The user is not broken. The user may not communicate very well, but he is not broken. When the user does communicate, we learn things, and we become a better service provider. A few recent examples from my worklife:
- A faculty member made an offhand reference to his frustration when requesting videos through ILL, due to the narrow pull-down options on our ILLIAD user interface. I passed the information on to our ILL coordinator and learned that we’re fixing that very problem in our next interface rollout. ILL was happy to know they were making a good change, and the faculty member was pleased to know his concerns were being recognized as valid. Presumably, others will be happy, too, once the changes are made.
- A student sent me an email asking me to update several literary classics translated from Asian languages. In his email he explained that in his classes for his Asian Studies minor, he’s learned about the cultural biases present in older translations of these works, and also about the importance of the transliteration system used. He requested that we buy newer, more culturally neutral translations using accepted standard transliterations. I replied that I was happy to do that (noting that I’ll be evaluating the older editions for historical value re: changing norms in translation and culture), and very pleased to have the information about why he wanted new copies. I hope that my reply conveyed to him how important I thought his communication was, and also taught him that speaking up leads to acknowledgment and sometimes action.
- Two separate students (presumably affiliated in some way, through class, student group, or mutual interest) on the same day asked for a subscription to a particular journal, an independently published left-wing title I’d never heard of. As we continue to strive for representative balance in our print browsing collection, I welcomed the suggestion.
- Several of our users asked that our Stressbusters puzzles be less complicated this year, so a colleague is out looking for less-than-500-piece puzzles with easier images to put out in the lobby during finals week. (Stressbusters is not supposed to create more stress!)
All of those suggestions were relatively easy to communicate, coming to me through email, the suggestion box, and anonymous comment sheets. All of them were well-received (in part because all were reasonable!). All of them led to improved service and collections. All of them could easily have slipped through the cracks. All of them only came to me because someone made an effort.
How many suggestions do we never hear? How many changes never get made because we don’t know about them? How many times does the user assume we won’t care what they have to say? How do we facilitate that communication so that it’s easier to make the suggestion? How do we make it clear to our users that we don’t think they’re broken, that we’re listening? How do we express that we’re eager to be the best library we can be, and that we’ll make all the changes that we can in our effort to be that best library?
How do we effectively say “talk to us, we’ll help you”?