Human-Centered Librarianship

More than books...

I found a library marketing button in my drawer the other day that said “More than Books… Our Library has it All!” It depicts a VHS tape, a floppy disk, an audio cassette, and a CD. I’m guessing that button was never a good marketing tool. We keep hearing that libraries are more than just books. It’s true we have books, but we also have ebooks. We have databases, video libraries, and video games. We have collections of scholarly research, reports, and statistics that you just can’t get on Google. We have a physical building and places for people to quietly study and places for groups to meet and hang out. We have computers and technology for people to experiment with and use. We host workshops and events. We have a website and are on various social media sites.

But so what…who cares?

Simon Sinek in an excellent TED Talk says that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” The collections, the physical library, our events and websites are all just stuff. But what is the why behind all these things that we have and do? Why do we create collaborative workspaces for our members? Why do host story times or literacy events? Why do we offer access to computers and the web?

In a word: people.

We create workspaces because we believe people should be able connect with one another. We host literacy events because we believe people should be able to improve themselves through learning and knowledge. We offer access to computers because we believe people deserve equal chances and opportunities. We believe that our community members deserve a place to belong, feel safe, explore their curiosity, and have access to knowledge. This is why all that stuff matters.

It’s easy though to get focused on the stuff and not the people. There have been times when I have focused so much on a lesson plan that I forgot about the students and learning in the moment. It’s easy to go through the motions on reference, finding someone a book or article without really understanding the real problem they had. It’s easy to make collection decisions in a vacuum, forgetting about what people actually want and use.

In order to solve the big challenges that face us we need to shift our focus in a different direction than just our stuff, our collections, and our building. I like the idea of adopting a philosophy of Human-Centered Librarianship. This isn’t just doing “customer service,” it’s a mindset shift. People matter first, then stuff. Focusing on people has profound implications. What would a Human-Centered Librarianship look like?

  • We would use user experience and human centered design processes to improve and solve problems
  • We would genuinely and regularly seek out and listen to the opinions or our members because they truly matter to us
  • We would work hard to empower everyone on staff and collaborate as a team since we’re all humans too (to empower our members we need empowered staff)
  • We would be less worried about people messing up our stuff and spilling drinks and more worried when people have complaints or suggestions (and would work hard to address them)

And marketing in Human-Centered librarianship won’t be a button saying “hey we got floppy disks” (or ebooks, or whatever new whizbang technology). Marketing in Human-Centered Librarianship would talk about what they can do with the service or technology and how it improves their life. Our product isn’t books or ebooks or quiet space or databases. Our product is knowledge, connection, acceptance, creativity, and curiosity.


Courses I Wish They’d Offered in Library School

I’ve been a librarian now for about three and a half years. I learned a lot while at SLIS at UW-Madison, and there were some awesome professors there. A couple of the most valuable classes I took were Information Architecture and a practicum in Information Literacy where I learned both theory and did hands on teaching and creation of digital instructional materials. But there’s also been a lot that I have had to figure out on my own. Looking back, I wish that there were a few more skills that I could have acquired in library schools. If they had offered these courses, I definitely would have taken them and likely would have been even better prepared for a career in today’s libraries:

Marketing/Demonstrating Value – Libraries are competing with myriad other places and services for the attention of users. How do we promote using the library to our patrons? Libraries offer a lot of great services and resources for free, but how do we let users know about them in a way that doesn’t get drowned out? It is necessary for us to differentiate ourselves from others and show our unique value in order to compete in this information rich world. In addition to promoting ourselves we also need to demonstrate what value we bring to our communities and institutions. The ACRL Value of Academic Libraries Report could be a great text for this class as well as Made to Stick and probably something by Seth Godin.

Graphic Design for Libraries – I saw this idea for a class from a great post about User Experience in LIS education by Aaron Schmidt and Michael Stephens, and I think it is spot on. I find myself regularly needing to create signage for the library or promotional materials either for print or the web, and I pretty much have to stumble through it. It would be useful in a lot of situations to be be able to make some sign or image that is beautiful or inspiring instead of a Word document with some clip art.

photo by Gwen River City Images on Flickr

Entrepreneurship/Innovation – This is a key issue for libraries to be talking about, and specific reading and coursework on this topic would have been immensely helpful to me. We are constantly talking about changing and adapting in libraries awhile at the same time complaining about how slowly it happens. Courses in LIS education about this topic would be useful in developing grads with an entrepreneurial spirit and who would be key in revitalizing and revolutionizing libraries. Hopefully this class would teach mindsets like the willingness to take risk and fail as well as being tolerant of uncertainty. In addition, it would also teach processes for innovation and turning new ideas into reality. Steven Bell talks and writes about these processes in terms of design thinking. I also saw a great paper presentation about innovation processes at ACRL in March by David Dahl. Being able to thoughtfully and successfully create change is one of the most necessary skills for librarians today.

These are the classes I wished I could have taken (and hope that some places offer or start offering). What classes do you wish that you would have seen in library school? What classes would have been really beneficial for the work you are doing now?


How Libraries Can Leverage Twitter

Twitter has been working pretty well at our library. It is coming up on two years since our first tweet. I have been thinking a lot lately about how we use Twitter and our successes and shortcomings with it. Looking back on tweets, conversations, and interactions from the past year and a half, I noticed 7 ways that we are leveraging Twitter to improve our library, our services, and our relationships with users. We are leveraging Twitter to:

Report library happenings

If the library is closing early due to weather or if a printer is down, we can communicate via Twitter, among other channels. If we are having events like an international photo contest or a chili cook off, we can let people know. It’s also helpful to let people know when new displays, art, or exhibits are put up. I like to post an update every time we put up our new book display for the month as well as post a picture of a particularly interesting cover.

Promote library resources/services

When we get new interesting resources, we let people know via Twitter. When we got Mango languages, I posted it to Twitter and people retweeted the post and asked about it a lot.  I also even simply promote our print collection at relevant times. On St. Patrick’s Day I posted this tweet promoting Oscar Wilde’s short fiction. About half an hour later a student came up from the stacks with a James Joyce title and said he was inspired by the library’s Twitter post.

Build community

Looking at the statistics for our library Twitter account, 31% of all our tweets are retweets. That means that at least third of the content, ideas, and events we’re promoting are not our own. Last week we relayed a message from a student about the Vagina Monologues production that was going to be happening on campus. We also have posted information about the human versus zombies game that occurs every fall (for more info about this fairly awesome game, go here). Libraries are hearts of the community, so of course we want to promote what other people are doing. One of our strategic goals at the library is “foster a sense of campus community” and Twitter helps us to do that.

Engage our users

We don’t simply use twitter as a bullhorn though either. We try to engage members of our community. I post news articles of relevance and ask questions. I also noticed when people are working on papers or projects and do what I can to encourage them or help them. Below is an interaction where a student was writing a business paper on virtual teams, and it was an opportunity for the library to help.

Monitor library related tweets

People are likely saying things about your library or things that are related to your library. The reason I am able to find questions or tweets like the one above is because I monitor our Champlain College hashtag and because I have some tweet alerts set up for specific word related to libraries, research, and papers. Through this monitoring, we can address user concerns and answer their questions.

Solicit feedback

This is something that we are not doing quite as well, and I hope that we can improve. But Twitter is a perfect tool to ask for feedback on some service you are thinking about adding or some initiative you recently implemented. Twitter is great for informally asking questions. When designing resources or services for users, it’s important to actually ask them. Twitter is one tool that could facilitate that.

Create greater awareness of the library

Doing all the aforementioned things creates a greater awareness of the library and what it has to offer. Being active on social networking sites like Twitter makes the library more visible. Not every post gets noticed. And some that you think go unnoticed are actually effective. With the St. Patrick’s Day post I mentioned before, no one tweeted back saying what a good post it was. It seemed like it may have fallen on deaf ears. But not long after a student came in, mentioned he saw the post, and checked out a book because of it.

Facebook, email, and print are all important too and should be used accordingly depending on your community. But Twitter is great tool to have in your communication toolbox. It can be powerful in furthering your library’s mission.