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Expect Amazing Things

In a recent OCLC podcast with Roy Tennant and R. David Lankes, Lankes says that lower expectations are going to doom libraries as we know them. He goes on to say that librarians have trained our communities to expect too little of us, and this leads to complacency in librarians. This also leads to a slow fade where people say they love libraries but fewer and fewer people use our services.

I have come across this idea of low expectations in other places as well. Steven Bell, at the ACRL in Philadelphia, presented a paper entitled “Delivering a WOW User Experience: Do Academic Librarians Measure Up.” One of his findings was that students’ expectations for libraries are fairly low. In fact, students sometimes even think it will be a painful experience (library anxiety comes to mind).

This status quo and these low expectations are certainly a challenge, but they’re also a tremendous opportunity. Low expectations mean that when you deliver something above and beyond, people are astonished. We have the potential to surprise, amaze, excite, and delight people on a regular basis.

I know that all librarians have experienced this before. For example, at the reference desk when you’re able to help a student really focus their topic and find some great resources for their project, the student is surprised and continually comes back for help. Another example are the resources that we have. Students here are regularly amazed that we have a language learning software like Mango Languages, or can access thousands of tech/programming books through Safari.

Lankes suggests that in order to overcome these expectations we need to both create a culture where failure is OK and actively engage in conversations with our community. We need to be willing to take risks and we need to be talking to our community, trying to understand them better, and asking them about their problems and projects. This will give us more opportunities to change their expectations of us and our expectations of ourselves.

I would also suggest that we recognize these low expectations and take them into account when creating services, marketing resources, or helping users. At Champlain, we purposely built student expectations into our first year, first semester information literacy session. We recognized that a lot of students would expect a session with a librarian to be boring and not relevant to their life, and we wanted to change that.

Taking that expectation into account, we designed a session in which we told students to take their mobile phones OUT (rather than turn them off) and used them in our lesson for mobile polling. We designed a session in which we focused on things like Google and Facebook as opposed to the library through a TED Talk and exercise on filter bubbles. We designed a session that valued their opinions and was inquiry based rather than us telling them the answers. And in a lot of cases, it changed their expectations of what a library session can be.

 

Amazing our users should be the new normal, but this involves not accepting the status quo, being willing to fail, regularly questioning and talking to your community, and building in expectations into your designs. We need to start changing our users expectations of us and this begins by expecting a lot of ourselves and the work that we do.

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Creating Meaning for Library Users

Two weeks ago I attended an event for the kickoff of the Native Creative Consortium of Vermont. They brought in Nathan Shedroff, a pioneer in Experience Design. His talk was fascinating. He talked about how everything is an experience and that companies and organizations, whether consciously or not, are creating certain types of experiences for their users. Instead of thinking that you’re a shoe manufacturing company, or a computer company, or library, you should be thinking more deeply about what experiences and expecially what meaning you are creating for your users. Shedroff’s main point’s are well captured in this TED talk:

Shedroff discusses 15 core meanings that we have as humans. These meanings are:

  1. Accomplishment - Achieving goals and making something of oneself; a sense of satisfaction that can result from productivity, focus, talent, or status
  2. Beauty - The appreciation of qualities that give pleasure to the senses or spirit
  3. Community - A sense of unity with others around us and a general connection with other human beings
  4. Creation - The sense of having produced something new and original, and in so doing, to have made a lasting contribution
  5. Duty - The willing application of oneself to a responsibility
  6. Enlightenment - Clear understanding through logic or inspiration
  7. Freedom - The sense of living without unwanted constraints
  8. Harmony - The balanced and pleasing relationship of parts to a whole, whether in nature, society, or an individual
  9. Justice - The assurance of equitable and unbiased treatment
  10. Oneness - A sense of unity with everything around us
  11. Redemption - Atonement or deliverance from past failure or decline
  12. Security - The freedom from worry about loss
  13. Truth - A commitment to honesty and integrity
  14. Validation - The recognition of oneself as a valued individual worthy of respect
  15. Wonder - Awe in the presence of a creation beyond one’s understanding

Thinking in terms of meaning when creating resources and services can be a really helpful framework in libraries. At a more professionally focused school (like my institution), accomplishment is likely a meaning that would be important to many students. With this meaning perhaps services would be designed in such a way that students could learn on their own and there are a lot of ways they can Do It Yourself (DIY). Perhaps at liberal arts college, enlightenment would be a more relevant meaning. For these type of users you may want to design more around the “a-ha!” moment. Using this model, you need to examine your own community and tap into what is meaningful to them.

We are not simply delivering access to e-books or databases. We are not only conducting reference interviews or doing information literacy. We are doing something much more important than that.

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Good Cop, Bad Cop, Librarian Cop

Professors and librarians often play very complimentary roles. In talking with my friend Steve, who’s a professor, he mentioned our roles can often be like the roles of good cop and bad cop (with librarians being the good cop of course).

Professor’s give out assignments. They grade and judge students. They make students, gasp, work hard! They try to challenge their students and take them out of their comfort zones. This can be stressful for students. It can leave them feeling overwhelmed and confused. Professors are basically like the cop in every movie yelling at the suspect telling them that ” they do bad things to students like you in summer classes.”

Librarians on the other hand are not grading students. We offer a welcoming supportive environment, where students can feel free to ask without being judged. We are not going to yell at a student if they haven’t done the reading, or in our case, don’t know how to use a book or locate it in the stacks.

I often say things to students like: “yeah, this is a pretty difficult assignment, but I know some great places we can look to make it easier.” Or, “I see that your frustrated that your professor is requiring at least one book and one scholarly article, but he/she is probably trying to get you to see why each is important. Let me explain what each one is good for.” I try to create an environment of empathy and understanding where students feel safe to explore and make mistakes.

I have to admit that there are definitely times when librarians challenge students and professors usually try to create safe environments, but I often see our roles following this “good cop, bad cop” framework. We are both working towards the same goal. We are just helping students learn in different ways.