2016 UX+Library Conferences

There are so many good conferences for UX+Library folks this year!

Note: this isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list, just conferences I’ve attended and enjoyed or conferences I’ve heard good things about. But if you have suggestions, please comment below. 

(each section in chronological order)

Library conferences focused on web technology, design, user research, or assessment


“An annual gathering of technologists from around the world, who largely work for and with libraries, archives, and museums and have a commitment to open technologies.”

  • Next occurrence: March 7-10, 2016
  • Location: Philadelphia, PA

IOLUG (Indiana Online Users Group)

Theme: “DIY UX: Innovate. Create. Design.”

From the call for proposals “What strategies and/or tools do you use to make library resources, webpages, spaces, marketing materials, etc. more user-friendly? What has proven successful for your organization? What problems surrounding user experience have you encountered, and what solutions have you devised? What best practices or recent research can you share about user experience? We encourage presentations that are practical, hands-on, and include take-awayable tools, techniques, and/or strategies that librarians can implement to improve their resources and services for students, patrons, faculty, etc.”

  • Next occurrence: May 20, 2016
  • Location: Indianapolis, IN

Computers in Libraries

“Libraries are changing,—building creative spaces with a focus on learning and creating; engaging audiences in different ways with community and digital managers; partnering with different community organizations in new and exciting ways. Computers in Libraries has always highlighted and showcased creative and innovative practices in all types of libraries, but this year with our theme, Library Labs: Research, Innovation & Imagination, we plan to feature truly transformative and cutting-edge research, services, and practices along with the strategies and technologies to support them.”

  • Next occurrence: March 8-10, 2016
  • Location: Washington, DC

Design for Digital

“Designing for Digital is a two-day conference packed with intensive, hands-on workshops and informative sessions meant to bring together colleagues working on user experience, discovery, design and usability projects inside and outside of libraries, drawing expertise from the tech and education communities, as well as from peers. This exposure will allow information professionals to bring lessons home to their institutions and to think differently about designing our digital future.”

    • Next occurrence: April 6 – 7, 2016
    • Location: Austin, TX


The one and only library conference focused entirely on UX. Last year offered an interactive format with wonderful keynotes, hands-on ethnographic technique exercises, and a team challenge. This year will feature more individual sessions highlighting projects from around the world with the theme: nailed, failed, and derailed.

  • Next occurrence: June 23-24, 2016
  • Location: Manchester, England


“Access is Canada’s annual library technology conference. It brings librarians, technicians, developers, programmers, and managers together to discuss cutting-edge library technologies. Access is a single stream conference featuring in-depth analyses, panel discussions, poster presentations, lightning talks, hackfest, and plenty of time for networking and social events.”

  • Next occurrence: October 4-7th
  • Location:Fredericton, New Brunswick

LITA Forum

“The LITA Forum is the annual gathering of about 300 technology-minded information professionals. It is the conference where technology meets the practicality of daily information operations in archives, libraries, and other information services. The Forum is an ideal place to interact with fellow library technologists. Attendees are working at the cutting edge of library technology and are interested in making connections with technically-inclined colleagues and learn about new directions and projects in libraries.”

  • Next occurrence: TBD (likely November)
  • Location: TBD

Library Assessment

Theme is “Building Effective, Sustainable, Practical Assessment”.

“The conference goal is to build and further a vibrant library assessment community by bringing together interested practitioners and researchers who have responsibility or interest in the broad field of library assessment. The event provides a mix of invited speakers, contributed papers, short papers, posters, and pre- and post-conference workshops that stimulate discussion and provide workable ideas for effective, sustainable, and practical library assessment.”

    • Next occurrence: October 31–November 2, 2016
    • Location: Arlington, VA

DLF (Digital Library Federation)

“Strategy meets practice at the Digital Library Federation (DLF). Through its programs, working groups, and initiatives, DLF connects the vision and research agenda of its parent organization, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), to an active and exciting network of practitioners working in digital libraries, archives, labs, and museums. DLF is a place where ideas can be road-tested, and from which new strategic directions can emerge.”

  • Next occurrence: November 7-9, 2016
  • Location: Milwaukee, WI

Higher Ed conferences focused on web technology, design, or user research

Web Con

“An affordable two-day conference for web designers, developers, content managers, and other web professionals within higher ed and beyond.”

  • Next occurrence: April 27-28, 2016
  • Location: Urbana-Champaign, IL


“HighEdWeb is the annual conference of the Higher Education Web Professionals Association, created by and for all higher education Web professionals—from programmers to marketers to designers to all team members in-between—who want to explore the unique Web issues facing colleges and universities.”

  • Next occurrence: October 16-19, 2016
  • Location: Memphis, TN


“Focusing on the universal methods and tools of user interface and user experience design, as well as the unique challenges of producing websites and applications for large institutions, edUi is a perfect opportunity for web professionals at institutions of learning—including higher education, K-12 schools, libraries, museums, government, and local and regional businesses—to develop skills and share ideas.”

  • Next occurrence: TBD (likely November 2016)
  • Location: TBD

And a Bunch of Professional Industry Conferences & Events





Web Content Debt is the New Technical Debt

We worry a lot about “technical debt” in the IT world. The classic use of this metaphor describes the phenomenon where messy code is written in the interest of quick execution, causing a debt that will need to be repaid (time spent fixing the code later). It can also accumulate interest (additional work on the system will be complicated by the messy code). “Technical debt” is also used more broadly to describe the ongoing maintenance of legacy systems that we spend a great deal of time just keeping alive.

Technical & content debt hold us back from doing new and better things.

But in addition to technical debt, organizations (like libraries) with large websites have a growing problem with what I’ve started calling “content debt.” And like with “deferred maintenance” of buildings (the practice of postponing repairs to save costs), allowing too much technical debt and/or content debt will result in costing you much more in the long run. Beyond the costs, the big problem with technical & content debt is that they hold us back from doing new and better things.

Take for example the website I’m working on right now that currently has over 16,000 pages of content that were created by hundreds of different people over many many years. Redesigning this website isn’t just a matter of developing a new CMS with a more modern design and then hiring a room full of interns to copy and paste from the old CMS to the new CMS. We also need to look closely at all of the existing pages to evaluate what needs to be done differently this time around to ensure a more user-friendly and future-friendly site. It’s no easy task to detangle this mass of pages and the organic processes that generated them.

Some might say that you should just set the old stuff aside and start from scratch but if you don’t take the time to discover what’s causing your problems, you’ve little chance of not replicating them. The wikipedia page for technical debt offers some common causes for technical debt–many of which also fit with my concept of content debt. Here’s my revised version to help illustrate the similarities:

  • Business pressures: organization favors speed of releasing code [or content] as more important than a complete and quality release.
  • Lack of shared standards/best practices: no shared standards/best practices for developers [or content authors] means inconsistent quality of output.
  • Lack of alignment to standards: code [or content] standards/best practices aren’t followed.
  • Lack of knowledge: despite trying to follow standards, the developer [or content author] still doesn’t have the skills to do it properly.
  • Lack of collaboration: code [or content] activities aren’t done together, and new contributors aren’t properly mentored.
  • Lack of process or understanding: organization is blind to debt issues and makes code [or content] without understanding long-term implications beyond the immediate need.
  • Parallel development: parallel efforts, in isolation, to create similar code [or content] result in debt for time to merge things later (e.g., multiple units creating their own (redundant) pages about how to renew books, where to pay fines, how to use ILL, etc.).
  • Delayed refactoring: as a project evolves and issues with code [or content] become unwieldy, the longer remediation is delayed and more code [or content] is added, the debt becomes exponentially larger.
  • Lack of a test suite: results in release of messy code [or content] (e.g., I once worked on a large website with no pre-release environment for testing or training which resulted in a TON of published pages that said things like “looks like I can put some text here”).
  • Lack of ownership: outsourced software [or content] efforts result in extra effort to fix and recreate properly (e.g., content outsourced to interns).
  • Lack of leadership: technical [or UX/content strategy] leadership isn’t present or doesn’t train/encourage/enforce adherence to coding [or content] standards/best practices.

To this list, I’d also add one about business values: when the organization values creation of new technology [or content] over maintaining or downsizing existing technology [or content] (e.g., it’s common practice to include webpage creation activities in annual reviews but not so common to brag about the number of pages you retired).

I also find this list useful because when talking about content issues, there’s a risk of seeming judgmental towards the individuals who made said content– but the reality is that there are tons of factors that lead to this “debt” situation. Approaching the problem from all the angles will lead to a more well-rounded solution.

Guiding principles for a shared understanding

One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the years in working on library web projects is that you can’t make assumptions that the teams, internal stakeholders, or higher-ups have a shared understanding of how the website work is done and priorities are set. Often, by the time this is figured out, a great deal of time and energy has been spent going around and around in circles. Establishing a set of shared guiding principles is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page, or, in the worst case scenario, establish that the team isn’t actually able to agree so you can figure out where to go from there.

Guiding principles can be anything you want but I think they work best when they balance theoretical with practical. My approach to developing my guiding principles began by taking a step back to think about all the challenges, roadblocks, and repetitive conversations that naturally tend to occur in the process of designing and developing interfaces. With universal design principles and UX best practices in mind, I then developed themes and a vision for how we should be operating.

Library Web Presence – Guiding Principles

Having just started a new job in August at the University of Illinois Library, I decided to share this with the new team I’m working with to help jump start conversations and get a better understanding of how they like to work. After some great conversation and minor language adjustments to fit this new context, we were able to unanimously agree that we should formally adopt it.

I hope that others find it useful and make their own versions as well! If you do, please let me know!

Confab presentation – Short, True, Meaningful (pick 2)

I gave an Ignite-style presentation at the 2014 Confab Higher Ed conference. Not sure if I’ll ever do a timed, auto advancing style presentation again but it was super fun!

Suzanne presenting at Confab HigherEd 2014Short, True, Meaningful (pick 2) – Confab Higher Ed Lightening Talk

Description: Librarians are great at being exhaustively thorough – a trait that’s wonderful for all kinds of traditional library activities and services – but not so great for coming up with concise web content or link labels. After many lengthy conversations debating the value of being concise and user-friendly over being exhaustively thorough, I introduced a new strategy. Using the classic “cheap, fast, good” decision triangle, I created my own version using short, true, and meaningful to help visually demonstrate the tradeoffs.

UX and Web Systems Job Postings at the University of Michigan Library

The following 3 positions are now available in the User Experience (UX) and Library Web Systems Departments. We’re looking for candidates who take a user-centered approach, have a passion for solving complex problems, and are invested in improving the library website user experience.

The U-M Library’s technology unit designs, develops, and supports the library’s primary web interfaces – including multiple websites, access systems, search apps, and mobile interfaces. These interfaces provide access to over 10 million physical and digital resources to more than 2 million users a month.

Interface Designer (UX Department)
Design beautiful, user-friendly, and accessible interfaces. Primary responsibilities include: creating wireframes, mockups, html prototypes, and complete visual designs and web-ready graphics.
View full job posting: http://umjobs.org/job_detail/80525/interface_designer

Interface Developer (Library Web Systems Department)
Design and implement accessible interfaces for one of the largest research libraries in the world. Primary responsibilities include ensuring the library’s web sites are accessible, implementing and refining interface designs, and developing responsive mobile-friendly interfaces to library resources.
View full job posting: http://umjobs.org/job_detail/81080/interface_developer

Web Content Strategist (UX Department)
Develop and oversee an overall content strategy for a large organization with 100+ content creators. Primary responsibilities include: assessing and improving current content and content workflows, curating and creating new web content, creating best practice and style guides, and informing design solutions and information architecture.
View full job posting: http://umjobs.org/job_detail/81076/web_content_strategist

Now hiring – MLibrary User Experience (UX) Specialist

We’re looking for an innovative, and talented user experience professional to join our User Experience (UX) Department. The ideal candidate will be someone with a passion for better understanding users, the ability to use creative problem solving skills to design engaging interfaces, and an investment in improving the library web experience.

The position is written more like a “generalist” than “specialist” because we’re a small department doing a wide-range of activities that span the entire development cycle. However, depending on the qualifications of the candidates, we’d consider revising the position to focus more on either design or research.

See the full position description for more information about the position and how to apply.

UX photo booth 2011 (My ideal library…)

A few weeks ago I helped out again with the MLibrary Undergraduate library’s annual “Party for Your Mind” event to welcome the students back and introduce new students to the library.

Like last year, I did a photo booth where I asked the students to complete the sentence “My ideal library ______” and like last year, I got a lovely combination of silly and serious responses. Quiet/Loud and food/sleeping were again popular themes!

My ideal library... loud & fun!
My ideal library… loud & fun!

See the full set here.

MLibrary UX Developer opening

Wanna work on UX and mobile development for MLibrary and HathiTrust?

The University of Michigan Library is seeking a talented front-end developer to join our User Experience (UX) Department. The UX Department focuses on interface design, mobile design and development, usability testing, user research, web use statistics, and accessibility. We are looking for someone with an investment in improving library users’ web experience. The primary focus of this position will be development of a variety of mobile websites.