Happiness or Meaning: A Library Experience Can Deliver Both

We want happiness. We want meaning in our lives. They need not be mutually exclusive. What they have in common is a life of giving more and taking less. Being a library user is one way to pursue both.






Achieving happiness and meaning are two different things.

Different, but not necessarily mutually exclusive. It is possible to have an experience that results in happiness but also contributes to a life of meaning.

Finding and borrowing a book from the library could certainly qualify. For those who enjoy reading, finding a good book at the library could certainly deliver some happiness. Depending on the book, it could have a mind opening, life altering impact that contributes to an individual’s search for meaning.

It helps to have a better understanding of what we mean when talking about both happiness and meaning. What contributes to each? What have researchers learning about happiness? How would we know if a community member has a meaningful interaction with the library?

In this article I shared insights into what researchers have learned about happiness. While material objects and money can deliver some happiness, those things tend to have only a limited impact.

It’s really the small things that count. Helping others. Enjoying a walk. Memorable experiences count too. Do these experiences also deliver meaning, or is there more to it than just satisfying the search for happiness?

The answer is…it depends.

According to Emily Esfahani Smith, author of the new book, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, finding meaning trumps experiencing happiness. On further inspection, the two have some commonality between them.

Esfahani identifies four pillars of meaning:

* sense of belonging – being in a relationship or a member of a community
* purpose – having a mission and pursuing it
* storytelling – your story; who you are; where you are from; where you are headed
* transcendence – resilence; having the ability to overcome adversity

You start to get the idea that the difference between the two is about direction and effort. Happiness is about something happening to us versus meaning being about making something happening for others. Esfahani states that “the big distinctions between a meaningful life and a happy life is that a meaningful life can be a hard life. When you’re giving back, you’re making sacrifices.”

In that sense, the library is a place that can serve to facilitate both happiness and meaning. If we are seeking some happiness, we can get it at the library. Finding a good book and enjoying reading are the type of small, everyday pleasures that bring happiness. I don’t think that Esfahani thinks there is anything inherently wrong with seeking happiness. She just wants us to transcend happiness as we pursue meaning.

And the library is a place where it can happen. It’s a place you can belong to and be a part of your community. It’s a place where you find and pursue a mission. It’s a place where you can discover your story. It’s a place where you transcend the ordinary and the meaningless.

Happiness or meaning? Why choose when you can find both at the library.

UXF: Where’s the Friction at Your Library

Libraries have fiction and friction. User experience friction or UXF happens when librarians add confusing or unnecessary steps to the community member’s journey. Getting familiar with just a few friction-killing tactics can help to design a better library experience.











No. I did not make a spelling error. That’s “friction” not “fiction”.

I know you know where the fiction is. But you may not know where you’re adding the friction to the library user experience.

Friction is a UX terminology that basically means you are doing something to screw up the user’s experience. It’s not what it ought to be.

That could be anything from a web page design that adds steps to a transaction to poorly designed signage that makes building navigation more difficult.

Here’s a more formal definition of UXF (user experience friction) from The Pfeiffer Report:

User Experience Friction is basically anything which separates the device we use from that ideal user experience: we all KNOW what User Experience Friction (UXF) is when we experience it, (although of course UXF may represent something completely different for every one of us.)

On the most basic level, UXF is the slow-down or friction that occurs when the user experience of a device deviates from our expectation or knowledge – and it can occur in every are of our life. If you rent a car that magically has reversed the side of the blinker on the steering wheel of the car, we experience friction: where the hell is the blooming thing? When you press the wrong button in an elevator because it is badly labelled: UXF again.

Poor design is an obvious cause of friction, but it also happens when human agents perform below expectation. Even if my rental car has great design and everything is exactly where I expect it to be, if the customer representative misplaces the keys or botches the rental process that friction is going to slow me down and detract from the entire experience.

I suspect you can point to contributors to friction at your library as easily as you can find the fiction. Some may be things that are broken, accidentally or intentionally, that need fixing. For those less obvious friction points, can you find them and then grease them up to create a frictionless experience.

Perhaps we can all learn something from Amazon’s friction-killing tactics.

Start by determining what category of friction you are dealing with. According to Kintan Brahmbhatt, who has designed and developed product strategy for Amazon’s music service and Alexa, there are three:

Friction due to unfamiliarity. A customer’s first-time experience with your product automatically contains friction when they don’t know how to use it. This is one of the biggest hurdles to get over when launching a new product.

Friction by design. There are times when you have to intentionally build friction into a product. If your product has a learning curve, you’ll have to design that experience thoughtfully.

Friction due to misalignment with human behavior. Here’s where design can come back to bite you. Poorly placed app controls, failing to anticipate how consumers will use the product and badly designed navigational tools will cause this.

Library workers are most likely dealing with the third type, where library design accommodates our view of the world but fits poorly with the way our community members would most naturally use the library and its systems. For example, library catalog messages. “In transit” or “Request from Depository” may mean something to a librarian but it’s likely to leave a community member scratching their head wondering what to do next. It’s not the language they expect.

Brahmbhatt offers several tips for how to discover, as he puts it, “where friction hides”. Some of the ethnographic research suggestions, such as observation techniques and scanning social media, may be familiar to you. He says “Think about friction as the simplest way for your user to get where she wants to go…Reducing it is about creating a path of least resistance” that maps closely to that easiest route users naturally take. Once you find your friction, try these steps to eliminate it.

* Reduce Anxiety: Too many options create uncertainty and confusion, but unclear options are equally bad. Eliminate ambiguity about what will happen after users make a choice and the associated fear that they will lose time and/or effort if they make the wrong choice. When community members head to the stacks, they shouldn’t worry about getting lost, wasting time or having to return to ask for assistance. Pathways to content should work the first time.

* Remove Avoidable Steps: Make a list of all the decisions a community member would need to make in order to complete a task. Whenever possible, eliminate an unnecessary decision or pre-select for the user. For example, a library catalog could automatically present only the books available on the shelf – which is usually what community members want. The system could then prompt “Do you want to see books that are already on loan or at other locations?”. That eliminates the avoidable step of scrolling through books that are not immediately available – not to mention unneeded trips to the stacks because the community member failed to notice a book’s location is a distant branch.

* Mitigate Context Switching: This happens when a community member has to navigate away from your website to complete a task. That often leads them to abandon the task. This is a challenge for libraries owing to the use of third-party systems where community members are switched to external databases. Brahmbhatt offers some methods that may or may not work for context switching problems. As much as possible, make it easy for the user to switch back to the original site location.

Brahmbhatt acknowledges there are situations when friction is inevitable. Then, do what is possible to mask it or use design to make that action more tolerable (e.g., a spinner or progress bar; offer human support at known friction points). Do what is possible to make the community member’s journey more pleasant. Got a pothole on your road? Consider filling it and smoothing the trip. We know what to do and sometimes how to do it.

Brahmbhatt offers straightforward – and even familiar – suggestions for how to both identify and eliminate friction. Do we have the desire and willpower to use these friction-killing tactics? A good first step is looking around your library and at supporting systems, observe and spot friction points and then resolve to eliminate anxiety, avoidable steps and context switching. You know fiction. Now it’s time to get serious about user experience friction.

Creating a Conversational Library Search Experience

Have you taken a look at Conversational User Interfaces (CUIs)? They may be simple chatbots now, but it’s hard not to imagine how they might revolutionize web-based service delivery for libraries.











When people encounter a library search system as a novice or relatively inexperienced library user, say the online catalog or a database selection list, they often have little idea what to do to find needed information.

It’s an observation I’ve made throughout my library career. Now I am hearing this from student workers who are doing more initial reference triage at our main service desk. They comment on the inability of their fellow students to perform even the most basic search of our systems.

And they know that it’s us – not the users – that have a problem.

That’s why I have a growing interest in conversational user interfaces (CUI).

It makes good sense. Instead of expecting a user to intuitively know what to do – especially when many of our systems are hardly intuitive – allow them to accomplish their task in a more nature way, through a conversation. Unlike current library chat systems that are manned by humans, CUIs make use of chatbots.

If you have yet to encounter a chatbot you probably will soon. Commerce websites are increasingly using conversational search interfaces. Want to buy a pair of shoes but need some help. Chatbots will try to help you get to the style, color, size and price range you seek – and help to navigate to the end of the transaction.How about ordering a pizza. A chatbot could engage you in a conversation about what you ordered previously, ask what your current order is, ask for your credit card information and more. Domino’s is already using a conversational interface for mobile ordering.

Image of a pizza restaurant mobile phone ordering interface
One example of a chatbot in use by Pizza Hut

How might this technology work in library environment? The applications that come to mind are mostly basic transactions with fairly limited options. For example, renewing books. We already have a way for our community members to do that online. Yet we still see to many of our members who continue to bring their physical books back to the library to renew them.

We want to save them time, but the systems fail to support our efforts. I can imagine the library home page asking “What Do You Want to Do Today?” Then type in “renew my books”. That would start the CUI transaction with the chatbot leading the community member through the process. If the question is more complex and there’s no pre-built conversational path, it is directed to a human.

Taken a step further, if the technology grows in sophistication, it might even be adapted to database searching. Take it a step beyond that, and given voice-recognition technology already in place in tools like Amazon’s Echo, and you can imagine search systems where you simply ask it to find content on a given topic. I can ask my phone to find me the nearest library. Why can’t I ask my database to find me articles on open leadership style.

I’ll be looking for more CUIs that I can try but for now, for more on conversational UX take a look at:

https://uxdesign.cc/ux-trends-2017-46a63399e3d2#.qri5fwl9r

https://medium.com/chris-messina/ux-of-bots-e565fb7c4d4e#.7y6hfb7mu

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/600766/10-breakthrough-technologies-2016-conversational-interfaces/

When Libraries Don’t Provide Value

Librarians tend to agree that their libraries deliver value to community members. But what exactly does that mean? What type of value? Time saving value? Life changing value? Those are quite different. What value do libraries offer? New research identifies 30 types of value of four levels in a Maslow’s like hierarchy. We need to be intentional about designing for value delivery.











Librarians of all types, but especially academic librarians, know how important it is to communicate how the library adds value to the community. Librarians increasingly aim to gather data and stories to demonstrate, both quantitatively and qualitatively, that the library contributes to the success of community members – and does so in different ways to deliver what community members need.

While there is general agreement within the profession that establishing the library’s value is something we all need to do, there is likely less agreement on exactly what value is and the best ways to gather and share the appropriate evidence to support claims of value.

One way to better communicate the value libraries provide is to understand how our community members would define value and then build the capacity to explain our value on their terms.

Research by two customer strategy consultants has identified 30 things that could be described as components of value. While the authors of “The 30 Things Customers Really Value” acknowledge that what constitutes value can vary from person to person, they believe their 30 building blocks of value cover most fundamental human needs.

Looked at this way, how many of those components of value do our libraries deliver? Assuming there is capacity to deliver on only a limited number of different types of value, what do we then prioritize? With only limited resources how might we transform our efforts to deliver value of great meaning to most of our community members – the ones that give them the greatest reward.

The authors identified four categories of values. At the base of the value pyramid is functional value. These are fairly basic services such as save people time, simplify things for them or facilitate their organization (think the Container Store).

The next highest order value is emotion. When a company like CVS offers wellness services or Disney offer fun experiences it appeals to our sense of emotional well being. When community members express affection for their library (e.g. “I love my library”) that signals an emotional connection. Engaging community members in ways that connect them to our libraries emotionally provides a unique value element.

Beyond emotion lies life changing value. Educational organizations offer the value of acquiring new skills or abilities that can lead to life changing opportunity. Offering a community to which members can belong is valued by those who with to be a part of something bigger then themselves – and it can be life changing. A library literacy program volunteer achieves life changing value by contributing to an organization that does change lives and improves the quality of the community.

At the top of the value pyramid is social impact. There is only one value associated with this category, self-transcendance. This is comparable to Maslow’s self-actualization on the hierarchy of needs. Few of us achieve it, and far fewer organizations can deliver this type of value.

TOMS is a shoe company that donates shoes to charity for each pair purchased. It provides value to its customer by making a social impact. Consumers see value in contributing to world betterment, as much as that is possible with a shoe purchase. It is within the realm of possibility to believe that libraries can move community members along the path of social impact by contributing to the betterment of lives through education, offering a safe place and community improvement.

My big takeaway from this HBR blog post and the longer article on which it is based is that when it comes to value delivery, libraries that seek to design for a better experience must go beyond just talking about value, as in “our library brings value to community members”. Noble ideas and statements don’t deliver value.

Programs and services with linkages to the value pyramid do. We need to be more explicit about what that library value means, how exactly we deliver value and to intentionally design for value delivery.

If librarians are unable to articulate what elements of value they provide to the community – and exactly how it is accomplished – then perhaps we don’t provide value. And when we do say we provide value we need research to confirm what we do and how it brings value to the community.

Since no organization can promise all 30 types of value, the authors recommend targeting those values that would be most important to community members based on their expectations. Then intentionally design operations to meet or exceed delivering on those values. We can also be clear on values that we are unable to offer, such as supporting profit making or offering sensory appeal.

What might that look like for a library?

Functional Value: 1) saves time; 2) informs; 3) connects; 4) reduces effort; 5)organizes

Emotional Value: 1) Provides access; 2) Wellness; 3)Fun/Entertainment

Life Changing: 1) Provide hope; 2) Affiliating/Belonging

Social Impact: 1) Self-transcendence

You might argue with some of these choices, but it appears that we mostly deliver functional value. That’s worthwhile, but like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need, how do we deliver higher levels of value that get community members emotionally engaged with the library?

Let’s continue to deliver cultural programming that invites community members to engage with authors, local artists or faculty research. Let’s be the unique community resource that offers stress-busting programs, such as therapy dogs or on-site massages. Let’s offer educational opportunities, such as literacy and reading appreciation programs, that can be life changing for community members.

Then there are those ways in which libraries deliver value just by being what they are – collections of information and community centers of knowledge building. Libraries provide access to collections that alone can create both life changing experiences and opportunities to explore and discover a self-transcendent path.

I am reminded of the story of Marla Spivak, who during her TED Talk on bee colony collapse, shares how she originally became interested in bees – which led her to become one of the world’s most prominent bee experts. She tells the audience that she was in the library one day as a teen, found a randomly placed book about bees, and just picked it up for no particular reason. The rest is history. Her story encapsulates all that we need to know about the types of value that libraries can deliver. Libraries can change lives. Libraries do have social impact.

Staff Expertise Makes A Difference

If there was one thing you wish everyone in your community knew about the library that you believed they needed to know – and didn’t – what would that be?

That you had hundreds of thousands or even millions of books from which to choose? That you had private study rooms and seven different types of chairs and desks? That an interlibrary loan article can be had within 24 hours? All good things for community members to know, but I believe the answer would have little to do with those material resources and everything to do with your staff.

I want our students and faculty to know that our staff members have expertise to help them save time by reducing the effort spent searching for the content. Then they can better invest their time in study, analysis, writing and completing their knowledge products. Whether we are referring to a librarian subject matter and research expert or a staff member who can help find just the right video segment, the core of the library experience – the product we can deliver – is staff who make a difference with their expertise.

Where the experience is most apt to suffer is when staff members lack the appropriate skills and fail to adequately meet the information needs of the community member. This is a significant problem in the retail sector because if the store representative fails to answer the customer’s questions there is a loss of confidence.

In response the customer is likely to look elsewhere, mostly online, for the answers. If and when they are obtained, an online sale will likely follow. Thinking back to the Great Retail Shopping Experiences of North America, one of the most significant customer expectations was “executional excellence” which means:

Having product knowledge and the ability to patiently explain and advise while providing unexpected quality

So what are brick-and-mortar retailer’s doing to prevent the loss of sales to online competitors? Two words: staff training

That sounds like an old, time-tested concept. If staff are expected to gain the expertise needed to achieve executional excellence then the experiential leadership must develop and implement an effective staff training program.

This is critically important for those retailers owing to the showrooming behavior of consumers. According to research shared by Knowledge@Wharton in their post on “Want to Stop Retail Showrooming? Start Training Your Staff“, physical retailers need to offer sales expertise at a level that simply is beyond anything online sellers offer. Four things matter most:

* highly visible staff that are eager to help
* staff that are highly knowledgeable about the products
* staff are able to immediately deliver what the customer wants
* transactions that proceed smoothly with minimal wait time

Among these four things the hardest to control for consistent quality is highly knowledgeable staff. The post goes on to explain how even a limited amount of staff training can lead to increased productivity and improvements in the service experience.

The lead researcher, Marshall L. Fisher, professor of operations, information and decisions at Wharton, believes the value of staff training goes beyond helping retailers challenge showroomers:

I think it’s broader than just retailers. I think it applies to lots of service industries, that if you have an associate who is dealing with one of your customers, you want that person to be talented and engaging. And you want that customer to have a good experience.

From his team’s extensive research on the impact of training to improve staff’s executional excellence Fisher concluded:

If your sales associates are well-trained and can answer customers’ questions knowledgeably, that’s one weapon in your arsenal against showrooming. I think customers often times don’t intend to showroom, but end up shopping online because they get better information online than they’re getting in the store. Retailers can defend against that through better training of their sales associates.

Many library staff find it off putting to think of themselves as selling anything and would hesitate to take away lessons learned from research on retail sales associates. But time and again I hear library workers gripe about community members who are unaware of all the services and support the library offers. Yet those same members are intimately familiar with ways to obtain information via online Internet resources. Perhaps we would do well to think of ourselves as sales associates with something much better to offer our community members.

Our problem is somewhat different. We need to get community members into our showroom so we can show them what we can do for them and all that we have to offer. What’s similar is that executional excellence can be the key to turning a community member into a passionate library user who has established an emotional connection with us.

Let’s not underestimate the value of providing the training needed to develop staff who are truly the information experts in the community. When we do encounter community members at any library touchpoint, we can’t afford to lose a single one because we failed to demonstrate the high level of knowledge about our products that community members expect to receive when they shop or receive a service.