crosslegged and thoughtful

Usability.  Great buzzword in libraries right now.  I think we’re not at all certain what it all means, but we care about it…

I’m thinking about usability in libraries from the perspective of usability everywhere.  What do I mean by that?  Two examples.

I shop online a lot, because I live in an area where my brick-and-mortar shopping options are limited.  And so that means I shop from my couch.  And when I shop from my couch, I am always filled with glee when I can PayPal something, or use my Amazon account, because it means i don’t have to get up to go find my wallet to enter a credit card number.  Does that mean I’m lazy?  Possibly.  Does it mean that I have more loyalty to sites that allow me to shop with the fewest inconveniences?  Absolutely.

I’m also writing this while sitting in Hancock Airport in Syracuse, sucking up free wireless.  That?  Is awesome.  I’ve gotten used to paying between $8 and $15 per day for airport wireless, and while I’ll do it if I need to work, I don’t appreciate it.  Free wireless makes me smile, and like flying out of Syracuse.  However, I’m also sitting crosslegged on the floor next to a pillar.  I forgot to charge my laptop before I left home, and the only power outlet I can find in this terminal is  nowhere near a chair.  Fine.  I’ll sit on the floor; I don’t actually mind, given that I’m going to spend the day on airplanes.  But a chair would be nice.

And so.  Back to libraries.  What extra steps are we putting in the way of our users getting from point A to point B that aren’t onerous, but might be inconvenient?  Do those steps have to be there?  And what are we missing when we think about services our users want and need?  Are we providing wireless but no power?  (That works as a metaphor, but sad but true, it also works very well literally in many of our aging facilities.)

I ponder, as I sit on the floor.


  1. I flew through the Halifax airport on the way home from PEI. Free wireless, AND a bank of seats by desk-height tables with power outlets. I was so impressed I hopped online to find their customer-service email to write them a thank-you note.

    FLY THROUGH HALIFAX if you can. It r0xx0rz.


  2. What is interesting to me is that I don’t consider the things you described “usability” per se. I consider them to be more about user experience, which is how developers use persuasion, reward, and design to craft an environment that is a pleasure to use.

    What I mean is that an airport is still an airport whether it has free wireless or not. It is still a transportation hub for air travel. What enriches the *experience* for travelers are things like free wireless, abundant (and clean) washrooms, and coffee stations every 40 feet (or so it seems in Vancouver).

    Similarly, that companies offer different payment options isn’t really about usability. People can still make online payments with credit cards (if they have them), but by adding a variety of options, we’ve made it more accessible for more people, which encourages you to shop with that vendor.

    Am I making any sense at all?


  3. When I was in graduate school, my friends and I went through a “usability” phase where we analyze usability everywhere we went. Lost in a parking lot going to a play? Bad usability – signage, people! The best was the Arby’s condiment set up where you had to lean over the bottles of horseradish and Arby’s sauce dispensers in order to get a lid for you drink!

    One of the best approaches I’ve seen about this was a blog post from a librarian who had an “act like a library user day” where he spent the day in his library as if he were a patron. He sat in various locations, tried the wireless network, etc. I liked the idea of trying to see things from another perspective in order to evaluate a space’s usability.


  4. Acting like a user in your own library is too difficult. Everybody knows you, and you know where everything is. For some experience of what users face, go to a strange library. You don’t know that library, therefore its strange. I mean, my library doesn’t do it that way. And there was nothing to explain it. I know Dewey, but I was only able to find out about that special collection by waiting for help at the desk.


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