3

How To See The Library With Fresh Eyes

Goofy looking kid

Photo by schani on Flickr

I just finished the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath. I highly recommend it and got a number of great ideas from it. But when I read it, one idea in particular stood out in relation to libraries. The idea is “the Curse of Knowledge.” The Heath brothers discuss the Curse of Knowledge in this example:

“Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.”

Librarians unfortunately are under the spell of this curse. Most of the time we think like librarians. We’re sophisticated searchers, evaluators, collectors, organizers and don’t know how to be any different. We know what a database is and what a catalog is. Often, our patrons don’t. It is difficult for us to put ourselves in the shoes of our users. And this is exactly what we need. In order to best serve our users we need to be able to see things from their perspective – see the library with fresh eyes.

How can we do this? It’s not always easy but there are a few ways to break out of your rut and lose your librarian perspective for a while:

  • Use library workers and work study students – library workers and students are valuable assets. They bring a different perspective and often work very closely with patrons. I’m always surprised by the great insights or ideas that these people come up with. Tapping into their perspective can get you closer to what the patron sees.
  • Use new librarians – people who just enter the field shouldn’t be thought of as greenhorns that need to be trained, they should be treasured as valuable, short term resources. They don’t have years of experience and THAT is what they bring to the table. Their not encumbered by the view that “this is how we’ve always done it.” They see the library with fresh eyes. But they won’t be that way forever. Learn from them while they’re still fresh.
  • Work like a library patron – Brian Herzog from the Swiss Army Librarian had a great idea of setting up a day when librarians work like a patron. You use public computers, public restrooms and do everything as if you were a patron. This is an great way for empathizing and gaining a more patron-friendly perspective.
  • Patron feedback – Actually ask patrons what they think! I’m sure most libraries do this, but are you doing it enough? There are lots of ways to get patron feedback: surveys, focus groups, suggestion boxes, email, ethnographic studies, social media, etc. There is no such thing as talking to the patron too much. Continually question them, because the best way to understand our patrons is to ask them what their perspective is.

What ways do you use to see the library with fresh eyes?

Andy Burkhardt