Third time around

‘Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.’
~ Paulo Coelho

As I work through a very long to-do list for the third UX in Libraries conference I muse that Mr Coelho knew a thing or two.  The decision to follow our second conference with a third came after very little discussion as to whether we should be doing it all over again. Glasgow was also a straightforward choice, partly because it’s a great city, partly because we’ve not yet had a UXLibs conference that far North, but also because there’s another ‘theStudio’ venue there and their setup worked out very well for us in Manchester.  Glasgow in June is not exactly Paris in the Springtime but it still sounds sufficiently alluring on a cold day in January. Much less alluring is all the budgeting and sponsor chasing that I’m currently engaged in but it’s all essential stuff and I’m starting to detect a low level of excitement somewhere inside (might just be wind) as the event starts to take shape and becomes real again.

Glasgow bathed in sunshine (Bob the Lomond:


 As well as all the admin and the attendant cold hard economic reality of financially committing to the event, I’ve been starting to think about what a third conference might achieve. And indeed what any conference can achieve. There’s always the warm reassuring glow arising from meeting people grappling with the same issues and facing the same obstacles as you, there’s the inspiration you feel when a great speaker grabs you buy the what-nots and makes you look at something differently, and there’s the all-important time away from your day job that makes you feel that much more is possible than when you’re at your desk. But do we ever answer any complex questions? Do we achieve big picture stuff. Do we end up changing the way we and others around us work?


Some change earlier (Howard County Library System:

Well I guess I have personally, in a very fundamental way, by going on the road with my suitcase full of post-its and sharpies. And as I’m conducting UX training here there and everywhere, beyond Cambridge and the Futurelib Programme,  I see lots of change, lots of interest in the methods, and many projects employing UX techniques with different degrees of ethnography, usability and service design in the mix, and that’s fantastic as Chris Eccleston’s Doctor Who was so fond of saying…

I’m also being asked to come back more after I’ve delivered a course. Sometimes the following day to immediately help the library service concerned to embed the methods through fieldwork with real students. Sometimes weeks later to see how they’ve got on, helping them to analyse and map the data they’ve gathered in between and generating ideas for next steps. Both show a belief in these wonderfully rich techniques and recognition that effort, experience and thought is required to employ them for maximum benefit. I also get a definite sense that the library staff I meet are being honest about human nature and traditional thinking and are seeking to banish the possibility of slipping back into the deeply problematic, but familiar, world where user surveys and pizza-based focus groups are their default approach.

But what impact is UX really making at our institutions? Is it a catalyst for real change? Crucially, are hearts and minds being won in and beyond libraries? And what is being done to ensure that a user-centred research mindset is continually applied, long-lasting and effective? At Cambridge, Futurelib is thankfully a systematic embedded library research programme now committed to ongoing user experience research and rapid prototyping of the resulting service and product interventions. The work that the University of York Library is engaged in: the Understanding Academics project is huge and amazing – check it out if you haven’t yet. But these seem to be rare models and I’m very keen to see more programmes like them. I’m sure that there’s more going on than I’m aware of. You may now be shouting at this blogpost saying ‘Hey! What about us!’, which is precisely why we’re going to try to pull together a picture of the current UX landscape as we approach the conference and, naturally, share that with delegates. We’ll need your help with that by the way – thanks in advance!

Impact if you didn’t know is our chosen theme for UXLibs3 so I’m going to stop here otherwise I’ll use up the content from my opening address. Our keynotes and workshop leaders will also be talking to the theme. And what a line-up it is! I’m so pleased we have Matthew Reidsma and Meredith Evans keynoting. Both are integrity and passion personified. I have immense respect for their approaches, their advocacy and their humble brilliance.

Meeting Meredith Evans for the first time in a small fish restaurant in Hong Kong last June.

Meanwhile, workshop-wise, this year’s delegates are going to have a massive dilemma choosing which two workshops to attend from: the double-act of Anneli Friberg and Anna Kagedal from Sweden; Vernon Fowler from Melbourne, Australia; Reidsma again; and of course our very own Lanclos and Borg. Of course, if you submit a paper yourself (just a 300 word pitch)  by 3rd Feb you might join the line-up yourself.

What a line-up!

Booking for the conference will open soon and we’re expecting places to go like warm baked goods. So get yourself on Matt’s maillist ASAP and he’ll let you know as soon as booking goes live.

I’m gonna end with some more Coelho – one of my favourites of his and great advice to follow between now and the summer:
Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.’
I’d like to add in the word ‘user’ between substitute and experience but it’ll have to do.

Oh and if you’re feeling a bit January-ish how about a bit of Ella – plug your headphones in, sit back, and substitute the main lyric with ‘Glasgow in June-time’. You are welcome.

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