Design For Local Audiences

The DBL Philosophy” is a post that explains some of basic principles that lay at the foundation of Designing Better Libraries. Part of that post states:

We will broadly consider various ways we should think about what we design and who we design for, including design for:

  • Engagement
  • Personal interests
  • Local audiences
  • Information options
  • Outcomes (not features)
  • User education
  • Promotion
  • Services

Future posts will explore in greater depth these multiple ways in which design can be used to create better library experiences. This post looks specifically at design for local audiences.

I’ve previously blogged about the similarities between the newspaper industry and libraries, and how as information mediators both are being marginalized in the Internet Age. One of the strategies that both can use to regain relevance is to focus their services on the local audiences. Just as newspapers can deliver news about their local communities far better than global Internet news services, libraries can design their research services to meet local needs of students or community members. After all we know their needs, assignments for example, and can respond to them far better than search engines.

If this design logic appeals to you, I recommend that you take a look at a recent “Tech & You” column authored by BusinessWeek’s Stephen Wildstrom. In this column titled “Where Search Stumbles” Wildstrom points out that most major search engines “fall down badly at the mundane and local.” Now it’s true that his search examples are more consumer oriented than research specific, for example his test searches include attempts to locate neighborhood drug stores and entertainment, but the message we can take away is that the major search engines falter when searchers need information that is local in nature.

So it can be to any library’s advantage to play to search engines’ weaknesses, and we can do that by doing more design that emphasizes our knowledge of the local environment of our communities. One way in which this can manifest itself is to design information portals that funnel our users to the local information that we know they need and seek regularly. Again, in an academic library that could mean designing portals for students in specific programs or even specific courses. Designing for local audiences means thinking hard about our users’ needs from their perspective. What do they expect to find when they search our sites, and how does that differ from what they aren’t finding when they search major engines? What sort of solution does Wildstrom suggest? Find alternatives that involve human input. That sounds like something we can design better than any other information provider.

One thought on “Design For Local Audiences”

  1. Steven: I completely agree with you here. I’ve written a number of blog posts on this topic as it relates to marketing library services, but I think this “niche-ification” is a part of an overall trend in the marketplace toward more specialized and customized services. My successes on-campus have almost always related to particular initiatives going on within the university or my ability to help patrons with projects, etc., rather than by promoting the fact that “libraries are good” in general. People want to know how we can help them succeed in their individual endeavors so that our offerings are relevant to them at a particular time and place. To succeed, librarians have to know their environments inside and out and target services appropriately.

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