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How To Tell If They Really Love Your Library

This is a profession that promotes the idea of loving a library. If you need some evidence just visit ILoveLibraries.org. If you find it difficult to express love for a building, then you can shift your affections to your favorite librarian – over at I Love My Librarian. Anyone ever heard of an “I Love My Accountant” movement? Maybe if he or she just saved you a bundle in taxes you would wear one of these.

We like the idea that a library or librarian can be loved by community members, and while I joke a bit with the concept we know it’s a great marketing strategy to encourage community members to show their appreciation and the value they place on libraries. It reminds me of that old Pee-Wee Herman running gag on the classic television show. Whenever Pee-Wee said “I love my/this _______” (fill-in-the-blank) another character would come back with “Then why don’t you marry it” which works great on all sorts of objects, such as fruit salad. Anyone out there want to marry their library?

But what does it really mean to love a library or any other inanimate object? There’s actually a study that attempts to answer this question. It’s a report titled “Shoes, Cars and Other Love Stories” and it’s actually a dissertation in the field of industrial design by Beatriz Russo. The research is based on an analysis of just twenty-four people who were asked many questions about products they loved. The author says the dissertation “describes a journey in unravelling and clarifying this complex, powerful and, sometimes, unexplainable experience people have with special products they love, own, and use.” The author sought to determine what are the qualities and characteristics of product love. Here are a few of the key characteristics:

* There’s a meaningful relationship
* The relationship is deeply rewarding
* The relationship is enduring
* It’s not just an experience but rather a container of experiences
* It can change over time – perhaps even towards dislike

Admittedly there is some vagueness to these ideas. What does it mean to have a ‘meaningful’ relationship with a product? Do those who love a specific product lust over a new competitor? What causes a breakup? Do human loved ones actually get jealous of those loved products? Being it’s a dissertation it can’t answer all these questions, but there’s some useful information that may enlighten us about what it takes to get someone to love our product – or in our case the library and services we provide. If you have only limited time for some browsing of the research findings, you may find the section on the phases of product love as interesting as I did (starts on p.121).

Like any love relationship, product love begins with attraction (e.g., “Wow, take a look at that laptop”). Then there is the build-up phase shortly after the product is purchased, which sounds a bit like the honeymoon part of the relationship (e.g., “I could work on this laptop all day – it’s so light and portable). The continuation phase is where most of the relationship takes place, and it’s at that point where the owner is completely comfortable with the product (e.g., “I couldn’t even imagine getting another laptop”). Now in all love relationships there are some rocky times, and here you can hit a deterioration phase in which the owner loses interest (e.g., “This laptop seems a lot slower than it used to be and those new models are really thin and light”). And you know what deterioration leads to of course – the end phase (“I’ve had it with this sucky laptop”). In some ways it sounds just like a real relationship, although we only throw out our products at the end of the road.

Does knowing the basic qualities and phases of product love make it possible for librarians to truly understand not only what community members mean when they tell us they love our library, but to create an experience specifically designed to facilitate such a passionate relationship ? I think you can make a case that it’s possible for members of a public or academic community to develop a meaningful relationship with their library and hopefully with the staff. What’s meaningful about it may be different to a mix of people. For some it may be the books, for others the sacred space and yet for others the interaction and conversation found there. Looking at the list of key characteristics that Russo developed, it is strongly reminiscent of my three core ways in which libraries can differentiate themselves (meaning; relationships; totality). While I’d like to think the connector between the library and the passionate user is a meaningful relationship, that could be an area for more involved research. What would the community members have to say about this?

What we do hear anecdotally (and all too often from non-librarian conference speakers) from individuals is that their fond library memories often stretch back to their earliest encounters with library books or a caring librarian. While the relationships change and the community members move on, their love for the library can endure and cross over from one library to another – unless he or she encounters a library with a truly poor experience. You can well imagine having a much loved product, and then encountering a new incarnation of or variation on that product that truly disappoints. That will probably end the relationship (think “New Coke” or “Qwikster”).

Thanks to this dissertation we can gain a better understanding of the relationship individuals build with products (or services), and how that leads to something along the lines of true love. With that knowledge we librarians might be equipped to provide the type of experience that leads to a true love for libraries. But there are occasions when the relationship changes and community members move on. For some, deterioration and the end may eventually arrive, which is why we need to constantly be finding new members who will become passionate about the library. That’s where marketing, promotion, branding and relationship building come into play. How can we create awareness and best present our library so others will fall in love with it? It may ultimately come down to designing a great library user experience that sets the stage for the blossoming of love.

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