by Kate Stockert
Do you have a family member notorious for passing along newspaper clippings of various sorts? Both my aunt and mother clip articles for me in seemingly greater volume than the GPO spits out Federal Register pages. I get at least two copies of every article that might be of interest to me, sometimes more if it relates to libraries. Recently my aunt sent me a clipping about Seattle Public Library’s event “The User Experience in the 21sth Century Library” which piqued my interest.
The event took place on Saturday, June 12th and offered the perfect mix of thought-provoking, riveting, and humorous dialogue. Moderated by Virginia Anderson, a member of the Library’s Strategic Planning Advisory Committee, the panel seated four participants: Joan Frye Williams, a “library futurist” and consultant; George Needham, a library consultant and VP at OCLC; Robert Spector, a published author and expert on customer service; and Tim Pfeiffer, Senior VP of Store Design at Starbucks.
The panelists filled the discussion with fabulous one-liner quips, valuable ideas, and prescient perspectives. My favorite quote of the day came from George, on the subject of library marketing: “When looking for a plumber in the phone book you don’t see adds saying ‘we have 42 wrenches’.” So, he reasoned, why should libraries advertise in that fashion? Instead, Joan continued, such advertisements include details such as 24 hour service, free estimate, or customer satisfaction guarantee.
Particularly intriguing was the discussion on resource selection in relation to user experience. George iterated that user experience is not about what works best for the librarians, but what works best for the library patrons. He believes librarians should focus on applying what the library patron knows already and enriching that experience. Joan dovetailed this comment by referencing the “the classic grocery store analogy” where when you head to a grocery store, often it is not about getting to the finest grocery store in town, but rather the one that is most convenient. In such situations, it is not that you are ignorant of all the options; it is simply that you pick the option that works best for you.
Joan furthered that librarians need to remember: most ‘user experience’ in the library happens when the librarian is not present: “It happens when parking to visit the library, using the restrooms, the hours of operation and whether they relate at all to their needs […] They wonder if they can find where they need to go and why they have to learn weird language to shop in your store,” wherein she referenced terms like microform and using library patron instead of library member.
The conversation took an engaging turn when Virginia posed a question on collecting and using statistics. Though we have collected library visit and usage statistics for years, Joan argued, we have yet to focus on behavioral metrics in the way that retail and marketing industries have. Though confidentiality is necessary, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to learn about what happens after a patron leaves the library, “How did the information get used and applied in life? Information is applied: what were the outcomes?” Such outcomes can then be used to support the case for library funding.
Behavioral statistics, George suggested, can be used to present the need for libraries. Such statistics can be presented in the manner because of the library , X number of businesses were formed this year or X number of students improved their test scores by X. He continued that when surveying library patrons, our goal is to know what our patrons need, what they expect, and how they want to use the library; this denotes a paradigm shift from asking “How should we run the library” to “What’s important to you and your family?”
The panel closed on a positive note when Virginia asked about the possibilities for non-monetary based reward programs. Tim and Robert agreed that people respond well to recognition and praise even in the private sector, often providing the necessary inspiration for employees to continue a job well done. They each subsequently offered heartwarming stories about employee recognition at both Nordstrom and Starbucks.
All in all, the event proved engaging and lively with a lot of food for thought!