Can we ever really move beyond the self-centered library?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I have a good reason—I’ve started a new job. I’m still at Georgia Tech, but now I am the User Experience Librarian. I’ll get into what exactly that entails in a future post, but for now I wanted to share some thoughts on being “user” centered.

There has been a lot of talk about libraries becoming more “user” centered, even back in 2000 I recall seeing user-centered or user-focused in several job postings. With the emergence of all the Web 2.0 magic, this term has become even more prominent.

But are libraries really any different? Can patrons detect a difference? I think that those of us working in libraries have seen a change, but what about our users? Has any of our rhetoric translated into a noticeable change? Do they perceive us as being user-centered, or is it just us who perceive ourselves as being more user-centric?

Taking it a step further, can we ever break the boundaries of departmental self-interest? The Reference department has one perspective, while Circulation has another; Systems/IT has their agenda, while Cataloging has another—and so on. I’ve worked in several large academic libraries and this territorial thinking seems to be universal. If each department perceives the “user experience” differently than how can we ever truly be user-centered? That’s one of the challenges I face now since I am essentially floating without a department… but perhaps that is a good thing? I’m trying to take a more holistic approach.

The book Understanding Your Users provides a good illustration of this problem. When it comes to designing services, we each hear different things.
user centered design

So where do we go from here? Sure there are strategic plans, vision and mission statements, and maybe a library brand, but do these unify staff? Do we really hear what patrons are saying or are we only listening to ourselves?

Author: Brian Mathews

Brian Mathews is a public services librarian at Georgia Tech. Check out: www.brianmathews.com

7 thoughts on “Can we ever really move beyond the self-centered library?”

  1. In my experience, when librarians look at user experience, particularly when designing new items, they use themselves adn their colleagues to determine what that user experience is. This defeats the entire purpose, since our brains are trained to look for things in non-intuitive, librarian-type ways. We need to be sure that when designing and testing items, we actually include users in the process – not just librarians.

    The challenge? How to involve students and faculty from other areas in our projects, and making it worth their time. Designing a user-centered experience without ever involving the user in the design is a terminally flawed process, IMHO. Looking forward to hearing more about the new position!

  2. “A pompous gamer type “– wow, that’s awesome! I might use that in the future.

    Oh — but I have not played video games in years. As for being pompous… that must be the result of education at a directional State U. Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Ha! the pingback left out this part… “yeah, i am just jealous…” of the gamer type… glad to see you read your comments… i take back pompous.

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