c a l *

 |  ux @ mla debrief // weekend wanderers

This was a crazy week, given the two days I spent in Hyannis for the 2016 Massachusetts Library Association conference. My colleague, our library building specialist, and I led a talk-slash-workshop on Wednesday about taking user experience stuff to libraryland. We gave a crash course in UX as applied in both digital and physical situations, then we coerced participants to partner up with a stranger, interview them, and draw two quick sketches (one of their interview partner; one of something that stood out in their interview).

Post-it notes, impromptu chocolate showers, and the token cute animal slide were involved. Considering this was both the first time I'd ever spoken at a conference and the first time we tried the workshop component with people outside our office, I'd say it was a success. In an effort to nip my raging impostor syndrome in the bud, I'm not going to dwell on the things I would've preferred to go differently - I'll just file those away privately for next time.

Post it notes used for wayfinding to our conference session
The exhibit hall and most of the conference rooms were kinda far from where we were scheduled to present, so we provided wayfinding.

What I will say is that I'm concerned people find UX too jargony...or worse, too startuppy. We tried to keep terminology at a minimum; really, just "touchpoints" and "personas" were the only two pieces of vocab we touched on, and I'd say those are the lion's share of it. In terms of it being too startuppy, I get that, what with the design thinking renaissance we're all basting in right now.

But I think the underlying message and rhetoric of UX design has a clear place at the library table in 2016. The profession is undergoing a holistic paradigm shift, from the services we offer to the buildings we provide them in. The days of the "fortress" circulation desk, the literal and metaphorical moats separating the riffraff from the expensive stacks, and the "just because" policies are over. In order to know what to do with ourselves, we have to know who we're working for, what they want to do, and how we can help them. And there's no one-size-fits-all solution for this; the library-as-community-center is a mirror held up to the community, meaning it's a thing as unique and distinct as the town or city or census-designated place around it.

Even if the thought of interviews and ethnographies and contextual inquiry horrifies us, we can still suspend our professional minds and work towards creating services that are transparent and intuitive to lifelong library users, people who've drifted away, people who've never been, people who need us the most. There's been great research into the different roles libraries play throughout the lives of their users; we can chew that over for inspiration with marketing, collection development, event planning, furniture layouts, and community partnerships.

I love May - the first semi-reliably nice month in the northeast, brimming with graduations and street festivals and unruly plant life. Everyone seems so happy on the sunny days, like we've all breathed a collective sigh of relief and begun congratulating one another on our ability to get through another cycle of 4 p.m. sunsets and windswept weeks of gray.

Somerville doesn't hold back in the spring - three weekends ago, we were prowling around artist spaces during Somerville Open Studios; this week, there was Porchfest. For the uninitiated, it's a day-long festival of local bands playing on porches, patios, and parks around town. A 20-plus-piece New Orleans-style brass band was the clear highlight for me; they're also known for playing HONK!, another yearly Camberville tradition that describes itself as a "festival of activist street bands."

Porchfest performance in front of Somerville Public Library
The Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band fills people with delirious joy in front of the Somerville Public Library.

And wouldn't you know it, the Friends of the Somerville Public Library were hosting their yearly spring book sale inside. There were the usual hidden gems, plus I finally made a move towards becoming a Friend, now that I know I can. I'm excited; they're doing a bike-the-branches kind of thing in a couple weeks, which is very up my alley.

cover of Writing and Computers, book from 1985
Classic book sale find, complete with amazing 1985 cover art.

We sat on the baseball diamond at Trum Field and ate tacos from Petiscos, a hole-in-the-wall in Magoun Square I've probably walked past a bajillion times but never noticed. The shrimp ceviche filling was unreal. The guy at the counter told us that Medford Street was going to go into drinking-in-the-street block party mode around dinnertime, but we had to take off for a downtown-ish graduation party.

We celebrated très-Boston style in the special event room at the Union Oyster House (allegedly the oldest continually-operating restaurant in the US). That whole place revels in its Era of Good Feelings splendor and Massachusetts-ness; it's a cobblestone's throw away from Faneuil Hall and its red rooftop sign does attract the tourists, but the food is superb. In the event room, there's a three-dimensional map of Boston from before the great re-landscaping of the North End and Back Bay (on the right side in the picture below).

Event room at Union Oyster House

Today was a day of chilling and grilling... and not being able to resist the siren song of Wegmans in Burlington. While there, I spotted a fine example of user-driven produce design:

gumball machine style dispensers for tomatoes at Wegmans
The gumball machine-esque grape tomato dispenser at Wegmans.

A bit much? Maybe. But Wegmans is the Disneyland of grocery stores. They know how to make people feel that freedom of choice.

home |  top

Hey Cal, why is there no comments section? Comments sections have a tendency to devolve into nasty little spaces, teeming with spam & ad hominem attacks. I also have a fondness for the 1.0 Web (props to Neocities, powerer of this site). If you'd like to share your thoughts, find me on Twitter or fire off an email. Thanks!