Sunday, July 15, 2007

Off My Soap Box

I read a fair amount of library blogs. Of the 270 or so blogs I read, about a third of them are library-oriented (if you're curious, about half are publishing/writing focusing on science fiction, and then a good chunk of marketing blogs, and a nice smattering of art blogs) and I came across this just a moment ago. The main thrust of the post is summed up here:
We can’t rely on our experiences as patrons (or even as a customer) when deciding on policy, collection development, program development, or marketing, simply because we’re not the average consumer of library services.
I see a lot of that. Part of it, IMO, is that there are a lot of people who have worked in the field for more than 15 years. That much time in one profession makes it hard to see how it looks like from the outside. I have less than two years in the profession and I continually see the profession (and the people and the buildings) from the outside.

Another thing that helps me is that at my last non-library job one of my responsibilities was business analysis. I worked primarily as a programmer, but it was also my job to assess the software and see how it could be enhanced, fixed, changed, etc. There was a constant need to wear two hats and try to use the software as a non-programmer would. There were things I knew about the software that people who had been using the software for years longer than I had been working on it didn't know. Often, the business analysis became a training exercise where I could teach someone something about the software that would enhance their job and then there was no need to go into the code and change anything.

Same thing in the library. My current library has a confusing website. There are things I'd like to change about it. (There's time before this needs to/can happen) But I know that what I would change about the website doesn't necessarily reflect what my patrons want or need. Before I can begin making changes, I need to understand how my patrons hope the use the website. What sort of things are important to them. It does not matter what I think is important. It's important that my patrons can find what they want.

Talking to the public is scary, but vital. You need to understand your customer before you can begin to think about serving them.

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