Solving the Interest Problem
Who’s clueless: The user or the librarians? Referencing post that says “is thre any kind of like… video rental store but for books?” Sure, the user’s clueless, but isn’t that our fault for failing to reach out? Whose job is it to publicize our services and make sure that people have interest and awareness?
Obviously, it’s not obvious. We think it should be, but it’s not. Website redesign process with lots of usability study. Started with “Ask a Librarian”, and the users said “WTF is that?” Moved to “Live Chat”, then to “Live Help”. Live Help tells what the service is to people who don’t know… we think it should be obvious, but it isn’t.
Sex, Drugs, and Disease: Things that grab the attention of a college freshman. Use them as examples in instruction — they pay attention. Because they can’t be interested in you if they don’t know where you are or what you offer. So the blogs that they use to market the library focus on the cool, interesting, and odd things in the collection — not because they’re most relevant, but because they’re most interesting. History of Plastic Surgery, dance music collections, puppets puppets puppets, books on Legos, etc. may not be core academic titles, but they catch people’s eye.
Beware the Super-User Ego-Hug. We all have a user who loves our services and tells us how great we are, and it’s too easy to fall in love with the notion that because the Super-User “gets” us, everyone else does too. But they’re not the larger picture of our user population.
We often forget the OUT part of outreach. Libraries often advertise to the people who already use the library — and don’t we want to reach out to the people who don’t come into the building? Learn from the library’s non-users — ask why they don’t visit. Ask what they do and don’t know about you. Take advantage of the teachable moments — but teach and learn. Don’t preach; listen.
Be creative, but always ask your users what’s working — sometimes email (boring old email) or a phone call work best. Because people are fascinating. You never know what they’ll tell you unless you ask.
Don’t be afraid of assessment. We’re all doing thingsright, but we’re also doing things wrong. We won’t know what’s wrong unless we ask. Assessment can be cheaper and easier than it looks. Surveys are cheap (if not free), and user observations are so enlightening as to be scary. Just watch someone try to find information on your website or your catalog, and you’ll have all the entertainment you need for the day. You can use a screencapture service to record their actions, and a microphone to get them to tell you why they chose what they chose.
(Cliff gets extra points for using both kittens and stormtroopers in his presentation slides.)
Mobile Literacy Vehicle: Use a bookmobile, people! Reached out to over 1000 children they would not otherwise reach. There’s nothing quite so effective as going to the user to lure them into your spaces. (In a non-creepy way.)
Incarcerated populations: Being able to make a connection with users who are in a space they don’t want to be in, and then seeing them come to you when they are reintegrated into their normal lives is extremely satisfying. (That’s an important social good, I think — making people aware of the resources that can help them as they work to move back into society benefits everyone, doesn’t it?)
Online Learning: An online auditorium where users are able to see presentations and resources advertised or offered by other libraries. Facilitates information sharing and broadens resources available to users. Allows information exchange beyond the areas in which you have expertise. Use Ustream to spread presentations to a wider audience, and also to bring remote speakers to your users.
Creating Alternate Reality Games: Go viral. Go weird. Find a new community that might not have thought of the library in that way, and express to them that the library can do things for them that they may never have realized it could do. Wrap the game around a service that you care about that they should care about, and give them access through a fun, interactive exercise.
Final thoughts from both:
- Market the library outside the library
- Find out what your users and non users need
- Measure your success: Are you doing it right?
- Develop out of the box partnerships
- Blend traditional and nontraditional approaches, services, and messages
Q&A: “What’s the best thing libraries can do to learn about their users?” Cliff gets on his soapbox. Talk to people. Have conversations. Stop doing other work while at service points — sit there and smile at people, and strike up conversations. You’ll learn about your users, you’ll learn about your own services, and you’ll improve everyone’s day. The administration is going to be moved by numbers from usability studies, but they are better moved by stories. Give them the numbers, but be able to tell them stories, as well, to back up your numbers. Putting a human face on your interactions and your numbers and your services will make a huge difference for everyone. Kelly tells a story about a young volunteer who taught online Spanish courses as part of a community service requirement, and how his enjoyment of teaching and using the technology brought in other users as well, because they saw a peer doing something that led to more interest from their community.