“My Librarian Thinks I’m a Criminal.”

February 27, 2013

“Librarians at this university take their job way to seriously, we’re students not convicts.”

My Librarian Thinks I'm a Criminal

This comment kind of reminds me of the famous video, Give ‘Em the Pickle.

The moment that I am thinking of comes in another part of the full training video (not found on YouTube that I know of) where  Bob Farrell talks about an experience going to a bank. There at the bank they have those pens that are attached to the counter with a chain. Farrell says the message you are sending to the customer with those types of attached pens is, “You are a thief and we know it.”

30-October-2009 - Pen on a leash

What are some of the messages we are sending our patrons without really realizing it?

Several years ago at my local library I returned a book to the main desk. The clerk, in an effort to be helpful, told me that I could return my books at the front of the library in the future. I don’t think she realized that she also told me this, “Next time don’t bring this here. Take it to the front instead of bugging me.” She didn’t mean this at all but that was the message I heard.

We need to be very careful how we help our patrons. We may be sending a message we don’t intend.

photo originally uploaded by I Am Rob

Library Value Proposition

June 15, 2012
Disney Characters: Pluto, Donald and Mickey

from flickr user armadillo444

We recently had a marketing faculty member come to the library to discuss marketing libraries. At one point in the presentation he displayed a simple evaluation sheet that we have at one of our reference desks with essentially these four questions:

  1. Was our service cheerful?
  2. Was our service efficient and timely?
  3. Was our environment conducive to research?
  4. How important was our resources to your research?

In each of these four cases we discussed who our competitors were. Some of them we were expending a significant amount of effort to ensure when they will not necessarily get users to use our resources. Others our competitors are so far ahead of us that it makes no sense to try to keep up. We should be putting resources elsewhere. Here is a breakdown:

Cheerful and considerate service

Value proposition: we give cheerful service.

Why? Because if we don’t, they won’t come back. Okay true.

But will it get them in the library? If they want cheerful service, will they automatically think, “Hey, I should go to the library?”

Competitor: Amusement parks, entertainment venues, etc

No. They will go to Disneyland if all they want is cheerfulness.

Efficiency and speed

Value proposition: we give fast and efficient service.

How long does a typical reference transaction take? Several minutes. But you get the answer so that is great.

Competitor: Google

Compare this with Google. Searches take less than a second. We have lost the speed and efficiency war. We will never find something faster than the web. Who has a better value proposition based on speed? Google.

Space conducive to research

Value proposition: we are a great place to study.

Competitors: dorms, student centers, study halls

Here is where we could really shine. We are not promoting our space as much as we could. Examining twitter posts about the library one quickly realizes how many people prefer quiet study space over group study space. Dorms and student centers are loud. Libraries (our users are saying) shouldn’t be–or at least they should only be in designated areas.

Relevant resources

Value proposition: we house high-quality resources.

Competitor: Google Books

Again, Google has more books than most libraries and they are getting bigger.


Not sure if I agree with everything that was said but his point about speed was certainly well-taken. To illustrate his point he tried to use our library federated search to find an article he wrote. He searched using his name and two key words from the title. The first screen was irrelevant. He used the facet for author and limited results just to him. He still could not find it. This took a few minutes.

“Oh, well, forget it. You know what…” and he did the same search in Google Scholar and it was the second hit in the results. This took a few seconds.

Our best value proposition from that informal survey is our space, something that is very disconcerting. When our library becomes nothing more than a nice computer lab, what does that mean for our profession?

Our discussion led us to a realization that one of our other value propositions which we don’t capitalize on, but which we have a much smaller list of competitors:

Personal contact

Value proposition: we provide interaction with the user in which we validate them and encourage them in the research process.

Competitors: Family, friends, colleagues

Google does not tell them they can do it. It does not say, “that is an interesting topic.” It does not acknowledge that they are frustrated in the search process. We could be promoting our users to themselves–and then they will come to us more to feel better about their efforts.

My question: is this really a good enough reason to keep libraries as they are presently constituted?

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Usability Testing in Libraries

October 28, 2008

A group in our library has been reading Steve Krugs Dont Make Me Think over the past few weeks. It is an excellent resource for anyone considering building or redesigning a website. Anyhow, we just got through discussing the chapters on usability testing. I think that we really feel that usability testing is important.  I know that we really, truly, want to find out what our users think about our website and our services.  However, I also hear among the hallways of our library and in other library discussions, phrases like this: “ Why do we have to do what our users think? We are the professionals. We know what they need.” Sometimes I also hear conversations like this:

Usability tester: “This is what our users are asking for.”

Librarian: “Well, that may be what you found out, but I still won’t do it.”

So I posed a question at our meeting “How do we deal with sort of stigma in our libraries?” The ideas offered were very useful:

  1. We could invite individuals who are skeptical to attend some of the testing.  Let them see what our users really do with the website and how they’re really conducting research.
  2. We could record the usability testing and having them freely available on the library intranet. Librarians would be able to see for themselves on their own time what users do with our site.
  3. We could also show some usability recordings at a library-wide meeting and discuss as a group implications.

One of my colleagues mentioned that this really is a philosophical issue in our field in general. I agree. As professionals, do we really no more than our users? In many cases these users are have more experience in their particular field and we do. How do we get away from feeling like we as professionals are the experts and that all others must use our methods? Have we get away from the negative feeling that students and young users don’t do “proper” research and “lazy?” If we do a usability test shouldn’t we be listening to what our users say? Yes, even if that means taking a resource off the main library page and putting it on a subpage?

Life as a Library Patron

October 8, 2008

In the process I discovered something out already: only students can reserve group study rooms. I guess that makes sense…to be honest I felt kind of guilt setting it up because I knew I would be taking a room that students might need while I have a perfectly good office to meet with my staff.

Some things this concept could help change:

  • Outlet locations
  • WiFi coverage
  • Lighting
  • Noise
  • Comfort

Some things this just can’t fix:

  • Library OPACs
    • No matter how user-friendly we want our libraries to be, the OPAC will continue to be a huge obstacle
  • Restroom location
    • Not much you can do here without a lot of $
  • Speed?
    • We may not be able to improve how fast the OPAC searches…but could we find a way to streamline check-out or library card application?