Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant
Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.
Five Easy Pieces
With our noses plastered to the proverbial grindstone, it can be difficult to step back and take a look at the big picture. How is your library doing? Are you focused on the right tasks, solving the right problems? Despite how hard it is to assess your progress, it's a good thing to do on a regular basis. Here are a few ideas you should review every now and then to make sure you offer the right services in the most effective manner to the people you serve. Be a first-time user Walk in the front door, not the staff door, and clear your mind of all you know about libraries. Can you immediately see where you go to find a book? Use the bathroom? Ask for help? Try to think of a book that you don't know whether the library owns. Search for it (see below on how to do this properly). If you find it, note down the information (would your users know what information is important to locate the book?). Then try to find it. If you don't locate it in the catalog, consider what your users might know at this point about how to get the book. Keep in mind that users may not be familiar with your classification system--look at it with fresh eyes. When trying to locate the book, consider how easy or difficult it might be if the classification systems and shelving rules are foreign. Take a look at your signage. Should you be lucky enough to find your book on the shelf, take it to the desk and check it out. If everything went well, congratulations! I can guarantee that it won't always go so smoothly, and when it doesn't you need to note why and what you could do to make the process easier and more intuitive. Search like you hate it You've read it here before: only librarians like to search, everyone else likes to find. Most people want to locate what they're looking for and get on with their lives. To understand what your users are up against, you need to use library search systems (e.g., library catalogs, article databases) as if you hated the process. Try to see the system with an unfamiliar eye. If you knew nothing about searching library catalogs, would you know what to do? Consider what happens when you type in your search without changing any default settings. Are the results you get back easy to interpret and is it clear what to do next? See if the language is understandable to someone unfamiliar with library jargon. Do what has impact Few who work in libraries need more things to do--they typically have more work than hours in the day. So it is imperative to make sure that you are doing the right things. These are activities that have an impact on your clientele, or at least enable you to serve them better in some way. For example, by changing your procedures to become more efficient you free up more time to staff a public desk. Since it is so difficult to decide what not to do, don't bother. Instead, prioritize your work in the light of your mission and objectives and focus on the high-priority items. If you have prioritized appropriately, what doesn't get done are the things that shouldn't take up your time. Fight for your users Remember that we should fight the hardest for the needs of our users, not our own. Too many requests to vendors for changes to library systems are minor tweaks to alleviate annoyances for librarians instead of changes to help patrons. If you don't advocate for your users, who will? If your vendor is too busy tweaking the system so it's comfortable for you, there will be less time and inclination to improve the interface for users. Perhaps because we feel that libraries help form the core of the communities we serve it is unnecessary to market our services. Or, perhaps the profession attracts people with little interest in, or facility with, marketing. Whatever the reasons, librarians aren't usually good at marketing our services. We must get better at it. For help, see the resources in the link list, or search "library marketing" in Google. [See also Beth Dempsey's "Target Your Brand," LJ 8/04, p. 32-35.] These five exercises or ideas may not be completely easy but neither are they difficult or expensive. However, they will guarantee an increased awareness of, and sensitivity to, user needs. And isn't that what our libraries are all about? __________________________________________________________________ Link List Library Marketing Center www.nsls.info/marketing Marketing Information and Library Services dis.shef.ac.uk/sheila/marketing Marketing the Library www.olc.org/marketing