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Grow, Experiment, and Learn: Microsoft Library Evolution

Philippe Cloutier and Nicole Partridge

Philippe Cloutier and Nicole Partridge

Nicole Partridge and Philippe Cloutier from the Microsoft Library & Archives discussed the role of libraries in Microsoft and how they have evolved. In 1983, Microsoft’s first librarian was hired, and the library had 50 books, It received the first mouse and produced the first edition of MS Word. In 2014, a new CEO was appointed. The company’s new mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. To deliver on the mission requires vision and alignment. A growth mindset was developed; it is foundational in achieving the mission. This mindset encompasses one customer-obsessed and an inclusive Microsoft, They want to be “learn-it-alls,” not “know it alls”. Here are some features of the mindset.

Growth Mindset

With a new CEO, Microsoft experienced a new inflection point. The library is also at an inflection point: management wants it to be a learning organization. Libraries are a deep part of Microsoft. Qualitative feedback was that the library was being used by people to learn their skills. Learning is the value that the library provides. It used to operate as an island; in the new culture, they knew they were not the only learning organization in the company.

How could the library help to build a bigger overall learning organization? It started reaching out in partnership and asked what the partners knew, found opportunities for cross-promotion, and reorganized into the learning group. Through partnering they were able to define their unique value. The library is a data-driven organization; it mixes quantitative and qualitative data to make a rich story about how they are adding value to the organization. Here are some of the questions they asked, their responses, and the unique value of the library.

Questions asked


Value of the library

The library used to look like an academic organization; now it uses a customer-obsessed brand to represent Microsoft in a simple, premium, and fun way.

customer-obsessed brand

A major service of the library is to help people navigate the Microsoft organization. Employees ask questions using a form so the library can compile data on the topics being researched. It thus takes advantage of its unique perspective on the community.

customer-obsessed brand

How does the library serve 115,000 employees in 120 countries? A team works together with the mission, worldview, providing solution areas within the culture, using customer-obsessed listening and insights, resulting in people recommending things to each other.  Testing and experimenting (A/B testing, testing to get more feedback) are also used. You can never test enough. Don’t do Q&A until after you have received the feedback.

Testing and listening

Diversity accelerates growth. Experiences: bookmarks, little libraries, insight summits (learn from leaders).


Inclusion experiments

Ask how to help; look and listen.

How to help

Understand the culture and how the library contributes to it. Communities have a long history; we need to understand how the library is aligned with the organization’s history, mission, and vision. How can you partner to make the customer’s experience better? Understand your value proposition–what you do, and stand behind it. Listen to your community. What can you do to get more feedback into the system? Adapt your voice not to sound like a librarian but a member of the community; improve the quality of your communications. Have a strategy that allows you to say “no” to protect your career. Everybody should know your strategy, where you are going, and have buy-in.

Tomorrow’s Architects: The Wednesday Keynote

Peter Morville

Peter Morville


Tomorrow's Architects

Peter Morville, President, Semantic Studios and Author, Planning for Everything: The Design of Paths and Goals, presented the Wednesday keynote. He began with a photo of Harpers Ferry, WV and recounted the story of John Brown. Morville had a dream and wanted to organize information so people can find what they need. He wrote an O’Reilly book (with a polar bear on the cover) on information architecture.

Information Architecture

He also evaluated the web presence of the Library of Congress (LC) and compared it to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose that was under construction for 38 years and had no blueprint, so it is a findability nightmare. His report to LC was deemed too sensitive to disseminate widely. A governance board was formed to improve the website. It is necessary to engage culture and anticipate cultural resistance to change. We are drawn to information architecture in the same way that John Brown was drawn to Harpers Ferry. Our job is to create environments for understanding; to do it well we must get better at research.

The 2016 election showed the extent to which many people have lost track of the truth. Our society has fractured into a Tower of Babel where there is no understanding. Morville began to question his career as an information architect and experienced disorientation, fear, and anger.  He wrote his book about designs, paths, and goals. We need to plan or die; planning is the crowning achievement of human cognition. The people who act and plan concurrently are those who succeed. Planning is a skill, and all of us can get better. We are planning all the time. Our brains use stored memories to constantly make predictions about everything we hear, feel, and see.

There are two different kinds of emotion. Twinges of emotion affect our plans. Planning is about finding meaning and purpose in our lives. It is a design of paths and goals; there are many good ways to plan, and we need to find a balance that plays to our strengths.

Need for Planning

There is an opportunity to engage in strategic design: find the what and why, not just the how.  We hope we are nearing the end of an era of moving fast and breaking things. We need to make planning more social, tangible, agile, and reflective and involve people early and often. We must plan for change because disruption is inevitable and affects everything. Keep in mind that planning is nonlinear.

  • Framing: how we understand and explain our plans. Fear doesn’t stop you; your unwillingness to feel fear does. See The Art of Fear, by Kristen Ulmer. The healthy way to respond to fear is with curiosity.
  • Imagining: Expanding our awareness of paths and possibilities. Hope = willpower + waypower. Options let us be stupid.
  • Narrowing: Evaluation and filtering of paths and options. Drivers help us eliminate options.
  • Deciding: committing to and communicating a belief, path, and goal. Doing things backwards can help us learn.
  • Executing: a dance of listening, learning, and leading. The biggest mistake is to think that planning is done.  One way to improve the odds is to involve different kinds of people. We must include people who think and plan differently.
  • Reflecting: insight by intent. Reflection changes direction. What bad habits have you picked up in your decision making? Bad experiences alter the way the brain organizes information and leave us less able to identify cause and effect, grasp the long term effects of actions, or create coherent plans for the future. We must change the cultures of our organizations and society; start by telling the truth. We need a new story that is honest about the consequences of our actions on others, and we need a vision of the future.

The question of how to deal with inequality and injustice is still with us; we are all free to design our paths. Many of us are in the position to make a difference in our communities. The library lifts us up and empowers individuals and communities. We have never needed libraries more than we do now. We are all tomorrow’s architects.

Monterey Street Market

On Tuesday afternoons, there is a street market close to the hotel, and many farmers in the area come to sell their fresh produce. Here are a few scenes from this week’s market.








Empowering the UX: LibGuides, Discovery, and Silos

Sarah Dahlen, Kenny Garcia, Randal Harrison

(L-R) Sarah Dahlen, Kenny Garcia, Randal 9Harrison

Sarah Dahlen and Kenny Garcia from California State University (CSU), Monterey Bay discussed the A/B(C)s of Discovery System Usability: A/B testing and Customization. They adopted ExLibris’s Primo as their discovery system and used A/B testing as a quantitative measure, supplemented by a scenario-based testing (talk aloud method with followup questions). A/B testing is not commonly used by libraries.

A/B Testing

It involves 2 versions of the system with one difference. Since all traffic is going to one of the versions, the sample size is large. Users are tested when doing their regular tasks.

Because the CSU library did not have a usability budget, they had to invent their own A/B tests. Primo allows creation of alternative views and analytics, so they were able to track the conversion rate between two versions.

Testing results:

  • In one version, the Subject menu was collapsed, and most students did not use it. Even when it appeared higher in the list of facets, there was little affect on how much it was used. But when it was displayed already expanded, there was much higher usage. So they expanded subjects to show the first 5 entries and moved it slightly higher.
  • The initial default was to show 10 results first, but when they showed 20 users clicked more often on “show more results”, probably because they were more encouraged by the initial results.
  • The label “Reference Entry” was tested. None of the students used it because it meant nothing to them. When told it was for Encyclopedias, they used it, so the entry was changed.
  • They were asked what they thought “Expand beyond CSUMB library” would do, and they thought it was limited to books, so the label was changed to “Include articles without full text”. This label does not appear in book searches.

Most users do not sign in to Primo, so they did not see the link to request an item by ILL. They did not think they needed to sign in so the instruction was revised to “Sign in to request the item”.

Conclusions: these tests helped the staff to make more informed decisions to changes in the system. Customizing discovery systems can lead to significant changes in discovery systems.

Randal Harrison, Emerging Technologies Librarian at Notre Dame, said that their LibGuides was launched about 5 years ago. It was difficult for users to use because the website was confusing. So they used a single template and integrated LibGuides into other campus systems. The biggest challenge was getting the librarians to like the new design.

The handbook is a way to get all users on the same page. The tools to create it are in bootsrap.r.  There are primers for writing for the web and UX myths. Library staff reviews user-created guides and publishes them when they conform to the standards. (Because of technical problems, Harrison was not able to show many of his slides, but they will be available on the conference website.)