In 2015 I was invited to participate in a small #InfoFutures forum funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and hosted by the Simmons School of Library and Information Science. We were tasked with envisioning the future of information and how to educate future information professionals for this emerging world.Read More
I'm honored to have been chosen as the inaugural guest on the new Beyond the Stacks: Innovative Careers in Library and Information Science podcast from the Institute of Museum and Library Services!
Beyond the Stacks is dedicated to exploring interesting and unexpected career paths for librarians and information professionals, something I am personally very passionate about.
I was recently invited to the UIC Daley Library to speak to an awesome group of librarians that are using UX methods to learn about and improve their institutions. The workshop focused on my work at Mozilla, how to plan a research study, and best practices for user interviews. Activities throughout the day gave all the attendees hands-on experience scoping, drafting, and running a user interview. You can see my slides below and learn more about the Chicago Library UX group on their meetup page.
(© 2015 Gemma Petrie. All rights reserved.)
My alma mater, The University of Illinois, recently interviewed me about "nontraditional" librarianship. Check out the article on the GSLIS website.
With a background in nonprofits and a passion for keeping the web open and accessible, Gemma Petrie has put the skills she gained at GSLIS to good use in her job as a user experience researcher for Mozilla.
Where do you work and what is your role?
I work at Mozilla as a user experience researcher. It is my job to learn about the goals and challenges faced by the people we serve and to share those insights so that we can create better products.
What do you like best about your job?
I love that I work for a mission-driven organization that I am proud of and that I am constantly learning about people and their lives. Right now, my research is focused on emerging trends and unmet needs around Internet usage in Southeast Asia. I recently led field research in Thailand, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn about the motivations, concerns, and behaviors of Thai Internet users.
How did GSLIS help you get to where you are today?
I spent several years working in Chicago nonprofits, where I had the opportunity to work with people experiencing various types of technology for the first time in their lives. This work had a profound effect on me, and I decided that I wanted to focus on information and technology access full time. I considered pursuing [a degree in human-computer interaction] but ultimately decided that the LIS field's focus on people and information access would provide a better theoretical foundation for the type of UX work that I find most rewarding.
What advice would you like to share with GSLIS students?
I think LIS is a great foundation for many different information and technology careers, but I'd be lying if I said I was always able to find courses relevant to my career aspirations. I'd advise any student who is interested in working in a "nontraditional" job to seek out opportunities to gain expertise in that field while still in school. I augmented my coursework through an independent study, I found an amazing internship opportunity through an alumna, I took on small pro bono UX projects to build a portfolio of work, and I co-founded the local UX Book Club chapter in Champaign-Urbana. Don't be afraid to carve out your own path in LIS. It may take extra work while you are in school, but you will be in a strong position upon graduation.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
When I'm not traveling for work, I spend my time enjoying good food with friends, exploring Chicago, and spending as much time as possible outside. I also help organize the Chicago UX Book Club and chiDUXX (a professional organization for women in the UX and design fields).
What’s next for you?
I'm really proud of the work Mozilla is doing, and I plan to continue to support their efforts to keep the web open and accessible. I'm also excited to be part of Chicago's thriving tech community, and I'm always looking for new opportunities to learn from all of the amazing people here.
Two years ago, I sat unhappily in my office at a Chicago nonprofit and wondered what was next. I had spent the better part of my working life committed to social service endeavors, but the last few years had really put my idealism to the test. I decided to apply to the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library & Information Science and I'm happy to report that this was an excellent decision. Here are some highlights (I'm sure I will be adding to this list):
-I was lucky to receive one of a fleeting number of Graduate Assistantships where I worked with Professors Jim Evans and Joyce Wright to manage an extensive agricultural communication archive in exchange for reduced tuition.
-I had the opportunity to work as a reference librarian in a University of Illinois Library where I learned the valuable lesson that traditional reference work is not for me.
-I met dozens of fascinating people and new friends.
-I took 15 classes over four semesters with a number of excellent instructors. (Straight A's - too!)
Information Organization & AccessReference & Information ServicesAdministration & Use of Archival MaterialsRare Book & Special Collection LibrarianshipFoundations of Information Processing (Python Programming)Introduction to DatabasesE-GovernmentLibraries, Information & SocietyPracticum - Sears Taxonomy & User ExperienceGeographic Information SystemsApplied Business Research (Knowledge Management & Competitive Intelligence)Independent Study - User Experience RAW Photography (Art & Design Department)Interfaces to Information SystemsMetadata in Theory & Practice
-I spent my winter break last year working for the American Library Association where I had the opportunity to manage content strategy projects for two divisions.
-I attended the American Library Association Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA where I learned a lot and had an amazing time hanging out with Julia, Ron, Will & Jeanne.
-I ran the spring Illinois Marathon and beat my previous PR by over 13 minutes.
-I helped found the first Champaign-Urbana UX Book Club with Melinda, Meghan & Dan. I learned a lot from all of the members and it pushed me to read some great material.
-I got to take my first art class since middle school. (Thanks for taking a chance on me, Professor Scott!)
-I lived in a beautiful house with two great roommates and friends, Meghan and Maria.
-I started bike commuting for the first time since I lived in Portland.
-I enjoyed some incredible summer bike rides with library friends, thanks to the Bikes & Beers club Andrew founded.
-I made sure to visit Mirabelle Bakery and the Urbana Farmers Market frequently.
-Ran the Kentucky Bourbon Chase relay with Nick and nearly a dozen new, awesome friends.
Hooray! I'm officially a librarian!
(And I have a job - more on that soon!)
Bolt, N., & Tulathimutte, T. (2010). Remote Research. Brooklyn, N.Y: Rosenfeld Media. 266 pages.
We selected Remote Research for discussion at the November UX Book Club CU event. Nate Bolt is the president of Bolt | Peters, an interaction research and design firm. Tony Tulathimutte has left the world of user experience research and is now a fiction writer. This book is written for a broad audience, but primarily for readers who already have a general understanding of how conventional user research works.
Remote research is user experience research that is conducted through the phone and internet rather than in person. Bolt and Tulathimutte explain how to organize, recruit, and run moderated and unmoderated remote research studies. The book includes a thoughtful and necessary discussion on privacy and consent, methods of analysis, and remote research tools. You can find a similar list on the Remote Research website.
My initial assumption going into this book was that Remote Research would be a cheap way to include a large number of test participants in a study. Interestingly, Bolt and Tulathimutte argue that remote research is not necessarily cheaper. Our UX book club wondered if this assertion was partially a symptom of an agency-only perspective. While this seems like a sensible claim for a commercial researcher billing clients for their time, it seemed to us that remote research would in fact be a cheaper method for an academic researcher trying to get the most out of their grant money, for example. One of our UX Book Club members is currently designing a research study that will require remote research methods. It was interesting to discuss the practical considerations with her as it related to her upcoming project.
The most convincing argument in favor of remote research is that this method is able to intercept test participants while they are performing tasks of interest. By catching users in their natural environment as they are performing a task flow they intended to pursue anyway, remote research allows for more authentic insight into the user experience. Similarly, remote research allows researchers to test participants all over the world, rather than just a new batch of local residents.
This book convinced me that remote research is something every UX professional should be learning about. There's no question that the future of user research will incorporate many of these methods. However, the main issue I have with remote research is part of its largest selling point - What type of user would agree to participate in a study in the middle of a frustrating experience? How many non-tech savvy people will be interested in the added challenge of navigating a remote test? How can you be confident in the integrity of your test sample? Of course, these aren't new issues in user research. Similar things could be said about participants in traditional testing. (Is it an issue that all our participants are free on a Tuesday morning? - for example.) Yet, I want to believe that there is something important about in-person research. That observing facial expressions provides unique insight. That greeting a participant and talking them through a study provides valuable information about how humans interact with technology, in a way that impersonal communication does not. Though, perhaps I'm reading more into in-person user research than I should be.
For more information on the topic, check out the Bolt | Peters Remote Research website, this 2010 article by Kyle Soucy in UX Matters titled, "Unmoderated Remote Usability Testing: Good or Evil?" and Soucy's 2011 IA Summit talk by the same name.
My December graduation date is arriving quickly. Since this is the last time in my life I expect to be a student, I'm hoping to take advantage of any associated perks before I receive my diploma (and read all the library articles I can). Some of the best include:
Adobe: Up to 80% off software. Amazon: Free Amazon Prime (free 2-day shipping). Apple: Education discounts on hardware and software. Axure: Popular wireframing and rapid prototyping software. Good students (3.0 GPA or higher) receive a free license. Lyric Opera: Discounted tickets to Chicago opera. Professional Organizations: Many, like the ALA, offer steep discounts to students on membership dues and conferences. WebStore: Free and discounted software. UI-specific, but many universities have something similar.
Anything else I shouldn't miss?
I had the opportunity to tour the Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab this afternoon. This amazing resource is part of a network of digital fabrication labs around the world. SocioTechnical Systems Professor Betty Barrett gave us a tour of the facility. The lab is primarily operated by volunteer staff and is open to anyone in the community. In addition to open-source software work stations and a huge variety of tools, the lab also houses impressive machinery including a Roland Servo Desktop Vinyl Cutter and an Epilog Helix 350 Laser Engraver.
A few things I learned:
-The laser engraver doesn't require extremely advanced design skills or obscure file formats. It uses PDF files (exclusively) to engrave areas up to 12" x 18." Users must determine the size, speed, and frequency of the laser. An initial test run is always conducted on cardboard to ensure an acceptable final product. You can read more about this machine on the Fab Lab CU site.
-Inkscape is an open source scaleable vector graphics editor that is popular in the lab (SVG file format).
-It's possible to make inflatable steel furniture (not in the lab, I just thought this was neat).
-The lab occasionally hosts workshops. I'm disappointed that I'll be missing their workshop on wearables this weekend (there is still space, if you want to sign up). We were able to check out the amazing textiles they ordered from Inventables, like temperature sensitive polyester, conductive elastic fabric, and glass fiber metallic mesh.
Fab Lab Art Annex 2 1301 South Goodwin Avenue Urbana, IL 61801
Brooks, K., & Quesenbery, W. (2010). Storytelling for User Experience. Brooklyn, N.Y: Rosenfeld Media. 320 pages.
We selected Storytelling for User Experience for discussion at the October UX Book Club CU event. Kevin Brooks is a researcher at Motorola Labs and a professional storyteller. Whitney Quesenbery is a user researcher and usability expert. This book is written for a broad audience and would appeal to both designers and researchers.
It's no secret that I tend to enjoy books published by Rosenfeld Media. They are well-organized, beautifully designed, and generally provide concise and clear treatment on timely topics. While I'm glad I read this book, if I hadn't been leading a book club discussion on the material I probably would not have finished it. In the first nine chapters Brooks & Quesenbery make a compelling case for using stories throughout the user experience design process - from communicating specific requirements to design teams to using stories to craft usability tasks. In the remaining six chapters the authors provide detailed instructions on how to create stories - discussing elements like perspective, plot, and delivery. Embedded within the main text are stories and anecdotes from the authors and other UX professionals. While some of the information contained in the later chapters is useful, I expected a book with more detail on how to use stories in user experience research, not a primer on basic story structure. I think this book could have benefited from stronger editing and could have 150 pages shorter.
Rosenfeld, L. (2011). Search Analytics for Your Site. Brooklyn, N.Y: Rosenfeld Media. 224 pages.
We selected Search Analytics for Your Site for discussion at the first UX Book Club CU event in September. This book by Louis Rosenfeld, co-author of Information Architecture and founder of Rosenfeld Media, will appeal to anyone that works with a searchable website or intranet. Rosenfeld persuasively argues that organizations are sitting on mountains of useful data in search logs, yet few are analyzing this valuable source of information. Search log data can be used to better understand who your users are. This data comes directly from users, highlights user expectations for your site, and best of all describes user activity in the their own words. The book provides a clear and concise introduction to search analytics along with recommendations for interpreting this data to improve your site. Rosenfeld also provides an informative introduction on how to retrieve and understand search logs. This book is a quick read and is packed with useful information. I highly recommend it to anyone working with searchable websites.
My first substantive post to this website garnered a bit of attention back in June. At the time I was reading Information Architecture for the World Wide Web and becoming increasingly disillusioned by the lack of relevant course offerings in my program. My short post was picked up by none other than Peter Morville himself:
This exchange sparked the beginning of a conversation with some GSLIS administrators and I'm hoping to get involved with the Curriculum Committee this fall. In July, the Library Journal referenced my post in the article Putting the UX in Education | The User Experience and Office Hours by Aaron Schmidt & Michael Stephens. They write,
"User experience (UX) thinking was born at information schools but hasn’t found a home in many libraries. Why not? The answer is simple. Many LIS programs haven’t integrated UX coursework into their curricula, and libraries suffer as a result.... LIS schools reviewing curricula may want to shift some of the focus placed on materials and process to user needs, behavior, and creating experience."
They go on to recommend specific coursework (like interpreting and employing user research and usability testing), while suggesting that elements of UX should be part of the overall LIS curriculum.
Do you live, work, or study in the Champaign-Urbana area? Do you have an interest in user experience, information architecture, user interfaces, or a related field?
Join us for monthly UX Book Club discussions and the opportunity to interact with students and professionals looking to share their passion and knowledge of UX, IA, UI.
Find us on Meetup!
After a calming two weeks of backpacking in my favorite place in the U.S., I am back in Champaign-Urbana for my last semester of graduate school. I will be continuing my work as a Graduate Assistant in the Agricultural Communications Documentation Center, an agricultural special collection located in the University of Illinois ACES Library. This is shaping up to be the most exciting of my four semesters. My courses include:
Fall 2011 -Metadata in Theory & Practice -Electronic Publishing: Technologies & Practices (XML) -Interfaces to Information Systems -RAW Photography (yes, an undergrad art class!)
Courses I have completed at the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science:
Summer 2011 -Geographic Information Systems -Applied Business Research: Competitive Intelligence & Knowledge Management -Independent Study: Information Architecture, User Experience & Taxonomies
Spring 2011 -Foundations of Information Processing in Lib & Info Science (Python programming) -Introduction to Database Design -E-Government -Libraries, Information and Society -Practicum: Sears Holdings Corporation Taxonomy and User Experience Intern
Fall 2010 -Information Organization and Access -Reference and Information Services -Administration and Use of Archival Materials -Rare Books and Special Collections Librarianship
In June I attended the 2011 American Library Association Annual Conference. I had the opportunity to meet a number of fantastic library students and recent graduates from other programs. Micah Vandegrift, one of the contributors to the wonderful blog Hack Library School, asked me to take part in a brief interview about my MLIS program. You can listen to it here. (I've been a bit remiss in posting about my experience at the conference. I hope to soon, but in the meantime feel free to read about the food and beverage side of things on my other website, Pro Bono Baker.)
Spencer, D. (2009). Card sorting: Designing usable categories. Brooklyn, N.Y: Rosenfeld Media. 162 pages.
Spencer is a freelance information architect and interaction designer with extensive experience. This book is written for a general audience, but it will be of primary value for professionals learning how to conduct or improve card sorts. It is one of the only book-length resources available to focus on this subject. This book is primarily about card sorting but addresses the over-arching issue of how to design usable categories of information that other people will have to use and understand. Spencer begins with a clear explanation of what card sorting is, how it may or may not be the best option for the reader, and a short treatment of issues in categorization. The bulk of this book walks the reader through a detailed work-flow of how to think about, set-up, and administer a card sort. It also includes several case studies and references to additional web content. Spencer is extremely knowledgeable and it is valuable to gain insight into her research process. The most exciting element of this book can be found in the final two chapters, which focus on how to analyze the card sorting data. The book provides a brief overview of various statistical methods and focuses on the three that Spencer uses the most often: k-means cluster analysis, hierarchical cluster analysis, and multidimensional scaling. This is a fantastic book useful for anyone interested in running a card sort. It provides very current, expert, and unique information.
Warfel, T. Z. (2009). Prototyping: A practitioner's guide. Brooklyn, N.Y: Rosenfeld Media. 197 pages.
Warfel is a principal designer at messagefirst in Philadelphia with extensive experience in design research and usability. This book aims to be a concise manual on prototyping for user experience designers. It is written for a general audience, but it will be of primary value for those interested in or already working in the user experience field. Warfel argues that prototyping is an important step in the design process because it “simulates multiple states” of the final product. The book begins by describing the theoretical framework of prototyping in a web-based environment and includes tips and best-practices for various types of prototyping work. The middle of the book is dedicated to specific methods of prototyping, including pros and cons of different methods and detailed information on various types of prototyping software. Due to its recent publication date, new practitioners might find this information particularly useful. The last part of this book addresses how to test completed prototypes. This is a concise and well-written book that will be useful for any professional interested in improving their user experience design.
Morville, P., & Rosenfeld, L. (2007). Information architecture for the World Wide Web. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly. 528 pages.
Morville and Rosenfeld are credited with founding the field of information architecture through their work with Argus Associates and both continue to be highly regarded and engaged practitioners in the field. Morville is currently the founder and president of Semantic Studios, an information architecture, user experience, and findability firm. He is also a faculty member at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. Rosenfeld is the founder and principle of Louis Rosenfeld, LLC, an information architecture consultancy firm. Both Morville and Rosenfeld have backgrounds in information science and are co-founders of the Information Architecture Institute. Now in its third edition, “the polar bear book” is the quintessential manual on information architecture. This book is intended for a wide audience including both new and experienced information architects. This is the most comprehensive book on the information architecture field I have found in my research. The book covers a vast amount of information including: Defining information architecture, practicing information architecture, user needs and behaviors, the anatomy of information architecture, organization systems, labeling, navigation, search, thesauri, controlled vocabularies, metadata, research, implementation strategy, design and documentation, as well as practical advice for practitioners on education and ethics, making the case for information architecture in your organization, and two exhaustive case studies. The book is full of references to other information sources for further exploration. This is, without question, the best starting point for anyone with a serious interest in learning about information architecture. Much of the content covered in shorter books like The Elements of User Experience or Content Strategy for the Web is covered here and the rich context that the other content provides is worth the extra time investment. Of particular note, Morville and Rosenfeld do an excellent job of connecting information architecture to the common language of the library and information science field. Additionally, they offer persuasive arguments throughout the book for pursuing good information architecture that will be useful to any practitioner who needs to convey the value of this work to their organization.
Lambe, P. (2007). Organising knowledge: Taxonomies, knowledge and organisational effectiveness. Oxford: Chandos. 275 pages.
Lambe is a co-founder and the principal consultant of Straits Knowledge, a Singapore-based knowledge and information management firm. He has a background in information science. This book is written for a semi-technical audience of information professionals. The first few chapters offer an expertly written overview of taxonomies with clear definitions and examples of various types of taxonomies and their uses. The middle of the book takes a more theoretical approach to taxonomies and how they relate to the knowledge management field. The last portion of the book returns to practical and well-written information on implementing a taxonomy project with case study examples. There are few exhaustive, academic introductions to taxonomies and Lambe provides the best that I have found in my research. His clear writing style makes it easy to make connections among the content that he presents. Though many of the middle chapters seem to primarily function as an advertisement for Lambe’s consulting business, the majority of the pages are packed with highly useful and current information on the field of taxonomy.
Hedden, H. (2010). The accidental taxonomist. Medford, N.J: Information Today. 472 pages.
Hedden is an information management professional and lecturer at Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science. She currently works as a senior analyst and taxonomy consultant for the Project Performance Corporation. Previously, Hedden worked in controlled vocabulary and indexing with Gale Cengage. This book offers an organized overview of taxonomy work appropriate for a general audience, but of primary interest to a new taxonomist. Patrick Lambe wrote the forward to this book and he aptly describes Hedden’s effort as one that focuses on the practitioner rather than on the enterprise. This book does a nice job of defining taxonomy related terms. The most valuable feature is Hedden’s clear and concise descriptions of taxonomic relationships (e.g. hierarchical and associative). Due to its recent publication date, the descriptions of current software for taxonomy creation and management will be of interested to new taxonomists. This is a useful book for practitioners who need to quickly learn what they need to do as a taxonomist rather than an individual interested in learning about the theory behind taxonomy development.
The American Library Association annual conference took place in New Orleans this year. I waited until the last minute to decide to attend, but in late June I joined thousands of other librarians and archivists for a week in a truly lovely city.
It's no secret that I have a special place in my heart for long-distance train travel. I take the City of New Orleans route between Chicago and Champaign several times a month, but this was my first ride heading all the way south on this line. Most of the daylight hours on the 17 hour trip are spent traveling through the beautiful state of Mississippi and the end of the route skirts Lake Pontchartrain before arriving in New Orleans.
I'd visited New Orleans before, but several years ago when I was still a teenager. I remember the trips fondly, but they were fairly limited in location and activity.
I am lucky to have two warm and generous friends, Will and Jeanne, living in New Orleans who hosted me in the Bywater neighborhood. On my frist night, we went out for fried shrimp po'boys from Parkway and saw the Stooges Brass Band play at the Hi-Ho. The musicians were stacked three deep on the small stage and kept us out late. It was the perfect introduction to the city and away from the typical tourist path.
We were fortunate to enjoy wonderful weather. The week of rain that had been predicted held off for the most part. It was hot, for sure, but it was pleasant enough for walking, biking, and plenty of patio dining.
The population of New Orleans is just shy of 350,000 people (nearly 30% less than a decade ago), and 20,000 librarians flooding the convention and French Quarter districts made quite an impact. Nearly every place I went, I spotted hip glasses, vacation smiles, and sensible shoes.
I love to eat and drink, though I tend to keep a fairly vegetarian diet, making exceptions for local fare and well-raised meats. New Orleans cast a spell on me and I wound up eating more meat in five days than I have eaten in the last ten years combined (no joke). This is a city that has immense pride in their culinary traditions and it was a joy to take part. At Coop's, I went so far as to order the Taste Plate and did my best to wade through Seafood Gumbo, Shrimp Creole, Cajun Fried Chicken, Red Beans & Rice with Sausage, and Rabbit & Sausage Jambalaya.
The best meal of my trip was at Boucherie where we ate mussels, hamachi, smoked scallops, ribs, and crispy duck confit with cucumber dill salad and sauce gribiche (pictured above). Every dish was beautifuly presented, fresh, and complex. The meal was reasonably priced and the service was wonderful. Chef Nathanial Zimet was recently shot in front of his home. He survived, thankfully, but is facing daunting medical bills. If you are planning a trip to New Orleans soon, don't miss the chance to enjoy a superb meal and support this business.
After dinner, we enjoyed blueberry mojitos at St. Joe's Bar on their dreamy patio. The midwest could certainly learn a thing or two about outdoor hospitality from our southern friends. The outdoor bar, breezy fans, and gently rocking lanterns made for a serene evening.
I enjoyed several excellent breakfasts in New Orleans. One morning, I skipped an early conference session and met Julia - my friend, fellow student, and daily companion for the week - for our obligatory visit to Café du Monde.
The beignets were just as flaky and sugary as I remembered, and the to-go line made for a quick wait followed by a leisurely rest in Jackson Square Park.
A few miles away in the Bywater neighborhood is Satsuma, a bustling coffee shop with a fairly extensive menu and delicious food. The beet lemonade and bacon, egg, and cheese on a cheddar biscuit were simple, but extremely satisfying.
Elizabeth's, just a few blocks away in Bywater, served the last great breakfast of the trip. It is a fairly plain looking restaurant. However, their eggs, cheddar grits, biscuit, and praline bacon are anything but.
After our last full day at the conference, I realized I had yet to have a Pimm's Cup, Sazerac, or Muffuletta - three items with a strong attachment to the city.
I made my way over to Napoleon House with a few friends and set out to correct that. It had just rained, and the gorgeous patio was nearly empty.
Napoleon House has been around since 1797. While nothing we ordered was amazing (lime and no cucumber in the Pimm's Cup...), the venue was truly impressive. It was full of old wood, ferns, and natural light.
New Orleans is a welcoming, bike-friendly, laid-back city. It's full of amazing food, vibrant colors, and great music. I'd like to see more of the south. I tend to stay above the 37th parallel, but I think I've been missing out.
I'm incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to become reacquainted with New Orleans, reconnect with Will and Jeanne, and become more engaged in my professional community. It was a fun and invigorating trip.
You can find more pictures here.