Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dear Librarian: It's me, not you....

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Over the years, I've had a lot of experience installing discovery systems in a lot of libraries. Many of those experiences have involved all too common themes.  As a result of those experiences, I sometimes have disturbing dreams.   One of them is recurring and involves librarians receiving "Dear John" letters along these lines:


Dear Librarian:

I’m so sorry to tell you this, but I’ve decided to find fulfillment with another; I’m leaving you to find information and knowledge with someone else.  Not as sophisticated or even as smart as you, but it's just so much easier.  I know, I know. I begged and I pleaded for you not to change. Even though I knew your search screens were cluttered and hard-to-use I knew how to work with them, especially for finding books. I begged you not to change them. Yes, I remember that I complained even more bitterly when you didn't listen to me and put in a discovery, one-search-box solution. I moaned and groaned and asked you to return to being what you were. I didn't want you to change!  It's just that I had come to know you so well.  I was so comfortable with that somber and serious face that always greeted me each time when I entered into the library. And I was still comfortable with you even though you confused me  with that look of dismay you gave me when I said I’d searched in your discovery interface and had found something I thought would work, but you replied: “No, no, no! You shouldn’t use that discovery interface. Instead you should come to the library and ask: What is the best database in which to find such information?” Then you would show me that search interface for that best database source. But then it even got more confusing, you had to walk me through it and explain it in detail. If we switched to another database, it used a different and equally complex search interface and you’d have to explain it all over again. However, you did that with such patience and such knowledge. I was in awe. You were wonderful. You were a constant in my life, one of the few in a world that is spiraling out-of-control with rapid change outside of the library doors.

But, I succumbed to temptation and I sampled searching for information and knowledge on the Web (I confess, I even used Wikipedia and Google Scholar.). The interfaces were so attractive, so simple, straight-forward and easy-to-use. I often could find so much with just one search interface! No one scolded me for doing so. I could FIND all kinds of information and knowledge.  Even more important I could do this everywhere I went, no matter what device I used, and I could do it all by myself. Why… some of the new interfaces I used even injected humor into the exchanges. I recently got a new smartphone and I can talk to it and ask it to find information for me and it does. If I get silly with it, it gets silly back. It is great fun and so very useful. And then I realized: I have other options in where I find information and knowledge. Oh, I know, you told me: "It's not as good, it's quality information that matters."  Yet, I realized, you taught me well.  I can take what you’ve taught me about evaluating information sources and apply it -- on my own. I don’t have to come ask you what database to use. I don’t need to have you explain how to search. I can just find information by typing my questions and keywords and see what comes back, and then evaluate it and select, or try again. It’s so easy, so simple. It’s hard to explain, but I just fell in love with it.

I feel terrible and I realize I’m being the fickle one here. You did just what I told you to do, and now I’m leaving you because of it. I’m so sorry. I hope we can remain friends. When I long for the smell and touch of a book, I’d love to be able to drop by and see you again. But it won’t be often, I promise (although I’d still like to sleep on your comfortable sofa and chairs occasionally, if you don’t mind). But when it comes to finding information and knowledge, my heart now belongs to another.

So very sorry.

Your former,



This does not have to happen, nor should it, but what I describe above is based on individual events we've all seen happen.  I hope this post will help some to  step back and critically analyze what they're doing, from the end-user point of view, and then make some adjustments.  In the next post, I'll talk about that.

(P.S. A huge thanks to those librarians who reviewed/commented on this before I posted it.  My posts always benefit from your comments. You know who you are.)