Using a hammer should be easy because the goal is to drive a nail, not figure out how to use a hammer.
(Kapp, 2012, Malone’s Theory of Intrinsically Motivating Instruction section, para. 3)
People turn to libraries sometimes for fun goals, sometimes for serious goals. Sometimes they seek community, sometimes knowledge. One thing that is common across all of these goals is that people are focused on their goals and not on library procedures. To the extent libraries can “get out of the way” and provide a seamless experience, we can serve our members better.
As the quote above illustrates, people don’t pick up a hammer and want to spend time learning how to use it: they want to drive a nail. Neither do they think, “oh goody, a chance to learn a new database interface.” Especially now that search engines like Google provide a very simple interface, people are impatient with a lot of “interface” getting in between them and what they want. Complex interfaces, borrowing policies or card eligibility that is hard to find out and/or hard to understand all can “get in the way.” Library members don’t want to be “made to think,” at least not until they have found the content or program that they desired in the first place (Krug, 2006).
User research is a critical way to find out what is “in the way” of library members. It is easy enough to say we need to get out of the way, but hard to put ourselves in members’ shoes in order to see what is in their way. We may take for granted knowing borrowing card eligibility rules, or that the local weekly paper prints a list of our programs but our website doesn’t, or how to use the OPAC or what the procedure is for requesting a meeting room.
Something else common to most libraries is the fact that the actual users are often a subset of the potential users. Teoh mentions the importance of interviewing non-users to find out what could convert them into actual users (Teoh, 2014?). Reaching out to people who are underserved is a critical part of fulfilling the library mission, and in-depth research like interviews can help any library will uncover hidden obstacles.
Surveys can only tell us so much. As Schmidt notes, “Surveys can be useful for getting a sense of people’s stated preferences (often different from their actual preferences) but rarely go deeper” (Schmidt, 2010). People might say they want to be able to reserve a room, they’re less likely to say, “I’m totally confused by the process of reserving one, and I think I’d rather be able to do it with a web form than a phone call, since I have to try and do it while my toddler is napping, or after library hours when the kids are in bed.” Conducting in-depth user research (such as interviews) can uncover contextual information that help us make tasks easier. We need to know what members need to (1) be successful in life and (2) successfully use the library (Schmidt, 2012). We need to know what users need and desire, and we need to know what the library is doing specifically that either encourages or blocks them from being able to obtain this. Or in other words (with apologies to Suz Tzu), “Know your users and know yourself, in a hundred searches you will emerge victorious.”
Kapp, K.M. (2012). The Gamification of learning and instruction: game-based method and strategies for training and education. San Francisco: Wiley. Retrieved from http://discover.sjlibrary.org/iii/encore_sjsu/record/C__Rb4387639;jsessionid=57AA0CD25A18ECC2528E9FB245BC7502?lang=eng
(note about this reference: this ebook seems to have been removed from the SJSU library so it may have been made available specifically for the Gamifying seminary and removed afterwards)
Krug, S. (2006). Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Berkeley, CA: New Riders Publishing.
Schmidt, A. (March 1, 2010). Learn by asking | The user experience [Web magazine]. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2010/03/opinion/aaron-schmidt/learn-by-asking-the-user-experience/
Schmidt, A. (October 3, 2012). Persona guidance | The user experience [Web magazine]. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2012/10/opinion/aaron-schmidt/persona-guidance-the-user-experience/
Teoh, C. (August 1, 2014?). User interviews – A basic introduction [Web log]. Webcredible.com. Retrived from http://www.webcredible.com/blog-reports/web-usability/user-interviews.shtml