Is Anyone Emotionally Connected to a Library?

Why should librarians care about designing a unique, memorable and differentiated user experience for their library?

I can think of a few reasons. We want the experience to go well. We want people to connect with something, be it a resource, space or person, that resolves their need with the least amount of friction. We want the experience to be high fidelity.

Those are all good reasons. It could do more than just leave a community member feeling good about their visit to or interaction with the library. It could lead to more intensive engagement with the library or some positive word-of-mouth buzz in the community. Is it possible to have the experience create an attachment with the library that goes even deeper than good feelings? Can community members establish an emotional connection with their library?

Possibly. The answer may lie in better understanding how people get emotionally connected to brands.

Consumer research demonstrates that building an emotional connection is a level of experience that transcends awareness, satisfaction or even loyalty. Some experience researchers refer to that as a Level Three experience. While this level of engagement is desirable, it’s unlikely that all of those who know the brand and engage with it will reach a state of emotional connection.

In their article “What Separates the Best Customers from the Merely Satisfied” Scott Magids, Alan Zorfas and Daniel Leemon discuss how consumers who are emotionally connected with brands are far more engaged and of greater value to the success of a product or service than those who merely express satisfaction with the brand. How do they know the difference between someone who is satisfied versus emotionally connected. Here are some signs of emotional connection with a brand:

* that brand resonates with an individual’s deepest emotions
* that brand makes the individual feel differentiated from the crowd
* that brand contributes to the individual feeling like the person they want to be

To arrive at these findings the authors developed something called the “Emotional Connection Score” (ECS). It measures the share of a brand’s customers who are fully emotionally connected to that brand. The authors measured the ECS of 39 different brands across a number of different industries. This involved analyzing the buying behaviors of thousands of consumers of the brand. For a more complete explanation take a look at the authors’ long-read article.

Taking a look at the study results, displayed in a chart, raises some questions. I can see why consumers may be more emotionally connected to the BMW brand than the Toyota brand, given the much higher investment and quality difference with the BMW. The difference between Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts is more puzzling. Starbucks is well known for the design of their user experience yet Dunkin Donuts has a slightly higher ECS. You would think that the Starbucks experience would generate deeper emotional connection. What does Virgin Airlines do to make it a standout in the airline industry? Southwest, I would think, has the most emotionally connected customers. Perhaps free bag checks creates satisfaction but not emotional connection.

The authors do make the point that the study and science of customer emotions is relatively new, so there is much more to learn. One takeaway of more immediate interest for user experience librarians is that customer satisfaction is not necessarily telling the whole story. It may be good to know that community members express satisfaction – as they often do in standard surveys – but we may want to move beyond mere satisfaction to emotional connection. To do that we need to learn more about the ECS score and the strategies for building emotional connection.

Perhaps we need to learn more about our community members who show all the signs of being emotionally connected. Their appreciation of personal assistance, access to technology or just the books the love to read can easily transcend satisfaction. They may actually talk about how much they love their library. When the library budget is endangered and services may be lost, those are the members who will fight for preserving the library’s resources. In the past I referred to these members as “library superusers“. Perhaps that’s another way of identifying an emotional connected library user.

The challenge for librarians is creating the systemic experience for community members that leads to the state of emotional connection. In the search for meaning user experience metrics, perhaps an Emotional Connection Score is what we need.

Author: StevenB

Steven Bell is currently Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University, and was previously Director of the Library at Philadelphia University. Steven is the author of two regular columns published by Library Journal, From the Bell Tower and Leading From the Library. With John Shank he is co-founder of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. Bell and Shank are also authors of the book Academic Librarianship by Design. Bell's latest book is Crucible Moments: Inspiring Library Leadership. More information is found at his website.

3 thoughts on “Is Anyone Emotionally Connected to a Library?”

  1. I think lots of us are emotionally connected to our public libraries, especially those libraries that still care about books (and have lots of relevant programs and other services). Oh, and that don’t call us “customers,” which to me would pretty much fracture any emotional connection. Community members, fine.

  2. I tend to agree with you – and that was the point of my earlier “library superuser” post – that there are fundamental ways in which community members are deeply passionate about their libraries.
    (and check my earlier post on what to call people who use libraries http://dbl.lishost.org/blog/2012/12/03/reader-patron-user-member-why-not-customer/#.Vnq5WPkrKUk

    But I do find myself questioning the whole “satisfaction” vs “connection” equation when it comes to libraries. The library has a book you want (and doesn’t have others you do want) and may offer a good program. You may be satisfied but are you connected? Is someone who says “I love my library” emotionally connected? Sure sounds that way.

    Can’t say I have clear thoughts on this one but do find that I’d like to explore it further to better grasp – from the UX perspective – what would make a library user get from satisfaction to emotional connection. How can we learn more about that and then build that into the UX we design for community members. Maybe we need to operate as though those folks are customers that we want to connect with our brand – even if that’s not what we call them.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this post and leave a comment!

  3. Our community fought hard and long to try to stop Cuyahoga County Public Library from selling a library branch that the public was very emotionally connected to. The Board and Executive Director, Sari Feldman, ALA President, refused to listen and sold the building for pennies on the dollar to one wealthy man.
    The public owned and loved the Telling Mansion Library for 62 years. It is an Ohio Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.
    It would have cost $5million to renovate Telling (CCPL’s own figure). Instead they spent $13 million to build a nondescript new building. Telling Mansion cost $700,000 to build in 1930 and CCPL sold it in 2013 for less than that.
    For those who know the details, this action by the board and director was an obscene waste of money and abusive and disrespectful of the community. To add insult to injury to the community’s connection–the old branch was walking distance from the high school and junior high school.
    The new branch is a mile and half away from these schools and has no bus service on weekends and after 7:25 at night.
    This is what happened to our community who loved our library branch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *