Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ideas that I hope will become trends: User stories

One thing I have learned after attending ALA's midwinter and annual conferences is that, if you pay attention, you can spot the beginning of trends. Is there more than one program on a particular topic? Consider it a trend. Is it an idea you've heard at multiple programs? Consider it a trend.

And one thing I've preached is that after you spot a trend, you have to figure out how your library is going to deal with this trend. Maybe you find a way to implement a trend into your library's operations. Or, maybe you consider a trend and decide it's not for you. But either way, you have to consider it.

At ALA's Annual Conference, I noticed a few interesting trends that are worth considering. Over the next couple of days, I'll write about these trends--starting with the idea of user stories.

Okay, so let's talk about user stories.
If you're familiar with software development, you're probably familiar with user stories. Essentially, you interview users to find out what they need a piece of software to do. These stories inform the software's design process. It's an opposite way of thinking than the usual business of most libraries which is to offer solutions that they think will meet a user's needs.

I attended the Head of Technical Services IG and heard about how the University of Chicago used user stories to inform the catalog design they worked on. They conducted 20 interviews and, from those interviews, they identified 200 unique stories. These stories fell into categories like browsing, composition of full records, and integration with other tools.

I like the idea of integrating user stories into any major design or redesign of a library resource. Libraries often believe that they know what their users want a piece of technology to do. Whether it's a citation manager or the library catalog, we think that we know how users work. And many times, we can bring anecdotal evidence to support that. Sometimes we even do usability testing to choose between options we've identified. But none of these things give users a voice during the initial phase of designing a resource or deciding which resource to purchase. Often, by the time we ask our users for their $0.02, the decision has already been made. And we try to do our best to help users live with the decisions we made by training them on how to use the resource we've purchased. But how many times have you taught a class on a piece of technology and had to tell someone that it doesn't do what they really want it to do?

How would things be different if we let the users tell their own stories and then found ways to solve those problems for them?

We might make different choices about the technology we decide to purchase and we might find open source solutions that meet our users' needs better than vendor-supplied solutions. 

We also might start asking for more from our vendors in the way of flexible implementations. Rather than purchasing the solution that comes the closest to doing what we think our users need it to do, we can approach vendors with evidence that we need them to provide implementations of solutions that do what our users actually need them to do. that you know what a user story is and have heard about someone doing it well, how will you integrate this trend into your library? 

Be visible. Be proactive. Be awesome.

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