User Experience


What is user experience? Dickson-Deane and Chen (2018) write that "user experience determines the quality of an interaction being used by an actor in order to achieve a specific outcome" (Intro section, para 1). Parush (2017) highlights adjacent terms like human-computer interaction (HCI) and usability. Let's say then that HCI encompasses the entire domain of interaction between people and computers and how that interaction is designed and that user experience (UX) focuses on the quality of that interaction. These are not precise definitions. Some might use the terms UX and HCI interchangeably. As ERM librarians, though, the job is to focus on the quality of the patron's experience with electronic services, and this entails understanding both the systems and technologies involved and the users interacting with these systems and technologies.

Dickson-Deane and Chen (2018) outline the parameters involved with UX. Let me modify their example and frame it within the context of an ERM experience for a patron:

  • Actor: A user of the web resource, like a library website.
  • Object: The web resource, or some part of it.
  • Context: The setting.
    • What's happening?
    • What's the motivation for use?
    • What's the background knowledge?
    • What's the action?
  • User Interface: The tools available by the object and the look and feel.
    • More specifically, Parush (2017) states that "the user interface mediates between the user and computer" and it includes three basic components:
      • controls: The tools used to control and interact with the system: buttons, menus, voice commands, keyboards, etc.
      • displays: The information presented to the user or the hardware used to present the information: screens, speakers, etc.
      • interactions and dialogues: The exchange between the system and the user including the use of the controls and responding to feedback.
  • Interaction: What the actor is doing with the UI
  • (Intended/Expected/Prior) User experience: The intended or expected use of the object. The user's expectations based on prior use.
  • (Actual) User experience: The actions that took place; the actions that had to be modified based on unintended results.

These parameters would be helpful for devising a UX study that involves observing patrons interacting with a system and then interviewing them to complete the details. Note that the same kind of systematic thinking can be applied to evaluate other user experiences, like those between a librarian and an electronic resource management system. Often the focus is on patron user experience, but it's just as important to evaluate UX for librarians and to consider UX when selecting an ERM system or an ILS system.

In any case, these parameters help us step through and highlight the complicated process of interacting with a computer, generally, or a library resource, more specifically. As with many other topics we've discussed here, we can also incorporate these parameters into a workflow for evaluating UX.

Complex Library Websites

It is due to the complexities involved and a focus on the systems that Pennington (2015) argues for a more UX centered approach to library website design. Think about your own state of knowledge of ERM before you started learning about this area of librarianship. For example, now that you know somewhat how link resolvers function, your experience using them as patrons and your understanding of their technical aspects as librarians provide you with a set of skills and experiences that make you more likely to identify the cause of a malfunction if you find one. With this ability to suss out an issue, it becomes easier to solve, and the experience itself involves less anxiety. However, most users and patrons of these systems will not have any technical knowledge of these systems. Thus, when these systems break on them, their frustration with the experience might lead to unfortunate outcomes: they may not retrieve the information they need; they may not reach out to a librarian for help; or they may stop using the library's resources in preference for something of inferior quality. We need to remember that this happens, and if possible, to build in proactive troubleshooting processes that anticipate and solve them before they do happen to patrons.

Here's the crux, though. As you gain more skill and expertise with these systems, you will eventually lose the ability to see these systems as a novice user, and that distance will only grow over time. It is therefore, as Pennington (2015) argues, important to gather data from users. User experience research nurtures a user centered mindset.

Indeed, Kraft et al. (2022) used focus groups and surveys to collect user experience data on a library's implementation of its A-Z Database List. The results of this study are interesting. As Kraft et al. (2022) point out, librarians have long made efforts to reduce the use of library terminology in their messaging to patrons, since this only serves as a point of confusion. However, their focus group participants described contrasting opinions about how color was used on the site, and how color was used had some fairly dramatic effects on which sources were selected to pursue.

The Data That Exists

In addition to user studies that require conducting direct research and reading prior studies that require literature searches, we should also know that libraries already possess a wealth of data to explore, and this data could provide needed insight. Here, as we've learned before, workflows play an important role in applying mechanisms to track, report, and fix problems with various electronic resource systems. Browning (2015), for example, describes the use of Bugzilla, software that's commonly used for software development for bug tracking and generating reports about what breaks. Once problems are identified, they can be categorized and assigned to facilitate quick solutions. Thus, whereas one approach is to understand what we can learn from data about usage (Fry, 2016), Browning (2015) describes what we can learn from data about breakage. Both kinds of data offer substantial understanding about user experience.


I agree with McDonald (2016) that despite having around 30 or so years of experience with web-based and other electronic resource types, we are still in the throes of disruption. There's much yet to learn about design for the web, just like there's a lot of left to learn about how to design a home or office, and nothing will be settled for a while. Although I doubt if there will be any single dominate user experience or user interface, since there are many cultures, backgrounds, and aesthetics, I'm fairly sure the low-hanging fruit problems will work out soon enough. Remember though that 95% of the cause of all of this complexity is due to copyright issues, which necessitate the entire electronic resource ecosystem and the complications that introduced by working with vendors who work with different, but overlapping, publishers, etc. If something were to change about copyright, then it's a whole new ballgame.

On a final note, you might be wondering how information seeking is related to HCI and to UX. For example, we learned from Kraft et al. (2022) that color can influence what resources patrons investigate. Anytime we interact with a computer (broadly speaking) in order to seek information, then we have an overlap with UX. There are areas of non-overlap, too. We don't always use computers to look for information, and we don't always look for information on computers. UX is like this, too. UX is not always about computers but can be about user experience generally. I bring this up because if you do become involved with UX work at a library (or elsewhere), then I'd encourage you to refer also to the information seeking and related literature when it's appropriate to do so. Remember, it's all about users and it's also all interconnected.

Readings / References

Browning, S. (2015). Data, Data, Everywhere, nor Any Time to Think: DIY Analysis of E-Resource Access Problems. Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, 27(1), 26–34.

Kraft, A., Scronce, G., & Jones, A. (2022). Virtual focus groups for improved A-Z list user experience. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 48(4), 102541.

Pennington, B. (2015). ERM UX: Electronic Resources Management and the User Experience. Serials Review, 41(3), 194–198.

Additional References

Adams, A. L., & Hanson, M. (2020). Primo on the Go: A Usability Study of the Primo Mobile Interface. Journal of Web Librarianship.

Dickson-Deane, C., & Chen, H.O. (2018). Understanding user experience. In M. Khosrow-Pour (Ed.), *Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology. Fourth Edition pp. 7599–7608. IGI Global.

Hamlett, A., & Georgas, H. (2019). In the Wake of Discovery: Student Perceptions, Integration, and Instructional Design. Journal of Web Librarianship, 13(3), 230–245.

Parush, A. (2017). Human-computer interaction. In S. G. Rogelberg (Ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2nd edition, pp. 669–674). SAGE Publications, Inc.

Pennington, B., Chapman, S., Fry, A., Deschenes, A., & McDonald, C. G. (2016). Strategies to Improve the User Experience. Serials Review, 42(1), 47–58.