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Cindy Beggs

Cindy Beggs

Akendi Alumnus

Library Science and User Experience? Makes Sense?

I’m a librarian and I work in the user experience, (UX), field.  From time to time when I tell people that I’m a librarian and I work in UX I see raised eyebrows, heads that turn slightly to one side, brows that furrow.  Unfortunately, I’ve also seen looks of dismissal.  Sometimes I’m asked what connection there is between being a librarian and UX, but usually it’s put to me very politely:  “That’s so interesting! How did a librarian get into UX?”.

From my point of view, librarianship has always been about UX. Librarians love organizing vast amounts of content and enabling our users to find it.  For centuries we have acted, and continue to act, as the human system that augments the findability of content, because the non-human systems that have been created don’t always make finding information easy for users to do on their own.

Take a look at this

S. R. Ranganathan, who was a librarian and a mathematician, created the 5 laws of library science in 1931. I learned about them in library school just over half a century later and they resonated deeply.

The 5  laws of a Library

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

Dr. Ranganathan’s laws resonate even more deeply as time passes.  He understood use.

The way that these laws have morphed for me in the decades since they were conceived

  1. Information is for use.
  2. Every user their information.
  3. Information should be found by the users who need it.
  4. Save the time of the user.
  5. Information is a growing organism.

If I overlay principles of user experience, or user-centred design, against these laws, here’s what I get

1. Information is for use

a) users have goals when they are interacting with information

i) through user research, gather and capture your users’ scenarios of use

2. Every user their information

a) different users have different usage goals

i) get to know through research who are your user personas

3. Information should be found by the users who need it

a) the onus is on us, as UX experts, to make information findable, not on our users to hunt for it or figure out where we’ve put it

i) conduct research with users and create information architectures that make sense to them

4. Save the time of the user

a) this one encapsulates why we need to do the other 3 and why we need to understand what usability is really all about

i) conduct usability testing early and often with real users to be sure they can find what they need efficiently and effectively

5. Information is a growing organism

a) this relates to the ever changing information landscape and the ever changing methods we, as UX experts, need to be on top of

i) ensure that how we store information and the way we provide access to it, (through different systems, form factors, out in the world through IoT), uphold the other 4 laws

Like other great thinkers, Dr. Ranganathan created timeless laws that transcend domains, industry and best practices.

 Library Science is one of the foundational sciences that contributed to what UX is today and one of the sciences that should be embedded in UX teams.

Rare is the individual who has real expertise in all areas of information architecture, interaction design and visual design.  I think as UX work becomes better understood, we’ll see more demand for multi-disciplinary teams and, I hope, fewer raised eyebrows at the site of a librarian in this field.

Cindy Beggs

Cindy Beggs

Akendi Alumnus


Thanks Grant. I think library or “i” schools and of course, librarians, need to continue to raise awareness about what our skill set actually is and why it’s needed in the UX world.

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Akendi is a human experience design firm, leveraging equal parts experience research and creative design excellence. We provide strategic insights and analysis about customer and user behaviour and combine this knowledge with inspired design. The results enable organizations to improve effectiveness, engage users and provide remarkable customer experiences to their audiences.