By Meredith Farkas | August 28, 2009
I know Jenica wondered if her blog post, Rambling about possessiveness, really had a point, but it was right in line with things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Jenica wrote about the fine line between taking ownership of a project/thing in terms of really being really invested in the success or failure of a project vs. taking ownership in a possessive sense. This is something I’ve been wondering about too, especially as we’re working on a lot of projects that will, to some extent, change the way students use the library online. When I work on a project, I get very invested in it, because I feel a passion for my work and want to make things great. But I think sometimes that passion (for me, for anyone) can border on possessiveness, and when we get to that place, we can forget who we’re actually doing these things for in the first place.
For years, we’ve used our catalog basically as it came out of the box, but we now have an awesome new Systems Librarian and a Head of Digital Initiatives who are really passionate about making the catalog more usable. I couldn’t be more excited about this. The other day, we met to talk about library annual goals and my colleagues discussed their unit’s goal for improving the catalog. They talked about customizations we as librarians might like to see, but never did they talk about finding out what our users want or need from the catalog or finding out how our users use the catalog. And my colleague who heads this unit is a very user-focused person, but “surveying the population” was not something he was saying in terms of improving the catalog. So, I brought it up, because I worry about us developing something that’s great for librarians and is sucky for the people it’s really there for. A day later, another colleague emailed everyone with some questions about the test catalog and described his preferences for searches. While his questions were certainly valuable, I had to say to myself “who cares how you like to search?” Or how I like to search? Is that how our users like to search? Can we assume that we know that? Yes, include the search options that allow us to do our job, but the catalog should be customized in order to meet the needs of our students and faculty. I think we sometimes get this tunnel vision where we start to think that it’s about us. And it really shouldn’t be, because our library wouldn’t exist without the patrons we’re here to serve. As Jenica said, the libraries aren’t ours. Then neither is the catalog/website/etc.
But even when we do usability studies or surveys, I sometimes wonder if we don’t design them in such a way that we get the results we want to see in the first place. When I did usability testing of our website four years ago, the results brought us to the same conclusions I had come to myself just by looking at it. And I wonder if in some way my own biases impacted the design and results. Maybe, maybe not. But I often get the sense that we’re sometimes doing assessments not to learn something new, but to confirm what we already think we know or how we want things to be. How often are you really surprised by the results of a survey or usability study you’ve done?
I’m happy the students are coming back this week, because it brings us back to reality. It reminds us of why we’re here. We’re here to support the academic work of students and faculty — not to create the coolest tools that only we think are cool or the best catalog for librarians. We so often take for granted that we know what our users want and need or we assume that because an article in Educause says that students are like ___ then our students must be like ___ as well. We need to get, as our University President (a military man) often says, “the ground truth.” We need to build things our users truly want and need and leave our egos and possessiveness and desire to only create something really cool at the door (which so many of us, me included, are guilty of once in a while). Because it’s not about us. It’s about them.