No time to waste

I know it may be hard to swallow, but I think our current budget woes may, in fact, present an opportunity for us to actually do what we have been reluctant to do for a long time. Maybe this is just the push we need to become excellent. We need to seriously look at what users expect from us and how we can do it better. We have talked a user centered services for a really long time, but too often we are unwilling to make the changes that users want. How many times have we said things such as:

The users don’t fully understand the issues involved in what it would take to {insert user’s idea here}.

We are information professionals and we know best.

We provide a valuable service that we need to tell more people about.

While we as librarians have been collectively wringing our hands about bad searching, incomplete cataloging, the behemoth Google, declining reference statistics, lack of enough staff, lack of respect, etc. the way that people interact with information has fundamentally changed. In case you haven’t noticed the information environment has changed so much that if we don’t make some fundamental changes immediately we can very soon call the game over.

At the risk of offending, here are some thoughts to get a conversation started…

  • If it is not online it isn’t. People want access from their laptop, iPhone, other mobile device and they want it now. They do not want to wait or to walk.
  • We must fundamentally change the way that users interact with our online content. This is our front door and the interface should be intuitive and welcoming. We can’t try to replicate a physical library on a web page and think we have succeeded. Many users coming there will have no concept of physical library and it is a waste of time to try to make them conform.

  • Big effort should be put into designing tools to anticipate user needs and to make the user successful even if they have not attended a training session.
  • Our content must integrate into other content in a seamless way. People must be able to get to our content when they do a Google search.
  • We need to leverage the unique content we have and get it online as fast as possible. This is our competitive advantage and is what will set us aside from other institutions.

  • We need to find ways to be helpers and not hinderers. Lose the stupid rules that get in people’s way. We can’t afford to lose even one good library user.

So where does that leave us? As quickly as possible we need to identify things to stop doing in order to free up resources to do the things that we need to do. It will be painful, but we need to let go of some things that have been near and dear to our hearts for a long time. This is no time to be sentimental.

It wasn’t that long ago when we thought that users could not possible do a search in an online database as well as we could. OK, maybe we were better, but users believed that they were good enough and they were right. And they are right about wanting information presented to them in a seamless way.

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