Designing Better Libraries For The Dream Economy

A new economic era is on the rise. Call it the Dream Economy. Will libraries be ready for it?

Actually, I have no idea if the Dream Economy is upon us, but it does offer some interesting perspectives about changing consumer expectations, and how a service organization like a library could use this knowledge to design better user experiences. Pat Jordan explains what the Dream Economy is by explaining that:

Consumers are increasingly looking for products and services which will meet their higher needs, enhance their self-image, and perhaps even help them move towards self-actualisation. People want great experiences and an enhanced self-image, they want to express their values and convictions through their purchase choices. The key to success is in understanding people. The better our understanding of consumers, the greater our ability to create products and services that they will find compelling. To connect with people we need to know what is important to them – their hopes, their fears, their dreams, their lifestyle, their aspirations.

Self actualization? Enhancing the self-image? Libraries are fundamentally good places. They make a positive contribution to the quality of life. But to say they can help people to achieve the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy – well, that might be stretching things a bit. At a basic level libraries are about connecting people with information so that they can get their work done. Excluding the most passionate of library users, the vast majority of people will only visit the library when they have to, and how do we expect to be a part of the Dream Economy if that’s the nature of our service? Can we aspire to meeting the end user’s higher level needs?

The answer to that question may become more clear with a look at the “Four Pleasures” which Jordan says provide a framework for understand the good experiences that people can have. As you read them ask yourself if libraries could deliver these experiences:

Physio-Pleasure. This is to do with the body and the senses. It includes pleasures associated with touch, taste and smell, as well as feelings of sensual pleasure. It also includes pleasures associated with physical enablement, such as being able to perform physical tasks.

Psycho-Pleasure. Pleasures associated with the mind such as being able to understand things and positive emotional states. Mental challenges come into this category as do things that people find interesting.

Socio-Pleasure. This is to do with relationships, both in the concrete and abstract sense. Concrete relationships are those with specific people, such as friends, family, co-workers, neighbours and loved ones. Abstract ones are concerned with our relationship with society as a whole, such as our social status, image and memberships of social groups.

Ideo-Pleasure. These include our tastes, values and aspirations. Tastes are to do with our preferences – what colours we like best, what kinds of music and art we like for example. Values are to do with our moral belief system and our sense of right and wrong. Meanwhile, our aspirations are to do with our sense of who we want to be and the self-image of ourselves that we want to have.

Let’s take a closer look at each. Physio-Pleasure? Well, no one will mistake the library for a fine restaurant or spa, but even a good physical environment – comfortable furniture; a cafe brewing aromatic beverages; attractive displays – is within the reach of many libraries. Psycho-Pleasure? This seems to play to our strong hand. Few societal structures are so closely associated with pleasures of the mind and mental challenges as are libraries. What can we do to better promote reading as a path to Physio-Pleasure? Socio-Pleasure? Libraries have always had a role in the social life of the community. One challenge is making the library a destination for community members. The library should be the place you WANT to visit, not the place you HAVE to visit. We can capitalize on Socio-Pleasure by facilitating the community member’s ability to establish relationships with others. Ideo-Pleasure? Somewhat more challenging to grasp, but are their ways the library can connect with human desires for good taste, strong values and developing a good self-image? People certainly value success, and want to see themselves as being successful. Libraries can help people achieve success, both academically and in careers. How do we transition our brand from books to life success?

It can be difficult to design a better library user experience when there is difficulty in grasping what users would define as a great experience. You can’t deliver an experience without a thorough understanding of the user and their desires, and then shaping an experience that not only meets those desires but makes a lasting impression (the WoW factor). I think this is where thinking through the Dream Economy may be of help. It can provide better insight into what our users’ desires are – or at least four categories of desires that can be used as foundations for well designed user experiences. Jordan provides a few case studies. One of them is about the L’Oreal cosmetic company. He writes that “L’Oreal has understood contemporary femininity better than any of their competitors, have built a brand to reflect this, and then, through their initiatives, built a community around the brand. Their in-depth understanding of their customers has been rewarded with a huge success”. Now, imagine that statement with “your library” there instead of L’Oreal and “their community’s information needs” instead of femininity. It sounds pretty good. Now we need to make it happen.

One thought on “Designing Better Libraries For The Dream Economy”

  1. I see another aspect of ideo-pleasure that relates to libraries: people’s values and aspirations. Many people would like to contribute to their community and improve it by volunteering. The library can be a place to volunteer. It is also critical that we let our volunteers know that they are valued and appreciated for their work. The library can also be an information center that connects volunteers with non-profit groups who need volunteers.

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