Sunday 13 October 2013

Barriers to a Great User Experience?

I'm currently working on the Hyperlinked Library MOOC and really loving it. The organisers have created a great community atmosphere and the material is really interesting and relevant.
I'm going to share my post this week over on this blog as I think it has a lot of relevance outside of the MOOC. This week we were asked to consider the user experience. The module was very interesting as the user should be at the heart of everything we do. I do believe though that sometimes in our quest to provide the best for our users we overthink things a little. Librarians have been guilty of this for a long time; it was certainly something I came across in my readings on social media use in libraries. My original post is below:
The issues explored in this weeks lectures and readings have caused some conflicting thoughts. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all as it’s not a clear cut issue.

Obviously libraries want to provide their users with the best experience possible in order to keep them coming back for more. There was a lot of focus this week on issues surrounding signs and desks and how they could be barriers to users. This is also something that has been discussed in depth in Cambridge libraries recently so it touched a bit of a nerve for me. I’m just going to come right out and say it:

Sometimes a sign is just a sign and a desk is just a desk!

Whilst I agree that you don’t want to put up a large amount of negative signage in your library as it’s just going to put people off, sometimes you do need to give them directions or remind them of rules. I liked the idea of having signs saying cell phones welcome here but sometimes you do just need a small reminder that they shouldn’t be used in other places. Otherwise, how will people know? Most people will respect others but not everyone. As much as I would love to have complete trust in everyones ability not to talk on their phones in a quiet study area I don’t see it happening any time soon. I think there is a growing trend against signage as it’s seen as a negative thing but we need to be careful not to take this to the opposite extreme. On a more positive note I did love the sign that asked users to disturb librarians. This is definitely something we should encourage more of!

As for the issue of desks as barriers … well you can certainly argue that. They do seperate the library staff from the users in physical terms but that’s not always a bad thing. At the end of the day WE are the staff and THEY are the users. That’s a barrier that we just won’t be able to get around. Sometimes though a desk is just a desk. It’s somewhere for a computer to sit, for people to lean on or work at, somewhere for the user to place their books ready for checkout. We shouldn’t overthink this so much!

I’m also not 100% convinced that users see signs and desks as barriers. Of course you can have an overkill on signs, as seen in some of the videos, but at the end of the day it’s important to remember that anything can be a barrier if you make it into one. The important thing to do it try to provide the best experience for your users without giving them what you think they want (or don’t want) rather than what they really need.

I’m not sure what reaction this post will get, but I think that debate is healthy. In my experience nothing gets people talking like a disagreement (still in that polite way that the library community has!) and at the end of the day this provides us with new ideas and shows that we are still very much engaged with trying to provide the best possible experience for our users.

This post is not aimed at anyone in particular who might have opposing views, each to their own and there are people out there with more experience of this than me. I've seen this issue come up a lot recently and this is just my small contribution to a much larger debate.

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