as the experience libraries can offer – in a similar way that my trip to Disney and Universal did (I previously blogged about this). I was really impressed with the way the attendee badges were personalised (thank you Matt!) and it was nice to see the organising committee thinking about how to enhance our experience (the badges wished speakers good luck for their session for example, a very nice touch).

Training and encouragement is crucial to the success of a UX project (and I would imagine any research)
This was a particularly key point in one of my favourite sessions from the conference, Helen Murphy and Rachel Claire Walker’s session on what they learnt from their UX research across a number of libraries at University of Cambridge. Their main lesson was the fact that staff in the libraries they were working with would have appreciated more training and encouragement, and this finding was echoed in many of the other practical workshops. Even if we’re familiar with a research method (but especially if we’re not!) the importance of support and encouragement can’t be underestimated in my opinion.

Different types of research outputs are to be encouraged
Something that was mentioned in quite a few of the keynotes and workshops was the fact that the best form of research output isn’t always a huge written report (thank goodness, most of us sigh in relief!). There are some people who love writing long reports, and some who love reading them, but for the most part it’s far more likely that people will want the highlights from the research in summary form, with additional data should they want to delve deeper. Research findings may be shared using presentation (by that I’m including slides but also just verbal presentations), an executive summary document, a blog post, an infographic, or simply by sharing recommendations. The main point here was to consider the needs of those who will be using the research outputs as well as the time taken to produce the research output (to ensure the findings are still relevant).

Failure should be embraced and shared more openly
This is something I was so pleased to see encouraged at the conference. I’ve been saying for a while now that I’d love to organise an event where people shared the things that haven’t quite gone as planned, a Library Fail Conference if you will. Somehow I think selling this to some people could be tricky! UX Libs took an interesting approach to this though, with the workshops falling into either ‘Nailed’ (things that have gone well), ‘Failed’ (things that haven’t gone so well), and ‘Derailed’ (things that have adapted or been delayed). Excellent rhyming there too; I approve. It’s so useful to share these things though, to take time to reflect on why and learn from this ourselves, and also to share with others to help them as well as get insight from them if they have experienced similar. Most session proposals were for ‘Nailed’ sessions, but I think (and hope!) we might see that changing over time at future conferences (not just UX Libs Conferences) as we become more comfortable with sharing the things that haven’t gone so well.

We are all leaders
We were asked by Donna Lanclos at the opening keynote of the conference to raise our hands if we are leaders. About half the room raised their hands, when in fact she argued everyone should have. I support the notion that we are all leaders in some way – whether that be leading a team, leading a service, leading a project, leading change… (I actually asked the same question at my SLA workshop and also argued that everyone should have raised their hand!). Over the conference there was quite a lot of discussion about leadership and change management and we were encouraged to consider how to do this in our own roles and in our own organisations. It’s not easy by any means, but it’s crucial to develop our services and keep current.

Librarians are great
As with many of the lessons I learned, this wasn’t anything new, but a very pertinent reminder. The result of the EU Referendum was the final day of the conference and it certainly had an impact on the mindset of many of us that day. I found it very odd to wake up in a hotel on my own to the news that the UK had voted to leave the EU. I was disappointed (I’d voted to remain), and felt very out of sorts about why my vote was in a minority, and what implications the result of the vote might have. When I got to the conference I felt instantly comforted by the supportive environment of others there, who were going through similar thoughts but were there to offer hugs and reassurance that whatever happens to the future of the country, as librarians we will continue to share and help each other, within the UK and further afield. Hooray for librarians! 🙂

My conference experience

I started the conference with this tweet:

You can probably guess what’s coming:

So I may have gone against my goal of not presenting by volunteering to present for my team, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the UX Libs II conference. I particularly enjoyed the workshops in the second afternoon, which enabled me to do some (terrible) drawing, and some highly important foam crimping. Aside from the silliness, I learnt a lot in both these workshops.

Process interview with picture. My drawing is terrible but useful process! #uxlibs

A photo posted by Jo Alcock (@joeyanne) on


Doing some crimping in Andy’s cultural probes workshop (photo from Andy’s blog)

What next?

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to put many of the ethnographic research methods into practice in my work yet, but would love to do so in future. I do a lot of interviews in my current role, but they’re mostly over the phone (and usually with librarians). I’d love to do more in person interviews with users and use additional prompts (whether it be observations or things like cognitive maps).

I’m also still fascinated about whether libraries can learn from the retail world and would love to do some experimental research into this. For example, does changing the layout of part of the library change how people use the space? Do changes in layout/book storage/availability of bags affect borrowing? Has anyone done any research into this sort of thing in your library, or would you like to? Let me know if so!

Thanks to all involved in making UX Libs a thoroughly enjoyable conference 🙂

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