Don’t Change The Resources, Change How Users Experience Them
That idea comes from a post to a blog I regularly follow called Creating Passionate Users. This particular post seems applicable to the BIG question we academic librarians are asking ourselves and each other these days. How do we get the users to user our resources? Time and time again surveys indicate that members of our user communities either start or do all of their research with non-library Internet resources. One response to the question takes the form of “let’s be more like the competition”. If you can’t beat ‘em, just be more like ‘em. Others are talking about Library 2.0, and how we need to leverage new technologies to make libraries more welcoming to the users. Well this post’s message is that if we want our users to know more about our “product” (i.e. library databases) and develop more passion for it, the answer isn’t necessarily to change it, but to change how our users experience it.
The key to creating a different experience is helping users learn. The post goes on to discuss how people engage with things more passionately once they develop the ability to recognize and understand their subtleties and nuances. I could well imagine undergraduates being able to distinguish among a set of library databases, and using each for the exact sort of research for which that database was designed. Our job is to create the learning opportunties, and get faculty involved in the process of connecting librarians and their students. If the suggestion that students could develop a passion for library research sounds too outlandish, perhaps the focus needs to be on helping students learn that library resources will enable them to develop a passion for what really matters to them – their chosen subject or discipline. If nothing else, this post reinforces my own thinking about the importance of library user education in academic settings.
Where I’m having a problem though is that academic librarians have been offering libary instruction for many years, but it has resulted in only limited progress in developing students who are passionate about using the library. I’m confident that our user education efforts have achieved successful cases, those occasional students who do become truly passionate about research as a result of what they’ve learned from academic librarians. But we certainly fall short in reaching the majority. That may be because much of our current library user education tends to allow only for surface, not deep learning. What would we need to do to make sure our users really experience our information resources in a way that gets them excited about what they are learning, and eager to learn more about and use them? I’m not sure of the answer, but I do know that if we abandon user education because the competition doesn’t bother with it (and look at how successful they are) we’ll be depriving ourselves of at least one important strategy that can increase our relevancy to the user community.