Rebecca Blakiston is an Instructional Services Librarian and the Website Product Manager at the University of Arizona Libraries in Tucson, Arizona. She provides oversight, management, and strategic planning for the library website, specializing in guerilla usability testing, writing for the web, and content strategy. She is the organizer of our 6-course certificate program in user centered design for library websites. She agreed to do this interview to give people a better sense of what is involved in this certificate program – what it covers, who would benefit from it, etc.
So, Rebecca… Would you describe the certificate program? And for people who have already looked at the description and the list of courses, what is the logic of the way you’ve designed it? I’m guessing that it’s based on what people need to know to do certain kinds of jobs?
The certificate program is a great introduction to the key concepts of user experience, focusing on the digital user experience we provide with our library websites. These concepts are becoming increasingly important as libraries of all types become more virtual, both with the information resources and services they provide to their users. These concepts are also critical as we transform libraries into more user-centric organizations – organizations that continually conduct assessment and strive to create better, more useful, and more engaging user experiences. It is more common to see library job descriptions that include responsibilities such as user research, information architecture development, and curation of web content. Academic, public, and special libraries often hire web librarians and user experience librarians. This could be a useful program whether you are in a graduate library program, working in the field and interested in gaining new skillsets that complement your work, or interested in seeking out new areas of knowledge for future positions and opportunities.
The courses in the series were specifically chosen, designed, and placed in a logical order so that they make sense as a certificate program. You begin with the concepts of user-centered design, key to anyone interested in UX. You then apply those concepts in the information architecture course as you tackle the complex navigation we require for library websites. You then get your feet wet with user research methods to learn how to continually assess the user experience – first, with usability testing, and then with other research methods such as user interviews, surveys, and A/B testing. In the next course, we’ll tackle writing for the web – a skill that takes practice but makes a huge impact to your users. Finally, we’ll wrap it up with the course on developing a content strategy for your website. When all is said and done, to ensure your content stays useful, usable, and findable, you have to have a sustainable content strategy for your website.
Sounds good. So who are the instructors, and what qualifies them to teach these classes?
Working in the area of user experience for the last three years, I’ve connected with a variety of librarians doing similar work. It’s important to make these sorts of connections to learn from each other and collaborate (especially for me, as I am the only librarian working in web services at my institution). So the instructors were either people I’d connected with through conferences or over email, or were recommended to be by others in my network.
For readers – the other instructors are Carolyn Ellis, Susan Teague-Rector, Nicole Capdarest, and Sonali Mishra. One thing that I like about this certificate program is that it is in an area of librarianship that seems to be expanding, since it has to do with the way we provide more services via the web. I think in many institutions the centrality of the website to the service role of librarians isn’t fully understood yet. It’s still seen as a way of providing information about the library as opposed to being an avenue of service. Do you agree with that idea as a shift that is happening? And if so, how does this sequence of courses address that?
I agree this is definitely an area of librarianship that is expanding. Web Services Librarians are nothing all that new, but just a few years ago, you would never have heard of a User Experience (UX) Librarian. We are now recognizing the importance of creating not just websites but meaningful user experiences. UX is a rapidly growing field outside of libraries, and UX Librarians have quickly become commonplace in academic libraries. Libraries are recognizing the important role the website plays – it is the central mechanism for connecting users to resources, and it also allows us to provide virtual services we could never have imagined in the past. Many users will never enter the physical library building, but will use our website. So we have to commit staff resources to making the website as useful and robust as possible, and we have to grow expertise within the field in how to do this. We don’t tend to have a lot of this content taught within graduate library programs (although it is increasing), and we don’t tend to have a lot of librarians that have a UX background, although these skillsets are highly sought after for these new types of positions.
As far as the courses, they bring in case studies from libraries and organizations outside libraries, they include readings from organizations that specialize in UX, and they introduce students to the fundamentals that will help them succeed as a UX professional.
That makes a great deal of sense, and shows how this certificate would be a smart thing to add to a resume. It starts me wondering though about how your courses are incorporating the newest developments, since this field is changing so quickly. What are some of the new developments in UX thinking that you cover in these courses?
It can be a challenge to stay up with all the new developments, so part of what I encourage in my courses is for students to build a network (and taking these classes is a good start!) and to figure out ways to stay up to date in an ongoing way, for instance by joining groups in LinkedIn, subscribing to companies who publish their user research findings, and going to conferences such as edUi.
Some of the current “hot” topics in UX covered in these courses are doing user research on a budget (this is always growing and there are a lot of free or open source programs out there for this now), and content strategy, which has gathered more attention recently with the popular ConFab conferences, including one this fall geared towards people working within higher education. Other topics that come to mind relate to mobile experiences as well as writing for the web, so creating useful forms (particularly mobile-friendly forms), effective microcopy, and voice & tone are all things with a lot of buzz right now.
Cool. About the details of this certificate program, I think some people might wonder if you have to take the classes in order, that is if they have to start with the first class being offered in June if they want to do the program this year. You mentioned that the classes are being taught in a logical order, but how important is it to take them in order? Is it necessary?
While you could ideally take them all in order for the certificate program, it’s not at all necessary. The instructors designed the courses so that they can be taking completely independently of each other. There are no “prerequisites.” So you could certainly take the one or two courses that best fit your current learning goals, or you could take the courses that fit within your schedule this year and anticipate taking the remainder of the courses when they are offered again in the future.
Sounds very good. I’m excited for this series of courses to start, as I am sure you are too. I want to thank you for the interview and wish you the best of luck with these courses.
Thanks, Rory, I’m really looking forward to teaching on these topics and hope we get a lot of students from a variety of backgrounds to participate.