Libraries are all about access to information in its many forms, and librarians have a long and admirable tradition of striving to increase that access whenever they can. Several recent events have spurred me to think about real-world barriers—visible and invisible—and how seeing them in light of access to the library could influence services.
By now the concept of user experience (UX) has shown up on most librarians’ radar at some point. Whether you’ve found yourself curious about how better digital design could help your library’s traffic, you wish had a UX specialist on staff, you’re engaged by Aaron Schmidt’s The User Experience column, or you’ve considered learning more about user-centered design yourself, the chance to improve the library’s user experience is within everyone’s reach.
The Impact Survey was first used in 2009 to help gather data for the Opportunity for All study reports, conducted by the University of Washington’s iSchool with assistance from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Libraries were enlisted to connect to a web survey, the results of which were used to augment responses gathered through a telephone-based poll. To our surprise and delight, we gathered more than 45,000 survey responses in just ten weeks, with about 400 libraries participating. Even more delightful was finding that libraries were using the data from Opportunity for All as well as the reports of Impact Survey results from their own communities.
A colleague once told me that librarians get into management like penguins falling off an ice floe. While it’s not the most flattering image, it felt a little too apt during my first year as an assistant director. Moving into leadership has been the single most formative experience of my career. It’s also been one of my most difficult professional challenges, and sometimes I still relate all too well to a flailing, flightless bird dropping into icy water.
The San Antonio Public Library (SAPL) and BiblioTech, the all-digital library operated by Bexar County and also located in San Antonio, have reached an agreement that will let the county reduce its payments to the city by hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, instead reinvesting that cash in digital content that will be accessible to users of both library systems. The compromise marks the resolution of a funding fight that stretches back to last year, when city officials complained that the county was not footing its fair share of the bill for library services.
Government services, such as public libraries, are often told to run their organizations “like a business.” However, when a start-up takes a risk and fails, it’s considered part of the business’s evolution. Whereas when a library takes a risk and fails, the entire program can be seen as wasteful. Can the director of a library afford to don the black mock turtleneck of a visionary entrepreneur like Steve Jobs and still stay employed?
Librarians have always taught patrons how to use the tools that serve their information needs. We had to explain card catalogs, vertical files, microfilm/fiche, photocopiers, and OPACs. The fundamental difference about the tech needs of the 21st century is the ever-changing variety of personal devices that patrons use to access our services. Some libraries are lucky enough to have dedicated staff with special training to serve these patrons directly, but most of the time it’s a library generalist fielding question after question about something new every day. How do frontline staffers with self-taught or very basic knowledge of technology stay savvy about the latest and hottest gadgets? How do we train nontechnical staff to troubleshoot effectively and train our patrons to use their own gadgets?