MLIS alum helps bring pronouns to UW directories

By Shanzay Shabi Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Members of the University of Washington community have lacked a tool to declare their pronouns in directory listings, but soon they will have one. Master of Library and Information Science alum Lauren Manes is helping make it happen through her work on a new pronoun tool. 

Manes is a user experience designer at the UW and the primary designer on the pronoun tool project. The pronoun tool, a project started by Identity and Access Management, will be a designated space within the centralized UW system where students with a UW NetID can declare any and all or no pronouns. This information will then be consumed by various other systems around the university, for instance, class rosters. The tool is expected to be rolled out this academic year.

“This tool is necessary to support the UW community in representing their whole selves and to communicate to other members of the community how they want to be addressed,” said Manes, MLIS ’05. 

Discussions about the need for a pronoun tool began about six years ago when Manes increasingly became involved with diversity, equity and inclusion work within UW-IT. While working with Identity and Access Management on a widget to allow UW students to set a preferred name that's distinct from their legal name, Manes and others realized there was a need for a similar tool specific to pronouns. 

Helen B. Garrett, university registrar and chief officer of Enrollment Information Services at the UW, is one of the leading advocates for identity expression across UW systems. Having worked closely alongside Manes on the pronoun tool, she said she admires her commitment to the idea that identity belongs solely to its holder.

“Lauren has been an amazing partner to have throughout this project. She was a major force in helping us to implement a plan of action for the pronoun tool and really brought a sensibility to the table, reminding us to prioritize value proposition,” Garrett said. “Lauren and I work so well together because as a UX designer she emphasizes that behind each technological process and interaction is an individual person.” 

While the user interaction with the pronoun tool is quite simple, it has taken years to compile research and design a tool that is both inclusive and accessible. In addition to designing the interface, Manes has led competitive analyses looking at the design of other interfaces where users set pronouns. She also did research on potential user populations for the pronoun tool and assessed their needs, then set out to create a tool that would accommodate those needs. 

“To connect people with information, you have to understand the information deeply and you also have to understand what the people’s goals and motivations are for using that information,” said Manes. 

After completing her MLIS degree, Manes completed a UX certification and joined the world of corporate technology management. Throughout the pronoun project and her career as a UX designer, Manes said, her MLIS background has equipped her with the knowledge and skills to always put people at the center of the work she does. 

“UX design, for me, is not fundamentally different from what I learned and studied in library school,” Manes said. “It’s the intersection of people and information, and someone needs to make sure that they meet at the right place at the right time. That's what we're doing with the pronoun tool and that's what we did in libraries as well.”