It’s All Right To Get Complex

Fellow academic librarian blogger Jill Stover, of Thinking Outside The Book, shares some of her thoughts about the ongoing “simplicity vs. complexity” thread in a post titled “K.I.S.S“. After reviewing the business world’s current infatuation with simplicity as the new competitive advantage, she asks:

“But is simplicity what librarianship is all about? Is our job to present the complex world of information searching as something so simple a baby can do it? And, is doing so ultimately a good marketing strategy? I don’t think so. In fact, marketing in this way could harm the profession. After all, if we strive to make our services appear Google-esque, we could be obfuscating a big chunk of our competitive advantage.”

Stover invests time and energy exploring the world of marketing to share ideas and methods that make sense for librarians. She makes a good point that our organizations and resources are sometimes, by their very nature, complex, as are the information needs of our users at times, and that effectively marketing ourselves and our resources requires addressing the complex as well as the simple – and resisting the urge to always K.I.S.S. for fear of alienating users. Don’t be surprised to find they may even thrive on some complexity.

3 thoughts on “It’s All Right To Get Complex

  1. I doubt anyone could argue that the world is not, indeed a complex place. But surely few would defend needless complexity. And frankly, many library systems are replete with needless, unjustifiable complexity and obfuscation. Where we allow needless complexity to put off our users, we fail in our duty. Where we simplify something which cannot effectively be simplified, then we fail in our duty. Somewhere between these two points lies the middle ground that I, and hopefully many others, are trying to find.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. When we find complexity where more simplicity is needed it should be corrected. I recently discovered this in my library’s own catalog. The process for placing a hold on a book required several steps including a request to choose an option – from a box with only one option in it. I immediately sent off a request to the vendor to investigate this sort of needless complexity – really just poor design. And I’ve written in the past (Infodiet article – Chronicle Review – 2/20/24) about the need to find a better balance between simplicity and complexity in our library databases. Just yesterday I was instructing a class of MBA students on how to structure a search to locate articles about business culture in non-US countries. The best way to do that requires some exposure to changing indexing fields. For the layperson, that is a bit of complexity. But our proquest system actually can suggest subject headings that can help. In this case what used to be more complex is now more simple – but it still requires creating user awareness. I don’t know that we can get to the point where it’s completely intuitive. This may be an example of the middle ground – or attempts to get there. But when we submit to pressures to simplify for the sake of submitting to societal desires for convenience, ease, speed, etc. – good things in service environments – when what we may need is good old academic rigor – I am wondering if the result is what we’re now seeing in several national surveys that indicate our college graduates demonstrate declining literacy and an ability to interpret/analyze even simple forms of information. I’m sure we’ll continue to explore the themes of simplicity vs. complexity, and how we achieve a purposeful middle ground.

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