Aaron Schmidt made this enlightening observation: Asking patrons “what they want from the library” is like asking me (tuba player-turned-librarian/archivist) to “invent a new way to do banking.” He “agrees with the motivating sentiment,” but clarifies that it falls short. “After all, asking the question checks the ‘get input from users’ box, and as the responses are rarely shocking, the library can feel like it is doing an okay job” (Schmidt, 2016).
This pairs almost exactly with Pewhairangi’s “A Beautiful Obsession” article about establishing “customer intimacy” with the “Most Valuable Library Members” in your community; as well as the differences between being “customer-focused” and “customer-driven” demonstrated in the article “Design, Deliver, and Decisions” (2014).
A wonderfully illustrative case of this concept is shared in “Madison’s Library Takeover,” in which library staff invited proposals for self-managed programs from community members, selected three, then stepped into supporting roles while these community members ran the programs (Smith, 2017).
Having been at a university library for 18 years, where most of our collection and program development has been driven by accreditation and faculty request, this approach required some significant mental adjustment for me. It’s no actual surprise, given the community-focus of several classes at SJSU, but the tangible nature of these concepts and this illustration pushed me into a different level of thinking. It feels like a very healthy kind of mental growth for me. Though I’m having a harder time seeing how this might be encouraged at my own institution. I’ll be having conversations with our Public Services librarians, so hopefully I’ll be able to follow up.
On a totally different note… how have I not read danah boyd before?! I looked at some of her other writing and, unsurprisingly, Cory Doctorow has referred people to her work. I want to share one quote from her talk, “the diversity of people who are building and using these tools to imagine our future is extraordinarily narrow” (2015). When it comes to collection and program development, this should be a huge reminder that we can’t just rely on the data shared by the “Big Deal” package publishers. We need to, as the above authors all shared, know our communities personally, closely, sharing life with them and using our own expertise to discover the ways that we can uniquely meet their needs.
boyd, danah. 2015. “What World Are We Building?” Everett C Parker Lecture. Washington, DC, October 20.
Pewhairangi, S. (2014). A beautiful obsession. Retrieved from https://heroesmingle.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/weve-may-2014.pdf
Schmidt, A. (2016). Asking the right questions. Retrieved from https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=asking-the-right-questions-the-user-experience
Smith, C. (2017). Madison’s library takeover. Retrieved from https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/madisons-library-takeover/