students working in a library collaborative space

Focusing on User Experience with Melody Ethley

TL: Would you consider UX to be a lens or an approach, or something else completely?

ME: You know, I would say that it’s all three of those things. But when I hear you say UX lens, I think that captures everything.

During my time at LOC, one day my supervisor advised me to go visit a museum of my choice in DC and explore the space with my UX hat on. And I was thought, “Okay?”. I kind of pondered that concept for a little bit like ‘What does she mean by that?’ I read through the instructions again to grasp a better understanding of the project. I realized I needed to turn up my observation skills to uncover the deeper intentions and hidden decisions behind things that you wouldn’t even think twice about – like where signs are placed, how traffic is intended to flow in a given space, and how people are interacting with and in a space. This exercise unlocked a whole new world of seeing for me. So, you know, in that way it’s like looking at the world through your “UX lens”. 

Ever since I started my career in UX, that’s kind of how I see the world now…which sometimes is good, and other times it’s not. It’s all about finding a balance there. 

But when we’re talking about specific things, I could also say that it’s an approach, too, because then you’re getting into the strategy and the different methods that you use to resolve a problem. I think a lot of UX work is strategy and much of it is invisible to the public. There’s this balance between managing expectations, bias, and all sorts of nuances that come with working with people, while also showing the value brought through user interactions. Sometimes we make assumptions about our users – we think that they need this, or they are using this a certain way when they’re actually not. And so, I feel like that’s where the approach comes into play. It’s all about how you see the problem, understanding the landscape of what you’re working on, who your solutions will impact, and being very strategic and intentional about the way that you move through that. So, I’d say it’s and lens and an approach…that’s my final answer.

TL: What do you see as the big challenges coming into this job?

ME: First, I’d say that not having a formal background in Libraries is a challenge. Sometimes I am not always well-versed on our services and workflows, and at times library jargon will have me on pretty frequently. But it helps that everyone I have met is extremely patient and open to explaining things that might be new concepts to me. I also think that figuring out where to start and prioritizing projects is another thing. I see that there’s a lot of need, but how do I create a balance between all these competing things that I’m trying to do? I’m the type of person who is very aspirational. I think I’m ambitious about a lot of things, but I also want to be realistic about my capacity and the different avenues that I have to go through before trying to make this big change, right? It’s not always about big change. Sometimes, even just the smallest change can be really impactful and long-lasting. One of the things I am navigating right now is communicating around the organization, who I am, what I am trying to do, how I might collaborate with people around the organization. It’s like, you don’t know what you don’t know, yet. And you also don’t know who you don’t know, either. So, meeting everybody and trying to find ways to cohesively spread UX knowledge and maturity here could be a challenge but is a big goal of mine. I don’t want it to be, ‘This area of the library knows exactly what we’re trying to do, knows our vision, while this other area of the library has no idea.’ I want UX to be cohesive and not staggered. It takes a village. I’m still working on a strategy for how to do that elegantly.

TL: Some of the challenge that’s layered on top of this is the fact that you’re coming to this position as we’re moving out of a pandemic into the next normal – we can all see what challenges come from that: people reintegrating into the workplace, people reintegrating into their jobs in ways that have changed over the course of the last 18-20 months, right? What benefit do you see coming in after the pandemic and being able to start with this fresh slate?

ME: Yeah, I think the biggest benefit coming from the pandemic is this idea that nothing is ever really set in stone…there’s always room for change and there’s always room for improvement. And so, I think that a lot of people probably share that same perspective and are a little bit more flexible in the ways that they do things and in the processes that they employ. I think people are more limber now that the whole landscape of the world has changed. There’s also just a little bit more room for empathy. Before the pandemic, I think there UX work could have been received with a little bit more hesitancy because it’s something new and different. I’m really excited about where we are headed!

TL: What do you see as the big opportunity of being the first UX strategist at the Libraries?

ME: I think the biggest opportunity which I’m most excited about is spreading my knowledge and then also growing in my own UX maturity as I grow the organization’s. I’ve talked to a lot of different librarians and from what I’ve learned, UX is not something that is widely practiced in libraries. It’s fairly new to libraries – it’s new to a lot of industries – and so just being kind of like the first here is exciting. 

I feel like sometimes when people are not regular visitors to a library or a website or extensively familiar with research libraries, the experience can be a little bit intimidating. I’m always thinking about how we can make the experience just a little less daunting or at least easier to navigate so that people can use the Libraries as a resource in achieving their academic goals. That’s the biggest opportunity I see, which I’m really excited to be a part of.

TL: IDEA has become a big part of our strategic plan and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is a big part of the university’s. How do you see DEI playing into the development of UX in libraries? 

ME: I see it mostly in the user research that will be conducted. I want to make sure that I’m bringing in diverse perspectives and being very intentional about that. Also, I think DEI comes into play when I’m capturing stakeholders and people who will work with me on projects. I am very mindful to incorporate people into my process that will represent the Libraries as a whole, and not limit the collaborations to one specific unit. Bringing in those larger perspectives is a way that I can be as inclusive as possible. My work is going to impact many, and so representation is important. I love going to the all-staff meetings and listening to the ideas that the Diversity Action Committee brings to improve the work we’re doing here. Any way I can contribute to the plans of the Libraries and university, figure out ways to implement these values into my work, and find opportunities to educate myself, I’m so happy to do that.

TL: What can you reasonably expect to accomplish in this first year that you’re here?

ME: I would say taking that first step toward achieving the next layer of UX maturity. I conducted a “UX Maturity” survey with the Web Steering Cross-Functional Team (CFT), and after analyzing the data, discovered that UTL’s maturity level is “Stage 2: Limited”. I want to facilitate design workshops to bring people in and start expanding the UX vision across the organization. That’s what I’m hoping to achieve this year. Also formalizing my process, a bit more and offering guidance to staff about how UX can be integrated into their process. Part of that is opening the line of communication and allowing the space for folks to come talk to me and ask questions about UX. That is my main goal for this year, and I think that it can be achieved through the things that I’m doing now, like using my voice to advocate for my work and my users through the various CFTs I serve on.

TL: What’s your measurement for success for projects that you’re working on or work that you’re planning for the future?

ME: My measurement of success as of now, as of today, is getting people to think a little bit broader, and asking deeper questions related to the user experience with whatever project or service that they’re working on. So, what that looks like for me is conversing with staff and users and asking a lot of thoughtful questions – some that they might have not considered in the past iterations of projects. We can work together to find answers to those questions in hopes to guide them to that next step in achieving solutions to the larger issues at hand. When I get into the more visible work – the user studies and interviews and all the user research – my measurement of success there is in converting the metrics from those studies in a positive way and using that information to inform solutions that we hope to find to improve user experience and outcomes. 

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