Where did the time go? A short post about Rapid Ethnography

Well, it happened. I let over six months go by with nary a blog post! Ack! And the thing is, I have been so busy, with lots of exciting UX stuff going on. So, I should have been writing about it all along. So, if you are still out there, and occasionally read my blog, thanks for that! I am going to write more. I took a great class last Fall-Methods in Human Computer Interaction. It was pretty intensive-I helped design a parking lot system-which is totally outside of my experience. That was incredibly useful. I think it helps to sometimes look at complex problems outside of your normal focus.

The class, because it focused on methods, introduced new methods each week. Some of them are so closely related, it makes one confused. But, my old favorites were there, although sometimes renamed. Bootstrap UX–who knew, a lot of folks call that Rapid Ethnography. There are some great articles out there: “Rapid Ethnography: Time Deepening Strategies for HCI Field Research,” includes a nice case study that illustrates the main components of the method. I like this article because it confirms the importance of ethnographic research in the design process. The case study mentioned did replace open-ended interviews with a “condensed ethnographic interview,” which specifically covered specific project bottlenecks and benefits. The acceleration of this method gets at the heart of how I have stream-lined my approach. It states, “Time spent looking at the broad landscape is time that is not focused in the area of critical importance to a product design team,” and “While there may be nuggets of gold in the data, they are just too hard to mine.”  I love the concept of applying an ethnographic approach to usability problems.

I have to go mine some usability screen casts done last week now, but I’ll be back tomorrow!

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Updates from SLA Presentations

The Web Scale Discovery presentation is up on Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/rkaspro/webscale-discovery-services-sla-2012-13745957

Also, Gretchen McNeely posted up thoughts around her talk that she gave at the UX Caucus meeting, discussing the challenges of reporting UX findings to stakeholders. is.gd/KSNHmk Her writing is especially clear, thoughtful, and humorous–can someone please get her a book deal?
I especially appreciate this, as I think that is still one of the hardest parts of the process for me. The best bit of advice I got from her session at SLA was the concept of a mid-project report out–I am definitely incorporating this in all of my projects going forward.

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Web Scale Discovery

I am fresh back from SLA 2012, Chicago, and while I have a lot of UX stuff to talk about, I am going to start with what I did first. On Monday, I was a part of a panel, Web-scale Discovery Implementation with the End User in Mind, with Rafal Kasprowski, Rice University; Debra Kolah, Rice University; Harry Kaplanian, EBSCO Publishing.

Harry provided an introductory historic overview of discovery, from the on-the-fly federated searching and accompanying catalog layers to the single index web-scale discovery, including some humor about the evolution of the card catalog. I talked about the method of choosing a tool, including a comparison grid, a ethnography study and the talented Rafal spoke about OpenURL vs proprietary linking, data and holdings migrations from ILS and resolver knowledge base, and product settings.

We had a lot of questions after the session–there is still great interest out in libraryland about discovery layers, and about half in the room of approximately 60 were actively thinking about purchasing a discovery layer in the near future.

The ethnography study I did for our discovery layer decision is unpublished, but I had read some of the following about some of the informants. (Note: the OneSearch referred to here is our previous discovery layer, Aquabrowser.)

Our informants fell into five major categories:

1)Three informants said they had never heard of OneSearch.

2)Five informants don’t use OneSearch, and do not understand what it searches. One informant stated, “I really don’t know what it covers, presumably it’s one place where you can search for everything, but if I’m looking for articles I go elsewhere, but if I’m looking for general information or books I would use OneSearch.”

3)Three informants have tried OneSearch but either want more control over the search, did not like something about the interface, or experienced failed searches when looking for known items. One informant simply stated, “It doesn’t seem to give me the answers that I want…I feel like I can’t control it to get the things I want.” Another informant stated, “I have used it only a couple of times, both of the times it was pretty useful…but it would be nice to pick which databases I would like to search.”

4) Only one informant uses OneSearch regularly and finds it to be useful. She uses it only with students, not for personal research, especially to search for items that she knows are not covered by the databases with which she is familiar. Emphasizing the wide net that discovery casts is useful to the undergraduate program.

5) One informant does not use OneSearch, but has created his own discovery-like tool using a Mac-based bibliographic program called Papers. The interface has allowed him, with assistance from Rafal and Debra , to identify frequently used Fondren resources, including Scopus, acquire special “keys’ for access, and then search these directly from this third-party interface, where is is identified as a Rice researcher. This user workaround will be interesting to monitor in the coming year, as some of the bibliographic tools, such as Papers and Mendeley, increase their ability for searching within the tool.

Our slideshow will be available soon on SlideShare. Additionally, here is the bibliography that informed my part of the talk:

Fagan, Jody Condit and Meris A. Mandernach, Carl S. Nelson, Jonathan R. Paulo, Grover Saunders. Usability Test Results for a Discovery Tool in an Academic Library. Information Technology and Libraries. March 2012.

Khoo, Michael, and Lily Rozaklis, Catherine Hall. A survey of the use of ethnographic methods in the study of libraries and library users. Library & Information Science Research. Volume 34, Issue 2. April 2012, pp. 82-91.

Promise Fulfilled? An EBSCO Discovery Service Usability Study (Aug 2011) – Illinois State University – Interesting comparisons with federated search usability studies and use of pre/post limiters and refinements. Journal of Web Librarianship,Vol. 5, No. 3. (July 2011), pp. 179-198.

Web Scale Discovery Services (2011) This work by Jason Vaughan is probably the first comprehensive work on Discovery systems so far available. There are chapters on WorldCat Local, Summon, Ebsco Discovery Service and Primo Central.

Wiki “Articles on Discovery” by Aaron Tay. https://sites.google.com/site/urd2comparison/articles-on-discovery

Ethnography Resources

Asher, Andrew and Susan Miller. So You Want to Do Anthropology in Your Library? or A Practical Guide to Ethnographic Research in Academic
Libraries. The ERIAL PROJECT. Accessed April 2, 2012 at http://erialproject.org/

Foster, Nancy and Susan Gibbons, eds. 2007. Studying Students: The Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries. http:docushare.lib.rochester.edu/docushare/dsweb/View/Collection-4436. Accessed July 7, 2012.

Small, Mario. 2009 “How many cases do I need?” On science and logic of case selection in field-based research.” Ethnography 10(1):5-38.

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Usability Tools 101

I had a great visit this week with a professor here at Rice, Phil Kortum. He was an industry Human Factors guy for a long time before becoming a professor, and is just a kind, amazing, and smart guy. I hung out for a bit in his Human Factors lab, and learned that usability doesn’t have to be as rigid as I sometimes think!

For instance, many times I feel that I need two people to administer the testing. This was before I started using screen capture software (more on that in a minute) so maybe I did! But, with screen capturing software you really only need one person, and to hear Professor Kortum, maybe you don’t even need that one person most of the time! He says that usually he starts his subject on task, and has the phone there if they need to call him on something. He is in the next room, and pops over if needed. Or maybe he stays in the room, but he busies himself with some task himself, and I am sure the subjects forget about him, or don’t want to “interrupt” him. He really relies on the technology to capture what he needs to know about what his subjects are doing, and really depends on watching them do what they do, rather than listening to anything that they may TELL him about what they do. This is really going to impact how I do usability going forward. I’m taking his class in the Fall, too, so can’t wait for that!

We talked about usability software, and I thought for sure that he was going to say Morae was the top of the line–I fantasize about being able to afford it for my library testing–but it wasn’t at the top of his list. His top is Noldus, which is unbelievably expensive I am sure! Morae was his second, but he knows about and seems to approve of lesser free tools, like BB Flashback. I was relieved by this, as I will be using BB Flashback  for my next study. It is free, easy to download, and works on a PC. We didn’t talk about the other tool that I have been looking at Silverback, which is currently priced at around $70.00 and works on a Mac. You can download a free 30 day trial.

Silverback allows you to watch sessions, with a little box of the user present, and to set tasks and mark noteworthy moments within a session. This is useful for sharing out in stakeholder meetings. Their selling blurb is “Silverback makes it easy, quick and cheap for everyone to perform guerrilla usability tests with no setup and no expense, using hardware already in your Mac.

BB FlashBack Express Free Edition bills itself as  an easy-to-use free screen recorder that creates compact, high quality movies for tutorials, demos and presentations. This is perfect for usability too! It records the screen, sound and web-cam activity.  You save the movies as AVI or Flash. You get a perfect capture of your Windows desktop with minimal impact on PC performance, even on low powered PCs.

I am really grateful to have experts like Dr. Kortum around, and I am super-grateful to have cheap or free usability tools around now too!

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CLIRly worth doing!

I recently attended a three-day CLIR Seminar on Issues of Participatory Design in Academic Libraries, led by the amazing Nancy Fried Foster.  About 40 libraries were represented. 14 various design/ethnography projects were presented, including my own overview talk-I hope to get that up on slideshare this week!  Nancy also included a refresher on participatory design, a segment on “Convincing a Dean,” and “The Architects’ View of User-Centered Design.” There was a lot of time to mingle with librarians from other institutions, and I met new and interesting folks ranging from the Head of the User Experience Department at the University of Michigan, the E-Learning Strategist from the University of Illinois-UC, and the MIT UX head.  Everyone was deeply committed to using user-centered tools to create library environments and services. The projects were truly interesting and inspiring.
From a meeting room standpoint, two interesting things:

  • the meeting planners had put computers in back of room for use (we were in a conference room in the library)
  • a lot of folks were accessing wifi through Eduroam–if an institution participates in Eduroam, you can get wifi at other institutions

The “Convincing a Dean” portion gave reasons of why a library should think about doing participatory design or user research as:

  • align services, facilities, staffing, and digital presence with the real needs of library users
  • use time and resources wisely
  • gain credibility on campus (you are doing research)
  • strengthen its importance to the academic mission of the university
  • drive innovation
  • facilitate relationships
  • uncover unrecognized problems
  • you don’t have to go back and change, because you got all the input and feedback up front

More about some of the folks I met:
Diane Klare (Wesleyan)  is participating in the NITLE Innovation Studio http://www.nitle.org/help/innovationstudio.php
This is Lisa Spiro’s new project. Sounds really interesting.

Things I learned:
Bryn Mawr is using VuFind for their library OPAC, and like it alot. http://vufind.org/

Marilyn Pukkila and Ellen Freeman (Colby)– they had done a great ethnographic study, but one of the main things they learned:
“faculty don’t want technology solutions, they want personal research assistants”

Marcy Strong (University of Rochester)- “How Undergraduates Learn the Ropes.”  They worked with RA’s in the college dorms. They used photo diaries, and library student workers recruited more students for the study. They discovered a real role for librarians as pre-major advisors. Now, they also reward students that ask for help from the reference desk.

Travis Smith (University of Richmond) “Insider’s Guide to the Library.” They had an anthropology undergraduate class do field notes with the library as a study site. The field notes were hard to read, but super honest. Students gave a presentation to library staff–including interesting things like a “sketchy” stairwell. The librarians were curious about how the students wrote about social stereotypes.

Patti Cossard (University of Maryland) did cool 10 minute on the spot interviews; 3 questions; when and where do you study for exams?  They did 33 interviews in 4 different locations and had four findings.

Stephanie Hartman (MIT) uses Dotmocracy.org to help get data from focus groups, and also from librarians as they do work around what projects to focus on next. It is a great tool for participartory large group decisions. MIT also used GIS to create heatmaps of people in the building at different times, and built 3-D models of that usage. They used student workers to walk around at different times and input where they were, and what they were doing (studying, using a computer, etc.)

Sheree Fu (Claremont University) gave an amusing talk about only getting a water fountain out of a year long study. It is an awesome water fountain. Looks like this.

Marcy Strong (University of Rochester) is doing interesting things with metadata.

All of the presenters are sending a few slides and notes from the talks to CLIR over the next few weeks. CLIR is going to publish the combined work on their website http://www.clir.org/

The UX folks present were very excited about the SLA UX Caucus group. I have asked CLIR to consider also having some usability workshops in the next year, and they were very interested in that possibility. I was told by Nancy Foster after the meeting that my talk had resonated with many people because of the tenacity aspect–our first study had two researchers, then four, then we just had 10. The first study didn’t really have anything implemented, and now we are considering many more implementations. The takeaway from my talk was not to do just one study, get frustrated, and stop. But rather, keep going, keep learning, and keep doing user research, and get more folks involved!

The biggest takeaways that I had? I want to do more research with undergrads, including those 3 questions around campus, and also, I am so thrilled that Nancy Foster has created so many anthropological researchers in the library world!

AnthroLib Bibliography: a bibliography of resources related to user research and participatory design, especially in higher education and academic libraries
AnthroLib Listserv: a list for people who have participated in CLIR workshops and others who work in higher education and academic libraries

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UX Interest Group forming

I am starting a monthly UX  Interest Group here at Fondren, starting next month. We will have speakers, discussions, webinars; everything to keep UX front and center in the room. As a long-time librarian, I am gathering up some books, and some software sites to be ready!

The UX Interest Group will be useful for anyone that is in the Houston area and wants to meet with people that are doing user experience or thinking about doing user experience, learn about new tools and resources, and generally have a good time! I hope we attract a group of problem solvers who work with usability,  human factors and design issues.

User experience combines user research, such as ethnography, user interviews, stakeholder meetings, and usability tests. When you combine research with project objectives, you will come out with a set of deliverables such as wireframes, personas, and storyboards that will guide you into actionable insights. The bottom line is you will be building things that really matter to our users. UX demands innovation, creativity, passion and commitment!

More information coming soon on time, date, and the summer schedule. Hope you can join us!


Don’t make me think!: a common sense approach to Web usability. Krug, Steve. New Riders Pub., 2006.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. (on order)

Global UX : design and research in a connected world. Quesenbery, Whitney. Morgan Kaufmann, 2012.

Observing the user experience : a practitioner’s guide to user research. Kuniavsky, Mike. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2003. QA76.9 .H85 K86 2003.

Sketching user experiences: the workbook. Greenberg, Saul. Elsevier Science, 2012

The inmates are running the asylum. Cooper, Alan. Sams, 2004.

Undercover user experience : learn how to do great UX work with tiny budgets, no time, and limited support. Bowles, Cennydd. New Riders, 2011. QA76.9 .U83 B69 2011.

Videos: A great list of UX videos is at Smashing Magazine.

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Bootstrap UX at TLA

Usability answers the question “Can the user accomplish their goal?” User experience answers the question, “Did the user have as delightful an experience as possible?” Jared Spool

The Texas Library Association Annual Conference is coming up soon in Houston, Texas. I am delighted to announce that there will be a Bootstrap UX session from 4:00-4:50, on Tuesday, April 17th. The speakers include: Debra Kolah, Monica Rivero, and Marcel LaFlamme.

A little about me: I am in the  User Experience Office, and the librarian for Physics, Math, Statistics, and Astronomy at Rice University.  I have 15 years of experience in libraries,  including Branch Manager of a public library, an intern at a semiconductor company, and adjunct faculty at a community college library, which gives me a unique perspective of service and users in a variety of settings. I am currently leading a project at Rice to examine the ways that faculty adopt and  use iPads in a classroom setting. I have an MLIS from the University of Texas, and a BA in English from Sam Houston State University. I have most recently done graduate level work in Ethnography at Rice University.

Monica Rivero is the Digital Curation Coordinator for the Center for Digital Scholarship at Rice University. She worked as the project manager for the ‘Our Americas Archive Partnership’, an IMLS funded 3yr national leadership grant to digitize rare books and manuscripts from 18th and 19th centuries. She holds an MLIS from University of North Texas Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences and a BA in Business management from Sam Houston State University. Monica has over 10 years experience in project management in the private sector.

Marcel LaFlamme  is a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at Rice, and a former director of a rural community college library. In 2007, he received the Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize from the Progressive Librarians Guild for an article about the use of collaborative ethnography in community needs assessment.

In general, UX examines the ways that our users experience libraries and how users interact with library staff and other departments across the organization.

I started using the term Bootstrap UX, when I wanted to describe the type of work that I was doing in my then-new position as the UX Office at Fondren Library, Rice University. Most of the anthropologists that are involved in library work right now, such as, Nancy Foster, and Andrew Asher, do year-long, grant-funded studies for their institutions. I wanted to explore doing short, intensive, 6-15 week (unfunded) ethnographic studies or usability tests, that could inform, and help drive service decisions, with  Foster’s and Asher’s (ERIAL) work as a firm foundation.

The session at TLA will discuss two ethnographic projects done at Rice, as well as, one usability test cycle. We will spotlight project management, including giving you some templates of forms that you can take home. Additionally, we will provide a framework of anthropological methods. The take away is that you will be able to undertake your own study, in what ever type of library you are involved with daily. The rich experience that comes from looking at the world through an ethnographic lens will forever alter the way you view libraries, and your users.



The UX office work at Rice combines three approaches:

  • 1) doing ethnographic and observational studies
  • 2) conducting usability tests
  • 3)creating compelling experiences

Collaborating with librarians in other departments throughout the library, we use this data to help inform the decision-making process about current and future library services.

Our usability testing informs the development and maintenance of our web and mobile interfaces.

For more information at the UX office, check out the UX Libguide, and the Department page.

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