Deepening the Conversation

thinking about questions of authority, technology, learning, and 2.0 in academic libraries

Do libraries make people feel like this?


After months of trying to find a new phone that would meet my needs and not overwhelm me with more than I need,  I finally upgraded my phone, my life, my plan, to an LG Xenon. I waited with baited breathe for the UPS man, and after taking the package from his hands, and ripping it open, my excitement started leaking like a 3 day old helium balloon.

Nothing about this is fun.

Nothing about this makes me happy.

N0thing about this is remotely the way it should  be.

The phone arrived uncharged– a major deterrent to immediately diving in and playing around. The directions for authorizing the phone, for changing my phone number, for setting up my voicemail — none worked as described. I mean, the reps I spoke with were great, but I spoke with 4 of them. They were all also mystified about how to proceed with someone who only had the cell phone. Do most people do this from work?? I mean, landlines are scarce amongst the company I keep, are we really that abnormal?

Every step along the way has been ugly and unpleasant. Nothing has worked according to direction, and everything that seemed intuitive has caused a problem somewhere else down the line.

And while I am siting here, seething and pouting, in the back of mind I’m wondering:  is this the library user experience?

  • We  have sexy tools
  • They are far too complicated
  • Our help systems — vendor and librarian –do they meet the challenge? Do they assist with the actual problems our patrons encounter?
  • Are the help tools a poor match to the systems as the currently exist?
  • And, do we put way too much emphasis on assuming (requiring?) the user will come talk to us? Us, lovely, helpful, kind, librarians. But such a hassle to sidetrack from the task at hand to talk to, and too bound in procedures and checking the work to offset the waste of patron time having to ask represents.

Do we make out patrons feel the way AT&T and LG are making me feel right now? If the answer is yes, it’s unacceptable. How do we, how can I, start laying out an agenda towards developing better, more intuitive systems and implementing far better and less intrusive help?


3 thoughts on “Do libraries make people feel like this?

  1. I believe the answer to all of your questions is YES. Except perhaps the first point. Proceed as planned given response. I’ve always thought that information literacy instruction could succeed far better if we didn’t have to spend so much time either (1) explaining how the tools work, (2) explaining how they DON’T work, and (3) teaching people to act in non-intuitive ways to get them to work at least partially. Hmmm… am I grumpt this morning?

  2. Rudi,

    You are spot on in your observations as usual! Unfortunately, the reality is that, similar to technology, information/knowledge and the design of interfaces for manipulating information that leads to knowledge creation/learning, is a function of: 1) trying to meet the lowest common denominator (we all work in different ways and have different needs), 2) the most scalability (the most bang for the buck), and 3) for the least amount of short and long-term costs (delivering proactive, point of need service gets unavoidably, exponentially costly in terms of personnel, workload and just plain funding as the quality goes up).

    I believe this is true for any organization or business, and is why business models, which have been evolving for thousands of years, still more often than not fail so miserably at customer service.

    Of course libraries and library services and systems are especially bad at this stuff and we librarians do need to improve our service and knowledge facilitation (to steal from R. David Lankes SUNYLA keynote) design models quickly across the board if we want to remain relevant (and employed).

    Just my three cents.

  3. I find this post extremely ironic. I’d answer “yes” to your question about how patrons feel when interacting with certain librarians.

    As someone who writes so reflectively about patron experience, it seems like a bit of fluff when it comes to real life.

    Start practicing what you preach.

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