Library Juice Academy

User Experience Certificate Program

What can other educators and institutions learn from the successes and failures of your experience-oriented academic program?: 


The certificate program is unique in several ways that makes it appealing to students, which is why we have had good enrollment numbers, positive reviews, and overall success.

Accessible & Affordable

It was designed as a continuing education program, so our primary audience is full-time working professionals. Because of this, we knew we needed to make it easy to fit within students’ busy schedules. We did this by making it asynchronous and completely online. Students can work on assignments after work, on the weekends, or as time allows. Time zones are not an issue, and so students can participate from wherever they are, anywhere in the world. All they need is an internet connection and a browser. This flexible scheduling distinguishes this program from both in-person programs and online programs that require real-time participation (e.g., attending live online lectures, working in groups). This is a benefit to students and also allows the instructors (full-time professionals themselves) that same scheduling flexibility.

We also wanted to make it affordable. Each four-week-long course costs only $175, a steal compared to what people pay to attend UX conferences and workshops that usually last just a day or two and run upwards of $1,000 to register (not to mention travel costs). We are able to keep costs low by facilitating the courses completely online and by using Moodle, an open-source course management system.

Great Value

Further, the value for the cost is outstanding. You get a structured curriculum along with individual attention from the instructors. There are usually no more than 25 students in any given course. Instructors communicate directly with students, giving them feedback on their discussion posts and assignments and answering their questions. This distinguishes the program from conferences, where participants get lost in the crowd and have little time or opportunity to speak with the presenters, or massive open online courses that have so many students it is nearly impossible to communicate directly with the instructor.


The entire program is taught by practitioners who work in the field. By having instructors who can speak directly to their own experience, students gain practical insight and can immediately put what they learned to work. The instructors stay current in the field, because they have to for their own jobs. Because of this, they assign relevant new readings and real-world assignments. We strive to include active learning components in all of the courses, asking students to complete real-world activities to apply their learning. Further, we provide students with templates, checklists, and examples that they can put in their toolbox and use later in their daily work.


We have a very specific audience: libraries. Especially in the UX world, libraries are unique. We have often extremely limited budgets and staffing, and one or two people are often in charge of the entire website, from design to development to content. The data we are working with on our websites is very different from what you would find in the commercial world, as well. Specifically, we deal a lot with search tools and search functionality and a lot with outside vendors who provide us with resources, services, and systems. Library websites are often portals to other things that we have much less control of, including library catalog, interlibrary loan, and discovery tool systems. How to tackle usability problems and improve the user experience in this context is quite unique.


Online courses can often be boring and poorly designed. For this reason, all Library Juice Academy instructors are freely enrolled in a course on online instruction, to give us the tools to create effective learning experiences for students. The organizer of the program, Rebecca Blakiston, also has a background in instructional design. Bringing our instructional design knowledge and collaborating with one another, we created engaging, interactive course materials and assignments. We all use the discussion forums for communication between students and with the instructors, video lectures to deliver the content, and real-world assignments to allow students to apply what they are learning.


Distant Collaboration

The instructors live in Arizona, Texas, Colorado, and Michigan, and never met each other in person until after the program was developed. Ensuring that our curriculum was consistent and solid was challenging at a distance. We overcame this challenge in three ways.

First, we used Google Hangouts regularly to communicate, allowing us to collaborate and share documents as well as see each other’s faces in real time. Second, we enrolled each other in our courses (free of charge), so that we could see the coursework and get a picture of the entire curriculum. Third, we organized an in-person retreat at the end of the first round of the program (in December 2013). This day of collaboration allowed us to finally meet in person and get to know one another on a personal level. We also were able to regroup, re-energize, and make changes to the curriculum based on our experiences and the compiled feedback from the students.

What is the structure and content of your program?: 


There are 6 required courses to complete the certificate program. We encourage students to take them sequentially, but this is not a requirement. This allows flexibility, so that a student can start by taking a course or two and then decide whether or not they want to take the entire program. We have had a number of students take one course half-way through the program schedule and then decide to subsequently go for the entire certificate.

Course Descriptions

Designing a Usable Website

In this four-week course, you will learn the key concepts of user-centered design and how to employ them in your website projects. You learn how to incorporate usability heuristics throughout the web project process. We will discuss processes and techniques to make your website more usable in all stages of development: requirements gathering, conceptual design, prototype development, and then finally launch and ongoing testing.

Information Architecture

Website navigation is a key design device to help users search and browse library websites and information systems. The design of Website navigation can be simple or complex, flat or deep. In all cases, website navigation should take into account information architecture (IA) best practices, common user tasks in the library domain, user research, analytics and information seeking models. In this four week course, you will gain insight into the art & science of IA, the discipline of labeling and organizing online information for optimal usability and findability. This course will introduce you to basic types of navigation, as well as classification schemes for organizing information. You will learn about best practices for labeling navigation, search engine optimization (SEO) and usability. Finally, you will gain hands-on experience developing a navigation scheme for a library website.

Universal Design (new as of 2014; replaced Other User Research Methods)

One critical aspect of user experience is the concept of accessibility. In order to design websites that are accessible, it is important to incorporate universal design in the process. By employing universal design concepts, we can ensure that the things we create are usable by everyone, irrespective of abilities or device. This course will cover topics in accessibility and mobile design, focused on design rather than coding. Accessibility topics will include legal regulations, evaluation tools, and some do's and don'ts for accessible design. We will also discuss mobile design techniques, including “mobile first” and responsive design as different approaches to mobile design.

Usability Testing

In this four-week course, you will learn how to gather feedback from your users cheaply and effectively in order to improve your website. You will walk through the process of developing personas, primary tasks, and sample scenarios. You will learn the best methods for testing these scenarios with users in an authentic way in different library environments. You will learn how to analyze the results to make decisions about your website’s information architecture, labeling, and content. You will strategize about how to implement affordable methods of usability testing in a systematic and sustainable way.

Writing for the Web

Many users come to your website for information, and their ability to interpret the information you provide will make the difference between a good and a bad user experience. In this four-week course, you will learn how to write web copy that is succinct, understandable, and engaging. You will discover how users read online and the importance of focusing on your essential messages, using space effectively, and treating your website as a conversation with your users. You will learn how to establish a consistent voice and tone, and how to use such techniques as layering information, exploiting the power of parallelism, making good use of links, and keeping active space in your content. You will also learn how to best use bulleted and numbered lists and tables in presenting your web content, as well as the importance of producing alternative text for visually impaired users. Through examples, activities and hands-on practice, you will hone your skills in writing using active voice, straightforward sentences, and cutting unnecessary words.

Developing a Website Content Strategy

In this four-week course, you will learn the process of developing a website content strategy, from the first phase of conducting an audit of your content, to the second phase of analyzing your current environment, to the final phase of establishing a sustainable strategy that will ensure your content is useful, usable, and findable. You will walk through each of these three phases and discuss how to adapt various types of approaches for implementation at your own institution. You will learn how to discover your unique content problems, present them to your organization, and subsequently establish new roles, responsibilities, and workflows for the entire lifecycle of your content.

When students complete your program, what credentials, experience, and portfolio materials have they accumulated, and how do they support their career success?: 

When students complete the program, they obtain a Certificate in User Experience. Specific experiences they have and materials they produce during the program are:

  • Documented contextual inquiry interview notes and analysis, demonstrating their ability to conduct a useful interview and make sense of the results.
  • A completed heuristic evaluation of a web page, demonstrating their knowledge of usability principles.
  • Results from a first click test to determine if their website’s navigation is on the right track.
  • A prioritization matrix to select appropriate user research methods for different usability problems and prioritize that effort.
  • Findings and recommendations based upon a navigation stress test, demonstrating a knowledge of the fundamentals of effective navigation.
  • A sample content inventory, demonstrating the ability to document a website’s content and structure.
  • A draft navigation scheme for a library website, demonstrating the ability to create an effective navigation system.
  • A draft persona that represents a library’s primary audience, and the ability to use it to bring focus back on the user when making website decisions.
  • A usability plan, including tasks, scenarios, recruitment, and logistics, demonstrating the ability to plan for a test.
  • An analysis of usability testing results, including a plan for next steps, demonstrating the ability to analyze data and use it to make decisions.
  • A description of a particular web page’s audience and goals, demonstrating an understanding of the purpose of a web page.
  • A library web page (or set of pages) that follows best practices in web content and organization, demonstrating the ability to write effectively and organize content for the web.
  • A sample content audit of their website, demonstrating the ability to evaluate content on a website.
  • An analysis document outlining current practices related to content, demonstrating the ability to evaluate organizational processes.
  • A workflow for creating, updating, or deleting a web page, demonstrating the ability to create effective workflows for content.
  • Editorial standards and voice and tone standards for web content, demonstrating the ability to establish standards to improve the usefulness of web content.
Who are your program’s key instructors and what qualifications and experience do they bring?: 

Rebecca Blakiston organized the certificate program and has been the Website Product Manager at the University of Arizona (UA) Libraries for four years. She has over 10 years of experience in public service in libraries, working on public service desks, teaching classes, and managing customer inquiries. She has six years of experience in pedagogy and instructional design, having worked on the Instructional Services Team for the past six years. She received “continuing status” (the equivalent of “tenure”) at the UA in 2013. She was previously project manager for three significant website re-build/re-design projects, including the Center for Creative Photography and Special Collections, and this year will tackle the main library website (project just beginning). These projects include user research, persona development, auditing content, re-writing content, creating new information architecture, and developing new content workflows. She has presented extensively at such conferences as the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, EDUCAUSE, and edUi. Her published articles include Developing a Content Strategy for an Academic Library Website and Building Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities: Continual Learning in the New Information Landscape. She is currently writing a book titled Usability Testing: a Practical Guide for Librarians to be published by Rowan & Littlefield in 2014. See more at

Nicole Capdarest-Arest is Emerging Technologies Librarian at the Arizona Health Sciences Library (AHSL). She is a member of the AHSL Web Committee and specializes in website design, development and management. She leads the ongoing development of the library’s website, with emphasis on content strategy, usability, and writing for the web. Her publications include Implementing a Tablet Circulation Program on a Shoestring.

Carolyn Ellis is the Technology Project Management and Digital User Experience Librarian at The University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries. She has over 15 years of experience in developing and managing web projects, user-centered design, usability testing, project management, change communications and process improvement while working in libraries, information technology and community development organizations.

Sonali Mishra is a User Experience Specialist at the University of Michigan Library in Ann Arbor, MI. She plans and conducts user research for the library website, specializing in qualitative research methods. She also acts as a UX designer for the website, providing expertise in usability, strategic planning, and overall user experience. Her publications include Manually Classifying User Search Queries on an Academic Library Web Site.

Susan Teague Rector is the Senior Information/UX Architect at the University of Colorado Denver. She has over 15 years of experience in Web technologies, with 6 years in academic libraries. Previously Susan led the IA, design and implementation of a new website for NCSU Libraries in 2010; and led IA, design and usability testing as Web Applications Manager at VCU Libraries. She has presented nationally on Web topics, as well as published in the Journal of Web Librarianship and CRLN. Her publications include Building a Library Web Site: Strategies for Success and Designing Search: Effective Search Interfaces for Academic Library Web Sites.

Please share any objective and anecdotal evidence that demonstrates the your program’s ability to equip students for “real-world” value and successfulness.: 

One of the best ways to know if students have gained real value from the program is in what they end up doing with their newfound knowledge. Fortunately, we have had numerous students stay in touch with us after the classes end. They have contacted the instructors directly to get advice and/or share the application of their learning. A small sample of specific examples include:

  • Suzanne Bernsten, Web Services Librarian at Lansing Community College, wrote to Rebecca to ask about training materials for Google Analytics after taking the Content Strategy course. She is developing a training program for her library based upon what she learned in the Usability Testing, Writing for the Web, and Content Strategy courses.
  • SuHui Ho, a new User Experience Librarian at the UC San Diego Library, has communicated with Rebecca about ways to continue networking within the UX field. She also created a Usability Lab at her library since taking the Usability Testing course, and has asked the instructors for advice as this effort moves forward. She has also communicated with the instructors about starting a national committee for those interested in UX and libraries.
  • Sherry Buchanan, Content and Usability Strategist at Portland State University, launched a redesigned library website within a month of taking the Usability Testing course, and shared it with Rebecca for feedback. She also communicated with Rebecca about job description information, which helped Rebecca create a job description & obtain funding for a new position of “Content Strategist.”
  • Christine Hayes, librarian at Sonoma State University Library, contacted Rebecca to inquire about a script used for card sorting after taking the Usability Testing course. Rebecca shared a script she had used for open card sorting for faculty, and Christine subsequently shared the script she ended up using for a broader-scale card sort.