Get to know: Jill Stover Heinze, MSLS
Director of User Experience
University of Virginia
“You are not the user.”
Although the term user experience, or UX, isn’t new, many industries are still struggling to determine how the end user’s interaction with—and perception of—their products and services should influence and inform their strategy.
Jill Heinze, MSLS, Director of User Experience at the University of Virginia (UVA), directs a nine-person, cross-functional UX team that supports not only the library, but some of the university’s priority projects. “It’s never dull in UX!” Jill affirms. “Because UVA Library strategically seeks to make our services and interfaces user friendly, UX participates to varying degrees in nearly all priority projects.”
Read more about UX and tips for marketing your library in our exclusive interview below.
On a daily basis, what are the top priorities for your UX team?
Broadly speaking, our scope encompasses online interfaces and in-person experiences, including accountability for managing print and digital signage, and conducting user research (surveys, focus groups, interviews) that supports librarians’ work. These accountabilities also mean we do a lot of promotion work since we manage many user-facing channels.
Currently, UX is preparing to migrate our website onto an entirely new set of technologies (very exciting!), while we’re also organizing user stories for a refresh of our catalog’s discovery layer, creating a communications plan for upcoming building projects, planning user research for Special Collections initiatives, and facilitating communications planning about the future of our collections. The major focus of my job is keeping our work organized, prioritized, user-focused, and ensuring my team has what it needs to do its best work.
Is your UX position new to UVA? Additionally, why should other librarians consider focusing on the user’s experience, in addition to their needs?
Fortunately, UVA Library has a long tradition of UX research and assessment that predates when I began to work here about five years ago. This means I don’t have to convince colleagues about UX’s value; they’re already onboard.
When I started at UVA, I was the solo UX librarian and relied on a team of volunteers to help carry out user studies. After we reorganized a few years ago, Library leadership dedicated the focused UX team as we have it today. The team structure has been a great success for our web presence because we’re able to more seamlessly integrate UX and development work since we’re all working on the same projects.
Whether or not you have a UX staff, understanding and responding to user needs is foundational library work. We exist to create value for users, so we need a way to understand what they care about and what makes sense to them. It’s amazing how even the most self-aware among us can easily slip into the assumption that we know what users need. Without research and feedback, we don’t. As we say in UX, “You are not the user.”
For which types of resources are you evaluating the user experience?
My team has a broad charge, so just about any user point of contact is an opportunity to explore the user experience. It’s true we focus quite a bit on our web environment, but given a lot of recent service and building projects, we’ve also done a fair amount of other assessments. For example, last semester we completed rounds of focus groups on what students want in makerspaces and investigated possible sources of dissatisfaction among some of our graduate student population.
Does the data you collect influence your library’s acquisition and collection management strategy?
Not really, but UX does have an important role with respect to collections. Our acquisitions and collections teams are adept at wading through our statistics and working with liaisons to inform our strategic decisions. UX is working with them to improve our ability to connect our users to our resources through promotion and our web strategy.
In my view, strong, relevant collections are a prerequisite for good user experiences. Regardless of how accessible UX makes collections, we need to have the right resources to begin with or there’s no point to making them easier to discover.
Just last year, you authored Library Marketing: From Passion to Practice, which is a new book in the Charleston Briefings series. What served as the inspiration for this book?
I sum up my inspiration as “optimistic frustration”. I’ve been thinking about marketing and libraries for a long time, but the librarian complaints about “people not knowing what we do” and the general tactics (emails, flyers, newsletters, blogs, tabling, social media, etc.) remain basically the same.
I’m frustrated when I see librarians’ important work fail to connect, yet we assume the disconnect is that we just haven’t told users about our services enough. I’m optimistic we can change this tired narrative if we hunker down and do the hard work of marketing, which is creating value for users. Too often, we focus on the catchy, visual aspects of communication but short shrift the necessity of critically evaluating our services, which true marketing demands. Communication is vital, but only if we’re telling users about things that are truly relevant to their needs.
If there’s one tip you could provide a colleague struggling to promote their library, what would it be?
Promotion may not be the problem. If you find your communications don’t create any behavior change, take a step back to decide if the ‘thing’ you’re promoting is deficient in some way. Just because something was the right thing to do at one time, that doesn’t mean that’s still the case. We need to scrutinize how to make our services better, and then promote them in terms of how our users benefit from them. You can’t do that until you think deeply about the value of what you’re doing from users’ perspectives.
How big of a role, if any, do you think social media should play in marketing a library?
I make it a point not to prescribe any particular tactic for marketing challenges. Social media is one set of communication tools among many. What’s more important than the tools is the goal you’re applying them to. I’ve been equally impressed by Montana State University Library’s robust social media strategy and by the College of New Jersey librarians’ decision to decline creating and maintaining their own social media accounts because it didn’t fit with their overall strategy. (I mention this example in my book).
With social media, as with marketing, the difficult choices involve determining what you’re trying to accomplish for users. It should play as big or small of a role in marketing your library as is needed to fulfill your mission.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?
I love it when I do user testing and users thank me for the opportunity to share their thoughts! Giving users a genuine stake and voice in what our library does makes my work meaningful.
What is the most challenging aspect of your career?
It’s difficult to balance all of the competing visions for library services and interfaces among stakeholders with naturally divergent needs and viewpoints. You absolutely need to enjoy working with people and intently listening to and acknowledging myriad voices to be successful in UX. It’s meticulous work, but worth it when you see tangible results.
What do you think will be the biggest changes/challenges to your field in the next five years? Ten years?
What a question! The higher education landscape, and consequently academic libraries, are under considerable pressures from enrollment challenges, demands to prove value, and a general reassessment. Society as a whole seems to be on the cusp of disruptive change too (I’m thinking of Artificial Intelligence as one game- changer). The biggest challenge for librarians will continue to be figuring out how to stay rooted in our missions while at the same time extending them to suit the new needs that will emerge. It’s easy to give up one for the other, but finding the right balance is what will help libraries retain a special place in their communities.
Anything else you’ve learned that you’d like to share with your colleagues?
Marketing-wise, I’ve learned that the best, most successful brands are those that are genuine. Don’t try to be Google, Amazon, or fill-in- the-blank- organization. Understand what you’re good at and what the purpose is that you’re uniquely able to fulfill, and let that drive your decision-making. Librarians do important work, and we need to confidently assert that fact wherever we can in a way that is true to who we are. I love this quote by former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz who said in his book Onward, “Every brand has inherent nuances that, if compromised, will eat away at its equity regardless of short-term returns.” Librarians can wield marketing to make those nuances shine.
Jill is the Director of User Experience at UVA Library where she manages a team of web developers and user researchers to nurture positive user relationships in both physical and virtual environments. She began her library career as the Undergraduate Services Coordinator at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). While there, she became an invited speaker and author on the topic of library marketing, earning recognition as a Library Journal Mover & Shaker. She has worked in the private sector as a competitive intelligence analyst, marketing analyst, and account director, while remaining active in the Competitive Intelligence Division of the Special Libraries Association. Today, Jill is thrilled to bring her library, market research, and analytical skills to her passion for connecting users with libraries. Jill holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from The Ohio State University, a Master of Science in Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Certificate in Marketing from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Outside of work, Jill spends most of her time being mom to two young kids (Jonas, 7, and Elissa, 3). She also fits in hobbies when possible, including the occasional yoga class, learning new web-related skills, picking up a non-fiction history book, and spending some lunches with a sketch pad and pencil to indulge the need to be creative.