Sunday, May 03, 2009

Library design failure persists because they are seen as a teaching opportunities

Even in the current difficult environment, however, institutional repositories and their managers can find plenty of work to do, given realistic goals, support from colleagues and administrators, and software that serves real needs rather than hopeful ideologies

[my italics, Dorothea Salo, Introduction: Innkeeper at the Roach Motel].

I've come to the conclusion that the main reason why many librarians are hostile towards the ideas that fall under the blanket of Library 2.0, is that user-centred design frequently runs counter to many of the unsaid ideologies of librarianship.

Last week Dorothea asked out-loud, "Why should we go through so much effort and agony to teach undergraduate students to use library-provided subscription databases when the vast majority of them will never again have access to those databases once they graduate?" And the responses she received caused her lament,

Do I think librarian affection for proprietary databases might play a role in general librarian disaffection for open access? And might that have been one of my ulterior motives for asking the question? Why, yes and yes again. Days it sucks so much to be a repository-rat, I can’t begin to tell you.

I have lots of thoughts about proprietary databases (-) and open access (+) but I'll leave them for another day. Instead, I would like to share with you what I think might be the unsaid librarianship ideology that may be at work in some of the responses to Dorothea's question:

Learning how to do use the library is an inherent part of the university curriculum.

Related to this first principle, many design failures of the library system are perceived as teaching opportunities for librarians and are thus reluctuantly changed.

I came to this idea when I was thinking about applying design thinking to improving the poor experience I had in creating a list of books that I wanted to borrow from two libraries and experiencing a significant number of books that were not on the shelf in both instances.

Librarians forget that the Library of Congress Classficiation system was designed for closed-stack libraries and wasn't intended for the end-user.

My personal philosophy is that the library should be designed to be, as reasonably possible, an unmediated experience. In the same spirit of teaching a man to fish, why should we commit ourselves to perpetually teaching each one of our users how use the library when we could spend our efforts continually tweaking the design of libraries so that they are inherently usable?

I think that the conflict between user-centred thinking and library-ideology thinking is the one of the reasons why suggestions to improve the library experience (the process of simplying by shifting the difficult steps to the library istead of burdening the reader with all the functionality) are frequently met with consternation and the response that to do so is to "dumb down" the library.

The work of the library user is to read - not to learn how to use the library.

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