Tanin's Blog

December 6, 2009

Library 2.0—All about Users

Filed under: Special Libraries — tanin @ 10:59 pm

A few weeks ago, I took a library tour at the Vancouver branch of the Courthouse Libraries BC. Based on what the librarian told us, the libraries are currently investing efforts to renovate their online presence. They have recently suffered a budgetary problem, as the cost of buying legal materials has risen, and many of their clients have reverted to online resources that have become available. By the way, these libraries are not supported by the state government, but they’re run as a non-profit organization. Part of their revenue depends on their fee-based services. According to the librarian, the libraries were trying make more online connections with lawyers—potential clients for their research service.

It was interesting to revisit the website, which had been incomplete when the librarian pulled it up on the screen during the tour. It seems complete now. I went for their blog—the Stream—which seems to be the only social media they have at the moment. There have been five postings since late October—three were announcements by the libraries, and two were reports on current issues—Wikipedia in Court Cases and Searching Law Journals on Google Scholar. The two reports were interesting, informative, and well-linked. They werre also related to the legal community. I used RSS to subscribe to the blog. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops.

Library 2.0 is all about library users. The actual users of the Courthouse Libraries BC weren’t very happy with the renovations, according to the comments on “Introducing the Stream” posted on October 29, which were mostly about the design of the new website. One lawyer was obviously angry because he was busy and did not want to “relearn peripheral issues, such as how to navigate a website.” He wrote “this isn’t progress, it’s a website for computer geeks, not lawyers.” Other comments were more or less addressing the same issues he raised.

Among the comments was a response from a librarian. Her message was: Although old users may find the new site frustrating, the new site is still “more in line with what is expected now from a website in terms of design and functionality.” The libraries had done “a lot of usability testing with lawyers and law library staff with a variety of backgrounds and the new site far, far outperforms the old one.”

[The name of “the librarian” is Mandy Ostik, but I don’t want to refer to her by her name, because on the blog, she is representing the Courthouse Libraries BC. My comments on her communications with the users are not directed to her as an individual either.]

The interaction between the librarian and the users on the blog has me thinking about the power of social media as a tool for communication among the community members. On the next post—Homepage Links: Suggestions Are Open—the librarian readdressed the issues raised by the users. “One thing is clear,” she wrote, “a lot of you miss our homepage links list.” The users were encouraged to suggest the links they’d like to have back.

As an observer, not a user, I don’t know how persuasive the librarian may have sounded to the “annoyed lawyers” (they do remind me of Annoyed Librarian and her Anti-Library 2.0 Manifesto). In her first response, she sounded rather defensive and ineffective. As for her claim that there was “a lot of usability testing” done for the new website, a user responded: “sometimes the answers you get depend on the people you talk to.” I wonder if the tests were documented, and if they are accessible on the website.

In the second response, the librarian seemed to express a genuine willingness to serve the needs of the users. But some of the important issues raised by the users were not addressed. For example, I was curious to see how the libraries would respond to the users’ complaint about the confusing design of the webpage.  Or have they already made changes?

As Michael Casey pointed out, “Library 2.0 is about constant change and evaluation.” What is again emphasized here is the users’ feedback. I think the key to the challenges the Courthouse Libraries BC face now is to work with the users, even if that means re-tracking a bit. I think in the long-term such re-tracking might be beneficial.

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