What is a UX Librarian anyway?

Georgina Cronin's role as a UX Librarian is "as unique as the place she works".

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"As a UX Librarian I am able to carry out mixed methods research that informs how we approach our service design and library provision"

The concept of User Experience, or UX for short, means a lot of different things to different people. In the design world UX can refer to how a customer uses a particular product and how this use affects their loyalty and satisfaction with said product. In the IT world, it can mean measuring how someone interacts with a particular system or website and what the creators of these platforms can learn from that to improve their service.

This is all fascinating stuff but UX has moved past the standard fields of design and IT development. Encompassing anthropology, psychology, information science and much much more, UX is now emerging in librarianship too with an exciting cross-sector adoption. Through looking at problems and challenges within libraries through the UX filter, we are able to apply new techniques and approaches to age-old problems, thereby developing new strategies that are based on much more than the standard (and quite frankly dry) annual user surveys that we have come to rely on so heavily.

What does this all mean though and why should you even be reading this?!

I am a UX Librarian. I am not an anthropologist, psychologist or even a sociologist. I am an information scientist and through applying the research skills that I started developing as part of my librarianship postgraduate degree to my current work, I am able to carry out mixed methods research that informs how we approach our service design and library provision.

In the past few months alone, I have developed ethnographic studies including cognitive mapping of research landscapes; overhauled the library service’s blog and reviewed our existing communications policy; carried out usability testing of the library service's website…and lots more.

A unique role

My role is as unique as the place that I work but the principles that guide me, especially with regards to qualitative ethnographic research, are not new. But they are new to librarianship and while there are not that many people working as I do in the profession at the moment, there should be more. Most of my UX library colleagues are trained anthropologists who are doing their research as part of a bigger funded project. I am doing my work as part of a standard library day job. I still do enquiry work, I still help people find resources and I still stamp things. I have to work my research into my other commitments and while that can be challenging at times, it is certainly not impossible and through doing quick ethnographic studies, I will be able to use the resulting data to build up a really big picture of what our users are doing, need and why they are presenting certain behaviours.

If I can do ethnography alongside all of the other library things that I do, maybe you can too?

I will speak about this and a lot more at the Internet Librarian International conference in October 2014 and I look forward to answering any questions that this short article may have raised.


Georgina Cronin is UX Librarian at University of Cambridge Judge Business School, UK.  She will be speaking about her role at Internet Librarian International 2014 in Session A103 about 'Radical New Roles' for information professionals.  She blogs at Cardies and Tweed.

Image courtesy of Jeffedoe via Flickr.