Libraries, the universe and everything

ARLIS/NA conference 2018
February 27, 2018, 16:14
Filed under: Events | Tags: , ,

Over the past couple of years I’ve enjoyed attending various events organised by the New York chapter of ARLIS, but I have never been able to justify going to their association conference. However, when I saw that this year’s was going to be held here in New York I jumped at the chance, and bought myself a pass for the first day of programming.

After having had various levels of responsibilities at all the SLA conferences I’ve attended, it was rather nice to be there just as a regular attendee. It was also great to spot various people I know around the venue – mostly other NY librarians, of course, but a couple from further afield as well. Only being there for a day I wanted to make the most of my experience, so I attended three education sessions, part of the ARTSTOR lunch presentation, the poster session, and a quickfire vendor spotlight session. Plus, of course, I spent some time in conversations, and wandered around the exhibition hall for a while.

The two morning panels I chose to attend were about exhibitions and other forms of outreach: “Reaching out and showing off”, and “Strategic library exhibitions”. My main impression from both these sessions was that lots of libraries are doing all kinds of fun things – whether a roaming book cart taking subject-specific books to students in various locations around campus, open house events, roaming trivia-based audience polling, library exhibition fellowships working with a dedicated gallery space, pop-up exhibitions within the art library, providing materials for creative activities to help users de-stress (eg. making Halloween bats to decorate the library). Some places had budgets, others worked with existing resources. Leveraging what you have and who you know seemed to be a common theme, as was agility, adaptability, and remaining comfortable with a trial-and-error approach.

The afternoon session was called “Different by design: how art librarians are undertaking user experience”. This brought together five different presentations about various library website, portal, and lib guide redesigns. My main takeaways from this were:

  • when undertaking user testing be sure to ask questions about impressions as well as getting testers to perform tasks (eg. “what do you notice”, “what do you think you can do on this page” in addition to “where would you go to do a catalogue search”) in order to check your assumptions about how people view and navigate the site.
  • make sure testers represent a range of levels of experience – ask new people as well as long-term users.
  • people like lots of visuals and ideally videos.
  • it seems that most people come to library websites and libguides to accomplish specific tasks, so don’t overwhelm them with unnecessary information or excessive lists of links. Also make sure the guide or page title relates directly to the content.
  • use Google analytics or other tracking software to see how users progress from page to page within the site, and where they leave.
  • listen to your client base – they’ll tell you what they wish you would change (!).
  • take advantage of in-house expertise (eg. web developers, designers, comms people etc.).

Sadly I was unable to attend the evening reception due to another commitment – the hazards of attending a conference in your hometown, I suppose – so I obviously missed out on the real networking, but other than that it was a satisfying day. If I had a regular workplace I’d be brimming with ideas and suggestions, and as it is I’ve stored several thoughts away for later. It was also nice to catch up with friends, meet some new people, and get to know a few other acquaintances a little better. And of course now I’ll be eyeing up future ARLIS conferences to see if I can stretch the budget to attend again…!

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