As Without, So Within: UX in Library Design


In today’s digital age, a lot of the focus in the field of User Experience (UX) is on human computer interaction; how users interface with digital tools such as websites, apps, devices, etc. However, UX is not limited to the digital side, and often times the physical environment needs to be considered as well. In 2015, The Southeast Florida Library Information Network (SEFLIN) buried themselves deep into UX projects that paid special focus on the physical aspects of their libraries and how to make improvements for their patrons. Six of SEFLIN libraries were selected and Aaron Schmidt, a library design consultant, met with each of them to discuss their issues and aspirations for their library and to come up with projects they’d like to face. Aaron Schmidt wrote about this here, and this blog post is based off of his article. Although there was no follow up, that I could find, it is interesting to see the problems that came up and their plans to fix it. A lot of which is relatable to a lot of libraries out there.

Welcoming entrances are important. One of the SEFLIN libraries had an entrance that did not immediately introduce patrons with the staff. Patrons should be met with staff immediately, which in turn should be warm and inviting. This creates a connection with the patron and makes them know that the staff is ready to help. In addition to this, I believe it also is great for security reasons. The SEFLIN library decided to go on what they called “service safaris” to investigate how other libraries designed their entrances, and then pick one and implement a prototype of it for a two week period to teach them what works and what will not.

Another great example from the SEFLIN UX projects was this idea of “improving through removing”. One particularly old library, about 75 years old, had collected so much material. They decided that the best way to improve was to begin to weed their items, and donate their art work to museums. Another library noticed that their signage was ineffective, so they simply removed them all so that they could determine which signs were mostly needed. These are great ideas for different reasons, the first allowed the library to reduce their materials, to make room for updated ones and to also create more space in their environment which will be more visually aesthetic to their patrons, and the other was a great way to figure out why their signs were ineffective and which ones were definitely necessary.

Finally, another note worthy task that one of the SEFLIN libraries faced was that their elevators and staircases were featured so inefficiently that most of their patrons had not known that they had a 3rd and 4th floor! This is a perfect example to show why design is so important and why having the users in mind when designing even the layout of a building is essential. Patrons were unable to make full use of this library because they had no idea of these floors. What this library planned to do was to recruit 15 people, give them tasks to do throughout the library and observe how they accomplished or did not accomplish the tasks. They also recorded all directional questions and experimented with cross-staffing their desks. This reminds me of a typical User Experience evaluation, but rather than observing them doing tasks on a digital device, its observing how they use the building as a whole.

These were some of the tasks faced by SEFLIN. You can see the rest here in the article. How users interact with a library, whether physically or digitally, are very important and in today’s world, the two go hand in hand. In today’s world, a typical transaction in the library often begins digitally, where the patron connects to a digital catalog maybe from home or from the library and then comes to the library to either retrieve it themselves or place it on hold to be picked up at the desk. A well-designed system could create building plans that allow the patron to see where exactly they need to go on the shelves, or where the pick up desk is located to retrieve their holds. Having well designed buildings and digital spaces will allow patrons access without much thought on their part. It should feel natural, even if the task is complicated. When the physical environment aids to the users’ use and is augmented by its digital features, you’ll have much more satisfied and fulfilled users.


Schmidt, A. (2015, March 5). Library UX in Practice | The User Experience. Retrieved April 07, 2016, from