Librarianship Isn't About What We Have, It's About What We Do

Vancouver Public Library Info Staff
photo by Maria Hernandez

Librarianship isn’t about what we have; it’s about what we do. It’s taken us a while to realize that our full shelves (or loaded databases) aren’t our greatest value. It’s human interaction: over the reference desk, through informal one-on-one instruction, in teaching a workshop or facilitating a program, and by enabling conversations, bringing people together, and building communitywide experiences.

An excellent quote from Brian Kenney’s “So You Think you Want to Be a Librarian“. It dovetails nicely with a presentation Kay Cahill and I are giving at the Beyond Hope Library Conference on Monday on Designing for Humans: User Experience and the 21st Century Librarian.

Ours is a customer service profession. We’re a high-touch profession that works best when we nurture, teach, coach and motivate others to learn, explore and grow. We exist to serve others. While we’re in one of the few professions that is named after a building, the true “rockstar” librarians remember to put people first in everything that they do.

User Experience is not (Just) a Band-Aid™

lucky monkey bandages
photo from flickr user Christopher Matson

Did you know that the inventor of Band-Aid™ adhesive bandages invented them for his wife? In 1920, Earle Dickson put gauze and adhesive tape together so that his wife could keep from cutting her fingers while preparing food in the kitchen.

This reminded me of how user experience is sometimes treated in organizations. It’s clear that Mrs. Dickson needed better knife handling skills, or maybe Mr. Dickson needed to do his own durn cooking. Instead, good ol’ Earle came up with a quick fix* that merely covered up a deeper and more troubling concern. Similarly, instead of having user experience involved at every stage of the development process and building something better from the start, we ask for quick fixes that will temporarily plaster over a problem that needs a better, and more carefully thought-out solution.

And just like with adhesive bandages, quickie UX solutions often cause pain when you try to pull them off.

In short: don’t give your projects short shrift. For the long-term success and health of your projects, be sure to involve user experience consultants at every phase of development.

*Granted, his quick fix is a permanent part of our culture, but the basic purpose of Band-Aids hasn’t changed.

On Library Signage and Patron Interactions

Rochelle is on fire with this post:

Librarians have a tendency to behave as if patrons walk through the door needing to know practically everything about their journey before they take their first step. We haul out the maps, give advice about the weather and what footwear they need for the first half, and trace the entire experience out before they get past the turnstile. We may never see that patron again; we’d better make sure they’re well-prepared. For each and every leg of the journey. Then we leave them to their own devices, unless they want to seek us out again. What if we focused on reducing confusion and anxiety if all of our patron interactions by guiding their decisions in small pieces, manageable ones, rather than infodumping right at the start?

A couple of years ago I participated in a working group that was charged with making recommendations for new directional signage in the library. As a result, we now have these rather large, 8ft. tall black pillars placed right in front of our escalators; depending on the floor you’re on at the time, the pillars obscure the public’s sight lines to the information desk (and our sight lines to the escalators). Even though we did the best we could with what we had, I wonder if our efforts would have been better spent on reorganizing the floors, or, as Rochelle suggests, focusing more on reducing anxiety.

(Previously on this blog)

How I Became an Android Fan

I’ll cut to the chase: it was web services.

At first I was all about the hardware and the apps, which explains why I own so many Apple devices. Of course I’d buy an iPhone, that wasn’t up for discussion. I’m on my second iPhone now.

These days, just about my whole digital life is wrapped up in the Google ecosystem, and it’s important to me that these services run smoothly on every platform. Now that I have an Android tablet, they do. I never thought I’d say this, but if I didn’t have 2.5 years left on my Fido contract, I’d get rid of my iPhone 5 and pick up a Nexus 4 or a Galaxy SIII.

(by the way, if you know anyone in Vancouver who’d like a good deal on a Kobo Arc, tell ’em to contact me.)

Other reading on Google vs. Apple and the web services battle:

All Things D: Apple’s Next Battleground Isn’t TV, It’s Web Services

Patrick B. Gibson: Apple and Twitter

Forbes: Apple Does Suck at Web Services. Twitter and Yahoo Can Fix That.

Business Insider: Apple’s Big Problem: Google is Getting Better at Design.

The UX Elevator Pitch

I was asked to describe user experience in one sentence, and I came up with “UX is a continual process of learning about users, their preferences and behaviours, and evolving our products and services through research, consultation, and iterative design.” Would you agree with that definition?

Quick and Easy User Research

Box of junk
I’m working on a project to revamp the website for our Skilled Immigrant Info Centre. The project coordinator came to see me yesterday to get some ideas about content grouping and how we can best redistribute some of their more useful information.

We got stuck on the word “resources”, a meaningless library word if there ever was one. Whenever I see the word “resources” on a library website, my left eye twitches. The word is most often used as a miscellaneous catch-all category. Our intentions are good when we create headers/categories like these, but over time they just become the equivalent of your website’s junk drawer. We’re not improving findability by dumping everything into a miscellaneous container.

After a couple of minutes of discussion about my sheer hatred for the word (yes, hatred), I suggested that she try to do some quick user research the next time she met with a client. Tell them what kind of information might go in this category, and ask them what words or phrases they’d use to describe it. I also suggested that she show them examples of the content and get them to suggest the best place for it on the website.

If I had to give one piece of advice to librarians looking to incorporate more user research/UX into their work, it’s to remember that we are not our users. She and I could’ve debated the merits of the term all day, but without some user input, we aren’t really serving the needs of our patrons.

(photo by flickr user Elsie esq.)