Library Community Member’s Quality of Life Bill of Rights

There are times when I wish our library building and equipment could provide a better user experience simply by virtue of consistently and successfully delivering on the most basic set of user expectations. The building is past its prime, gets heavy use and as much as we’d want it to always meet those expectations we occasionally fall short – and we do our best to remedy what we don’t get right. What are those basic user expectations? I refer to it as the library “quality of life.” That’s the term the director at a previous place of work used, and I always thought it aptly described that most basic services that we needed to consistently deliver with high quality – and certainly free of breakage.

When we focus our attention on the interaction between staff and community member, which is certainly critical to the experience, the more simple quality of life factors can get overlooked. We should not underestimate how important the library quality of life is to the total user experience. A dirty bathroom, a broken piece of equipment, bad odors, uncomfortable temperatures,noisy study space and other problems detract from the great user experience we want our community members to have. Those are also the exact sort of things that often get communicated in a social message, and we know how damaging that can be to our brand.They are also the sort of things that lead to complaints, and yet they we should have the most control over them. How do we make it better?

Perhaps we just need to keep reminding ourselves how important the library quality of life is to user experience, and that we should make a point of checking everyday to make sure we are doing our best, no matter how uncooperative our buildings (or the community members themselves) are, to deliver a consistently high quality experience. I thought for sure that someone in libraryland had already devised some sort of manifesto or bill of rights about this, but my searches came up empty. The only references to “quality of life” in connection with “library” pointed to the importance of the library to the community’s quality of life. Just like a community without a library fails on quality of life, a library with broken basics fails on its quality of life. Here’s my attempt at a “Library Quality of Life Bill of Rights” that should serve as the commitment we make to our community members to guarantee them the best possible library experience. If you already created one of these for your library or you have other tenets to add, please use the comments to share.

1. Our community members are entitled to a clean library. Where they walk, where they sit and where they work should be regularly cleaned, and re-cleaned as necessary to meet expected standards of cleanliness for a shared community space.

2. Our community members are entitled to decent, usable lavatories. This is important and deserves to stand separately from overall library cleanliness. Keep it simple. If you go in there and there’s a problem (odor, dirt, leaking faucet, whatever) – just get it fixed – and fast. Don’t wait for a community member to complain.

3. Our community members are entitled to a library that offers a comfortable working environment. To the extent possible eliminate disturbances or issues that create discomfort or disruption. Recognizing that one size does not fit all requires us to offer multiple environments within the library to meet different work and learning needs.

4. Our community members are entitled to working spaces that are quiet. Consider developing quiet rooms, distraction-free zones and other spaces designed to minimize noise. Create a building culture that empowers community members to safely self-police quiet spaces, and that discourages those who create disruption.

5. Our community members are entitled to equipment that is in correct operating order. Whether it’s a photocopier, a scanner, computers, printers or a vending machine, a library experience should be free of the frustration experienced when broken equipment means projects that go unfinished, wasted money or the outcome for a library visit goes unmet.

6. Our community members are entitled to comfortable, safe furniture. Seating, carrels, tables and whatever else counts as furniture should be kept in the best possible condition and regularly checked to ensure that age and use has not caused a serious condition of deterioration.

7. Our community members are entitled to a safe and secure library facility. The administration and staff, working collaboratively with those responsible for security, should establish a culture that is sensitive to saftey issues. It should put into place those resources that help to prevent crime from happening, and to allow it to be effectively dealt with and resolved in the event it does happen.

8. Our community members are entitled to adequate working outlets and network access for connectivity for their devices. Community members depend on their technology devices to conduct their daily business, and if their library fails to provide these 21st century work-life basics we have no reason to blame them for going elsewhere.

9. Our community members are entitled, within reason, to the basic office supplies that facilitate their ability to satisfy whatever tasks they came to complete at the library. There are any number of options for providing access to staplers, scissors, tape and other simple necessities of office work that help community members do their work and eliminate their stress. Let’s eliminate barriers to providing these resources.

10. Our community members are entitled to a library that is easy to navigate. Let’s make sure our building has pathways and signage that are conducive to effective and intuitive way-finding to get community members to their destination and back again, and whenever possible eliminates barriers that create confusion, wasted time and stress.

Perhaps you find these rights just too obvious. Perhaps you assume that they should just be and not require us to give them our attention. Or we might assume that someone else is going to take the responsibility to make sure that this all works correctly and to the community member’s satisfaction. I know I didn’t get into this profession to make sure bathrooms are clean, and you probably didn’t either. But it’s their library and it’s our responsibility. If we want to delivery a better library experience we need to pay attention and build processes to ensure we deliver the library quality of life that we want for ourselves when we go to any library other than our own. Perhaps having a Library Quality of Life Bill of Rights could make a difference in designing and sustaining that better library experience.

More To The Library Experience Than What We See

When I speak to library colleagues about design and design thinking I try to put the concepts into context by first asking them what things come to mind when thinking about design as it is most often applied in our profession. Not unexpectedly, the responses are always limited to the building, both internal and external design considerations. Think about our literature. Our two major practitioner publications, American Libraries and Library Journal both offer design issues or supplements. Both of them cover the same thing, new buildings, building renovations and odds and ends for buildings. As far as librarianship is concerned design, and user experience along with it, is building-centric. Here at Designing Better Libraries we’ve tried to communicate a consistent message that design can mean much more than just our interiors and exteriors. Library design should also be perceived as a process we use to improve the quality of the experience for our user community.

That said, it’s important not to underestimate the value of a well-designed library environment. It’s a crucial element of an overall library experience. As an example I wanted to share a post written by Library Scenester about a visit to the library at Miami University at Ohio. Library Scenester is clearly impressed with the design of the library, pointing out highlights such as clear and functional signage (a problem in many libraries), comfortable and attractive furniture, and features such as the use of color and well placed artwork. These are great observations, and this post reflects what I enjoy so much about my visits to both academic and public libraries – discovering great ideas for improving my own library and sharing it with my colleagues. I also like to ask many questions of the staff about their reasons for choosing certain design elements.

But then Library Scenester, who acknowledges not using any of the library’s services or resources declares “I had a great experience there.” While I can see how the library made a great first impression I think the experience itself is a limited one – or at least the real user experience wasn’t truly experienced. That’s where the importance of totality is critical to a library user experience. Let’s imagine that Library Scenester did ask for some assistance and the library staff member was indifferent or poorly prepared to assist. What if Scenester had real trouble using the library’s photocopiers or the well organized stacks were missing books the catalog said would be there? Those failures would certainly have diminished the overall experience.

So while we should be paying attention to how well the design of our buildings and their interiors contributes to the library user experience, we should avoid the error of thinking that if we offer a nice building with desirable amenities it will mean we have succeeded in creating a library user experience that meets the needs of the users. I agree with Library Scenester that the academic library at Miami University offers the user community a great place to hang out, relax, find a study room or watch a video, and for some users that may be all they want, but we must be mindful of a myriad of other touchpoints that impact on the total library user experience. If we do that well then we may encourage or propel users to discover services and resources that could greatly enhance their library experience. By way of example, consider the academic library at Valparaiso University. You would certainly have the same initial experience as a visitor as Library Scenester did at Miami. But when I visited I thought the design succeeded in creating pathways that would intentionally bring students, faculty and librarians together in a variety of co-located service areas. In addition, a unique faculty study and office seemed specifically designed to contribute to relationship building between librarians and faculty. And we know that building meaningful relationships contributes to a better overall library experience for the user.

I hope that Library Scenester’s post will encourage more librarians to take time to get out and visit other academic and public libraries. It’s a tremendous learning experience, and it can teach you things never covered in library school. But when you do make those visits, keep in mind that there is more to the overall library experience than what meets your eye. Think about that as you navigate your way through the facility, and think of some good questions to ask the library workers about the total experience their users get at the library. The answers could be quite revealing.