Library Service Design Heuristics & card deck


Heuristic analysis is the evaluation of an interface to determine its level of compliance with recognized usability principles. It is normally associated with user interfaces, but we have created a list that works well with library services.

The Library Service Design Heuristics consider the varied services libraries offer, including dynamic services (e.g., circulation, reference, virtual chat, even the website’s user interface) and non-dynamic services (e.g., tables, chairs, desks, group study, or meeting rooms). Unlike cookie-cutter solutions that tell you to “do it like this,” the heuristics ask simple questions to start you and your research team thinking about the service from the user’s perspective.

Our research has shown that while libraries share similar characteristics, they are each unique cultural and physical ecologies that require an adaptable process to assess the user experience. The Library Service Design Heuristics cards empower librarians and staff to assess their services on their terms and not some cookie cutter method. Heuristic analysis is easy, affordable, and quick. It is low impact and can be done with minimal staffing so any sized or resourced library can use it.

Library Service Design Heuristics

  1. Clarity of Purpose and Function.
  2. Meeting Current Needs and Expectations.
  3.  Consistency of Service Delivery.
  4. Consistency of Communication.
  5. Context Appropriate.
  6. Acceptable Interaction Costs (or Ease of Use).
  7. Empower User Autonomy.
  8. Reasonable Duration and Tempo.
  9. Welcoming.
  10. Accessible.

In 2017, Joe and Annie were awarded the first Future of Libraries Fellowship by ALA's Center for theFuture of Libraries for their work on the Library Service Design Heuristics. The Fellowship sponsored the creation of the card deck. Links to the various files are below or at the Center for the Future of Libraries.


Download the files and print your own Library Service Design Heuristics card deck.

Heuristics, card deck (3"x5") (250Kb, PDF)

Heuristics, card deck (4.25"x5") (265Kb, PDF)

Heuristics scorecard (full sheet) (25Kb, PDF)

Heuristics scorecard (4.25"x5") (18Kb, PDF)

Heuristics spreadsheet scorecard (29Kb, xlsx)

The heuristics cards and spiderweb scoring sheet.

The heuristics cards and spiderweb scoring sheet.

How to use the heuristics card deck. To use the heuristics, think through each while observing a library service. Using the questions on the back of each heuristic card, evaluate the service to see how well it meets the criterion. As you review the service, assign a score (on a scale of -2 to 2). Have each of your team score the service as well. The finished product is a scoring map known as a spiderweb diagram. Compare spiderwebs with your team and discuss where there are scoring differences. If the service fails to meet any of these rules of thumb (i.e., is graded in a negative number), consider evaluating it further using some of the service design tools. Feel free to drop us a line, we're here to help!