Revitalizing the User Experience

My notes from a Presentation given by Joan Frye Williams at the Library Of Virginia 9/17/2009.

I was lucky to attend this presentation last Thursday and I here are my notes. They are quick and not comprehensive but are comments or ideas that made an impression on me. She made a lot of good points, brought up some good questions, and presented some very good ideas about the future of libraries that I’ve been thinking about since. They may turn into longer posts eventually but for now they are still bouncing around in my head.


Revitalizing the User Experience

  • Trying to keep up with all the latest and greatest will drive you crazy.
  • Pay attention to people
  • Point of view is worth 80 IQ points
  • People have choices and we aren’t the only game in town for information
  • Experience doesn’t get off shored
  • Is the library someplace I want to be?
    • Of all the places I can be…
    • Not just the physical but online
    • She made a claim that TV has been hit very hard by the Internet

Reading Evangelism

  • We own reading!
  • Oprah wouldn’t be doing book clubs if there wasn’t something going on
  • Why aren’t we more active in kicking adults to read more (were great at it for kids why not when they grow up?)
  • Don’t walk away from books and reading


  • What do people see when they walk into your library?
  • Do we act like we want people there or do we see them as walking workload?
  • You can’t teach people/staff to like people
  • Why do people came to the library?
  • The more people want something we ration it
  • It might be important to do some things pretty well than do everything below standard (!!!)
  • Destination facilities are always clean and smell good.
  • More concerned about people space than the book space
  • Be creative in enforcing policies: she mentioned that San Jose Public Library has Library Godmothers. They are a group that is there to enforce library policy but in a softer way (at least that’s what I think she said…)
  • Lending is a classic GREEN scenario (reusing instead of everyone buying their own)
  • Being GREEN is important to people 15-30
  • Do people feel like we’ve set the library up for them to succeed or feel stupid?
    • especially for common tasks (checking the availability of materials)
    • Is is set up for the people to be successful or for the librarians to look smart?
  • Far too many libraries are set up like a research library
  • Need to set up the collection so people can find things by accident (serendipity)
    • Not many people come in with known author/title searches…they are browsing for something good to read
  • Simplified Wayfinding
    • De-clutter –> Too many signs
  • Bring a stranger you trust into your library and let them tell you what they see.
    • Can he/she find things easily?
  • Different loan profiles for different people? (I have never thought of this before)
    • Loan time defined by usage
    • The patron has a choice of loan times that suit his/her the reading style
      • 10 books for 3 weeks or 3 books for 10 weeks?
      • Would this be hard?
  • She quoted by Roy Tennant: “Only librarians like searching, everyone else likes finding”


  • The number one rule for staffing a desk: If you can’t staff the desk get rid of it.
    • A desk is a promise – that someone will be there to assist – if there is no one there what message are we sending?
  • If you find you can’t staff a desk then it may be time to consider Zone Staffing.
    • Staff members are responsible for specific zones
  • I’m not too sure I quite understood this…I’ll have to look into it more.
  • When approaching someone who looks like he/she needs help we should say “What can I do for you?” instead of  “Do you need help?” or “May I help you?” (that’s new to me)
  • Librarians should be more active in helping with online forms; especially governmental forms.
  • Helping people get through their lives. Connecting people with a reasonable experience with government will be good down the road.
    • We should try to work out ways to help people with the forms (volunteers, set aside staff etc.)
  • Library as Reading Spa
    • The library should encourage people to come in and read.
    • A space with comfy chairs is a must
  • Do we see the public’s time as important as ours?
  • Self Directed Service – sometimes people don’t want to speak with staff.
    • is confidential
    • Don’t abandon the people; just be there to help them when they need it.
    • Podcasts as self directed service
      • $$ spent on podcasting equipment will help people catch library programming on their own time
  • Online donations (great for library foundations-why doesn’t my library have one?)
    • When people donate online they are beginning a conversation
    • We should give them more than a form for their taxes in return


  • The library website/catalog should be compatible with mobile devices
    • see DC Public Library for an example
      • they use the same ILS as my library so we could do this! They are willing to share too!
  • Are we making them be compatible with us?
  • OPACs dying? 5 years? (Statement from her-worth considering…)
    • too difficult; opacs should be more accessable
  • We should acknowledge that we are just one part of the public’s information experience


  • We should honor and support collaborative learning
  • Maybe we should be reading and commenting on local blogs instead of starting another library blog…
    • How we can help the blogger…
    • I like this idea!
  • Embedded library staff —- My favorite idea from this presentation!
    • Send staff out as participants (not missionaries) to local organizations/community groups to find out what they want to accomplish and see how the library can help.
    • The key here is to LISTEN to the groups…not make a big presentation about “all the really neat stuff you can do at the library”
    • Providing service into the situation where the information will be applied.
    • Infiltrating where things get done
  • Libraries are neutral territory
    • Are seen as not having an agenda
  • Every rule comes at a cost
  • Ideas don’t get offshored

Less Perfectionism

  • Making something easy is not the same as making it dumb
    • Need to make some amateur tools
  • People will ding us for putting stuff out that isn’t perfect.
    • We need to use those dings to help us get better
  • Perfection is not a character trait
  • Don’t be shy about jumping in
    • Waiting to jump in may be detrimental
    • Make it okay to do something and pick yourself up if things don’t go as planned


  • Confidentiality is not the same as anonymity
  • People want a relationship based service and we are giving them a transaction based service
  • Ignorance is not the best defense to confidentiality

2 thoughts on “Revitalizing the User Experience

  1. “Luv,” Children’s Librarian and I just had a conversation on the cost of Rules, in reference to letting public use projector here.

    In general: The Hospitality stuff is big with me, that’s why I roam around scooping up trash and pushing in chairs. There’s no reason for this sweet building to look a mess. Emphasizing our green-ness interests me, too.

    Thanks for the notes!

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