Category Archives: User Experiences

Reader. Patron. User. Member. Why Not Customer?

It’s perhaps one of the most asked questions among librarians. What do you call the people who use your library? Based on my own reading of the literature, our listservs and many conversations, “users” and “patrons” are the most used terms. My own preference is “community member”. I like it because I think of our library as serving the community-at-large, in addition to our own students and faculty, but those from other institutions, the general public and whomever may be in need of our services. They are all members of the community we serve. Admittedly, when in conversation with colleagues at my institution, I may simply use patrons as a convenient way to discuss them and their needs. It is a terminology with which librarians are comfortable.

The one term we intentionally avoid using to describe those we serve is “customer”. For many librarians “customer” suggests or implies that we are engaged in a for-profit business activity as opposed to providing a community service. Despite the practical implications of thinking of those who use our services as our customers, it just feels wrong. This question of terminology was the subject of the ACRL discussion group over at LinkedIn. In response to a question about the favored term for a library users, list members shared their common labels: patron, library user, and client. Others said that in their academic communities, library users were simply referred to as student, faculty or staff. There was no avoiding the customer question. This comment from the discussion reflects the prevailing attitude about “customer”

The word ‘customer’ in an academic setting feels wrong to me, meaning that I feel we don’t want to become too corporate in culture. ‘Patron or member’ gives more of the feel and tradition of academic pursuits, which are often inherently NON-corporate in nature. Plus, it keeps a bit of ‘soul’ in using ‘patron or member’.

Does it really matter that we may be academic or non-profit, and that the word “customer” somehow pollutes our noble cause with the filth of corporate culture? Try suggesting to faculty there may be benefits to thinking of students as customers – then wait for the backlash. Sounds a bit elitist. Now consider the perspective of an academic librarian who wants to design and deliver a better user experience. I see some value in doing so.

Thinking of a customer rather than a user could drive us to be more thoughtful about our intentions. We want them to have great library experiences just as they would expect as customers at other service providers. By focusing on customers we can me more creative and imaginative about those things we need to do to make it happen. Gerry McGovern, the web design analyst, came out strongly in favor of customers over users. I think he makes a good point about “user”. He says it is a word that “lacks empathy”, a skill we need if we expect to emotionally connect with our users. User, rather than customer, gives us a way to refer to our constituents that makes them less real, less human. A user is a soulless entity. A customer is human.

Perhaps Jack Dorsey, one of the co-founder’s of Twitter, said it best with “let’s stop distancing ourselves from the people that choose our products over our competitors. We don’t have users, we have customers we earn. They deserve our utmost respect, focus, and service. Because that’s who we are.” I like it, but do our libraries offer products (books, databases, media, etc) or something less customer-like such as enlightenment, knowledge or lifelong learning. Not the exact sort of things you vend to customers. Must it be all of one and none of the other? Perhaps a more sensible approach is to add customer to our library vocabulary when we talk about the customer experience; when we want to think of our community members as something more than members by default or mere recipients of content. At other times, when discussing annual statistics, user probably sends the right message.

I think there is always some discomfort in the library world when we refer to the people who live in our communities, who compose the student body or who teach and conduct research, as something impersonal as user or reader. Let’s just be more connected to them. Community member may work for you sometimes, but think about those other times when you want to say “customer” but you hold back for all the usual reasons. Break the rules.

Focusing the Library Experience: The Members You Have Or The Ones You Want

It happens to all of us who do library instruction. For one reason or another we must decline an invitation to meet with a class. It happened to me earlier this semester when I had to pass on meeting with an evening class of doctoral students. Their instructor made an unusual request. She asked if I would conduct a video review with her, after the class met, to respond to students’ library questions. She planned to do the basic instruction herself. The video review with me would cover the content she was unable to adequately explain.

Great idea I thought. Let’s encourage faculty to take responsibility for library instruction, and then offer our expertise in support of their efforts. The video review went well. The students came up with good questions, and the time spent with this faculty member was enlightening. I was extremely impressed by her depth of knowledge – not only the content options but how to use the resources as well. When I observed her using field tags to search it was clear she had considerable experience. She knew exactly how to structure a search strategy. She understood the benefits of field searching. Despite her obvious ability with various research tools, she was completely respectful of academic librarians and the skills they bring to their practice.

I observed two positives. First, the doctoral students were in good hands. If it had something to do with becoming better researchers this instructor would guide them correctly. Second, this was someone for whom there was no need for outreach. She was already a passionate library user, and I anticipated she would expect the same level of research skill from her students. It brought to my attention the challenge of outreach. How do you know who really needs it and who doesn’t? As conducted by librarians, we apply outreach equally to all when it comes to trying to turn them into avid users. It’s only when we truly know our community members well that we can fully grasp whether our work should emphasize selling them on the value of our services, or whether it is possible these members can promote the value of the library on our behalf to their colleagues and students. If anything, knowing the motivated, advanced library users creates the opportunity to deliver more specialized services, such as updates when new resources are available or occasional reminders about unique features.

As librarians continue to encounter resource challenges they will want to determine where to invest their energy in advancing the library within the user community. Outreach activity is one area where efficiencies are possible. Consider two options. Current outreach efforts are typically unfocused as it casts a broad net in attempting to connect the library with any community member who is a potential library user. It’s difficult, given the number of library staff members, to reach out to so many individuals. On the other we know that it’s unlikely many community members would respond to outreach efforts under any circumstances. So why are we bothering? Because the lure of gaining new members is attractive to us. We want more Facebook friends, higher door counts, and more activity in general. The more the better. Perhaps we’d be better off by just focusing our outreach on those who are already committed community members who might better appreciate learning more about the library and in turn becoming advocates for encouraging others to use it. Put another way, do you focus on your existing loyal new community members or spend your time trying to convert non-members into new loyal members?

Industry confronts this question regularly, and the costs of launching products or services designed to capture new customers is significant. In an article titled “Convincing the Swing Vote: How to Lure Non-customers” the author says we should know our existing customer well enough to understand what their needs are and how to give them better service and products that provide solutions to their problems. The real challenge is doing the same for non-customers – likened to “swing voters” who may or may not have an interest in what you offer. When it’s possible to identify those who are “underserved or neglected”, it may make sense to reach out with some new offering. This article offers multiple examples of companies that decided to reach out to new customers with a variant on an existing service or something completely new. Southwest Airlines added “business class” to reach out to the business traveler. Nintendo created the Wii specifically to obtain new customers who never played video games. Anheuser-Busch introduced Bud Light Lime to appeal to drinkers who wanted a sweeter tasting beer. Each case required extensive research, product development and serious risk taking. Success followed, but who knows how many other companies failed in their efforts to reach new customers.

Given the challenges in connecting with new community members, academic librarians need to think hard about whether it is worth the necessary resources to mount an effort to find out where unmet needs are and then offer some service that would better meet that need. It’s possible it could be done with limited effort, and that would depend on the particular opportunity. Perhaps it might be recognizing that an academic department is starting a new program where faculty and students could be in need of previously unanticipated research support. The alternative is to concentrate efforts on making the library experience even better for those who currently use the resources. With a known population, it’s far easier to make incremental improvements that would likely be appreciated. If done well, our existing community members may just do the best job of pointing their non-library-using friends, the ones we all want to turn into library users, into the new members we really want to add.

Designing The Library Experience The Community Can’t Get Anywhere Else

While almost every academic librarian I speak with shares the same story about a resurgence in the use of the library, I don’t doubt that we’d all like to see an even greater number of our community members making use of their library. Take my own library as an example. Even though we are crowded during the peak hours of the day – even bursting at the seams at times – the number of people in the library still represents only a small percentage of our total community of 40,000 students and faculty. What are all those other students and faculty who never come to the library doing? Where are all these non-users getting their information? Where are they doing their work? We might assume that they use the library virtually from their home or office, and that they’ve got a better place to study or use a computer, perhaps at a local coffee shop. We might also assume many of them never use and perhaps never think about their library at all, physically or virtually.

How would you convert a non-library user into a passionate library user? What must you do to get their attention? I previously suggested that we may want to save our energy and just conclude that we’ll never reach everyone, and that instead we should just focus on creating a core library user community of passionate users – those who will give us their loyalty and tell others about the library. Even accomplishing that requires librarians to design a great library experience that is unique and gives individuals something they cannot obtain elsewhere – on the Internet, at a coffeehouse, or even in the comfort of their own home.

That’s exactly where some progressive shopping malls are focusing their energy. Malls are in big trouble. That’s because most of the retail operations in the average mall are now easily replicated on the Internet. Why bother going to the mall to shop at GAP, when the selection is better online, you can still get good sale prices, and the terms for buying and returning make it a simple experience. You save gas, time, effort and no hassles finding a parking space. For some consumers the only reason to go to the mall is for “showrooming”, a practice where they only want to see what something looks like or to try it on, but then they scan the barcode and find the cheapest place to buy that item on the Web. Retailers are scared to death of showroomers. Does the average mall’s dilemma remind you of any other institution finding its community is deserting it for better alternatives found on the Internet?

To stem the loss of foot traffic and attract customers that will do more than just window shop, malls are catching on to a new strategy: deliver a unique experience. It’s actually simple. What can the mall offer that people cannot link to on the Internet? For many individuals that thing is creating something for yourself. People can buy just about anything on the Internet, but what they can’t do is create something with their families in real time. The article mentions a new mall resident called Make Meaning. What Make Meaning sells is hands-on activity and personal engagement, be it building your own picture frame, candles, jewelry and more. The whole point is to bring in the family for some creative fun – as opposed to having every member of the family at home in their own room connected to the Internet. I did a little investigating at my own local mall last week, and found that the apparel stores like GAP were pretty empty while the Build-A-Bear store was jumping with activity as parents and kids worked together to make something. Admittedly, motivated individuals can build things at home if they have the time and skill. But few individuals have the time or skill – just as they don’t make their own clothes – so why not make that one more thing you can acquire at the mall – especially when it’s not so much about the product as it is the experience you have creating something unique for yourself. I think Make Meaning has hit on a great name. It’s not about making a candle or a frame. It’s about creating some meaning in your life, and having a different, memorable experience.

Some public libraries are already moving into the “maker” movement by creating opportunities for community members to visit the library for special production equipment or to obtain help with particular skills needed to make things – or to get the books and knowledge required to be part of the maker culture. That certainly targets the “give them an experience they can’t get elsewhere” approach to bringing the community members back to the library. I think there are many other ways that libraries can offer experiences that community members cannot get elsewhere, particularly on the Internet. In academic libraries, offering students and faculty personalized research help is a way to provide customized assistance that no Internet search engine can deliver. Media labs are an attractive way to provide the tools for creating digital products, and many students and faculty are looking for someone to help them get skilled with the technology and techniques they need to have a great experience as a maker – and develop marketable skills.

As a community commons, the library is perfectly positioned to be the gathering point for those who have creative skills they want to share with those who want an outlet for their creativity. Bringing people together this way creates a unique teaching and learning experience that offers meaning for those giving or receiving. Perhaps you will want to take a trip to your local mall soon – not to buy something you can get on the Internet more easily and inexpensively – but to do some first hand research into how consumers and our community members are becoming more drawn to the stuff that gives them meaning rather than the stuff they just accumulate.

Blending The Physical And Virtual For One Much Better Library Experience

Virtual libraries, for many community members, offer the best library experience. With access to vast amounts of content from the desktop, from any distance, supplemented by virtual support, online self-service transactions and extensive help documentation and tutorials, it’s no surprise to hear a community member say “I love my library. I never have to go there”. Although that might be an awkward moment for librarians, we know what the member means, and we should appreciate the value that researchers at all levels derive from our virtual presence. We also know that our extensive virtual offerings cause some community members to question why a physical library is still necessary. One of our great challenges in creating a better library experience is reconciling the physical and virtual libraries, and making them equally great experiences.

Just like libraries, many retailers find they now connect with their customers on two entirely different levels, the physical and virtual. A new trend called “showrooming” has many retailers rethinking the relationship between their onsite and online operations. Just as libraries have found, being able to offer online access to whatever it is the community member or customer needs is a tremendous convenience. Whether it’s finding the scholarly research article you need to finish your paper at 3:00 am or shopping for that perfect sweater without having to drive to the mall, people love the convenience offered by the online world.

The problem occurs when they stop coming to the physical locations, or in the case of showrooming, they only come in order to find a desired product, handle it physically, talk to salespeople about competing products or test its capabilities, only to scan the bar-code in search of a cheaper price (and more convenient) online. Some retailers find showrooming so problematic that they’ve taken to using barcodes that only search their own online location. Therein lies the challenge. Do you take extreme measures to prevent people from using the physical and virtual worlds the way they want and expect it to work, or do you embrace their behavior and rethink the way your organization operates in order to create the ultimate experience for the consumer?

According to the article “Luring Online Shoppers Offline” the answer appears to be the latter – do what you can to create a blended online and on-site experience that seeks to give the consumer the best of both worlds. How do they do that, and are there lessons to be learned by librarians? One common improvement is to allow pick-ups and returns of online merchandise at the a physical location in order to allow consumers to speed the completion of their transaction. There is also an element of designful intent to bring consumers into the store, even if they do most of their purchasing online. As you read the article, it becomes clear that when it comes to the physical/virtual divide, the retail sector is experimenting with ways to give the customer a blended experience.

Many libraries defy the misinformed perception that they are empty shells, relics of times past made obsolete by the Internet. The reality for many librarians is that community members are flocking in to obtain research assistance, seek a quite space with no distractions, use a computer, learn a new skill or to obtain multimedia. It’s also our reality that far more community members are at home connecting to the virtual library only or perhaps they have no need for the library at all. We should continue to monitor the retail sector as it seeks to resolve the online/on-site challenge. I can see some challenging times ahead for academic librarians as they work to identify the right blend that brings online users to the physical facility. We need to imagine and create strategies, as these retailers have, to bring online users on-site, in order to expose them to the physical library and what it has to offer. It just may bring some students and faculty together – and into contact with librarians.

Usability And User Experience – There Is A Difference

While it’s not always the case, on those occasions when I come across a position description for a user experience librarian or hear an existing user experience librarian describe his or her job, it primarily comes across as a description of a usability professional. By that I mean someone with expertise in designing, evaluating or testing user interfaces for the express purpose of delivering a great user experience with that particular interface or website. User experience may also be aligned with library assessment, the point being that someone needs to assess whether or not the user community is pleased with their library experience. Given the limited degree of librarian interest in design and user experience back when DBL started, the evidence provided by the growth in these positions and units is an encouraging sign. But perhaps we need a conversation about what user experience is and what it is not.

More than Usability: The Four Elements of User Experience“, authored by Frank Guo, attracted my attention because it effectively articulates some of my own thoughts about the relationship between usability and user experience. The first paragraph nicely sums up the relationship between usability and UX:

Some people mistakenly use the terms user experience and usability almost interchangeably. However, usability is increasingly being used to refer specifically to the ease with which users can complete their intended tasks, and is closely associated with usability testing. Therefore, many perceive usability to be a rather tactical aspect of product design. In contrast, UX professionals use the term user experience much more broadly, to cover everything ranging from ease of use to user engagement to visual appeal. User experience better captures all of the psychological and behavioral aspects of users’ interactions with products.

I have used the term “totality” previously to express what Guo describes as “to cover everything”. The user experience, from my perspective, in about much more than usability. It’s about designing an intentional, well-thought out experience that ensures the community member has a consistently great library experience at every touchpoint. Guo, in this first part of a series on user experience, identifies the four distinct elements of user experience which puts into better perspective the relationship between usability and UX. One of the four elements is usability, and I’ve maintained, as well, that usability is critical to a successful library user experience. According to Guo, usability asks the question “is it easy to use?”

two ways to think about ux
totality and usability - usability is part of totality

Guo shares my view that “while some people use the term “usability” to refer to all elements relating to user experience, it should be more appropriately viewed as just a subset of user experience.” At its most basic level usability is about making things easy to use. While that typically applies to interfaces, there may be non-IT possibilities for usability. It could certainly apply to the experience of retrieving a book from the stacks. It should be easy to navigate the library, but the layout of the shelving or the signage may fall flat and will result in a much higher level of dissatisfaction. There’s clearly a need for usability testing and assessment activity on a library UX team.

The other three elements of Guo’s model are:

1) Value – Does the product provide value to users? Value may very well be the cornerstone of better library experiences. It matters little how creative or inventive a product is if no one derives some value from it. I could debate how essential features are, but I agree that functionality is critical to making something valuable.

2) Adoptability – This one is related to value. It simply asks if anyone is using the product or service. A library database may be a reasonable example in that encouraging “Adoptability” could engage community members in getting them to use the database in more of their searches. If we fail to get user community members to adopt our products, services or technologies, then what’s the point of designing an experience we want them to have – and does it really matter how good the usability is. Then again, if the product isn’t easy to use, no one will adopt it. Which is why all the components involved here need to work together.

3) Desirability – Any good library experience will create some sort of connection with a community member, and the goal is to make an emotional connection: “Desirability related to emotional appeal.” The best products or services are truly great owing to the emotional connection they create between the library and community member. Usability can certainly be a factor in generating that connection. More so than other elements, desirability can depend more on visual presentation.

Guo provides some additional examples of how these elements differ from one another, which is a big help because there are some similarities. He concludes by stating that his four-dimensional model of user experience may have some commonality with one or two earlier efforts that tried to develop explanations for user experience, but that his model emphasizes that not all the components within the model – those four elements – are equal in nature. Depending on the product, service or situation, anyone of the four may emerge as the linchpin to a great library experience. I am not sure what Guo plans for the next part of this series, but I hope he’ll continue to elaborate on the components of the user experience and how they can be leveraged to create a great library user experience. His essay will certainly be of benefit to those who seek to gain a better understand the difference between usability and totality.

Get In Touch With Your Touchpoints

Despite making multiple references to touchpoints in past DBL posts and in presentations, it is a real challenge to find any substantive information about touchpoints. What is their significance in the user experience and what do we know about assessing and improving what happens at the touchpoints across our service operations. Yes, you can find an entry for it in Wikipedia, which is short on details, but beyond that there’s little for those who want to better understand touchpoints.

That’s why I was pleased to discover an actual research article focusing on touchpoints titled “Service Innovation Through Touch-points: Development of an Innovation Toolkit for the First Stages of New Service Development“. It appeared in the International Journal of Design Vol.5, No.2 2011. The focus of the paper is to develop innovation in service design and development by focusing on touchpoints. The author, Simon Clatworthy, developed a toolkit based on a card system as a tangible way for designers to better understand the impact of touchpoints in service experiences, and how to potentially make improvements to those touchpoints. Clatworthy begins with a good definition of the touchpoint:

Touch-points are the points of contact between a service provider and customers. A customer might utilise many different touch-points as part of a use scenario (often called a customer journey). For example, a bank’s touch points include its physical buildings, web-site, physical print-outs, self-service machines,bank-cards, customer assistants, call-centres, telephone assistance etc. Each time a person relates to, or interacts with, a touch-point, they have a service-encounter. This gives an experience and adds something to the person’s relationship with the service and the service provider. The sum of all experiences from touch-point interactions colours their opinion of the service (and the service provider). Touch-points are one of the central aspects of service design. A commonly used definition of service design is “Design for experiences that happen over time and across different touchpoints” ( As this definition shows, touchpoints are often cited as one of the major elements of service design, and the term is often used when describing the differences between products and services. They form the link between the service provider and the customer, and in this way, touch-points are central to the customer experience.

Knowing that touchpoints “are central to the customer experience” suggests that librarians should do more to identify and evaluate the touchpoints that combine to create the library user experience. Do we even know what our library touchpoints are, and if we do, do we know how they work to provide the desired experience – and ultimately how would we assess if they are working to deliver that experience?

Those are questions that drove Clatworthy to conduct this research. His article describes “the method for innovation for touchpoints.” To do this he and his team developed a method involving cards. You may be familiar with web design research that uses a card sorting system to help users identify their preferences for the organization of the site or terminology being tested for the site. In this research, cards were created to represent the touchpoints of an organization. Creating the cards also helped the team to identify and think through the touchpoints that made up the experience. The cards can then be used to identify a “pain point”, a touchpoint where the experience, from the point of view the user, falls flat or is inconsistent with the totality of the experience.

For example, a library pain point could be the directional signage in the book stacks. Up until that time, each experiential touchpoint, from entering the library to searching the catalog to asking for directions at the “ask here” desk, delivered the experience according to design. But when the user got to the stacks location and failed to successfully navigate to the book’s location, the experience failed. We need to identify the pain points and turn them into successful touchpoints. The card exercise could help to more clearly identify which unit or department in the library is responsible for or associated with a unique touchpoint – or when there is overlap.

So what are the key takeways from the reseach:

The first is that service designers focus upon the orchestration of a service in which the choice of individual touch-points and their relation to other touch-points is important. This requires an understanding not only of individual touch-point qualities, but also of their potentials when combined in particular ways. The second relates to the orchestration of touch-points over time. Common to both of these is an understanding of the parts and the whole and the innumerable alternatives that this affords in relation to how a customer might experience.

What is your next step if you want to get in touch with your touchpoints – presumably to understand better where they are and how they can be part of the overall experience design? The first thing may be to start a conversation in your library about touchpoints, and what they mean to the staff who serve at or create these points. Once there is general consensus about the value of studying and improving touchpoints, a more formal process may be called for to map the touchpoints and learn how they interconnect. A customer journey mapping exercise could help staff to identify the library touchpoints – and whether what happens at those touchpoints is adding up to the best experience or if there are various pain points that need attention. Clatworthy’s paper is a good start for better understanding the role of the touchpoint in the library user experience. It would be great to see more research and scholarly communication – or just practical advice – about touchpoints.

Designing a Better Library Learning Experience

Librarians are educators. We may be instructing more formally in the classroom or less formally in our offices, at a service desk or somewhere on campus, but for most practicing librarians the work often revolves around creating learning experiences for others. The nature of the work presents us with opportunities to design learning activities, but teachable moments can present themselves at almost any point in the day. Those unexpected situations may be less designful, but some of the same principles for a good learning experience can apply in either formal or informal settings.

Those who educate and take it seriously will always be wanting to improve their ability to connect with students and effectively deliver transformative knowledge. Doing this well takes time and experience, and a desire to learn how to be a good educator. The resources to help in this endeavor are many and diversified. For librarians, the path to delivering the best possible learning experiences may begin in a classroom learning pedagogy (e.g. “learning is a persistent change in behavior”) or by being thrown into a classroom with a teaching assignment. Along the way one picks up a sense of what works, and some core beliefs about effective approaches (e.g., “deep learning is the result of authentic practice”). Along the way we add to our educator’s skill set – and our teaching philosophy – in many ways.

For example, I attended a lecture by Ken Bain (What the Best College Teachers Do) where I learned that a technique as simple as asking good questions can motivate learners. You need to regularly learn from other educators. To do that I also regularly read The Teaching Professor, which has great personal advice for all kinds of learning situations. It also has summaries of the latest research on learning at the college level (our Library offers a campus site license so all faculty can use this resource). Most of the reading I do on learning is from non-library literature, but there are occasional good articles in the library literature on learning – it is certainly worth paying attention.

Librarians working at institutions with a college of education also have access to a valuable source of learning resources – the many books published on learning and educator skills. I am currently doing all the selection in the field of education at MPOW (only until we fill a position in the next few months), and I skim many of these books to check the quality and value of our acquisitions in this discipline. That leads to too many books worth reading, but I try to pick up as many ideas and techniques as I can in the hope I will improve my teaching – all aimed at delivering a better learning experience.

Allow me to offer an example from a book titled “It’s All About People Skills“. This one caught my eye, and a quick skim revealed it contained potentially good advice in a fairly simple, practitioner-oriented style. There’s nothing particularly earth-shaking here and no deep theory is offered, but it’s a reminder that some simple people skills can often make a difference in the quality of the experience – particularly as a reminder that learning is about the learner – not the teacher – and it’s the teacher’s responsibility to create a better experience.

The point is that you can have the best knowledge of the subject, be well versed in pedagogy, and have great technology competency, but if as an educator you fail on interpersonal skills, your ability to connect with learners is greatly compromised. Here are the key points that I have drawn from this book on people skills that good teachers exhibit:

* Like the students: Never assume all educators like their students. If you don’t genuinely enjoy being around the students and caring about their education, it doesn’t matter how great the rest of your people skills are. If you do like them, it helps to show it.

* Be a good listener: Sounds obvious but an educator may get so wrapped up in their teaching, their lesson plan, their outcomes…that they forget to pay attention to the students.

* Be patient: It becomes increasingly more challenging as one gets older, [and that’s just a personal observation – not an ageist remark] has spent more years in the classroom and feels less able to cope with the demands of keeping evermore distracted students engaged. Always remind yourself this is the learner’s first time, and of all the challenges that go along with being new to something. Maintain your inner strength as you strive for patience.

* Have a sense of humor: It’s often best applied an an unplanned occurrence. Trying to force usually fails. Used appropriately it never fails to work in getting students to open up to what you have to offer.

* Use common sense: It helps to be practical. Good teachers know what to do in any given situation. It also means being mindful and making good thoughtful decisions in the classroom.

* Be flexible: Whatever you might have planned for the class, the odds are that something unpredictable will happen. If something good breaks out, try going with it even if it might mean not covering all the content.

* Show you are confident: Remember that no one in the room knows as much as you do about the content. Letting the students know you take the class seriously will build their confidence in your ability to deliver a good learning experience.

* Admit your mistakes: None of us is perfect in the classroom. If you get something wrong or a student points out an error, just be honest – accept the responsibility for your error. Trying to cover it up, making excuses or blaming it on the technology always makes things worse.

* Be approachable: A librarian’s instruction activity is as much about building relationships as it is about teaching new skills. Be the kind of instructor that students will feel comfortable with when they need individualized assistance.

* Use body language effectively: Use more than just your voice to communicate. Make sure your passion comes through in your gestures. In short, get out from behind the lectern.

* Be empathetic: This might be the most important people skill of all for an educator. It’s easy to forget how challenging 21st century research can be. Endeavor to put yourself in the place of your students, and see things from their perspective.

As DBL has discussed in the past, great experiences can be more than big moments, exciting places and highly unique events. It can simply be about a class where the library instructor effectively employs people skills. Under the right conditions those engaged in the experience feel that something different and worthwhile has happened – something they would look forward to experiencing again. Simple people skills, applied well in and beyond the classroom, can lead to a better experience. I hope this post will get you thinking about your basic people skills, and approach them as a checklist that you can use to remind yourself that these all too obvious skills are too often overlooked as we focus on the latest gadgets and theories. As with many other things, design can play a significant role in improving the quality of the user experience. The classroom should be no different.

Exceeding Expectations Depends On What They Are

Have you ever publicly stated or even thought that part of what we should try to accomplish in our libraries is to exceed the expectations of community members? I know I have. I did a search of all my past posts here at DBL and discovered a number of them in which I either directly said something about designing an experience that exceeds expectations or shared information from some other source about ways to do so. I’m sure I’ve also said something about exceeding expectations during presentations. And why not? So much of what I’ve read about great user experiences is focused on doing something that gives the community member more than he or she expected to get. Whether you want to call that a wow experience is up to you (although I think there’s more to it than just expectation exceeding), but we know that when delivering services or building relationships librarians should seek to exceed the expectations of our community members.

Not everyone feels the way I do about exceeding customer expectations, and I think we should be challenged to offer a better explanation of what that means. In one of the most popular posts last year at the Harvard Business Review blog network, Dan Pallotta’s “I Don’t Understand What Anyone is Saying Anymore” took issue with the phrase “Let’s exceed the customer’s expecations” which he referred to as another meaningless piece of business jargon:

Another term that has lost its meaning is “Let’s exceed the customer’s expectations.” Employees who hear it just leave the pep rally, inhabit some kind of temporary dazed intensity, and then go back to doing things exactly the way they did before the speech. Customers almost universally never experience their expectations being met, much less exceeded. How can you exceed the customer’s expectations if you have no idea what those expectations are? I was at a Hilton a few weeks ago. They had taken this absurdity to its logical end. There was a huge sign in the lobby that said, “Our goal is to exceed the customer’s expectation.” The best way to start would be to take down that bullshit sign that just reminds me, as a customer, how cosmic the gap is between what businesses say and what they do. My expectation is not to have signs around that tell me you want to exceed my expectations.

If you’ve spent anytime interacting with your community members, if you’ve conducted surveys or focus groups, or made any effort to learn more about what they want from the library, then you may indeed know something about their expectations. Even if you haven’t done any of these things, or there are far more community members than you could personally engage, the research about library users, be it the OCLC surveys, the PIL research or user study research discussed in the literature, does provide a fairly consistent message about user expectations when it comes to libraries. In general, they have low expectations. They tend to perceive the library as a place to get books and not much else. Little is said about expectations for great service and personalized attention from library staff.

Even worse, college students, in particular, when faced with a research project perceive the library as an unpleasant place that’s sure to be a bad experience. According to the first report from PIL, when faced with a project that requires library research students report they experience anxiety, sadness, other negative emotions and even physical symptoms such as nausea. That may explain, in part, why they’ll do almost anything to avoid interacting with the library, even if it means settling for inferior resources and no help at all. With expectations so low, how can we fail to exceed them? Knowing the expectations are low doesn’t automatically suggest we can always exceed them. It still requires us to design an experience that will make it possible. Our goal should be to raise these expectations from something community members dread to something they desire. Creating the opportunities to raise, and then exceed, those expectations is part of the user experience challenge.

Another thing we should be mindful of, when it comes to gauging our community members’ expectations, is that in economic downturns expectations generally are lower than normal. According to Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, one of the positives of the recession is that it lowers expectations. In a recent essay published in the Chronicle of Higher Education Schwartz wrote that “By lowering expectations and keeping expectations modest, the downturn may actually enable people to derive satisfaction from activities and possessions that would previously have been disappointing.” Of college students in particular he writes, “Lowered expectations may also lead college students to feel less entitled than they have in recent years. They may seek what is good about their institution, and be grateful for it, instead of noticing the ways their institution falls short, and resenting it.”

With students having already low expectations for their library experience, it’s hard to imagine they could get even lower – if what Schwartz has to say is true. If it’s likely that students will lower their expectations in these difficult economic times that may bode well for library facilities that are showing their age. Now may be the perfect time, when expectations are generally lower, to make an all out effort in the library to give community members much more than what they expected when they walked through our doors. I believe that librarians should always seek to exceed expectations – whatever that means in your community – in order to achieve the best user experience. It would be easy enough to take the position that because the expectations of library community members are low there’s not much point in bothering to work at exceeding them. Heck, any minimal level of service might be appreciated. To my way of thinking that’s not an acceptable attitude. It’s up to us to gauge what the level of expectations is in our community, to raise it and to keep improving on it. That’s how you create a better library experience.

Be A Solutions Provider Not Just An Ingredients Supplier

Recommending that librarians should provide different levels of service to community members is right up there with advocating for the end of reference desks or a future dominated by bookless libraries. It can be volatile subject matter for discussion. The library is a commons that is owned by each community member, and each of those members is equally eligible to receive all the benefits and services and access all the resources to which he or she is entitled. In an age of heightened customer expectations, does the “everyone is equal” approach still work or should librarians be more customer centric.

What does it mean to be customer centric? That is the subject of a new book by Peter Fader, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. In this new book titled Customer Centricity, Fader promotes the idea that successful organizations will wisely segment their customers, and create special services for the most valued customers – services that might be unavailable to other customers. Being customer centric means more than just giving community members everything they want. As he explains in an interview:

Too many people think that being customer centric means doing everything that your customers want, and that’s not the case. Being friendly and offering good service are a part of customer centricity, but they are not the whole thing. Customer centricity means that you’re going to be friendly, provide good service and develop new products and services for the special focal customers — the ones who provide a lot of value for you — but not necessarily for the other ones. You need to pick and choose. Some customers deserve the special treatment, and if others want to buy from you, that’s great, but they are not going to be treated the same.

While the goal of customer centricity may be unthinkable to some librarians, when we honestly assess how we treat community members, we already make distinctions between them and offer special treatment to some and not others. In academic libraries we certainly treat faculty members differently than students. We may offer faculty a book delivery service while everyone else has to come to the library. A faculty member’s research question is typically prioritized. Not fair perhaps, but it’s critical to build a good relationship with the faculty. It’s part of what we do to keep them satisfied; our funding might depend on it.

It’s the same thing with the Provost or President. They’ll receive a level of service above other community members. The quality of the work is no less for everyone else, but the provost or president will get much more personalized attention and faster service – and the amount of attention and effort may even exceed what others would get from a librarian. Those types of inequities aside, what about students. Do we make distinctions among the student body, especially among undergrads? We might have some special service, perhaps private study carrels, for honors students. I’m sure this happens in public libraries as well. Consider the advantages of developing some targeted and personalized research services for customers who can provide the most value, such as city councilpersons or the municipal finance office. Perhaps we are more customer centric than we think.

If we choose to formally recognize the importance of customer centricity then we should make it a part of the design of the library user experience. To put this into perspective I want to share one segment of the interview with Fader that resonated more strongly with me. That’s because I want to advocate that we should always seek to emphasize who we are as library professionals and what we can do for our community members by delivering expert services. Content is important, but the community could easily access the content without librarians. Here’s the passage:

Instead of pushing back and complaining, companies have to realize that instead of just putting products out there, they really need to be a solutions provider. That’s kind of a corny phrase these days, but I think there is some validity to it. Companies need to help consumers figure out how their products and services are going to fit into their lives and offer solutions, and not just ingredients.

Solutions versus ingredients. I really like to think of it that way. All the library content, that’s the ingredients. We can offer plenty of unique material that community members will find nowhere else. What we can’t do, given the number of community members and the limited staff, is provide everyone with the same level of service. Consider a more specialized library experience focusing on provided solutions where customer centricity is appropriate. After all, that’s what design is largely about – finding solutions. That’s what librarians do. Community members bring us their information problems. There’s a gap between what they know and they want they need to learn. There’s a point trying to be made and the data’s missing. The challenge is doing the “picking and choosing” that’s required by customer centricity. How do you make those decisions? Are you already being customer centric, either intentionally or unconsciously? If not, are you thinking about it?

How To Tell If They Really Love Your Library

This is a profession that promotes the idea of loving a library. If you need some evidence just visit If you find it difficult to express love for a building, then you can shift your affections to your favorite librarian – over at I Love My Librarian. Anyone ever heard of an “I Love My Accountant” movement? Maybe if he or she just saved you a bundle in taxes you would wear one of these.

We like the idea that a library or librarian can be loved by community members, and while I joke a bit with the concept we know it’s a great marketing strategy to encourage community members to show their appreciation and the value they place on libraries. It reminds me of that old Pee-Wee Herman running gag on the classic television show. Whenever Pee-Wee said “I love my/this _______” (fill-in-the-blank) another character would come back with “Then why don’t you marry it” which works great on all sorts of objects, such as fruit salad. Anyone out there want to marry their library?

But what does it really mean to love a library or any other inanimate object? There’s actually a study that attempts to answer this question. It’s a report titled “Shoes, Cars and Other Love Stories” and it’s actually a dissertation in the field of industrial design by Beatriz Russo. The research is based on an analysis of just twenty-four people who were asked many questions about products they loved. The author says the dissertation “describes a journey in unravelling and clarifying this complex, powerful and, sometimes, unexplainable experience people have with special products they love, own, and use.” The author sought to determine what are the qualities and characteristics of product love. Here are a few of the key characteristics:

* There’s a meaningful relationship
* The relationship is deeply rewarding
* The relationship is enduring
* It’s not just an experience but rather a container of experiences
* It can change over time – perhaps even towards dislike

Admittedly there is some vagueness to these ideas. What does it mean to have a ‘meaningful’ relationship with a product? Do those who love a specific product lust over a new competitor? What causes a breakup? Do human loved ones actually get jealous of those loved products? Being it’s a dissertation it can’t answer all these questions, but there’s some useful information that may enlighten us about what it takes to get someone to love our product – or in our case the library and services we provide. If you have only limited time for some browsing of the research findings, you may find the section on the phases of product love as interesting as I did (starts on p.121).

Like any love relationship, product love begins with attraction (e.g., “Wow, take a look at that laptop”). Then there is the build-up phase shortly after the product is purchased, which sounds a bit like the honeymoon part of the relationship (e.g., “I could work on this laptop all day – it’s so light and portable). The continuation phase is where most of the relationship takes place, and it’s at that point where the owner is completely comfortable with the product (e.g., “I couldn’t even imagine getting another laptop”). Now in all love relationships there are some rocky times, and here you can hit a deterioration phase in which the owner loses interest (e.g., “This laptop seems a lot slower than it used to be and those new models are really thin and light”). And you know what deterioration leads to of course – the end phase (“I’ve had it with this sucky laptop”). In some ways it sounds just like a real relationship, although we only throw out our products at the end of the road.

Does knowing the basic qualities and phases of product love make it possible for librarians to truly understand not only what community members mean when they tell us they love our library, but to create an experience specifically designed to facilitate such a passionate relationship ? I think you can make a case that it’s possible for members of a public or academic community to develop a meaningful relationship with their library and hopefully with the staff. What’s meaningful about it may be different to a mix of people. For some it may be the books, for others the sacred space and yet for others the interaction and conversation found there. Looking at the list of key characteristics that Russo developed, it is strongly reminiscent of my three core ways in which libraries can differentiate themselves (meaning; relationships; totality). While I’d like to think the connector between the library and the passionate user is a meaningful relationship, that could be an area for more involved research. What would the community members have to say about this?

What we do hear anecdotally (and all too often from non-librarian conference speakers) from individuals is that their fond library memories often stretch back to their earliest encounters with library books or a caring librarian. While the relationships change and the community members move on, their love for the library can endure and cross over from one library to another – unless he or she encounters a library with a truly poor experience. You can well imagine having a much loved product, and then encountering a new incarnation of or variation on that product that truly disappoints. That will probably end the relationship (think “New Coke” or “Qwikster”).

Thanks to this dissertation we can gain a better understanding of the relationship individuals build with products (or services), and how that leads to something along the lines of true love. With that knowledge we librarians might be equipped to provide the type of experience that leads to a true love for libraries. But there are occasions when the relationship changes and community members move on. For some, deterioration and the end may eventually arrive, which is why we need to constantly be finding new members who will become passionate about the library. That’s where marketing, promotion, branding and relationship building come into play. How can we create awareness and best present our library so others will fall in love with it? It may ultimately come down to designing a great library user experience that sets the stage for the blossoming of love.