Book Chapters

Reframing and Reimagining the Value of Service

Deconstructing Service in Libraries book coverAbout: “Reframing and Reimagining the Value of Service” is the name of the chapter that I wrote with Emily Puckett Rodgers and Meghan Sitar for the the book, Deconstructing Service in Libraries: Intersections of Identities and Expectations, edited by Veronica Arellano Douglas and Joanna Gadsby. The book will be published in Spring 2020 by Library Juice Press and is part of the Litwin Books Series on Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies with Emily Drabinski as Series Editor.

Chapter Abstract: While many libraries adopt a user-centered design approach to develop and implement their services and spaces, we chose to use a service design lens that intentionally shifts our concept of “value” and frames “service” as a way to do our work through discourse rather than exchange. Cross-functional teams of librarians and staff have been developing new service models for consultation, staff innovation, citation management, and digital scholarship, all built on the basis of a common service philosophy, framework, and guiding principles. As part of this work, we also seek to better understand how intersectionality of identities inform, shape, and counterbalance personal and academic experiences at U-M through qualitative research methods, including contextual inquiry and focus groups. From this we are developing and aim to democratize a set of resources to better equip librarians and library staff to design for people, not things.

We intend to catalyze an organizational transformation that positions all staff across the organization as active agents in the enactment of “service” to our academic community. This holistic framework and philosophy have the potential to transform our large organization’s approach to designing and delivering aligned and impactful user experiences. Through interviews and exploratory exercises, we examined our own organizational structure and critically engaged in reimagining how access to and use of resources, including agency, funding, and networks of expertise, are used to connect the flow of service provision across user-facing and infrastructure-supporting activities.

We are intentionally building on concepts of empowerment across staff designations and hierarchical structures. By framing “services” in this way, we aim to boundary-span existing and historic segregation and power imbalances. The teams were able to identify, develop, and co-define their own values as individuals, which grounded the design process. For some teams, this established an opportunity to recognize, validate, and understand the personal lived, emotional experiences of what it means to work in our organization and to do our work. It offered avenues for examination of the sometimes hegemonic systems we have established that perpetuate systemic oppression within our organization and potential opportunities to redefine these systems.

This work has enabled us to define service for ourselves based on dynamic needs rather than static processes and to acknowledge how these configurations are dependent on shifting identities or contexts that take place within the often flat definition of “service.”

Citation: Vacek, Rachel, Meghan Sitar, and Emily Puckett Rodgers. “Reframing and Reimagining the Value of Service.” Deconstructing Service in Libraries: Intersections of Identities and Expectations. Edited by Veronica Arellano Douglas and Joanna Gadsby. (Sacramento: Library Juice Press, 2020).

How Two Women Embraced Their Path to IT Management

We Can Do I.T. Book coverAbout: “How Two Women Embraced Their Path to IT Management” is the name of the chapter that I wrote with Kat Hagedorn for the the book, We Can Do I.T.: Women in Library Information Technology, edited by Jenny Brandon, Sharon Ladenson, and Kelly Sattler and published in July 2018. It’s book number ten in the Litwin Books Series on Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies, with Emily Drabinski as the Series Editor.

Book Abstract: Does gender play a role in library information technology (I.T.)? For the last several decades, libraries have primarily employed women, whereas I.T. jobs have been held by men. What happens when the two collide? What is it like for women who are working for I.T. within the library? Has it changed over time? Through personal narratives, we explore these questions and seek to provide guidance and encouragement for women and men in library I.T., those pursuing a career in library I.T., and library management. The collection includes themes concerning “Imposter Syndrome,” career trajectory, experiences of sexism and biases. Contributors also offer advice and encouragement to those entering or already in the field. Examples of positions held by the contributors include managers, web developers, system librarians, programmers, and consultants. This collection provides a voice for women in library I.T., bringing their experiences from the margins to the center, and encouraging conversation for positive change.

Citation: Vacek, Rachel, and Kat Hagedorn. “How Two Women Embraced Their Path to IT Management.” We Can Do I.T. : Women in Library I.T. Edited by Jenny Brandon, Sharon Ladenson, and Kelly Sattler. (Sacramento: Library Juice Press, 2018).

Intranet 2.0 from a Project Management Perspective

Designing and Developing Library Intranets book coverAbout: This article, written by Paul Sharpe and me, was published in a special issue of the Journal of Web Librarianship, and that special issue was later published as a book called Designing and Developing Library Intranets, edited by Nina McHale.

Chapter Abstract: Library intranets require flexibility and efficiency and enhance the internal communication and collaborative nature of creating and organizing the institution’s information. At the University of Houston Libraries, the focus was on public services, so little attention was given to the intranet—the tool every department relied on for quick access to their content. Text-heavy, static Web pages with poor organization and outdated information made the site unusable. In 2008, the University of Houston Libraries assembled a team to begin the considerable task of redesigning the intranet with Drupal, a popular open source content management system that would allow for interactive information sharing, user-centered design, and new ways of collaboration. This article outlines on the overall project management of the intranet redesign process, including methods used for collecting staff feedback, evaluating existing and potential content, creating a new information architecture focused on departments and committees, establishing new internal communication channels, creating staff enthusiasm and buy-in, and training the entire library staff.

Citation of Article: Sharpe, Paul A., and Rachel E. Vacek. “Intranet 2.0 from a Project Management Perspective.” Journal of Web Librarianship, 4:2/3 (2010): 239-249.

Citation of Book Chapter: Sharpe, Paul A., and Rachel E. Vacek. “Intranet 2.0 from a Project Management Perspective.” Designing and Developing Library Intranets. Edited by Nina McHale. (London: Routledge, 2013).

Piloting Mobile Services at UH Libraries

M‐libraries 2: A Virtual Library in Everyone's Pocket book coverAbout: In the fall of 2008, a small group of librarians at the University of Houston (UH) Libraries embarked on a pilot project to develop, deploy, and evaluate mobile services for library users. The overall objective of the project was to discover how mobile devices could be used to enhance services currently provided by the library and, concurrently, to investigate mobile technology efforts at other libraries.

Citation: Coombs, Karen, Veronica Arellano, Miranda Bennett, Robin Dasler, and Rachel Vacek. “Piloting Mobile Services at UH Libraries.” M-libraries 2: A Virtual Library in Everyone’s Pocket. Edited by Mohamed Ally and Gill Needham. (London: Facet Publishing, 2010).


Hitting the Road towards a Greater Digital Destination: Evaluating and Testing DAMS at the University of Houston Libraries

Abstract: Since 2009, tens of thousands of rare and unique items have been made available online for research through the University of Houston Digital Library.  Six years later, the Libraries’ new digital initiatives call for a more dynamic digital repository infrastructure that is extensible, scalable, and interoperable. The Libraries’ mission and the mandate of its strategic directions drives the pursuit of seamless access and expanded digital collections. To answer the calls for technological change, the Libraries Administration appointed a Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) Implementation Task Force to explore, evaluate, test, recommend, and implement a more robust digital asset management system. This article focuses on the task force’s DAMS selection activities: needs assessment, systems evaluation, and systems testing. The authors also describe the task force’s DAMS recommendation based on the evaluation and testing data analysis, a comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of each system, and system cost. Finally, the authors outline their DAMS implementation strategy comprised of a phased rollout with the following stages: system installation, data migration, and interface development.

Citation: Wu, Annie, Santi Thompson, Rachel Vacek, Andy Weidner, and Sean Watkins. “Hitting the Road towards a Greater Digital Destination: Evaluating and Testing DAMS at the University of Houston Libraries.” Information Technology and Libraries, 35:2 (2016): 5-18.

Streamlining Data for Cross-Platform Web Delivery

Abstract: Smartphone users expect the presentation of Web sites on their mobile browsers to look and feel like native applications. With the pressure on library Web developers to produce app-like mobile sites, there is often a rush to get a site up without considering the importance of reusing or even restructuring the data driving the Web sites. An additional challenge is the content maintenance required of any Web site, regardless of platform, underscoring the advantage of pulling content from other systems to decrease redundancy. This article highlights case studies from two large research universities, examines how each one is streamlining its data for multiple Web-based platforms, and discusses how to work toward making data more flexible so content is delivered from single source points rather than duplicated on individual delivery platforms.

Citation: Watkins, Sean, Jason Battles, and Rachel Vacek. “Streamlining Data for Cross-Platform Web Delivery.” Journal of Web Librarianship, 7:1 (2013): 95-108.

Improving the Drupal User Experience

Abstract: Drupal is a powerful, but complex, Web Content Management System, being adopted by many libraries. Installing Drupal typically involves adding additional modules for flexibility and increased functionality. Although installing additional modules does increase functionality, it inevitably complicates usability. At the University of Houston Libraries, the Web Services department researched what modules work well together to accomplish a simpler interface while simultaneously providing the flexibility and advanced tools needed to create a successful user experience within Drupal. This article explains why particular modules were chosen or developed, how the design enhanced the user experience, how the CMS architecture was created, and how other library systems were integrated into Drupal.

Citation: Vacek, Rachel, Derek Keller, Christina Morris, and Sean Watkins. “Improving the Drupal User Experience.” Code4Lib Journal, 12 (2010).

Conference Proceedings

Search, Report, Wherever You Are: A Novel Approach to Assessing User Satisfaction with a Library Discovery Interface

In the summer of 2018, the University of Michigan Library launched a new discovery interface, Library Search (, for discovering the library’s resources, collections, spaces, and expertise. Following our assessment plan for Library Search, we have iteratively measured the success of Search since its launch across a variety of measures using a mixed-methods approach. We have tested for accessibility, monitored system performance, and conducted considerable usability testing as part of the design and development process. In general, our assessments have indicated that Search works well according to many of our metrics, including accessibility, usability, design, and the general pattern of how searching for items, narrowing results sets, and accessing materials.

There have been, however, a number of concerns about the catalog search in particular, and a general anecdotal sense that this important part of the interface is not quite meeting users’ needs. Therefore, we created a tool that we could use to first get a baseline measure of overall user satisfaction, and second, use again after we have made changes to Library Search to understand the degree to which our changes improved satisfaction.

Our paper will report on our launch of our rather unique data collection tool and its use with multiple groups of stakeholders on campus. We will also detail how we plan to use the tool to gauge user satisfaction over time, and to regularly gather actionable data on the strengths and shortcomings of our catalog interface.


An initial round of data collection focused on the search experiences of library employees whose work involves using Library Search to assist members of our campus community. Focusing on this group allowed us to survey people who had clear expectations of how catalog searching should function for library staff and users, and also to ensure that our data collection tool worked well before we used it to collect data from large numbers of faculty members and students on campus. The first full round of data collection, with faculty and students, is taking place in the winter of 2020; the results will be included in our paper and presentation.

The invitation to participate in the initial round of data collection was sent in December 2019 to 96 Library employees. As an incentive, participants were given a chance to enter a drawing for one $50 gift card. Participants took part in the study online, via a survey on the Qualtrics platform. Forty people provided enough data to be included in some analyses (a 41% response rate); of those, 36 completed the whole survey. The final sample had decent variability with regard to respondents’ library division and the number of years they had worked in the library.

A unique aspect of our data collection approach was to ask participants to conduct searches, to report on those searches, and to share the URLs associated with their search results. This allowed data from the survey to be interpreted while seeing exactly what participants were seeing as they did their searching. Thus, the first three sections of the survey asked participants to keep the survey tab open in their browsers while conducting specific types of catalog searches in a separate tab. The types of searches — known item, known set, and exploratory — were derived from another recent investigation of our library search interface. Participants used the Qualtrics survey to answer questions about those three search experiences. Specifically, participants were asked to report on their satisfaction with the relevance of results, the speed with which results were returned, and the adequacy of various pieces of information contained in item records. When participants encountered unexpected results in their searches, they were given an opportunity to share more about what they expected to see, in relation to what they saw.

A final section of the survey asked people to provide more global ratings and comments related to recent uses of Library Search (not limited to catalog searching; this could also include focused searches for articles, databases, etc.). For those that remembered using Search a year prior, a small set of questions also asked people to compare their current satisfaction with Search to what they remember feeling a year ago. These final questions, about recent experiences and comparisons to a year ago, were answered by most participants.


We asked questions about three broad areas of search interactions: known item searches, known set searches, and exploratory searches. Known item searches are for specific, individual items. Known set searches are for collections of items (plays by Shakespeare, sonatas by Mozart, jazz CDs, etc.), from which the searcher would be more or less satisfied with any specific item. Exploratory searches are subject or topic-related.

For known item searching, respondents were asked two questions about what they saw in the results: did the item appear in the results as expected, and was the position of the item in the result set satisfactory. Seventy-five percent saw the item in the results as expected, and the majority (92%) were either very or moderately satisfied with the position.

We asked several additional questions for known item searches (we did not ask these questions for the other search categories, as we felt the responses would not be substantially different). When asked about the speed of search results, most (95%) expressed some level of satisfaction. In terms of ease of determining availability of print or online access to the items found, most were moderately or very satisfied (85%) but a notable minority were dissatisfied. And most people were moderately or very satisfied (86%) with identifying where physical items were located, with a notable minority expressing dissatisfaction.

For known item searches — and for the other two search types — participants who saw unexpected search results were asked to share what they expected to see, and what they did see. Comments touched on concerns such as the relevance of results and the way that holdings were displayed. These findings serve as guides for the continued fine-tuning of Library Search. In the paper we will present examples of how such comments were paired with recreated searches in order to guide the work of our developers.

For known set searches, just over half (58%) of the 36 participants who did this search saw what they expected; respondents were satisfied with the ranking of the results, about 50% each very or mostly satisfied. For exploratory searches, just over half (56%) saw what they expected in the results. Most (80%) were moderately or very satisfied, and a sizable minority (20%) reported some level of dissatisfaction. As noted, where participants saw unexpected results, they provided comments that shed additional light on their closed-ended survey responses.

In the final section of the survey, participants were asked about their recent experiences with Search (not limited to Catalog Search), and their views on whether Search has improved or not compared to a year ago (for those with memories of Search at that time).

Thirty-three participants had used Search within the previous two weeks. Of these, roughly three-quarters were moderately or very satisfied, with the rest expressing dissatisfaction. When asked about their satisfaction with the recent relevance of Search results, few were very satisfied (12%); most were moderately satisfied, and 30% expressed dissatisfaction. The same results were obtained when people were asked to rate their overall level of satisfaction with their recent experiences with Search.

When asked to compare their current satisfaction with the speed of Search with what they remember from a year prior, most (81%) were somewhat or much more satisfied currently. When asked to compare their current satisfaction with the relevance of Search results with what they remember from a year prior, 72% were somewhat or much more satisfied currently. Finally, when asked to compare their current overall satisfaction with Search compared to a year ago, 82% were somewhat or much more satisfied.


This study provides an example of how libraries can use an online data collection tool to reach key stakeholders when evaluating satisfaction with a web-based library interaction. The general categorization of “known item”, “known set”, and “exploratory” searches, itself based on user research into kinds of searching, could easily be extended to other kinds of library interactions in which a user is seeking something. The general method of the survey allows disintermediated user research to take place, with the efficiency of gaining detailed user feedback about specific interactions without the investment of a commensurate amount of staff time.Another key advantage of our methodology is that it facilitates the repeated evaluation of the search interface over time.The inclusion of both library staff and campus users enables us to identify high-priority issues via staff insights and also to understand how users with a wide range of search expertise experience a core library discovery interface.

Citation: Smith, Craig, Rachel Vacek, and Kenneth J. Varunum.  “Search, Report, Wherever You Are: A Novel Approach to Assessing User Satisfaction with a Library Discovery Interface” Proceedings of the Library Assessment Conference. 2020.

Diffusing Organizational Change through Service Design and Iterative Assessment

Abstract: At the University of Michigan Library, dozens of librarians and staff are engaged in a series of activities to reimagine the ways our organization designs and implements our services. Between 2016 and 2017, we collaborated with brightspot strategy to develop a service philosophy, framework, and principles to help us begin the process to transform our physical and digital spaces to better represent our expertise, collections, and tools, and to meet the evolving needs of our academic community today and tomorrow. As we look to transform our spaces to serve the needs of our research community, we are taking care to ensure that whatever form our buildings and web presence take, will follow the function and intent of our services.

Our efforts in this work are collaborative and distributed in nature, diffusing the shift in design and evaluation across the organization. With it, we aim to facilitate organizational change that puts our users at the center of service design and delivery. It also fundamentally recognizes that our departments play a role in supporting the academic needs of our faculty, students, and staff at the University of Michigan.

This work is structured by established approaches in design thinking and user-centered design. Multiple teams of librarians and staff are applying this approach to redesign services. Topics include consultation, digital scholarship, staff innovation, citation management, and developing a persona-based toolkit that any staff across our organization may use in efforts to design new or make improvements to existing services. While each team is using the same overall approach to its service design work, the application and outcomes are unique to each domain. Within four design cycles, each team engages in a retrospective to review the process, the impact of the work, and consider its potential effects on our organizational structures.

Additionally, the service design efforts support our organization’s adoption of an assessment-driven mindset through embedding evaluation into our processes. Once the service design phase is complete, each team will generate a series of pilots or prototypes to test aspects of their designs in the context of our organization. In the Summer and Fall of 2018, teams will implement those pilots and prototypes, testing their ability to scale effectively or meet our programmatic and mission-based goals yielding a series of small-scale, but impactful activities or processes that will further diffuse the design-thinking approach throughout our organization. Each of these sets of activities will be assessed before moving onto future stages of the work. We will also evaluate how they help us enact our service philosophy, framework, and principles in the practice of our everyday work.

Ultimately this work will yield a culture shift within our organization enabling us to embrace a user-centered, service-based approach to how we develop services, and how we expect to collaborate and connect with colleagues within our library and academic community. It will also enable us to embed assessment practices into various facets of our work, from the beginning stages of design through its testing and into implementation at scale.

Citation: Vacek, Rachel, Meghan Sitar, and Emily Puckett Rodgers. “Diffusing Organizational Change through Service Design and Iterative Assessment.” Proceedings of the Library Assessment Conference. 2018.

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Developing an Easy, Functional ERM

Abstract: The need for various stakeholders in the library to access licensing information is critical when various departments are working with electronic resources. Managing these electronic resources can be a daunting task for those who have little experience working in the Resource Manager interface. This paper offers the process of developing an easy, functional ERM that is user-friendly. It offers the steps that electronic resource coordinators at the University of Houston took to create a new resource called the Electronic Resources License Repository (ERLR) and the feedback they received. The paper serves as inspiration for other library coordinators who wish to create similar resources.

Citation: Brett, Kelsey, Jeannie Castro, and Rachel Vacek. “Building a Better Mousetrap: Developing an Easy, Functional ERM.” Proceedings of the Charleston Library Conference. 2012.

Columns in Information Technology and Libraries

Logo for the ITAL JournalWhen I was President of the Library & Information Technology Association (LITA) between 2014-2015, I wrote three columns for LITA’s online and open-access journal, Information Technology and Libraries.

Vacek, Rachel. “President’s Column: Making an Impact in the Time That is Given to Us.” Information Technology and Libraries. 34/2 (2015): 3-4.

Vacek, Rachel. “President’s Message: Twitter Nodes to Networks: Thoughts on the #litaforum.” Information Technology and Libraries. 33/4 (2014): 1-9.

Vacek, Rachel. “President’s Message: UX Thinking and the LITA Member Experience.” Information Technology and Libraries. 33/3 (2014): 1-4.