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Sarah Hammill's picture

Courtney Greene McDonald

Monday, June 16, 2014 - 9:00 am to Friday, June 20, 2014 - 5:00 pm

IAmRUSA Interviewee for the Week of June 16th is

Courtney Greene McDonald

Ask her a question!


Courtney McDonald's picture

Hi, everyone,
My name is Courtney Greene McDonald and I am the head of Discovery & Research Services at Indiana University Bloomington Libraries. I'm a native Hoosier - I got my MLS at IU Bloomington in 2000 - and I've been in this position for a little over three years, following about a decade working in Chicago at the University of Illinois at Chicago and DePaul University Libraries.

My department is responsible for the IU Bloomington Libraries' website, the public interface for IUCAT (the IU Libraries' online catalog), and our Ebsco Discovery Service implementation, along with a few other project (the Libraries' blogs, technical administration of Libraryh3lp, etc), so we keep pretty busy! I am interested in user experience and in discovery, so these projects provide plenty of food for thought. Last year, we launched a discovery layer interface for IUCAT, powered by Blacklight (an open source application) and this year we are launching a new website, migrated from a locally developed content management system to Drupal (also an open source application).

Although my work is more technology focused now, to me it's an extension of the reference and instruction work I've done throughout my career. My involvement with MARS Emerging Technologies in Reference section has been a great opportunity to network, learn and collaborate with other public services librarians interested in technology.  

In my spare time, I like to garden and cook (and to read, naturally!), and my husband and I enjoy travelling.

I look forward to your questions!



Sarah Hammill's picture

Hi Courtney!

Like you, I am interested in the user experience (hmm, it might be something in the I.U. curriculum?!?!?).  Can you share some of the ways you gather feedback from your users?  How do you use the information you gather and how do you balance the user experience from some of the politics that may come into play with web technologies?



Courtney McDonald's picture

Hi, Sarah, 

Thanks for writing to kick this off!

We do some information gathering in our department for our projects and I can talk about that more in detail in a moment, but organizationally, we also have other individuals and departments focused on data gathering, assessment and the user experience - our Assessment Librarian, Andrew Asher; and the User Experience & Digital Media Services department headed by Mark Notess. Andrew was involved with the ERIAL project (http://www.erialproject.org/), an ethnographic study conducted across five institutions in Illinois, and he and a group have been doing similar research at IU. He also looks at usage statistics across the board. The UX department works with a number of departments and areas to consider what users experience across the breadth of the various applications and interfaces we offer as the IUB Libraries. 

For ourselves in DRS, we use Google Analytics to get a sense of trend lines for usage, and to see what terms our users are searching; we have reviewed chat transcripts to see what sorts of questions seem to trend at what times; and we have done some needs assessments, surveys, and user studies as well. One of my colleagues will be embarking on a usability study of the new IUCAT interface with a colleague from the UX/DMS department this fall. In the past we've gathered data when developing the Libraries mobile site in 2011 and again in the early stages of designing for the new Libraries site - asking students and faculty about how and when they do research, how they use the Libraries' site (or not), sites they like and use regularly (whatever they are), what they might or might not expect to find there, that sort of thing. 

Another thing I like to review and think over is this - what reference questions do you get over and over and over? Are there any changes you can make to your website, your signage, your policies, that will make those things easier for people, or that might remove unintentional barriers?

Your question about balancing user feedback with internal goals (and/or politics) is a great one, and for myself I have found the best success in trying to share as directly as possible the users' struggles with the affected groups. Sometimes it's a matter of being able to contextualize the numbers so that they communicate the story, the human experience, beyond just the data. Librarians are helpful people, we want things to work well, and we want our users to be able to succeed in their quest for information - but like any specialized group, it's easy to forget that we don't experience things in the same way as non-library folk (civilians, as I like to say). If you can get transcripts of user comments as they complete tasks that illustrate where the pain points are, or even better, use a product like Morae or others to be able to show picture-in-picture video of how someone struggles to find the right place to click and the stress on their face, most folks really want to make that better. 

The other part of making progress on any project is transparency - which for me in project management means that as much as possible, we want to be able to share with people the constraints, the opportunities, the timelines, so that they understand how we are prioritizing work. This is something that's not easy, no matter the size of your organization, but it's an ongoing effort. Often as people get a sense of all the things that are on the plate, it can be easier for everyone to understand why some things get placed ahead of other things - and user feedback plays into that as well. If a lot of users comment on a problem or ask for the same new feature, that makes it a higher priority. 

Great questions! I'd love to hear what you (or others) do as far as gathering feedback or in regard to balancing priorities.