MARS Committee Reports

Virtual Reference Discussion Forum
The Virtual Reference (VR) Discussion Coordinating Committee hosted an engaging discussion forum at the Midwinter Meeting in Seattle. Nearly fifty attendees gathered to reflect and share knowledge on the topic of transitions between virtual reference platforms. Many libraries transitioned between platforms this year, due to the phasing out of Meebo, so the topic was especially timely. Dr. Pam Dennis and Laureen P. Cantwell of the University of Memphis University Libraries provided kick-off remarks titled, “Life After Meebo: Evaluating Virtual Reference Services for Your Library in the Post-Meebo Virtual Environment.” Following the kick-off remarks, attendees participated in small-group discussions, sharing their experiences evaluating and transitioning between VR platforms. A range of experiences were represented—some attendees came to learn about how they might implement VR services at their libraries, while others reported on their experiences with numerous VR platforms. Finally, attendees reported out on their small group discussions. Attendees shared suggestions for VR staffing models, emerging and alternative platforms, and best practices. Attendees expressed the value they derive from these discussions with their colleagues, particularly the small-group discussions. The Virtual Reference Discussion Coordinating Committee looks forward to hosting another engaging discussion forum at ALA Annual in Chicago.

Julie A. Piacentine, Chair
Virtual Reference Discussion Coordinating Committee, 2012-2013

MARS Professional Development Committee
The MARS Professional Development Committee is interested in developing webinars for any RUSA committee or member. We know how to deliver webinars using Blackboard Collaborate, the vendor chosen by RUSA for online learning. Our committee will help you with the process of getting your webinar approved, train your instructors, and facilitate your presentations. The committee is currently working on a webinar on using reference tracking and data collection tools to improve their services. Got an idea? Please consider submitting it to the MARS Professional Development Webinar Suggestion Form.

Van Houlson, Co-Chair
Professional Development Committee, 2012-2013

MARS Local Systems and Services Committee
The MARS LSS committee is planning an online program on learning commons. The date has not been finalized but is scheduled to take place in March. It is a follow-up to the 2011 discussion forum the committee held on Learning Commons.

The Learning Commons and the Academic Library: Using Emerging Technologies and New Partnerships to Build Student Success.

Has your library partnered with academic support services to offer a “learning commons” in the library, or are you discussing/planning such a partnership? If so, please join us for a follow-up to the discussion forum “The Learning Commons and the Academic Library: Using Emerging Technologies and New Partnerships to Build Student Success” held at Midwinter 2012. Attend the online open meeting and learn how these libraries have developed partnerships and designed spaces to support student learning.


  • Ameet Doshi, Head, User Experience Department, Georgia Tech University
    A short overview of the new GA Tech learning commons (“Clough Commons”) including the group study spaces, academic support services, and technology available. His main focus will be how the student advisory board impacted the design of the Library and learning commons.
  • Michelle Paon, Reference & Instruction Librarian, Dalhousie University
    Marc Comeau, IT Manager, Dalhousie University
    Eleven stakeholders currently share space in Dalhousie University’s Killam Learning Commons, with services ranging from GIS and statistical computing consultations to traditional research assistance and the IT help desk. We’ll identify the service areas located in the facility as well as touch on the innovative technologies that have been deployed in the commons.
  • Lori Mestre, Head Undergraduate Library, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
    Mestre will share UIUC’s process for creating the initial plans for the Learning Commons and how student need for multimodal projects has resulted in the Learning Commons becoming a Media Commons (including floor layout, services, furniture, technology, class support, use patterns, partnerships, loanable technology acquisition). She will discuss how UIUC incorporated technology and designed the layout based on assessment of student needs.

Look for an email on the MARS listserv with more details. If you are interested in attending, please contact Chanitra Bishop at

The committee is also planning a program for ALA Annual on open source software. Below is the title and the description:

Title: Leveraging Open Source Software to create library web sites

Description: Is your library considering using open source software such as Drupal, WordPress or Omeka to revamp your library’s web site, create a digital archive or a staff intranet? Our speakers will provide an overview of open source software and discuss some of their features and capabilities. They will also discuss implementations of the software at their institution including the development process, challenges, lessons learned and practical advice for developing websites using open source software.

Time: Sunday, June 30, 2013 3-4 PM

Chanitra Bishop, Chair
Local Systems and Services Committee, 2012-2013

MARS Chair’s Program for ALA Annual 2013
The MARS Chair Program Planning Committee has been hard at work planning an exciting program for this year’s conference. Mark your calendars now to join us Sunday, June 30th, from 1:00-2:30 P.M. for an informative discussion with David Bietila, Web Program Director, Digital Library Development Center, University of Chicago Library; Lesley Moyo, Director Research and Instruction, Virginia Tech University; Tracy Gilmore, Technical Services Librarian, Virginia Tech University; and a “mystery” speaker (to be identified soon) about the user experience, interface design and the role of reference. Don’t forget we start the program with the My Favorite Martian Award for 2013!

Title: Usability, the User Experience & Interface Design: The Role of Reference

Description: With the advent of new discovery tools and new technology, the habits of our researchers and users have certainly changed. How are we collecting data and observing behavior to improve these interfaces to better meet our user’s needs? How can we learn from what other researchers are studying and use that data to implement change? What is the new relationship between the virtual space, the physical space, and the user experience?

Panel members will discuss how their institutions have implemented innovative changes to the user interface and address the role of usability testing in their decision process. Audience members will have opportunities to submit questions to the panelists. The learning objectives for attendees are:

  • Increased understanding of changes in users’ research habits;
  • Introduction to methods of information/data collection beyond traditional usability studies;
  • Learn processes for implementing change relevant for their own institutions.

Donna Scanlon
Chair, Conference Program Planning Committee, 2012-2013

User Experience Design Committee
Though it was 4:30 P.M. on a Sunday afternoon in Seattle, more than sixtypeople packed Room 203 of the Washington Convention Center for the “Putting U in UX Design” discussion forum sponsored by RUSA/MARS’ User Experience Design Committee. Heidi Steiner, Head of Digital and Distance Education Services at Norwich University, sparked the discussion by providing a provocative, witty introduction to the principles of user experience design. She emphasized the need for librarians to intentionally take the perspective of users and noted that doing so would help us avoid confusing them with inscrutable jargon and overly detailed blocks of text on websites. It would also inspire us to put help where our users are by embedding widgets and other contact information at the point-of-need.

Steiner further recommended that we solicit quick feedback from non-library users and then make quick changes based on that feedback rather than make changes only after complex, large-scale usability testing. Her slide-deck and Power Point slides can be found in the ALA Scheduler.

Following Steiner’s introduction, attendees participated in a lively discussion centering on what interests them and what concerns them about User Experience Design. This discussion yielded numerous ideas for future sessions and projects for the User Experience Design Committee.

Ideas for sessions included presentations or discussions about:

  • How to design universally to simultaneously help users as well as those who work directly with users.
  • What input to consider and what input to privilege when making decisions about user experience design.
  • What tools can we use to design effectively? The audience shared the following examples:
    • Crazy Egg: visualize where users click on a page
    • Optimizely: Compare two versions of a page
    • Google Ad Words: iscover what vocabulary terms are used by the public for various concepts
    • Post It Notes (digital and physical): Use these to keep track of ideas for small changes and to solicit input from patrons
    • Tools for first-click analysis
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of designing incrementally versus doing full-scale redesigns?
  • How can we help colleagues think from a user standpoint rather than from a librarian standpoint?
  • How to perform usability studies.
  • How to blend design and instruction effectively, e.g., how to create effective online instructional content without using too many words.

Ideas for projects:

  • Provide lists of examples and models of good design. Heidi recommended following several individuals including
    • Aaron Schmidt
    • Amanda Etches-Johnson
    • Brian Mathews
    • Matthew Reidsma
    • Steven Bell
  • Participants recommended the following two books:
    • This is Service Design Thinking by Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider
    • Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

Other ideas:

  • Develop a database featuring sites designed for optimum user experience. Consider developing a site of the month recognition award as ACRL’s PRIMO committee has done for instructional resources.
  • Develop a blog or listserv to foster ongoing discussion and sharing. A participant noted that UNC Chapel Hill hosts a listserv titled “lib-ux.” To subscribe visit
  • Consider partnering with LITA’s Search Engine Optimization Interest Group

Melissa Clapp
Chair, User Experience Design Committee, 2012-2013

Jason Coleman
Member, User Experience Design Committee, 2012-2014