Who are your users?

[Hey! I made the ever expanding list of libr* blogs over at LibraryStuff!]

Who are your users?

No, I’m not kidding. I’m sick of decisions being made without (as near as I can tell) any sort of data driving them.

Let’s do a little exercise.

  • Think about everyone who uses your library resources.
  • Now eliminate all the people who never walk into the library.
  • Get rid of all the people who made it into the library, but didn’t talk to a library employee.
  • Cut out all the people who came into the library and talked to a library employee, but that employee was a student worker of some sort and not an actual librarian.

OK. NOW tell me how much sense it makes to have the public services librarians be the sole voice for “the users” when making decisions. For most of us in university libraries, the vast majority of our patrons never make it in the door. If they do, it’s usually just to pick something up, or use a public computer or something. It’s not hard to do the math. If you look at how many people are on campus, how many librarians are on duty at any given time, how much time you spend on average with a patron…it’s pretty easy to see that a tiny, tiny percentage of patrons are being represented when we just ask the public service librarians what they think “the users” would like.

Let’s play again:

  • Think of all the undergraduates you know and how much they vary.
  • Think of all the grad students you know and how much they vary.
  • Think of all the faculty members you know and how much they vary.

Now tell me why people insist on talking about library patrons in terms of categories used by the registrar.All grad students are not the same. All undergrads are certainly not the same. Faculty members vary wildly from each other, and when people step (even slightly) outside of their fields of expertise, things change completely. So don’t treat them as if they’re homogeneous groups! In fact, lose the labels entirely — they just confuse things, unless your only concern is how long they can check out a book for.

So…what’s a camel to do?

At least take the first step, which is to admit you have a problem.

After that, it’s a hard question. You can hire someone to systematize research on users. You can create annual surveys and things (provided through many channels) to see what’s what. You can, at the very least, really learn how to use the statistics being generated by your many systems.

Anyone out there with thoughts on this?

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One Response to Who are your users?

  1. […] Who are your users?- from OPAChyderm. I often bemoan the fact that it is difficult to figure out what are patrons want since we don’t have great data. In this post, the author points out that we need to know who are users are. From this post, “NOW tell me how much sense it makes to have the public services librarians be the sole voice for “the users” when making decisions. For most of us in university libraries, the vast majority of our patrons never make it in the door. If they do, it’s usually just to pick something up, or use a public computer or something. It’s not hard to do the math. If you look at how many people are on campus, how many librarians are on duty at any given time, how much time you spend on average with a patron…it’s pretty easy to see that a tiny, tiny percentage of patrons are being represented when we just ask the public service librarians what they think “the users” would like.” I agree that when any members of the library staff try to make decisions, they are basing those decisions based on contact with a tiny portion of the community. […]

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