Uneasy or even unhealthy relationships between liaison librarians and developers?

May 16 2016 Published by under librarians

Two things I've seen today show breakdowns and "other"-ing between liaison librarians and UX or IT or acquisitions or other parts of the library team. This is about one.

A liaison librarian, bibliographer, collection developer - similar with slight differences - is the pointy end of the spear in academic libraries. They go out and coordinate with the researchers. They may teach classes. They select materials and create resource guides on various subjects. Other librarians work within the library to organize information, negotiate and track licenses, build and maintain systems to provide access to licensed resources, etc.

This article by Tim Broadwater is horrific: Why am I doing this to our usershttp://libux.co/why-am-i-doing-this-to-our-users/ (via Francoeur on Slack)

The author is a UX person who is part of a development team. They're basically jerked around by a committee of liaison librarians who turn their personal experience and their limited interactions with a few users of the system into requirements for the design. The UX person tried to pause the process to study what was needed to no avail and it all went downhill from there. At some point they needed to approve every single design decision.

First, I have to say that while I think there's often some tension, I haven't seen anything this bad places I've been. The developer who was at MPOW certainly had some disagreements with liaison librarians but there was always a tremendous amount of respect in both directions. For one thing, he did see librarians as some of the primary users of the catalog and other tools. Really, who does use the catalog more than librarians? Shouldn't their needs be important, too? The other thing is that he reached out to us to ask for data. Not that he did everything we suggested but if we saw something helpful or had helpful feedback or even many hands make light work in testing.

I have a lot of respect for UX researchers... but they are not infallible, either. For example, a new intranet site makes it impossible to learn how to answer a standard question: "is this particular book available online from our collections?"  "do we have a copy of this book at all?" ... it turns out that the questions they used in testing were not run by any of the librarians. They asked "tell me how you would find an ebook" ... and the users were all very successful in locating a list of ebook collections that was only developed to support research guides. It was never intended to be freestanding. This is not the right question. And, it turns out, the freaking catalog was not linked from anywhere in the original production version of the page. In the old page it was front and center.

So it may seem obvious but it's another case of each side respecting the other's expertise. Also, someone should have stepped on the brakes before the relationships were completely trashed.* Developers: liaison librarians can be your best allies if you can work with them successfully. Librarians: developers, UX team members, software engineers are not peons who must slavishly take all of your suggestions - they are experts, too, and you need to listen!

*author dude surely must be looking for a new job or is he assuming co-workers won't read his article?

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