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Designing Better Libraries by steven j bell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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?


Comment from Colleen
Posted: October 3, 2007 at 9:19 pm

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!

Pingback from Point Taken « Wicked Good Reference
Posted: October 16, 2007 at 1:00 pm

[…] Brian Mathews (although seemingly a pompous gamer type when I saw him at the ACRL conference) also makes a strong argument about the direction librarians often go. He states that we often think like trees instead of like a forest… not seeing the big picture. I know that I often try and think creatively but end up thinking like a tree instead of wrapping my brain around the whole idea. Mathews also cites a great book on his OTHER blog about user experience that I am sure goes beyond web design user experience and could be used while designing new library spaces… […]

Pingback from Kirjastot ja asiakaslähtöisyys 1/2 « eAineistot oppimisen resurssi
Posted: October 17, 2007 at 9:20 am

[…] Minä väitän, että Ubiquitous Librarian on oikeassa: kirjastolaiset ajattelevat yksioikoisesti näkemättä metsää puilta. Samasta asiasta puhuu myös Brian Mathews, jonka mukaan jopa sosiaalista mediaa hyödyntävissä kirjastoissa eivät asiakkaat välttämättä ole huomanneet mitään muutosta kirjaston toimintapolitiikassa. […]

Pingback from What I Learned Today… » Blog Archive » Territorial Thinking
Posted: October 17, 2007 at 11:07 am

[…] This from Brian at Designing Better Libraries. […]

Comment from eric childress
Posted: November 13, 2007 at 8:10 pm

Great post.

BTW the link to record for Understanding Your Users:

Comment from brian
Posted: November 19, 2007 at 10:13 pm

“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.

Comment from Jen
Posted: November 22, 2007 at 4:41 am

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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