University of Washington Libraries
Changing Mental Models
The UW Libraries wanted to move their cumbersome paper librarian promotion process to an online format. I designed a digital product using UW internal tools to create a solution that made the 8-month process easier at all levels of the organization. This project affected every librarian in the system, including executive-level stakeholders.
The result significantly cut down the time it took to prepare and review materials, as well as decreased the time it took to receive required letters and documentation. The real success of this project was changing the Libraries' mental modal from paper to digital.
My Role: User Research, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Prototyping, Usability Testing, Training
Tools: UW Catalyst, Adobe Acrobat
Duration: 2 years
Team Size: 1
Note: There are a limited number of visuals I can share because this project contained sensitive data.
Every year, UW Libraries Human Resources guides 6 to 15 librarians through the mandatory promotion process, which takes approximately 8 months to complete. Each librarian must show their accomplishments to advance to the next level in their career.
Up to the point I entered the project, the system was entirely paper-based. Each librarian would submit two D-ring binders that contained their life's work on paper. Those binders would be passed between up to 20 different reviewers in 6 different permission groups, some out of state.
Librarians from the UW's Bothell and Tacoma campus were often selected as reviewers. Because promotion information is private, these reviewers had to travel from their respective campuses to review the material in its secure office in Seattle, which sometimes took hours depending on traffic and their home location.
The Libraries wanted to find a way to put this process online, in a secure file space, to make it easier for everyone — from junior librarians to the Dean — to prepare and review this critical documentation.
It was important that all data remain confidential due to legal requirements, privacy issues and the nature of human resources material. The university could face major fines if any of the information leaked. There was no additional funding for us to invest in a secure outside platform, so we had to find the most secure software available within in the UW's offerings.
The product also had to be easily usable by every librarian because it directly related to their career advancement. There is a wide range of technical ability among librarians and this product had to cover that broad spectrum. If a librarian is denied promotion, their job ends.
In my role as HR Coordinator for the UW Libraries, I guided librarians and their reviewers through the finer points of submitting material at each stage of the review.
The nature of my position gave me a front row seat to a lot of user pain points.
- Paper binders of such length take longer than anticipated to put together
- Paper rips or the binder breaks giving an unintended impression of the candidates on reviewers
- If either binder goes missing, a new one must be photocopied, which takes a lot of time
- External reviewers from outside libraries expect a digital format, and when they don't get it, it reflects poorly on the UW Libraries as a whole
- Reviewers from the Bothell and Tacoma campuses have to commute to Seattle to read material. The commute can be lengthy, which discourages them from participating in review committees
- There is no way to accommodate more than two reviewers reading the material at the same time
- Documentation reviews get bottlenecked if there is more than two people in a librarian's supervisory line. The Associate Dean must rush through their final review letter
- There is no easy way for a reviewer to review material if they experience an illness or mobility issue in the middle of the process
- Letters must be removed and reinserted manually at various points to maintain reviewer confidentiality. Potential for misplacing letters or putting them back in the wrong way is high
- All material must be stored for 3 years after review, taking up space that could be better used for another purpose
The Libraries were also undergoing major changes to their core cataloging system, which was affecting the nature of many librarians' jobs. They were tired of learning new programs and software, feeling a digital fatigue.
I had to use UW-provided software to house this system because there was no additional funding available for an outside solution. Our preliminary research narrowed it down to three possibilities: Plone via the Libraries staff intranet site, Canvas or UW Catalyst.
We spoke with the Libraries Content Manager about Plone and quickly ruled it out as an option. View settings were difficult to preview and anything posted on our intranet site was Google searchable if the security settings were incorrect. We didn't want to open ourselves up to potential lawsuits if information was potentially leaked.
Next, we spoke with the Libraries Instructional Designer about Canvas. It had a lot of very useful reading features and an intuitive layout. Many librarians also taught classes, so chances were high that a large number of them would be familiar with using it already. However, when digging in deeper, we found out UW-IT did not recommend using it for HR material, which means hacking potential was high. We ruled it out because of security concerns.
Ultimately, we chose UW Catalyst. It didn't have the visual or reading pane perks of the other two options, but it had a granular way to set permission groups, as well as ways to show and hide various elements within the CommonView workspace.
Once we determined what tool we would use, I set out to plan how the web space would behave and how we would morph our current paper process into it.
The most simple solution was to ask librarians to submit PDF versions of their paper documentation either in ZIP format or on a flash drive. Every librarian had the technology to do this, so it met our criteria for inclusiveness.
It was also useful to create each librarian's permissions groups at the outset (6 in total), so switching between them in the moment would be effortless.
I wrote the set of instructions to the right to describe the full process for creating each librarian's space and when to give viewing permission to which group.
Once all promotion material was turned it, I would upload it into the site, turn on permissions for the first review group and notify them it was available.
Once one group was finished with a particular review, I would close the workspace so only I could see it, upload their recommendation letter, change the permissions, preview the file, then share the link with the next group of reviewers. I would repeat this process all the way up to the Dean.
The information was laid out as clearly as possible with no material behind menus. It was organized the exact same way as the paper version but in digital format. This order was mandated by the Librarian Personnel Code
I also came up with a draft naming convention for files so they would easily identifiable to the individual candidate. It started with a number to keep materials organized upon submission, the category of the file, and the librarian's last name.
I was very limited with the visual design because Catalyst doesn't allow for much visual customization.
What I did want to do going into this prototype, however, was make it as simple, straightforward and familiar as I could. The HR department also used Catalyst to conduct recruitments and so I used that as a starting template because people were familiar with it. I used the same background color and wording. I also created two videos to show librarians how it worked (I cannot post those videos because they contain confidential data).
I also designed the system so it could be easily replicated. I developed a template that was plug-and-play to set up multiple spaces quickly and get materials in reviewer hands faster.
Testing on this project had to be done very carefully because promotions carry very strict deadlines. If we were to test the prototype and it failed, it could potentially mean a librarian losing their job.
To solve this problem, we tested my prototype concurrently with the standard paper process. Two librarians volunteered to test: one junior librarian going up for promotion for the first time, and one more seasoned librarian with a technical background.
They submitted paper binders in addition to PDF materials. We went through the steps with them for both sets of documentation. Each review committee was encouraged to use the digital space and their opinions were solicited.
Overall, users felt the new online space was easier to use and represented a major upgrade in how promotions were processed.
- They loved that they could view the material at work or at home, especially librarians who no longer had to commute from Bothell or Tacoma
- Review committees said it was much easier to manage their review because more than two people could read the material at a time
- High-ranking members of the supervisory line were relieved that they could review the material in advance while waiting for lower-ranking supervisors to finish their review letters
- Not having a physical binder was less intimidating and resulted in reviews being completed faster
- External reviewers didn't have to go through the hassle of mailing back the bulky paper binder
- The ability to easily show or hide items eliminated errors caused by removing and reinserting paper
- Clear and familiar
- PDFs were much easier to put together than two bulky binders. Candidates had more time to refine their material instead of wasting time printing out paper
There were also areas for improvement.
- There was no way to make notes or save your place while reviewing
- With multiple tabs open, navigating between documents became confusing
- Some users would rather create their own websites when it came time for their promotion
- Reviewers preferred one long PDF file to multiple, shorter PDF files (too much clicking)
- Process still does require a lot of manual adding of files, and showing and hiding of files
- Reviewers wanted a way to submit their letters automatically via the site instead of email
I was able to refine the prototype and address about 80% of the issues users discovered during the test. I created a naming convention for files uploaded into the system and created a master template file every librarian could access as an example of what to submit for their promotion.
The first promotion cycle to use this product began in November 2015. Data says that review letters are being returned faster and material is going through the system more efficiently.