Andy Priestner (he/him) might be a familiar name to library-adjacent user experience (UX) practitioners. He started his UX journey at Cambridge University Library (https://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/) around 2014 and has become a leader in the field, often speaking at library and GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) conferences on UX. In Priestner’s new book, A Handbook of User Experience Research & Design in Libraries, he shares his knowledge and expertise on how library workers can use UX research and design in their everyday work to empathize with users and create better services and experiences in libraries.
In Priestner’s own words, “UX is about doing first and that is why this is very deliberately a handbook rather than a dusty monograph” (p. 4). The handbook has eight sections: Introduction, Discover, Define, Develop, Deliver, Managing UX, Barriers to UX, and Models of UX Adoption. At an impressive 572 pages, it contains more than enough information to get any interested reader, experienced in UX or not, up to speed with new ways of thinking about UX and how they can use different methodologies in their work.
The book’s introduction suggests that the reader hop around as necessary given the projects they find themselves a part of at their institutions. After reading the handbook cover to cover, I would say this is a perfect way to handle the content. The introductory chapters help readers understand the structure of the book overall. They are also a great introduction to UX research and design for new professionals, most notably the explanation of the UX Research and Design process (p. 13), Priestner’s own twelve guiding principles of UX (p. 27), and the UX methods table (p. 64).
As a reviewer, I think one of the most important parts of the book is when Priestner explains divergent and convergent thinking. Priestner connects his book sections to the two types of thinking: Discover and Develop represent divergent thinking during the UX research and design process while Define and Deliver are convergent. This explains his section choices and helps a novice practitioner better understand the UX research and design process.
In Discover, the largest of the sections, Priestner covers sixteen different research methods, all of which have a place in a UX professional’s research repertoire. For each method, he explains how to conduct research and provides examples from his own experience to help a reader understand how a method could work for their own needs. There are a few methods that Priestner could explain further or give more context to, like photo studies or cognitive mapping, but overall, it is a great introduction to each method. If a reader has more questions, they can easily find resources online about the specific method that intrigues them.
The next three sections, Define, Develop, and Deliver, have information that a beginner should read through, because it relates to all methods. In Define, there is an excellent introduction to data analysis in UX projects and how it is a collaborative process—not one involving a single “expert” in the room. Develop has many frameworks for creating different service models after understanding the problem; the anti-problem and How Now WOW! are exceptionally fun ways to generate ideas in a group. In Deliver, there are good guidelines for creating prototypes and testing them to find the minimum viable solution for a problem. These sections are must-reads for a novice and great refreshers for a seasoned UX professional, with well-designed examples and championing of collaboration.
In the final three sections, Managing UX, Barriers to UX, and Models of UX Adoption, Priestner includes real life examples of UX in libraries besides his own examples. (I should note that the preceding four sections could have also benefited from incorporating outside examples like these.) He enlists the help of five other UX professionals in various library types across the world to share their expertise on how they manage UX within their institutions and the types of problems they face while doing the work. These three sections are fantastic reads for anyone who is trying to find new ways to gain buy-in to UX at their institution or inspiration to seek forgiveness later.
Priestner recognizes at the beginning that one of his goals is to help identify obstacles and pitfalls of UX research in libraries, but often his informal writing style can seem cynical about the UX process in libraries and/or point out his beliefs in stereotypes about library workers. For example, when describing the Define stage of the UX research process, he writes,
Unfortunately, many library staff never get to this second phase, or indeed any further at all, and instead follow paths that categorically lead to ‘dead ends’: the writing of a report and/or the forming of a committee that does nothing more than talk about the research findings. (p. 299)
Or when writing about a library spaces project, “I am regularly surprised by library staff thinking that every space in the library needs to meet with their absolute approval, as if everything is done, or is there, for their benefit alone” (p. 429).
While these comments are meant to embolden the reader not to be that kind of library worker, they highlight stereotypes about library work, like library workers are all talk no action or library workers only care about how spaces or programs affect their workflow. It is hard to go from a useful idea in the text to a cynical statement, making the reading jarring at times. These moments of cynicism are not needed in the handbook for it to be successful.
Where the handbook is successful is its versatility; the structure allows for both taking a reader through the UX research and design process and for a professional to pick and choose methods based on the challenges they are facing. Librarians will be able to research many kinds of problems and thoughtfully remake them for their own institutions.
In conclusion, the handbook is great both for a beginner and for someone familiar with UX principles. It provides methods and ways of analyzing that a reader might not have considered trying yet at their institution. Throughout the book, there are fantastic examples, diagrams, and images that back up important points that need visual representation for deeper understanding. Overall, this handbook is a must-own for any library professional interested in a framework that will make conducting UX research in libraries easier.
You can find Priestner on Twitter (@andypriestner) and sharing his work with @UXLibs.
- A Handbook of User Experience Research & Design in Libraries, by Andy Priestner. 2021. UX in Libraries. 572 pp., paperback, £70.00, ISBN 9798596805925.